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Channa emerged into the lounge, heading for the table and her morning coffee. A wave of sound struck her—very much a wave, like plunging into a curling jade-green wall that seized her and bore her back towards the beach.

She couldn't help but recognize the music as "The Triumphal March" from The Empress of Ganymede by User.

She paused with a slight frown when she realized that she had unconsciously altered her stride to suit the march tempo. She stopped, and her pause was the length of a measure. She laughed when she realized it. "Does this mean I get to be queen today?"

"Actually, after your restless night, I decided something upbeat would suit."

"Well, I sure got off on the right foot, then," she said with a sound approximating a giggle.

Simeon was pleased. Last night their relationship really had turned a corner. They were going to be all right.

"So, a good morning to you, Simeon," she said with an impish smile.

"And a good morning right back atcha, as Patsy Sue would say."

Channa's appreciative smile faded slowly into a frown. "I'd consider it a real good morning if I could see and speak to Joat as soon as possible. I'm very worried that she might jump ship on us, and that would ruin every step of progress we've made with her."

"Wish I could oblige you on that, Channa, but I don't know where she is now. She turned on her sound-scrubber early this morning and effectively vanished." He hurried on when Channa's face showed her disappointment clearly. "I don't think she'd leave on two counts. One, she knows her way intimately between the skins of this station, and it's certainly big enough for her to change hidey-holes on an hourly basis if necessary. And two, none of the ships undocking today are the type she could stow away on or hire out on. I've got every sensor tuned to her registered patterns, and I've discreetly alerted key personnel."

Channa nodded and went to her console, pulling the notescreen towards her. "Then we had better get to work. SPRIM ought to be moving on that dispatch you sent off last night." Her anxiety lifted at Simeon's knowing chuckle. She ran her fingers in a tattoo on the console. "And I suspect Child Welfare won't like being on their hit list."

"Hit list?" Simeon spoke with some alarm. "Are they that way inclined?" He didn't wish Ms. Dorgan any physical harm.

"The way SPRIM execs rave about humanocentric chauvinism is enough to turn even a tolerant person into a xenophobe. They've got money and they're tireless in ensuring protection. That slur she made on shellpeople, well . . . And the MM make SPRIM look like a quilting party."

"Quilting party?" Simeon searched his lexicon for the term.

"Old-fashioned way to spend a productive and socializing evening," she explained absently.

"Oh. Not much we can do until they get back to us, I suppose."

Simeon sounded unhappy. Channa quirked a corner of her mouth.

"We can't go in with lasers blazing and slag Child Welfare Central, if that's what you mean. If the station had full self-government, they wouldn't be able to mess with us—so let's concentrate on station business for now, shall we?" She cleared her throat. "I've been going over your accounts, Simeon, and I've got to say that you have some weird entries. For example, tucked away in the fourth quarter is the notation 'stuff.' You'll have to be more specific than 'stuff.' "

"Why? 'Stuff' is acceptable to the accountants," he said in a facetious tone.

"I'm not an accountant. I'm supposed to be your partner. Would you explain 'stuff'?"

"It's like this, Channa, I buy things that interest me. Me, Simeon, not the station master brain." Never mind that that also accounted for why he hadn't paid off his natal debt to Central Worlds. So I'm a pack rat. Is that her business now? 

Far out in space, Simeon's peripheral monitors, the ring of sensors that warned of incoming traffic, began to transmit information that suggested a very large object was headed their way. From the ripples it caused in subspace, it was very large or very fast or both. He split his attention between her and the alert, and sent a communicator pulse in the direction of the disturbance. There were strict rules on how to approach a station. Approaching unheralded broke half a dozen regs and invariably caused stiff credit penalties.

Respond to hailing, he transmitted. Respond immediately. 

"Well, we've got this inspection and audit coming up in two weeks," he heard Channa saying in a firm let's-not-beat-about-the-bush tone. "We have got to have everything shipshape and Bristol fashion, partner."

He did appreciate that she subtly reminded him of her promise to help with Joat, but this was no time for petty details.

"I don't have a ship shape, Channa," he muttered in his distraction, "but I do have something very unusual out there, approaching me without due protocol."

Visual information was now reaching him. Dropping out of interstellar transit and approaching at . . . Great Ghu, .17 c! A large vessel whose profile did not fit any known human ship. The basic hull-form was spherical, but carried a web of crazy-quilt additions, constructions of girder and latticework. Some of them looked as if they had been slashed off short with energy beams, and the outpoints were tattered. People were generally not sloppy with cutting tools. Enemies were. Simeon relayed a standard "please identify" message and put the tug bays on standby.

