Sunday, March 28, 2004

NEBULOUS -- Night 7

As I look back, I wonder if things could have happened any other way. If somehow the universal plan had meant for things to turn out the way they have.

After I left Jinny, I quickly made my way through the starship. The bodies would be found soon and I wanted to be off this ship and off the high starport before then. Jinny had the foresight not to keep the Grimola with her. Unfortunately, that hadn’t been enough to save her.

I located the recycle center. On a ship of this size, trash is vaporized. Chutes from all over the ship merged in a spider shaped pattern of pipes, all feeding into a central unit. No one was in the area when I entered. I spotted the access panel to the vaporizer. I climbed a metal grate catwalk fifteen feet up, and then I removed the hatch door.

The heat of the reactor poured out and I was coated with sweat almost immediately. Inside and below me the vaporizer continued to flair as trash drop from the chutes above me, past this hatchway and into the reactor. I reach in and felt around.

In a magnetically sealed bag stuck to the inside wall of the vaporizer I felt the Grimola. I carefully extracted it.

Once I had it out of the vaporizer, I opened the bag and removed the Grimola. This was the first time I’d ever looked upon the object that had brought so much trouble and was directly related to the deaths of so many people.

The book was heavy with a cover of worn leather and inlaid, but scratched, gems. The pages were thick paper, yellowed with age and use. I flipped through the pages. It had been written in an ancient language, not a code as Jinny had said.

I must have been focus so much on the Grimola and distracted by the heat, that I hadn’t noticed I wasn’t alone.

The flash of a low powered laser scorching past, mere inches away from my face, certainly got my attention.

“I knew you’d lead me to it,” said the man aiming my own a laser pistol at me. “Just toss it down here and I’ll let you leave.”

He wore a bandage on his arm, and I recognized him as the one I stabbed in the dining area a few days ago. Somehow, I didn’t think he was going to be so generous as to allow me to leave unharmed.

I held up the Grimola. “This is a fake. Trash.”

I held out the Grimola toward the open vaporizer hatch.

“Of course,” I continued, “You don’t know that. So you might want to put down your weapon so I don’t get nervous and drop it in.”

“There is no reason to be this way.” He offered a smile, but not friendly one. “What do you want for it? One hundred thousand? A million? I can be reasonable… If you can be.”

“Come up here and get it.”

He walked around to the stairs, all the while keeping me in his sites.

I said, “That’s my pistol, you know”

“Really? Now I wish I had used it instead when I burned down your friends.”

I stepped back so that I was as nearly pressed against the vaporizer as I could be without getting burnt. I held the Grimola out beside me, only inches from the mouth of the vaporizer.

He kept the pistol aimed in my direction, but his eyes were fastened to the book. I kept it still even until he reached out to grab it.

Then I tossed it into the vaporizer.

He lunged for it and I sidestepped him, and using his own momentum, I shoved in after it. The heat flared and the man who killed Jinny and the Grimola were both gone.

I hurried down the catwalk and out of the vaporizer room. I joined the throngs of other passengers leaving the ship and I was soon breathing the ‘fresh air’ of the high port. I found a transport down to the low port on the planet surface, a trip of only a few minutes.

I stopped by Starship Services and left a message for Jack or Herlioni letting them know where to find me and I took a room at the crew hostile to wait for them.

I feel a sense of calm, knowing the Grimola is gone. It has haunted my footsteps since I first ventured into space. So many lives were lost to it, and strangely enough, I feel my life would have been claimed by it one day if it continued to exist. I am certain of one thing though, if the Grimola had come into the hands of the Harlequin nobles war would have raged between them and the Basadan Subsector.

I’m sure Gray will be furious with me to know end, but I owned him one anyway. I know Jack will shrug it off as he has so many other disasters. I am worried about Herlioni, though. I think he and Jinny had something and I think her death will come as a blow.

But for now, I am going to lay back and wait. A new adventure will be starting soon and there is no need to worry about looking for it. They always seem to find me.

NEBULOUS -- Day 7

I planted myself beneath the room where Jinny was staying and waited. We docked at the orbiting spaceport and while most everyone else was butting their way through the crowd, Jinny hadn't left her room. After a long time, I grew tired of waiting and went looking for her. I had to go quite a ways out of range to reach the steps to the next level. The crowds were still mainly milling in the hallway, and the traffic from the crew level was all heading down, so I had to fight up stream.

By the time I made it back down the hall to the cabin where she'd been staying, I couldn't feel her anymore.

Drat!

I almost started running to the other exit. I knew I hadn't passed her on the stairs, and there was only one other way off this level. But then I noticed the cabin door had been left ajar.

I pushed it open the rest of the way, and nearly lost my lunch at the sight.

Jinny's friend hadn't survived the overwhelming firepower that laid waste to everything in the room. Jinny herself was barely breathing and sticky with her own blood.

I knelt beside her. "Oh, Jinny." I didn't know what else to say.

Her eyes opened. She tried to speak, but could not. I 'heard' what she wanted to say though. I knew the men who did this to her had not found the Grimola and I knew where she'd hidden it. Her eyes went blank and she was gone.

I left the room as I'd found it.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

NEBULOUS -- Day 6

We'll be coming out of Jump tomorrow. Champa has a large starport and I don't want to let Jinny get out of my sight or I might not be able to find her again. We are well into the Harlequin Subsector now. She'll probably have no shortage of assistance now, which is probably why she dumped me.

I've packed what little I have, with only my boot knife for a weapon, and I am going to start making my way toward the crew deck. I've been examining the ship diagram and I figure if I hang out in a lounge below where I last felt Jinny, I should be able to detect when she leaves the room. There are only two routes leading down from the crew deck and I can catch up with her as leaves.

Hopefully.

Friday, March 26, 2004

NEBULOUS -- Day 5

Jinny left the Comm hack in place and I am able to monitor inner-ship communications. I have enough food to last two people the rest of the trip, so I'm sitting tight for now.

Unfortunately, it has given me time to worry. I feel the weight of expectation from my comrades, especially Jack and Herlioni. If chasing after Jinny was something I was doing for myself, I would give it up right now.

