of the Galaxy Rangers" and all characters, institutions,
locations, and/or situations therefrom are copyright 1986 Robert
Mandell, Gaylord Productions, Transcom Media Inc., and ITF
Enterprises Inc. No infringement is intended by their inclusion
in this work. The author makes no claim of ownership to any of
the characters, institutions, locations, and/or situations
associated with "The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers."
This is a piece of not-for-profit fan fiction. All original
characters, institutions, locations, and situations are copyright
Ann-Kathrin Kniggendorf and may not be used without
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
hedgehog cereus or any other cactus suffered for the production
of this story.
I don't speak any Afrikaans. The few words scattered in
the story are taken from http://www.freedict.com/onldict/afr.html
(in 2000; yea, this plot is *that* old!) because I couldn't
find somebody speaking it.
door to Walsh's office hissed open.
Zachary snapped as the S5's entered the commander's office. "I
wasn't even on this ball when the first poems showed
complaint go to the attention of Professor Negata, Owen, BWL
administration department 1B, 28th floor, building 2A," the
ST returned without batting an eyelash. "Three written
Zach's mouth fell open.
still holds the patents," Shane said with a careless salute
at the commander.
not the point, Gooseman," Walsh said, amused, from behind
his desk. "What's important is: are you making any progress
in the Crusader case?"
really, sir. But the suspect list is shortening, now that I can
cross out Captain Fox as well." He shrugged fatalistically.
"Seems in the end I'll prove that hack to be me."
my Goose man!" Doc placed a hand over his heart in mock
horror. "Who on Earth would believe that?"
knows?" The ST looked over his shoulder at the computer
psychologist. "What's that line from that English
detective... Sher– Shar– Charley Horns or some such:
'When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever
remains, however improbable, must be the truth.' I forget who the
Arthur Conan Doyle," Walsh said dryly. "And the
character's name is Sherlock Holmes. But you quoted him right."
He nodded approvingly. "And now, on to business, Rangers!
Your unit is scheduled for a field exercise."
practice-hunt?" the captain asked in mild annoyance. "Isn't
there something more important to do?"
smiled broadly. "What are you thinking, Zach? We'll get put
down as busy for a week, Goose will sniff out the fugitive within
an hour, and *paid holidays*, peo–"
why Gooseman's the rabbit this time," Walsh said over Doc's
cheerful words. "The usual equipment, Gooseman, plus credit
card. Playing range is this state. Chief Engineer O'Malley will
care for your cat. Your teammates will be after you in three
hours." The door hissed shut on the commander's last words.
you think you think
You only think you think
That I'd never
do that trick
between Phoenix and
Saguaro National Park (West)
Goose goes three hundred miles on horseback through Arizona
starting in late morning in mid-June!" Doc snorted.
"*Voluntarily!*" He shuddered. "My saddle is
melting under me," he complained. "Why can't we use the
it looks as if he's heading for the National Parks, Doc, and
vehicles aren't allowed there." Zach ground his teeth and
wiped the sweat off his forehead. The temperature was over 95F by
now and the heat was still increasing. "Law from
"Can't we apply
for special permission?"
a field exercise?!" Zach threw him a dark look. "Think
"But they have
*air conditioning!*" the hacker protested.
be such a whiner." Niko shook her head. "What did you
expect of him? That he'd stay right under our noses in Phoenix?
We know him better than that."
a race through the desert?! In June?!"
National Park (West)
307 miles off Phoenix
200F (according to Doc's personal feeling of temperature)
their own way they are beautiful...* Niko thought. Her gaze swept
across the extended cactus field their path ran through. Bushy
cacti grew knee-deep all around the narrow sightseeing path.
Their long golden thorns stuck out between almost glowing pink
blooms. Gigantic yellow and orange flowers several meters above
the ground topped the tree-like Saguaros that were scattered
among the smaller cacti.
asked about them at the mission this morning and had learned that
the bloom of the hedgehog cerei, as the smaller cacti were
called, was almost over while that of the big Saguaros had just
Not for the first time
she wondered how the plants managed to flower in this scorching
heat at all. It was a horrible time to travel this country,
still... The sights were probably worth the strain, though she
doubted very much that Zach and Doc would agree. The summer heat
had already baked the soil to a nearly stonelike hardness, at
least when it came under the hooves of a cybersteed. They hadn't
seen a hoofprint in hours. And on this near desert
"Wait a minute!"