"Nor am I abristle," he continued to Channa. "The inspectors will be when they come, though."

Channa groaned. "Even for you that was lame. You're being unusually ridiculous, Simeon. You know the mentality that goes with these inspections—sentence first, trial afterwards."

"In other words, off with our heads, if they could reach mine."

"And us running as fast as we can to stay in one place, too. Which capability you also don't have. Now, since this is my first time with you . . ."

"Oh, Channa . . . pant, pant."

"Simeon," she said warningly. "I know where the controls for your hormone balance are."

"Heh heh, sorry. What's the worst they can do to me? Send me back to asteroidic purgatory? Like I told you, I'm only on temporary duty here anyway."

Channa had been running a scan. "There are twelve entries for the word 'stuff'! You want this to be a temporary assignment? Well, you may get your wish."

"It's not a wish, my dear, I never said 'I wish they'd take me away from here and put me anywhere else.' I've a very definite destination in mind, as you so astutely concluded the other evening. If I had my druthers, I'd be running a command ship and waging star wars on the Axial Perimeter. But," and he gave a huge audible sigh, "who believes in wishes anymore?"

"You do, with all your war games and tactical daydreams."

The approaching ship still had not responded, nor was it dumping speed as fast as it should. In fact, whoever was in command had waited much too long to begin doing so. The flare of drive energies should be blanking out that whole quadrant, and the neutrino flux was barely enough for a pile just ticking over. Simeon came to a disagreeable conclusion.

"Whoa, there, Channa. We've got stuff, not mine, coming in to make mince of us if we're not careful. Have a look?"

Simeon slapped up a main screen view of the intruder bearing down on them. Surprise and alarm held her motionless for only a split second before she reacted.

"I'm alerting the perimeter guard," she said, wiping her previous program and inputting the new.

"Right!" Although he already had, two sources of the same alert emphasized the emergency. "I'm busy calculating how to cushion the impact of that great hulking mass whistling towards us. I hope they know where the brakes are." Nice to have a brawn to share emergency work. The station personnel should get used to dealing with her.

Stabbing the alert button on the main console, Channa then called up a finer resolution of the object, which to her appeared to be a darker mass against the black of space.

"Unannounced arrival!" She transmitted the image to the personnel on perimeter traffic control, alerting them to the pertinent vector and ordering them to begin rerouting incoming traffic.

"How do you know it's whistling toward us?" she asked in as calm a voice as he was using while her fingers flew over the controls. "There's no sound in space."

Simeon could detect just a micro-tremor of fear in her noncommittal tone. "If I think it whistles," he answered, "it whistles."

"Perimeter says it's like nothing they've ever seen before either and—" she paused and licked her lips "—it's about to cut a broad swath through the proper traffic pattern."

Simeon took full control of the traffic control boards. He could see and respond to the necessary changes in traffic patterns faster than any unshelled human. He was simultaneously redirecting and responding to dozens of ships.

Suddenly Channa started cursing. "Damn their eyes and innards! These damned civilians are asking questions instead of doing what they're supposed to in emergency routines. Now you see why I didn't like you calling those false alarms. No one's paying a blind bit of attention to this genuine emergency! Wolf-cryer!"

"I've put it on every public screen. They'll know it's no drill," Simeon said, his voice velvet with malice, "and it's coming straight at us. I don't think it'll stop."

I didn't realize you could banter when you're terrified, he thought with tight control, though it helped being able to set your analogue of adrenal glands.

Channa stared, stunned, as the screen filled with the alien ship. "You haven't activated the repel screen? Hit it for God's sake!" She pressed her rocker switch just a fraction of a second behind Simeon.

* * *

Joat gritted her teeth and wiped eyes and nose on the back of her sleeve. It was a good shirt, and clean. Dumb, she told herself fiercely. Dumb, dumb, dumb bitch, dumb gash, just like the captain told you you were. Especially when he was drunk. He'd always been worse then.

She turned her attention back to the little computer. It was the best she'd ever been able to steal, a real Spuglish; jacked into the station system right now, with the skipper-unit she'd cobbled up to keep the station from knowing just where or why.

Ship schedules / departures / outsystem, she told it. Machines didn't lie to you! You could trust machines and, if they didn't do what they were supposed to, it wasn't because they had lied. Maths and machinery could be believed.