I also feel bad about killing one of the men in the dining hall. At the time I was motivated by the certainty that they would kill her, but to an outside observer, they had not yet done anything that warranted my attack upon them. Now I find myself wondering if I shouldn't have acted on instinct and instead have taken some time to consider options. Although, with their credentials, they probably could have done what they liked even if I had alerted security.

I'm not sure what I am going to do when the jump is over, or how I am going to approach Jinny.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

NEBULOUS -- Night 4

This is the second Jinny has ditched me, and it is pretty clear to me that she intended to do this the first time and ran into trouble.

It doesn’t make sense for her to do this now, in the middle of a jump. And what of her relationship with Herlioni? Wouldn’t he have noticed any deception?

Frustrated, hungry and tired, I set aside these worries for a few minutes and ate a substantial meal. Then I took my time in the fresher, purposely not thinking of Jinny or the difficulties I would face when Gray and the other found out I lost her and their reward.

When I was done and dressed in fresh clothes, I felt much better, and ready to face the next challenge. I had left Jinny my laser pistol and she had taken it with her. I only had my boot knife so I strapped it on and prayed it would me enough.

I sat on the bed and meditated. I practiced the techniques Herlioni showed me to open my awareness. I could sense the variety of emotions up to a few cabins away. I didn’t sense Jinny within my range.

I rose and left the cabin. I walked the halls of the great starship, circling my level, and then checking the lower ones and when I still came up empty, I started scanning the upper floors. I had to walk slowly and concentrate, so to passersby I seemed like a passenger either on a stroll or lost. I ignored everyone else and kept going.

On the deck two levels above mine, I sensed the men I attacked the day before, still sore and angry. I was certain without needing to pry further, that they didn’t have Jinny with them.

I was wondering the crew deck when I finally noticed Jinny. She was thinking about me and wondering what I planned to do about her disappearance. She knows the Sensor Comm Op on board and knows he is loyal to the Harlequin nobility, like she is. She thinks she is safer her than with me and she would prefer not to have to keep her agreement with Gray, which included both the reward and the information leading to the treasure.

Now that I know where she is and what she intends, which is to hide out in the crew section for the rest of the trip, I will leave her where she is and just monitor her.

NEBULOUS -- Day 4

I left Jinny the laser pistol and instructed her not to open the door unless she hears the series of knocks we decided on.

The hallways were fairly busy for the time of night. I walked calmly even when I passed security. I was sure to make eye contact and nod a non-committal hello and keep a steady pace.

The commissary caters to passengers who like to eat in and the staff didn't blink at my large grocery purchase. This was going to be my last trip out of the cabin for the remainder of this jump and I wanted to be sure we were well stocked.

I carried the packages back upstairs and set them down to knock on the cabin door.

There was no answer.

I knocked again.

Still no answer.

I punched in the code and the door slid open. I called softly, "Jinny?"

No reply.

I entered, setting the bags just inside the door, then searched the cabin.

No Jinny. No note. No sign of a struggle.

Nothing.
NEBULOUS -- Night 3

So far, so good. Apparently the 'victims' as they are calling the wounded, are not talking with the ship's security. They flashed their military credentials and the matter has been officially dropped. Which is strange to me, since they could press the crew into searching for us.

Jinny and I have not left the cabin even to eat. I'm starving. I am thinking about making my way to a dining area in a different area of the ship later and raid enough to last us the rest of the trip.

I have not asked Jinny about the men who were detaining her or why they wanted to kill her.

And she is not offering any information.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

NEBULOUS -- Day 3 (afternoon)

Since Herlioni trusted me to ‘watch out for everyone’s interest’, I have not let Jinny out of my sight. When I awoke this morning, I found the cabin empty.

I checked around for a note, but didn’t find one. I opened the door and looked both ways, no one was in the hall. I quickly got dressed, making sure to stick my knife in my boot and my laser pistol at the small of my back hidden by my vest, and tried not to appear too anxious as I made my way to the closest dining area.

I found Jinny in there, speaking with three men. I felt my fear drain away. She’s just gone for something to eat. I began to walk toward her, when I noticed the way one of the men had a hold of Jinny’s wrist. To a casual glance, it might appear as if it was a friendly touch, but I could see the skin around his grasping fingers turning Jinny’s arm white with the pressure.

I walked casually around the room until Jinny could see me. We held eye contact for a moment. I picked up from her that these three were not the only ones to worry about. There was one stationed near the door.

I surveyed the room, not finding any starship security. The men harassing Jinny we not crew members. My guess was that they were military, possible working with Treewrich. There is nowhere to go on a starship three days into Jump. These guys could get Jinny off ship anytime soon, but they could probably have her tossed in the brig for the rest of the trip. Breaking someone out of the brig isn’t an easy prospect.

On the other hand, there is nowhere for us to go either. If we escaped this situation, we’d be in hiding the rest of the jump. However, we were supposed to be in hiding already. What possessed Jinny to wonder of on her own?

A quick ‘peek’ at the upper most thoughts of the fellow pawing Jinny decided me. He wasn’t interested in taking Jinny prisoner. He wanted the Grimola and he wanted to kill her.

I casually walked to the serving line and got a tray, tossed a handful of steak knives on it and covered them with a napkin, then wondered in their direction. Surprise was my best weapon, so I kept up my charade until I reached the table next to theirs. I set down my tray, snagged two steak knives in my right hand and went right to work.

I stabbed one knife right into the forearm of the one holding Jinny’s arm, so the long blade slipped between the bones and buried itself in the table.

I used the second knife to slice the throat of the one closest to me. In the same motion, I dropped down below the grasp of the third guy and stabbed the knife into his calf.

Jinny had dropped below the table with me. The commotion as guests realized the violence around them covered our movements. I drew my laser pistol and when I had a shot, hit the guy watching the door.

The one I stabbed in the lag was limping toward us, grabbing the knife handle, but unable to extract it. I fired a shot at him knocking him backward.

I hid the pistol in the waistband of my pants and under my vest and Jinny and I joined the frantic exodus. We reached our cabin and hid inside.

Jinny hit the door lock and then set to work hacking the comm. unit so we could listen to the inter-ship chatter. Security is on their way to the dining area.