Niko's call brought them to a halt. Zach and Doc turned their
horses back toward her. "Could that be a hoofmark?" She
pulled Mel a few strides away from the path and dismounted.
Crouching, she ran her fingertips over the tiny drift of sand,
careful not to erase the shallow, round dent in it.
a moment, she shook her head and looked up, laying her hand at
the brim of her hat to shield her eyes better against the burning
sun. "I'm not sure. Zachary? Can you have a look at
"Why don't you
use your powers to discover whether or not it's him?" Doc
muttered under his breath while nudging Voyager to follow
"Because I'm unable
*not* to notice the information I receive through the link about
his position if I tried to determine his position psionically,"
she returned icily, at least as icily as possible while sweating
in a heat of, according to Mel's sensors, 106F. "And that
would be unfair!"
us being baked to dust is fair?"
this case, yes!"
it, people. Please." Zachary's usually iron nerves were worn
thin by this heat, too. He examined the imprint Niko had
"What do you think?"
the telepath asked him.
possible. But I'm not sure, either." He sighed. "I was
stationed at the Baltic sea when I had my course of
trail-tracking. Hiiumaa is mostly limestone and sediments, and
the climate's moderate. No conditions like this. But if this is
indeed a hoofprint then he can't be that far ahead of us. This
sand is as dry and fine as dust. The lightest breeze would have
erased the imprint."
jumped down from Voyager. "Let me see it, too." He
crouched down between Zach and Niko, looking curiously at the
sand drift. "If it's a hoofprint," he began, pointing
vaguely at it, "then in what direction does it
"Away from the
path," Zach concluded. "If we assume we were right that
he followed it up from the old mission."
hacker looked darkly. "Not that we have a sure proof for
did," Niko said with conviction. "Anywhere else he had
to cross soft ground where he'd have left tracks. The path was
the only way he wouldn't leave tracks behind, unless he returned
straight back to the tarred street."
nodded. "And there he'd have run into us. I agree. He left
the path here." With a glance on his compass, he continued,
"There's an old mining town in that direction. Maybe that's
and *digging*?!" Doc raised a brow and a sweat drop on it
was in danger of dripping down into his eye. He rubbed it away,
smearing sweat-sticky dust across his dark face. "So it's
that direction," he concluded for himself, "we should
try to find another print, then, and–" He sighed.
"–get out of this kiln before we dry out like
Californian raisins–" He leaned back.
Zachary reached for him.
Niko cried out. "W–!"
But all of them
were too slow...
Dellinger's Tailor Shop for the Fine
assume the price on this tag is the amount of money I get if I
disfigure myself with wearing this?" the client asked with a
raised brow, also raising the expensive blazer with two
fingertips expressing contempt.
Dellinger – he preferred his given name pronounced 'Shahrl'
as in French – noticed that this client was able to raise
his brows and to deliver the image of threateningly lowered brows
with it. It wasn't the first time Charles had to reassess this
Maybe the gentleman in
question had entered the shop wearing dusty black jeans and a
shirt Mr. Dellinger preferred not to think too closely about.
Maybe the customer had looked as if he would have problems with
settling even a bill at Woolworth's. But at Charles' snippy
question about how he was going to pay, the man had named a
customer account, entered the password, and caused a blinking
gold frame around Charles' handheld's display that had altered
the tailor's behavior immediately. The account belonged to one of
his best customers; one that was worth *money*. Capitalized. And
the man obviously knew what he wanted. Still–
have to understand. This season the jackets are worn closely
fitting, especially the creations in the Italian
the client chided. "It's too tight and there's not enough
space at the shoulders and under the arms. What would I do with
a suit I can't move in, Charley? Get a job as a
suppressed his wince at 'Charley' and sighed. "Maybe we
should try some of the more conservative models
come up with another frilly, pastel-colored
again. Audibly. What a pity. Here he had finally a customer who
made the best advertising a tailor could possibly get, in spite
of his bluish sun glasses, and the man ignored the current
fashion completely. What was the saying? Life's a bitch. How
this should be to your taste," Charles brushed some
imaginary dust molecules off the smooth cloth and took a step
back to have a full-length view of his customer's appearance.