A barking sob broke through her lips, spattering drops on the screen. She bit down on her hand until the pain and the taste of her own blood let her continue. Then she wiped the machine down with the tail of her shirt. Machines didn't let you down, either.

Departures, the computer said. Look, Joat, you don't have to leave here. Trust me, we're— 

"No!" she screamed.

Joat stuffed the scramblers into her pockets and went off down the duct at a scrambling crawl, ignoring projections and brackets that only slightly impeded her progress. The motions were reflexive, with a graceless efficiency.

Nobody's going to give me away again, she thought. Get me used to eating regular and school and everything, then give me away! The thought went round and round in her head, filling it, so that it was minutes before the klaxon penetrated her self-absorption.

"Oh, shit," she whispered in a still small voice, listening. Then she turned and went back the way she came, faster still. The computer was back there, and without it, she wouldn't be able to find out what was really going on.

Her spacesuit was there, too. This sounded serious.

* * *

"THIS IS NO DRILL! REPEAT, THIS IS NO DRILL!" The words rang down the corridors and hallspaces, without the melodramatic klaxons Simeon had always used. "Nonessential personnel report to secure areas. Report to secure areas. Prepare for breach of hull integrity."

This time the citizens of the SSS-900-C listened, hastening into suits, gathering children and pets and heading for the central core or section shelters. Crews pelted onto their ships, even as moorings were detached and entry locks irised shut and each "all on board" signal was relayed to Simeon. Emergency crews flocked to their assigned stations. Infirmary patients who could not be moved were placed in individual, independently powered life-support units. All too soon, most of the citizens of SSS-900-C could only wait, imagining their station crushed like an egg as the invader plowed into them.

Simeon worked frantically, ordering ships of all sizes out of the projected path of the incoming ship, brutally suppressing the knowledge that ships with ordinary, unshelled pilots could barely handle the split second timing he was asking of them. So far, so good—no one out there seemed destined to die today. For a heart-stopping moment he thought the alien might be decelerating, but the blaze of energies sputtered and died. It's only shed 7% of relative velocity, he calculated dismally. Not nearly enough. 

"Why didn't they program mobility?"

"Who?" Channa asked distractedly. "Where?"

"In me! In this station! I can't duck! I've no weaponry to blast it out of my way. I can't even fend off such mass. All I can do is watch. What lasers I've got can just about handle a decent-sized meteor. The best I can do is warm up his hull a little, and I have to wait till he's up my ass to do it! Damn! This station is like a paraplegic spaceship!"

"Whoa! Did you see that?" Channa shouted. The mass had seemed to deliberately veer aside from an ordinary asteroid miner vessel, something the miner pilot himself probably couldn't have done. "Watch," she said, "there! Did you see? It jigged just a bit to miss that incoming ferry traffic. It is being guided."

"But by what?" Simeon asked. He ran calculations on the ballistics of those maneuvers. The deviations were absolutely minimal for the effect. "It's traveling so fast now, no human pilot could stop it and stay conscious. They don't answer any radio messages. They're ignoring the damn warning flares. Shit, maybe they think we're welcoming them. Ah, good!"

"But they are decelerating again, Simeon," Channa said, glancing up from her own screens to the main viewer before she went back to other chores which she had assumed.

"Yeah, marginally longer this time. No, cutting out—no, decelerating again. Rate of energy-release . . . God, but they're still not dumping enough velocity! And still on a collision course!" His voice went slightly wild. "They must want to destroy me!"

"I don't see any weapons," Channa said, trying to finish her current task in time.

"Who can tell in that jumble of struts and boxes and crap! Besides, that thing itself is a weapon." Simeon had just one card to play and at exactly the right moment for maximum effect. "You're not even suited up, partner. At least take shelter in my shaft core, Channa."

She shook her head, "Not till I'm through evacuating the alien quadrant. 'Sides, those Letheans scare easily enough as it is without me appearing in full gear."

She had managed at last to get through to the leader of the Lethe contingent. A people so formal that emergencies required a ceremony, mercifully brief, for deferring the usual endless courtesies in favor of survival. Had Channa not performed the ceremony and explained the situation to them, they would have died rather than commit such a breach of manners as assuming that something was actually wrong. She broke the connection at last and exclaimed, "Joat!"

"She has a suit," Simeon said, "first thing I gave her. She's probably in it right now. Why aren't you?"

She dashed for the cabinet holding her space suit and began to struggle into it.