NEBULOUS -- Day 3 (early morning)

The starship’s laundry facility is larger than some of the starships I have traveled on. We snuck inside during the slower night shift, but still the place was bustling. Once we got inside, we hid behind a dirty laundry bin and waited for an opportunity to sneak over to the clean linen racks. We waited nearly a half hour and I was starting to think the effort was futile when the buzzer sounded and everyone took a break. For nearly fifteen we ‘shopped’ for simple and plain items that didn’t stand out. I picked a pair of simple black slacks and a pair of tan pants and a few plain white shirts. Jinny, more feminine by nature, selected solid color blouses and a couple simple, but short, skirts.

We folded the clothes into small bundles and walked quickly to a lift. We found the room Jinny had arranged for us and entered the pass code she assigned it. For the first time since we left Ariel, we’ll get to sleep horizontally.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

NEBULOUS -- Night 2

After some planning, Jinny and I were ready to hack the computer system. We discovered that only one young medical technician was assigned to the sick bay during ship’s night. He would call for help if anything serious came up, but minor problems he could handle. So I gave myself a minor problem. I used my boot knife and ever so slightly cut my scalp inside the hairline. It bled like crazy.

Jinny pressed a napkin to it and ‘helped’ me into sickbay.

“Holy crap, what happened?” The young Med Tech rushed to me.

“I… I’m not sure. I… got dizzy.” I collapsed into his reaching arms.

“We better get you to a table.” He pulled my arm around his shoulder and carried me into an operating room inside.

Jinny, of course, didn’t follow. Now I had to keep this young man busy. I dropped the napkin and the blood flowed down my face.

“Whoa, don’t let that go.” He took fresh gauze pads and had me hold it to the wound. He found a kit and began applying antiseptic and then a sealant. He was too efficient, working too quickly, so I grabbed his arm and mumbled, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

He rushed to get me a bucket, which I held and stared into as if I might barf. After a few minutes, since nothing happened, he resumed his patching job on my head.

“Now, how did this happen?”

“I just… got dizzy.”

“Have you ever space traveled before?”

“N-no.”

“Do you tend to get motion sickness?”

“Sometimes.”

After a few minutes, while he assessed if I had allergies or other medical conditions, he stuck a medical patch on my arm. “This should fight the motion sickness. You should be able to finish the trip on just this patch, but if you don’t feel better or the symptoms return, come back, OK?”

I nodded, not sure how quickly I should start ‘responding’ to the medicine.

“I need to make a chart for you. What is your cabin number?”

Jinny answered, “We are in cabin 403.”

He looked up at her in surprise. He’d forgotten about her.

After he made the chart, Jinny promised him she’d ‘look after me’. And we left.

So far so good. Our next stop, the laundry to ‘shop’ for some clothes.

NEBULOUS -- Day 2

So far so good. Jinny and I have been moving from one public area to another, trying to avoid notice. She is familiar with big transport ships like this one, and has pointed out some potential hiding places in case we need them. We take turns sleeping and then only in a few hour intervals. We are going to raid the laundry service room during the next ship's night and try to scrounge up some change of clothes. We've been using the locker room in the on board gym for showers.

I have caught a few of the crew giving us odd looks, so we keep moving into new areas. I don't want to answer questions.

Jinny knows how to hack into the main computer and when a chance presents itself she is going to check into 'registering' us as 'paid' passengers and assign us a room.

Monday, March 22, 2004

NEBULOUS -- Day 1

Jinny and I are aboard the massive transport vessel NEBULOUS. We are stowaways at this point. I have just enough for a low passage for both of us, but I definitely don't want to register as passengers until we have Jumped. Passenger logs are reported to the starport and the Navy might be able to stop or track us.

We don't even leave orbit for another few hours. We have found a crowded recreation lounge and keeping a low profile. If all goes well, we'll be at Champa in a week.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

ARIEL -- Day 1 (afternoon)

I spotted Jack, sensed him really, entering the huge lounge. I stood up to wave him over and then I saw the knot of military rushing toward him. He must have noticed my shock, or perhaps Herlioni beside me sent him a message, but either way, Jack broke into a run and took off, leading them away.

“We have to help him,” I said.

Herlioni caught my arm. “We have to keep Jinny safe.”

Then I saw several military uniforms heading toward us. Herlioni snagged Jinny and me and shoved us ahead of him. We slipped into a passageway heading toward the ground crew access to the docks.

The passage had several twists and turns, and although we heard the pounding of pursuing footfalls, we didn’t see them. Once outside, the high winds of acceleration backwash whipped at our clothes and hair. Herlioni stopped and ‘listened’ for a moment.

“Over here,” he shouted over the noise. He led us to a transport module cutter, one used to move passengers to huge transport ships in orbit. “This one is headed to Harlequin space. You two go. When it is safe, we’ll follow. We trust you’ll keep all our interests in mind, Isis. We’ll follow when it is safe. Leave a trail if you must keep moving.”

I hugged him and Jinny gave him a long kiss, and we hurried to the cutter. As I was climbing aboard, I glanced back. Herlioni fired a few shots at the military officers following him and dodged into a cargo warehouse. They followed him.

Jinny and I boarded and in moments, we were blasting off for the transport ship.

ARIEL -- Day 1

We arrived at the port city of Duaridun without much trouble. The city is swarming with military searching for us. I gather they searched the CAPELLIAN and spoke with the crew. A quick check with the traffic controllers and they will know where two escape pods landed. The smart money would bet that we'd show up in the port city eventually looking for transport.

Jack and Grey have gone off on their own to scout out transportation. Raginer has regained consciouness from his head wound, but Cobalt has quietly run him over to a clinic to get checked out. Herlioni, Jinny and I found an out of the way corner in the huge and crowded Starship Services lounge, where we have three avenues of escape if needed, and we are waiting for the others to return.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 13

For a long time Jack sat on the floor quietly, his eyes closed. Finally, he opened his eyes and spoke. “Isis, there should be a power cable for the bridge. Find it and figure out how to disable it, but don’t do it yet. Cobalt, find the emergency back-up power system and the engine rapid shut down switches.”