Satisfied with what he saw, he smiled. "Plain yet elegant
customer shrugged the shoulders, stretched his arms, and turned
at the hips to test the freedom this creation allowed. Charles
had to catch himself not to stare at the impressive muscles
curling beneath the smooth cloth. At least he managed not to
whistle admiringly. "I just hope you don't plan to rob
somebody, sir. It's loose enough that you could hide a holstered
uzi beneath it."
expression of his customer was hidden by reflections in his
glasses. "Not even nearly," the man stated flatly.
"But a narrow Beretta might fit." He bent his neck to
check the fit of the collar, then finally nodded approvingly.
"That's better. Do you have something like this in silk?"
late at night
door hissed closed behind a weary Niko, who took the knife out of
her boot sheath, pulled the knee high boots off her sore legs,
and tossed them beneath the hallway table. The knife ended on top
of said table. She took off her weapon belt half way to the
stairs, draping it over the bannister. *Goose would have a
fit...* she thought and shuffled down the stairs.
days gone. Another three to go. They had returned only minutes
ago and she was more than glad that Zach had granted them at
least a couple of hours to sleep in their own beds. Tomorrow the
chase would go on. She remembered his dry question if she were
still sure that using her psionics to find him was unfair and
Goose... Doc would get him for
the sight-seeing of Saguaro-land...
standing at his console, looked over his shoulder. "Any
luck at the airport, you two?"
tossed his hat on the coat rack. "Nothing. And you?"
Niko dropped herself unceremoniously into the nearest free
The hacker straightened and pressed his hands against his back.
"I can't stand any longer. – I tried to talk Rhondda
into using the internal surveillance system for checking if he's
still on the base. But to no avail. Our dearest mainframe is
acting the coward."
base you mean his quarters?"
The hacker sighed. "Rhondda had a tough talk with ALMA.
Guess who won? And you know about that monstrous locking device
Goose installed after the case with the mad droids?"
Yes. Better leave it alone."
I'm through with the check of the credit card accounts." Doc
shook his head. "Nada. None of BETA's card accounts was
billed with anything unusual during the last four
"Any hotel or
guest house bills within this state?"
snorted. "Over one-hundred."
captain frowned. "And within Phoenix itself?"
dozen. But I doubt very much that Goose is among them." Doc
drew a face when he shifted his weight. "He must know that
we'd check BETA's accounts if we got back alive."
it still hurt?" Zachary asked compassionately.
start, boss!" The hacker produced an impressive mix of a
groan and a growl. "I wished he hadn't gotten an untrackable
card. Normally I'd just list what had been bought on those
accounts with the hotel bills on and we'd have a pattern. But
this untrackable thing jumps between all of BETA's accounts with
its billings." He snorted. "Simple system, but damned
give us a list of the hotels and what's going on there at the
Doc tried to reach his console's keyboard without bending down.
"Darn." He unclipped his CDU. "Just a sec. –
Pathfinder, I need your typing assistance–"
Docco! You should get off your butt and–=
am off my butt!*" The hacker yelled at the bluish sparkle.
"I can't get *on* my butt, okay?!"
Doccolino. This is a children's TV show! You ought to do
something about those fits of temper. Maybe you should get
yourself an appointment with you?=
edged for the door. "Try to find out if any irregularities
came up at those hotels. Unexpected guests or some such. I'll be
back after dinner."
the list, Captain." Doc sighed. "But it doesn't look
good. Most of the rooms at the hotels that billed BETA had been
ordered long before we got that assignment."
yes, one." Doc appeared very unhappy. "The Saguaro
frowned. "That's an expensive address. It's unusual for BETA
to book rooms there."
Niko snickered. "That's an understatement, Zach. Not that I
don't believe Goose capable of using one to distract
"People, they are
hosting this year's LLPC." Doc shook his head. "The
fifth League Literati and Poetics Convention."
mean–" Zachary began.
are filled up to their roof with poets," the hacker said
dryly. "Do you really believe Goose can blend into such a
group without going nuts?"
Captain shrugged. "Niko and I checked the airport this
morning. No luck. So your hotel is the only trace we have."
He reached for his hat. "We'll check the other places as
well, but I don't want to ignore the possibility that he *is*
staying at the Saguaro."
Saguaro Hotel Tower
Conference Hall A
for the art's sake is the only kind of art to be considered art.
Everything else is but an artistic veil tossed over non-art!"
the Dharguni author with his wild mane in sunset colors seemed to
imitate a Philomachus pugnax, a Ruff, proverbially ruffling his
feathers in his brown business suit.
attacked human poet didn't appear to be concerned about it. She
had a deep sip out of a long drink that looked like a mix between
a Banana Daiquiri and a Bloody Mary. The sight alone convinced
Niko that not being anywhere near it was something for which she
owed the Powers That Be eternal gratitude .