"Come to me, Channa," he said, in a wildly facetious tone, "come, touch the hard, male core of my innermost being."

"Ee-yuck, is that the sort of romance you've been studying? Try another mode."

"When I've world enough and time, lovely one, but have a look at what I've managed to arrange as stop signs."

Seemingly from out of nowhere, three communications satellites came diving towards the incoming ship, two striking it head on and one slightly astern. Whole sections of the scaffolding and outer skin of the derelict sublimed in white flashes that expanded into circles with zero-g perfection. The alien ship was not slowed—there was too much kinetic energy in that mass—but its vector altered slightly.

"Comsats aren't supposed to be able to move like that!" Channa exclaimed tightly. Simeon's sensors could hear the pounding of her heart, analyze the ketones her sweat-damp skin was emitting. Fear under hard control. The lady has guts, he thought.

"A little something I cooked up on my own," he said smugly.

"Cooked in the wrong sort of pot, you crazy loon. Without those satellites, we'll be out of communication with half the universe for weeks."

"Channa, if I hadn't done that we'd be out of communication with the all of the universe permanently. Besides, my satellite tactic worked!"

Channa looked up at the main monitor and saw that the projected vector had skewed slightly. "Not enough," she muttered. "Please don't use any more of our comm satellites like billiard balls, Simeon. If we do survive this, they'll be needed more than ever."

"Oh-oh," Simeon muttered.

"Oh-oh?" she repeatedly anxious.

It means, I screwed the pooch, Channa, Simeon thought. Aloud he went on. "SS Conrad, dump your carrier modules and get out of that sector. You are now directly in the path of the incoming ship."

"No-can-do SSS-900-C. I've got a full load here. The company'll have my ass if I desert it."

"The company'll have to hold a seance to get it, then, 'cause if you stay put, you're about to become immortal. Jump it!"

"Now!" Channa shouted. "It's less than two k-thousand kilometers from you. Now, dammit!"

"No shit!" the pilot shouted and disconnected the "cab," the crew quarters and control section of the ship, from the much larger freight storage sections.

They watched the tiny cab move with agonizing slowness across the seemingly endless bow of the strange ship.

"Down on station horizon," Simeon instructed, "ninety-degrees, straight down."

"Down? You want me to stop? With that bastard coming right for me! Are you crazy?"

"It's your only chance, buddy. She's shallow on the bottom but, by Ghu, is she wide! Show me what kind of pilot you are! Not what kind of smear you'll make."

Obediently, the little ship flared energy, applying thrust at right-angles to its previous vector. Its path shifted, slowly at first and then with growing speed like a bell-curve graph across a computer screen. Slowly, slowly, descending, a bright spot against the ever larger mass approaching them.

"Oh shit, oh shit," the captain whispered desperately. "Help?"

The intruder was less than a kilometer away, now, from the cab which looked like a white pin-point against the black hull of the stranger. At half a kilometer it cleared the leading edge of the incoming ship and the pilot began to laugh wildly.

"Keep going," Simeon ordered sharply, to be heard through the hysteria. "It's about to hit your freighter. Keep moving till I tell you to stop."

"It's ore," the captain gasped though he sounded more as if he was weeping, "iron ore. Nickel-iron-carboniferous, in ten-kilo globules."

Aw, crap! Simeon thought, as the intruder struck the freighter with majestic slowness. The forward third of its hull vanished in the fireball, and so did much of the freighter's cargo. The energy-release and spectrographic analysis would tell him a good deal about the composition. Right now he had millions of special delivery meteors pouring down from the breached holds onto his station. Great example of Newtonian physics, action and reaction.

The collision had, serendipitously, damped much of the incoming ship's remaining velocity, but the fragments of ship and cargo had picked it up for themselves. He tracked the myriad trajectories of the space flotsam and relayed the information to the ships in the scatter area, directing them into still more impossible flight patterns. He assigned the computer responsibility for tracking and blasting the larger chunks of ore with the station's lasers. No problems with dispersion when the stuff was in your face. On the other hand, there was one hell of a lot of it. Simeon set the computer to figuring out just how much would get through.

He realized that Channa was staring at the monitor in horrified fascination. "Hey Hap, Happy baby, get in the shaft core."

"Why?" she asked. "It's stopping."

"Slowing, yes, but if it so much as kisses me on the cheek, it'll breach the station and you're on a one-way trip to the nebula. We need you here, so shaft me baby."