I had to search through several wall panels before I found what I was looking for. The power cable plugs into the system so it can be quickly by-passed in the case of emergencies. The plug is held securely in place with four screws. I removed the screws so all I’d have to do was pull the plug to cut the power.

Jack looked at his watch. “Cobalt, show me what you’ve found.”

Cobalt showed Jack how to disable the emergency back-up system and rapidly shut down the engines.

Jack said, “OK, I’ve got it. Go and quietly unseal the door.”

Cobalt found an industrial acid and squirted it over our welds. He was able to pry them off with a minimum of noise.

“OK,” Jack said. “Cobalt, pick up Raginer and get ready to open the door. Isis, on my signal you disable the power system and cover our escape. We are going to the second pod outside the bridge.”

I drew my laser pistol and took a deep breath. The engines made the typical pitch change as they automatically prepared for the transition out of jump-space.

“Now Isis. Go!”

I yanked the plug and the starship gave a slight shutter and the emergency back-ups clanged into operation. Jack disabled the emergency power, so as we dropped out of jump the communication, navigation and piloting controls were off line.

Cobalt kicked open the door and I ran out in front of him. Only the navigator was still in the hallway, left to cover our position. He had been distracted by the blaring warning sirens and I stunned him with a blast before he could react.

As Cobalt and I ran past the locked galley, I heard the unmistakable blast of an emergency pod escaping. I kept going and as we reached the pod near the bridge the engines lost power, knocking me off my feet with the sudden deceleration. Cobalt and Raginer nearly fell on me, but I rolled aside before they could crush me under their combined weight.

I found my feet and hit the button to open the pod door. Cobalt stuffed Raginer inside and dived in after him. I stood with one foot in and one foot out, watching for Jack. Cobalt started the pod systems and they hummed to life in moments. “Get in,” he ordered.

“Not without Jack.”

He reached up and I knew he was going to shove me out of the hatchway, so I turned my laser pistol on him.

“Don’t even flinch,” I said.

Jack ran down the hall and I jumped in the pod seconds ahead of him. He shut the hatch and Cobalt hit the launch switch.

Jack programmed our pod to follow the first one on an intercept with Ariel. We figured about the time we’d be landing someone would begin to wonder about CAPELLIAN and why she hadn’t sent a signal or began her approach flight path. We were actually only half way to the planet when I picked up on the sensors the appearance of a Navy vessel as it come out of jump-space. I recognized it as one of the ones that had fired on us last time and it quickly over took the CAPELLIAN.

Our course took us away from the port city to a more remote area of the planet. We received comm. inquires from the traffic control asking if we required assistance, and Jack replied that we had everything under control. We finally landed near the other pod. The short head start Gray, Herlioni and Jinny had given them enough time to rent an air/raft. They picked us up and we headed to the port city of Duaridun.

Friday, March 19, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 12 (evening)

Jack and I were in the hallway when a sound of crashing metal echoed from the engine room. We started down the hall toward it, when Herlioni's mental warning stopped us. The crew were trying to divide and conquer us. That's when we heard the galley doors slip shut and clank with the magnetic lock.

Raginer and Cobalt were under attack in the engine room. Herlioni, Jinny and Gray were locked in the galley. And Jack and I were in the hallway between the battle in the engine room and the armed crew men rushing at us from the bridge.

Jack and I retreated to the engine room and shut the door behind us. I engaged the lock and Jack jammed it with a loose pipe. The engineer had apparently whacked Raginer in the head, because he was laying bloody and unconscious on the floor. Cobalt and the engineer were wrestling over his laser pistol. Jack jumped in.

I couldn't help. A line of hot melting metal burned around the locking mechanism on the door as they tried to cut through from the other side. I set my laser pistol to the setting to weld and tacked the metal pipe in place. Every time they cut, I was welding something else over the area. They were faster than I was and I was running out of loose items to use.

Between Jack and Cobalt, they managed to wrestle the engineer down and tie him up. Cobalt jumped in and help me secure the door and Jack got on the inter ship comm.

"Crew of the CAPELLIAN, we have taken control of the engine room. Stand down. Stand down, now!"

The commotion on the other side of the door halted. After a minute the inter ship comm crackled, "This is the captain. You can not risk damage to those engines or when the Imperium rescue arrives you will be caught. Surrender now."

Jack replied, "And we'd be turned over to the Imperium as soon as we leave jump space. So either way we'd loose."

"All the more reason to give up. So no one else will be hurt."

"Stand by." Jack replied.

Cobalt and I watched as Jack sat down on the floor and closed his eyes. After it was clear Jack wasn't going to say anything to us soon, Cobalt went to tend to Raginer's head wound.
CAPELLIAN -- Day 12 (afternoon)

The engine noise has grown worse and the engineer has 'drafted' Cobalt and Raginer to assist him. I'm not sure what good he thinks those two will be. Perhaps heavy parts or equipment needs maneuvered.

Gray doesn't like the situation. I've noticed that he has positioned himself and Jinny near an escape pod. Herlioni, who won't leave Jinny's side is also crowded in the tiny alcove. There are two escape pods on board and six people can cram into one, but an escape pod can not safely launch while we are in Jump.

Jack and I are both armed and watching the corridor that runs past the galley, one way leading to the engine room and one way leading to the bridge.
CAPELLIAN -- Day 12

Herlioni and Jinny have been huddled in the corner of the galley this morning, their fingers interlaced and whispering. I think their romance hit them both quiet suddenly, much like it did with Jack and I. I wonder if that is particular to telepaths.

The engines have been making a different harmonic sound than usual, and the tension from the crew is palpable, not only with the conflict between them and our group, but also with concern about the stability of the engines.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 11

Jack and I had retired to our cabin for the evening, as had most everyone else, except Cobalt who was standing watch in the galley. Unexpectedly, we both were washed over with a wave of sensuality. We clung to each other almost desperately, giving in to the feeling. Later, exhausted, Jack started chuckling.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Herlioni has no self control.” He grinned.

“What do you mean?”

He raised his eyebrows and then I got it. “Herlioni? And Jinny? He was projecting during… During… Well, well, I guess he doesn’t have much self control.”

Jack began kissing my neck and all thoughts of anyone but the two of us vanished for the night.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 10

Marmot and Raginer, our two Solomani hot-heads, got into a shoving match in the galley this morning. I missed how it started, but Raginer tossed Marmot across the room and knocked over a table and some chairs. There was a short scuffle, but the captain and Gray managed to break them up. Once it was over, the captain ordered all of us to stay in our cabins for the rest of the jump. Gray refused and for a moment I thought weapons were going to be drawn. The captain backed down, but told us that he is dumping us as soon as we reach the Ariel starport.

Jinny is definitely afraid that since she is sort of the focal point that someone may get the bright idea that maybe getting rid of her and her troublesome Grimola might solve the problem. She is right to worry. I have caught the stray thought to that effect myself, and although Herlioni hasn't mentioned anything, every time one of the crew enter the galley he has quietly stepped between them and Jinny.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 9

Our group has been keeping to ourselves, usually hanging out in the galley or in our rooms. Gray, Cobalt and Raginer take turns on 'guard' duty, but they don't call it that. They are keeping an eye on the crew, who have become silently hostile toward us. Herlioni has been keeping an 'ear' on the situation, but the crew knows he is Zhodani and we don't want to provoke them with obvious telepathic prying.

Jinny stays with at least two of the mercs at all times, and they even moved her from her private room onto a cot in the cabin shared by Cobalt and Gray. I'm not sure we can make it to Ariel without this tension erupting into violence.

Monday, March 15, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 8

We were not even a full day into our second jump when the crap erupted. You can’t exactly call it a mutiny, but the captain and crew of the CAPELLIAN and Gray began arguing about the ambush that had been waiting for us. The captain knew that our group was trying to escape the Banasdan subsector but they expected that it would be merely a matter of not drawing attention to ourselves. They had not expected such directed attacks. They are insisting that we leave once we reach out next jump destination. Gray is trying to reason with them, but that hasn’t worked. Neither has bribes or threats.

The tension is running high between the CAPELLIAN crew and us. Jack and I have been ordered off the bridge and are no longer allowed to help cover shifts. I’ve caught a few stray thoughts about ‘spacing’ the lot of us, and I know Herlioni has, too. I don’t think these are serious threats.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 7

Whoa, crap!

I guess I can credit Gray with having a couple of brain cells in his head. He had the navigator plot a course so we would not appear in the standard region of space for most ships leaving Jump-space, and it was a good thing too.

We jumped in almost twice as far from the planetary system as one usually would, and immediately on the sensors I picked up three naval vessels spread out to cover the region where we would normally have appeared. They spotted us and roared toward us, firing. The comm. channels crackled with incoming orders to halt and heave to. We managed to dodge the few close shots and Jump again.

Checking the sensor logs, we have determined that those ships were not from the faction loyal to Treewrich. I can sense from Jack and tell by the strain that has etched on his face that he thinks the same Admiral that drugged and interrogated him may be behind this.

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Saturday, March 13, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 6

We arrive at Newcomb tomorrow. We have enough fuel for another jump, but we are going to check about getting more any way. We hope we are far enough ahead of any pursuit that we will have time to stop. There are several systems between Pajang and the Harlequin subsector, so unless there are several ships deployed to just hang out and watching for us, we are hoping to slip along the lesser used routes unnoticed.

Jack is getting very jazzed about the treasure hunt. He just wants to dump off Jinny and get going. He's really like a big kid about it.

Friday, March 12, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 5

Jack has been spending his free time reviewing the records on the 'fabled treasure' mentioned in the Grimola. Jinny won't give him the translated texts until we deliver her to the Harlequin subsector. Still, he wants to have an idea what he is going after and where we'll have to go to find it.

I've been studying for the next sensor/comm op test and spending a few hours a day with Herlioni. We are starting slow, but I feel like I've learned a lot by just being in contact with him. He's a steadying force in what is usually a hectic psionic experience.

There was a scuffled last night between Marmot and Raginer. They are both Solomani, but differ on the whole 'rule of man' issue. The 'rule of man' is the Solomani belief and political orientation that humans are of a higher order than any other species and therefore should rule over the other. To be a Solomani and not proclaim the 'rule of man' is considered traitorous. Marmot doesn't hold the belief in as high a regard as Raginer, so they brawled in the galley. Raginer has a black eye and Marmot has a knife cut in his upper arm. In the strange manor of men, now that they have beat each other up, they are real good friends.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 4

Besides me, Jack, Jinny and our merc companions, there are six others on board. The ship is one Gray hired and it came with a full crew compliment. I've met the captain, a burly guy named Tafler, and the other bridge crew, Marmot a Solomani sensor/comm op, Maki, the pilot and Penwan, a Vegan navigator.

Jack takes a rotation as the pilot and I take a rotation as the sensor/comm op. I think Jack really misses having his own ship and engaging in the calmer commercial trade. Ever since his encounter with the Navy on Pajang, I've noticed a tightness in his jaws. I think we've all been far too stressed lately.


Wednesday, March 10, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 3

The CAPELLIAN is a nice sized ship, but only has a jump-2 capability. Reaching the Harlequin sub-sector will require 3 jumps. We are avoiding the main travel routes to reduce the chances of running into a pursuing vessel. Our next stop is Newcomb, a former mining planet that now houses a large Imperium prison. It gives me shivers going there, since my various psionic crimes could land me there one day.

I've taken on a rotation as a Sensor/Comm Op. It has been a while, and it is nice to get back to the familiar. I've also uploaded files to prepare me for the next Sensor/Comm Op test. I have nearly 500 hours to accumulate before I can take it, but I like to use the 'down time' of traveling productively.

Herlioni has also offered, in private, to continue tutoring me. I CAN'T pass on that sweet offer.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 2

I had a chance to speak with Jinny today. It turns out she is distantly related to Treewrich. She's from the branch of the family whose roots are linked with the nobility in Harlequin, and therefore considered the lesser branch. She's one of the many distance relatives that received jobs working for the nobility as a concession, which amounts to charity and an insult in one.

She's accepted the position on the PARABUS as a chance to get close to the Grimola. By deciphering the text, she hopes to prove that the family has a right to a higher status in the noble house than what they are receiving. It would also open the door for the Harlequin noble house to lay claims on the Banasdan holdings, which is the reason for the conflict and her role in it.