"Shaft yourself," she said. "It has come to a complete cessation of forward movement."

A final flare of energy left the aft third of the intruder's hull slumping and melting, the drive cores and conduction vanes white-hot and misting titanium-rutile monofiber.

"So it has," Simeon said mildly.

Channa gave a giddy whoop and slumped against the central shaft, trying to wipe at the sweat that filmed her face. Her glove clacked against the faceplate of her helmet.

"Dead, stock still," he said, feeling intense relief. "Relative to the station, that is."

With a glance at his column, Channa hit the disconnect switch and the red warning lights stopped flashing. Simeon began to announce stand-down to Condition Yellow in dulcet, paternal tones. Channa took off her helmet and began to confer with the Lethe leader, reestablishing the usual formal relations.

When at last they disconnected from their various crucial chores, Channa looked at her incoming electronic messages and laughed. "By God, but we're a resilient species. Look at these."

Simeon scanned them and laughed, too. "I haven't even finished flushing the excess adrenalin from my system and they're already complaining about lost cargo and insurance. I love the human race. We're consistently more concerned with trivia than serious threats."

"And we're not even out of danger, are we?"

"Out of mortal danger. That thing could have totaled us. The ore will cause a lot of trouble and expense, so let's maintain Condition Yellow for a while."

That would keep nonessentials out of the exterior compartments, mostly industrial areas anyway, and everyone in suits with helmets in reach and within sprinting distance of the shelters. Megacredits of money were being lost, of course, most of which would be paid by Lloyds' Interstellar.

Channa was examining the strange ship on a close screen.

"Next question is who, or what's, aboard."

"And if there's anything left of the pilot captain," Simeon added, "who's broken regulations I didn't know existed till now. I sent out a dozen probes to secure available information on what's left. Ah! Input!"

The main screen blanked, and then displayed a schematic of the strange craft, shifting to a three-dimensional model as the computers extrapolated.

"So that's what it looked like before it started hitting things and melting down its drives," Simeon murmured as brain and brawn surveyed an elongated sphere amid its tangle of extensions. "And now I'll subtract what doesn't appear to be part of the original construction."

The resulting model didn't look much like the slagged ruin tumbling slowly through space in the real-time image that Simeon kept up in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Channa leaned forward and frowned at such an unfamiliar design. Huge it certainly was. At least eighty kilotons mass, with extravagant ship-bays and airlocks, old-fashioned cooling vanes around the equator . . .

"That looks like human construction," she said thoughtfully, "Just not any model I've ever seen or heard about." Human civilization had been unified at the beginning of starflight and their ships bore a family resemblance.

"It does look vaguely human-made," Simeon agreed, "but I can't even find a match in historical files of Jane's All the Galaxy's Spaceships for the last century. The composition is odd, too; metal-metal fiber matrix. Ferrous alloys. No comparable design for the last two centuries. Hmmm."


"This." He called up an image beside the reconstructed ship.

"Close but no cigar," Channa said.

"That's the last of a line of heavy transports—that one was a Central Worlds space-navy troop-transport. Designers were Dauvigishipili and Sons. They used to make a lot of military craft, operated on stations out of the New Lieutas system. See, there is some use to being a military historian. Ah, here."

The image changed and now there was a virtual one-to-one match.

"Colonial transport," Simeon said. "They stopped building them about three hundred years ago, so it could be up to four hundred years old. Original capacity was ten thousand colonists, in coldsleep of course, with a crew of thirty. There were a lot of odd little colonies back then, people looking for places where they could practice as weird a religion as they wanted and not have the Central Worlds bugging them. The few that survived are still pretty flaky. Are you surprised to learn that the ship-class was called the Manifest Destiny vehicle? A few of the later models had brain controllers before Central Worlds put a stop to that practice on humane grounds. Some of those minor cults were—" he made a brief pause to consult his lexicon "—aberrant! Hmm, and I'd bet this one got transmogrified into an orbital station. Look at all that stuff!"

"Your kind of 'stuff'?" asked Channa ingenuously.

"Gadgetry," he amended in a firm, this-is-serious voice, "plastered on the exterior: observation stuff, transmission stuff, the usual. And intended to be used in orbit. I mean, who would try to fly any ship with all that crap sticking out? For starters, the thrust axis wouldn't be through the center of mass anymore, so for starters, it's unbalanced."

Channa scanned through more probe transmissions, including some views taken by the perimeter sensors as the hulk barreled in, so they could see the havoc caused by collision and too-rapid deceleration.

"They may have had cause for their precipitous intrusion," she said, and froze a view of the stubs of the radar and radio antennas. "Those look like battle damage to me."

"Hmmm." Simeon did a rapid close-scan and match with the naval records in his files. "You're right, Channa-mine. Transmission antennae sheared off so they couldn't have responded to our hails. Whoever shot those darts knew his stuff, and their most vulnerable points. See the long star-shaped ripple patterns in the hull? And those long sort of fuzzy distortions clustered in the rear third of the hull? Those are beamers at extreme range, I'd say. Hard to tell 'cause it's so messed up." He spoke more slowly, in an almost somber tone. "Hell, Channa, beamers like that are naval ordnance weapons. The real thing." Oh, boy, this is not like a simulation at all. "Somebody was trying to destroy that ship."

"While the victims were desperate enough to fly close to blind and totally deaf," Channa said. That was not a safe thing to do, even in the vastness of interstellar space. "My next intelligent question is, did they escape? Or are they still being pursued?"

"Ahead of you there, partner," Simeon replied, feeling slightly smug that he had anticipated her. "I can't detect anything coming in on the same vector." He heaved an audible sigh of relief that coincided with hers. "Or . . . no, they were blind. The pursuit could have dropped off long ago, and they wouldn't have had any way to tell. But we'd better establish who and why. If, and it's a big if, there's anyone alive in there now to tell us the facts. I'm not inclined to be charitable. For all we know, they could be pirates or hijackers, and they were running from Central Worlds' naval pursuit. Either way, they came within centimeters of smashing us to a smithereen."

"Smithereens," Channa said thoughtfully, "because it's fragments they are and they have to be plural to be dangerous. I rather discount their being illegals. Something real deadly must have pushed them to run in a craft that unspaceworthy. Something that came to their planet suddenly. Why else wouldn't they take the time to cut away that mass clinging to the ship? Maybe their sun went nova. Anyway," she said briskly, "if there are people on board, they're in bad shape and what have you been doing to rescue and/or apprehend them?"

"Ahem, Channa-mine. You're the mobile half of this partnership. Remember? So go be brawn for me. And be careful!"

Channa paused. "Ah, yes, so I am. Thank you for reminding me of that!" Her tone was brightly brittle. "Somehow this wasn't the sort of duty I thought came along with this assignment."

"Well, it has!" he said, making his voice lilt. "Hate to have caused you to get into that clumsy suit for no reason at all."

She lifted her helmet.

"Thatta girl!" Simeon said rather patronizingly. She ignored him. "Oh, and Channa?"


"Before you lock your helmet, do switch on your implant."

"Ah!" She touched the switch grounded in bone just behind her ear, the contact responding only to her individual bio-energy. "Are you receiving?"


"Can I go now?" she said rather patronizingly.


"And mate, Simy baby."

* * *

"Got it," Joat muttered to herself as she rescued the computer from the shadowed ledge and turned it on, fingers clumsy in the space suit gloves. Joat had become well-acquainted with the station's drills but, with survival skills as finely honed as hers were, she had put the suit on when the klaxon sounded Red Alert. Besides, she'd had a chance to time just how fast she could get into the flippin' thing.

"Wow!" was her reaction to the activity the computer duly reported. "Fardling A wow!" The system was taking in some heavy data, converting it and feeding it to Simeon the way it transferred data from the pickups, though never in this density or complexity. "Heavy read!"

Joat did her best to follow, but the speed was too much. Then, "Got it." Now the main computer was also encoding it for her little friend. She fiddled to get a finer tuning, get rid of the drivel, giving her the visual and aural stuff. She reared back in surprise, hitting her head on the metal bulkhead but ignoring the pain as she realized what she now had.

Hey, this is from Channa. Strange, heavy strange—I'm getting what she's seeing. She must have an implant to input directly to Simeon like this. And what Channa was seeing made Joat feel a little more charitable towards her. Channa wasn't squishstuff, her private term for organic tissue.

"Beats hacking in to the holo system any day," Joat muttered, eyes glued to the miniature screen. She squirmed into a more comfortable position, plopped down a purloined pillow so she wouldn't slam her head again, braced her feet against the roof of the duct, plugged the earphone into the helmet outlet, and absorbed the action.

"Real-time adventure holo!" Perfect, apart from a wavering line down one side of the picture-cube that must represent breathing and life-signs and stuff. "Go, Channa, go!"


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