Nobility!

Monday, March 08, 2004

CAPELLIAN -- Day 1

Jack has a sick sense of humor.

The ticket that I'm 'going to love', is actually working with that back-stabbing merc Gray. He'd found Jinny, thanks to the tips Jack 'swiped' from me. Jack made a deal with Gray that if he found Jinny with that tip, that he was supposed to come back and he and Jack would be partners in the rest of the deal. So Jack, and Herlioni, were half expecting him to return and really didn't want to leave Pajang until Gray had a chance to complete his leg of the mission.

Gray had intended to snatch the Grimola and auction it to the highest bidder, but Treewrich tried opened fire on the ship when Gray sent the comm message. Jinny, who was Gray's 'guest' at the time made a deal with him. Get her and the Grimola to the Harlequin subsector and she'd give him the translated treasure map from the Grimola and promised a sizable financial reward. Given the options, Gray agreed.

Since they expect that Treewrich and possibly other are going to be on our butts all the way, the CAPELLIAN only could afford to stop long enough to refuel and pick us up. We are already heading out to a safe distance from Pajang to make the jump.

Maybe if we can get the Grimola to the Harlequin sub-sector it will stop causing me trouble.
PAJANG -- Day 17

Jack left again early this morning and just returned. He told us to grab our stuff, that we are going. Herlioni, who can read Jack without even trying, smiled and started packing his gear.

I tried to read him, but just picked up on his excitement. "Where are we going?" I asked.

"It was providence that we were stuck here so long. Come on. You are going love this."

I always stay packed for a quick get-away, so I'm waiting for the guys to get their junk together.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

PAJANG -- Day 16

Disappointed and suffering from a headache, I didn't do much today. Herlioni was disappointed at our finish. He'd hoped as a Zhodani he could give our team enough of an edge. He's disappointed that he was so quickly eliminated in the last round.

Jack's gone to speak with his mercenary recruiter contacts to see if anything new has come in.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

PAJANG -- Day 15 (elimination round 3)

This round we faced off with the former champions and heavily favored 'scorpions'. We were going to go with our original plan, with Jack and I going in opposite directions and Herlioni coordinating. When we burst out of the chamber we picked up on the other team's intention almost immediately. They were going for Herlioni.

Jack reacted first and took the shot intended for Helioni. A second blast come quickly and struck Herlioni, leaving me on my own.

During the fray I had snapped off some shots, but all missed.

I ran, now on my own. I could sense them coming for me and projected an image of myself bolting for cover. One fell for it.

The other two circled around my hide out in opposite directions. I knocked out one, and the other caught me in the leg.

We lost.

I hobbled off and the three of us turned in our uniforms and pistols.

There isn't a prize for this finishing at this level.

Bummer.
PAJANG -- Day 15 (elimination round 2)

Our opponents for the second round were one of the teams that made it through the qualifying round. They call themselves the 'Solomani Snakes'. I watched their last bout. They were quick and efficient. The whole mess was over in less than a minute.

Knowing this, Herlioni decided our best bet was to let him 'control' Jack and I. In the last round he did it when we shot the team captain. We agreed.

So when the door snapped up we charged out into the ring, guns blazing. Jack did a somersault right into the center of the ring. He so surprised the other team with the move, that all three took aim at him. He managed to shoot one just before all three shots hit him. I snapped off a second one and Herlioni took out the third. We broke the record for the quickest take down.

So we made it to the next round. Unfortunately, for as well as that direct strategy worked this time, every team we face now will be ready for it.
PAJANG -- Day 15 (elimination round 1)

I watched the handful of rounds before ours, so I kind of knew what to expect. When our time came we were shut into a small chamber. Our opponents were in another one directly on the other side of the circle.

"Link up with me now," Herlioni said. "And remember to keep your focus."

When the door snapped up, both teams ran out firing at the other. Herlioni directed my aim, and Jack's too, so we both hit the Ukus' team captain, and their best telepath.

I dove to the right and kept going to establish a position near the center right of the ring. Jack went the other way. Herlioni stayed low near our original entry point.

I saw one of the other players roll out from behind cover, and I dodge away. I was hit immediately and went down. The one that I'd 'seen' was an illusion to drive me into the line of sight of his teammate. The audience laughed.

From where I lay on the ground, temporarily stunned, I saw Jack. The one who had hit me had to lean out from behind cover and Jack picked him off a fraction of a second after I was hit.

Jack and the final Uku danced around, firing and missing each other. Finally, Jack scrambled up one of the pillars to get a high shot, while Herlioni cast a multiple impression of Jack everywhere. In the second it took for the final Uku to decide which was the real Jack, he'd been hit.

So we made it past the first elimination round. I'm glad and all, but I'm mentally kicking myself for making a rookie mistake and jeopardized the team's chances.
PAJANG -- Day 15 (getting ready)

I watched the first two qualifying rounds. YIKES! I'm glad those were only low-powered lasers. The first few minutes are a slaughter. The lasers are strong enough to knock you down, and within the first few seconds more than half of the contestants are mowed down. The more agile dodge the strikes, and the stronger 'paths control the bots. In the first minute there are only a handful left. Most folks can only control a single bot, and so being able to dodge and concentrate on your bot's aim seems to be the deciding factor.

The officials pulled Herlioni, Jack and I aside and gave us our laser pistols. There are chips in the protective gear we are wearing that links to our pistols. If a player is shot the pistol won't fire until it is reset, which will only happen before the next round.

Today we only will have elimination rounds, which involve a version of laser tag. The last team with at least one player 'alive' wins. For these games, all teams only have three players. So we'll need to take out all three of the opposing team's players and at least keep one of us 'alive'. The tricky part is the telepathy. You can use it to fool your opponents, or to 'read' their intentions. No direct telepathic attacks are allowed, and once you've been 'shot' you can't keep using your telepathy to help your team. There are telepathic officials monitoring and they will disqualify cheaters. Plus, half the spectators are telepathic and will be 'listening' as well as watching.

Our plan is to use Herlioni as our captain, so he will concentrate on reading the other team and sending that info to Jack and I. Herlioni will stay behind barriers, while Jack and I will be in direct combat. There are pillars and half-walls scattered about which provides some cover.

Herlioni named our team 'Screecher' after a telepathic cat-like animal the Zhodani keep as pets. We face off with the 'Ukus', a team from Uku, an amber zone planet.
PAJANG -- Day 15 (qualifying)

Thank goodness Herlioni sign us up yesterday. Most teams waited until today to sign up. There are only 64 slots in the first elimination round, but far more than that have arrived. There are teams here from all over the Solomani Rim. The first 60 to sign up are guaranteed their places. The rest have to go through a qualifying bout for the remaining 4 slots. The teams get divided into four groups and only one team from each group gets to move on.

The groups go into the ring one at a time. There are four 'psi-bot', flying robots that respond to telepathic signals, in the ring with them. The telepaths 'fight' for control of the robots. Each robot has a low powered laser, and will pick off the telepaths. They keep going until only one telepath is left, and his/ her team gets to move on.

The stands are still filling up, but the first qualifying round is getting ready to start.
PAJANG -- Day 15

I awoke early this morning and meditated and stretched to loosen up for today's competition. Herlioni led Jack and I to the building the underground set up just for their games. The building, from the outside, appears to be just one of the older abandoned ones most cities accumulate.

On the inside, it has been completely gutted. The concrete walls rise for several stories, with only their windows left the mark where each level once was. A load-bearing metal skeleton has been constructed to keep the building from collapsing.

The basement level in now divided into a caged inner circle where the games are played, and the area outside of the circle where the officials and the contestants wait. Providing a ceiling for the waiting area, and where the first floor would have been is where the spectators mill around. It appears as if a few hundred people could fit up there. Herlioni said not all of them are psionic. On Pajang, the psionic games are on event heavily bet upon, and that attracts gamblers who didn't mind the illegal nature of the event. Of course, the psions have kept control of the gambling aspect, to prevent the criminal element from taking over. And this is also why the prizes are so large.

The contestants have begun to arrive and even a few early spectators. We are going to start strapping into our gear and discuss last minute strategy. They are going to post the roster so we can find out who we come up against first.

Friday, March 05, 2004

PAJANG -- Day 14

Well, I guess we are about as ready for tomorrow as we are going to be. I have 'orders' from Herlioni, as team captain, to get plenty of rest tonight. The part he failed to mention is :"because tomorrow we may all die."

I have a killer headache.

Herlioni has already met with some of the 'officials' of the unofficial psionic games and signed us up. I guess that means there is no going back now. We've been issued a team 'uniform' of sorts. They are lime green safety pads that appear to have been put to good use too many times. My chest plate has a blood stain and Jack's helmet has a pretty harsh-looking scrap and dent along the left side.

Oh, boy....

Thursday, March 04, 2004

PAJANG -- Day 13

Man, I feel shredded today. Herlioni drilled Jack and I on team strategy, which involves group-mind techniques and shadowing. Shadowing is a lot like being a wingman in fighter combat. You watch your teammate’s ‘back’ while they are concentrating on their one-on-one combat. It takes a lot of concentration to keep up shields, try to read someone else and run around and fire a laser pistol.

Since Herlioni is Zhodani, he has an edge over most Imperium telepaths who didn’t grow up with their abilities. With him as ‘captain’, he can force open the shields of the others enough that even a novice like me can read them. He’ll have to really focus on his concentration, so it will be up to Jack and I to take up the slack with our lasers.

The elimination rounds are going to be the day after tomorrow, and the final championship rounds will be on the following day. We’ll keep drilling today and tomorrow. We’ve mainly only practiced for the elimination rounds so far. I’m nervous about the direct telepathic combat portion. People have been known to be killed or brain damaged from it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

PAJANG -- Day 12 (afternoon)

Herlioni brought back an armful of inexpensive rations and he, Jack and I chowed down while bantering about ideas about what to do next. My suggestion about checking the crew openings at Starship Services brought a round of negative grunts.

Jack described the meetings he’d been having with mercenary recruiters. Some of the ‘tickets’ were espionage or scouting in nature, something three telepaths like us could pull off. Of course, none of the target locations were on-planet, which is a problem without a ship.

That’s when Herlioni brought up the games of the psionic underground. I’d heard the description of the single player combat, and that was scary enough. With Jack and I both listening in shocked silence, Herlioni told us about the team competition.

Teams with an equal number of telepaths square off in head-to-head combat, with the losing team eliminated and the winning team moving forward to the next round. The early competition involves low powered laser combat, using telepathy to ‘read’ and avoid the competition’s fire. In the later rounds the teams move onto direct telepathic combat.

There is an entry fee, and the spectators pay big money, so there are monetary prizes for teams who perform well. The top four teams get purses large enough to buy a moderately priced starship.

Jack’s all for the idea. I know, from my few practices with Herlioni that I am nowhere near ready for such a competition, but the guys keep reassuring me that they can whip me into shape in no time. And beside, Herlioni would be team captain and will carry most of the weight.

We start practicing this afternoon.

PAJANG -- Day 12

I had trouble sleeping last night. When I woke this morning, I decided I had to tell Jack that we should go our separate ways.

I rose before Jack or Herlioni and stood by the window over looking the port city. I remembered how interesting and beautiful I found it on our first day here. Now it seemed only filled with treachery and danger.

“Isis?” Jack walked up behind me.

I glanced back. He was alone. Herlioni must have sensed that we needed privacy, although I image he ‘listened in’.

I turned away from Jack and kept watching the constant flow of starships in and out of the low center of the city. I didn’t want to see his face when I said my peace.

“The authorities took the RIM RUNNER.”

“I know.” He sighed, “We kept her longer than I thought we would.”

That surprised me. I hesitated for a moment while I absorbed that. “Jack, the others left. Toby, Josh and Fret. Even Juwanda”

“I know.” He didn’t sound upset. “I am glad they got clear of the mess. They should be safe now. That’ll be less worry for me.”

“Jack, I know this is a bad time to say this, but with me there never is a right time. I think we should go our separate ways.’

“Why?”

“I’ve brought nothing but trouble. You’ve lost two ships because of me. You’ve been held prisoner by mercs and the military, both because of me. And not just you, Juwanda has also suffered because of me and may never truly be safe again. You can’t go back to your old trade route without that mobster Jin coming after you.” I had to stop, because the tears I held back in my eyes were catching in my throat. After a moment to compose myself, I concluded. “I’m nothing but trouble to everyone who knows me. You should stay as far away from me as possible before you get hurt again.”

Jack pressed up behind me and wrapped his arms around my stomach. His hot breath chuckled softly in my ears. “You cost me two ships? I’ve gone through dozens. I’ve been threatened so many times, I can’t keep track. So what if Jin would have my hide? I can avoid his territory. This is a big universe. I’ve amassed and lost fortunes. I’m been shot, stabbed and survived three catastrophic starship explosions. On that scale, your troubles have been mere diversions.”

I looked back at him to see his eyes. He was telling the truth.

Then he kissed me. I melted and my worries burned off like fog.

We spent the rest of the morning together.

Herlioni had the good manners to stay scarce.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

PAJANG -- Night 11

Jack woke up this evening. He took my hand and didn't let go as he related his experience. The soldiers took him out of the local jail and brought him to the base just after Toby and Josh were released. Instead of putting him in a cell, they locked him in an empty hanger. They handcuffed him to a chair and before they even asked him a question they injected him.

After that it became blurry. He recalls the admiral asking him about the chip removed from Juwanda and its registration as one of Baron Treewrich's. That opened the flood gates, as it were, and Jack told them everything he knew. There were more questions as the admiral lock down the details, like the name of the Baron's ship and the exact location where we suspected Jinny had taken the Grimola.

As the questioning continued, he became less aware of what exactly he said, but he feels certain he confessed to most of his sins, including being psionic. He is also pretty sure all of our secrets leaked out as well, but he can't recall what exactly he said.

Once they were satisfied that they had every useful nugget of information, they dumped him outside the gate, figuring he'd sleep it off in the gutter.

Jack's pissed about his unlawful treatment, but we all know there is no justice when it comes to the Imperium's military.

Now that he has regained consciousness, he is being released from the hospital. It will deplete my funds to pay for the medical bills. We'll probably spend the night in the same empty building where Herlioni and I crashed last night.
PAJANG -- Day 11

Herlioni and I spend all of last night hovering over Jack. I excepted the navy to arrive at any moment, given that they had been looking for us before and the personnel in the clinic certainly would remember us and report us. But no one came. The number of naval troops have decreased actually, to about normal levels. There have been no further news reports about any of us.

All this is peripheral. My main concern has been for Jack, who still has not regained consciousness.

“I’m worried,” I whispered to Herlioni. “I usually can feel him. I’m getting nothing.”

“They drugged him.” Herlioni lightly stroked his fingertips across Jack’s forehead. “Some kind of truth drug. He told them everything.”

My mouth fell open. When I recovered, I asked, “Then why aren’t they here?”

“They don’t care about us.” Herlioni cracked a slight grin. “Which is fortunate. There was an… Admiral, I think. He seemed only interested in Treewrich. I gather he doesn’t like the Baron and intends to use what Jack told them to get the Grimola themselves.”

“But Jack didn’t know where to look for Jinny. I never told him.”

Herlioni smiled patiently at me. “I’ve been tutoring Jack longer than I have you. You have no secrets from him. He even told Gray what you would not.”

I glanced down at Jack, unable to be mad at him in his current state. “The little sneak.”

“He’ll sleep off the drugs and recover,” Herlioni assured me.

“What are we going to do then? We have no ship. I’m nearly through what credits I had and Jack spent his for the engine repairs.”

Herlioni shrugged, “I don’t know.”

Monday, March 01, 2004

PAJANG -- Day 10 (afternoon)

I went to the naval base this morning to scope it out, with every intention of finding a way to bust Jack out.

When I got there, I saw Jack sitting outside on a bench, staring down at his feet.

I walked up slowly, expecting some kind of trap. I stood beside him for a while and he didn't seem to notice me. Finally, I asked, "Jack, are you all right?"

Jack looked up at me. He had dark circles under his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, then collapsed.

He was heavy as heck, but I managed to hoist him in a shoulder carry and got him into the air/raft I rented.

I took him to the clinic, the very one where Juwanda was first treated, and admitted him.

I sent a mental 'shout' to Herlioni about the situation. He is on his way.

Damn those people. What did they do to him?
PAJANG -- Day 10

I feel like screaming. Jack is still in custody, but he has been moved from the local lock-up to the naval station. Appearently, they are not pleased with Toby and Josh’s release. This morning they issued a notice that the pair are wanted for questioning.

That doesn’t matter now.

Last night there was a mutany of sorts. If you can have a mutany without a ship. We’d found an empty building to hole-up for a while. Toby came up to me with Fret and Josh hanging back.

Toby said, “I feel bad about Jack, but they can’t keep him long. Don’t worry.”

“Thanks,” I replied. I knew that wasn’t what he’d come to say.

“Listen. The ship is gone and you won’t be getting it or another soon. I’m an engineer. I’m not cut out for the life of a fugitive.” He glanced back at Josh and Fret. “We’re leaving. I found a ship that needs engineers. They hired me and Josh. Fret’s got the gig as their gunner. We ship out tonight.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

Toby shook his head. “We’re bound for Ganesh. We can escort your friend home. Maybe that’ll help balance things.”

Juwanda had been listening to the conversation. I could see her brighten at the offer, but waited for my reaction.

“Juwanda?” Toby offered a hand to her.

She took it. “You should go home home, too.” She told me. “Travelling is treatchous. I’d rather forget my talents and live a nice, safe life.”

I got up and hugged her. “You go. And be careful. You may still need to dodge Treewrich.”

“I don’t think he ever cared enough to ask Johnathon Pope where he found me. I don’t think he knows to look for me on Ganesh.” Juwanda grabbed up her small bundle of things and hurried after Toby.

Their ship left last night, so this morning’s announcement is not concerning me.

Now there is only Herlioni and I, and of course Jack. What am I going to do about Jack?