Meanwhile, the sipper on stage returned the Ruff's volley: "Here
we got a fine example of verbal *Dadaism*. Though not necessarily
in the meaning of the post World War II art form."
inconspicuously searching the room, listened, and found herself
increasingly amused. A feeling that a sizable number of the huge
audience shared with her. The discussion panel was obviously a
popular event. She recognized quite a few of the faces gathered
around the round-table. The Dhargun, Onbyr, was famous for his
abstract poesies. The woman he attacked was Chidera of Nigeria,
who had written a much cited epic about Africa's way to
Though Niko hadn't
thought that a literati panel could become that heated. The
discussion leader had noticed the underlying aggression as well.
"Maybe your colleague to the right has something to add to
you have to disturb our guests much longer, Ranger?" The
hotel manager, Mr. Delarus, seemingly always agitated and in a
hurry approached her as fast as the crush in the audience
allowed. "This is one of the finest houses in Phoenix. I
doubt very much that a fugitive–"
sighed. "Mr. Delarus..."
the podium, the sandy shock of the man addressed had raised an
inch, though not enough to erase the reflections from the
spotlights in his bluish colored glasses. Were they really blue?
He took his glass up with dark gloved fingers and swirled the
clear liquid slowly, studying it most fascinated. "Maybe,"
he said finally.
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
through the group of international literati and poets gathered
around the conference table and spread out into the numerous
audience. A couple of panelists hid their smirks behind the
occasional drinking glass or notebook. Niko frowned, something
stirred in her memories but she couldn't quite grasp it. "Who's
the gentleman with the sandy hair in the discussion round?"
she asked the hotel manager quietly.
Mr. Delarus blinked twice and, nodding like a chicken searching
for grains, used his sleeve screen to check the admission data.
'Functional clothing' was still
the hype, despite being on the market for over a decade now. And
today's models were above many of the bugs and issues of the
earlier versions. Niko recalled the beginning of the inbuild
printing devices from a museum show. There had been a reason for
the line 'Let's fart a fax'...
a very unknown poet from the former Republic of South Afrika. I
can print you a copy if you like..."
need." Niko stopped him, though it was highly unlikely that
Delarus wore such an old model in his position. "I just
caused by the amused audience died slowly. It was obvious that
the sandy-haired had won the audience with his refusal to take
the matter seriously. Still... With a sigh of regret Niko called
herself to order and concentrated upon surveilling the crowded
audience for hints of their "rabbit".
had finished his round and signalled her from the
She acknowledged him
with a nod and began to make her way to the exit. It didn't look
as if the hacker had been more successful than she. They could
only hope that Zach dug something up at the spaceport.
the podium behind her the offended Dharguni poet barked, "How
dares someone who hasn't even been published under his own name
to have an opinion about the value of true art?!"
as the door closed behind Niko, the South African replied dryly
in his heavily accented voice: "I read the price tags on
had waited for them in the lobby. "Anything new from you?"
But their dark faces told him that they hadn't been more lucky
than he. He sighed. They were running late. Very late.
still think we should frisk the airport and BETA itself."
Doc leaned carefully against the reception table.
checked BETA before we even used the satellite surveillance,"
the captain reminded him.
and all it got us was running after Triton through half of the
state!" the hacker snorted. "A fine exercise. For my
backside." He caught himself. "What I mean, is Goose
knows the surveillance systems as well as we do, maybe better. I
doubt he's able to trick me at the comps but he's well able to
trick us out of BETA while he lies back comfortably in an air
conditioned room with Tri-D and enough snacks for a week. And the
airport sees so many travelers that it's impossible to track
every single person coming and going. He could even have stayed
there. So..." he shrugged.
really want to get him, don't you?" Niko asked the
"For every single
thorn, my dearest lady!"
should frisk those places *again* just to be sure." Zach cut
in. "If you can't find something it's usually in the place
where you looked first. Still, I don't want to ignore that the
only hint of an unexpected guest was in this hotel. Niko, you
stay here." He indicated a sauntering maid in an 18th
Century servant's apron running ads for the highlights of the
LLPC schedule. The slightly blurred fringes marked her as a
holographic entity. "Tomorrow is the final banquet of the
convention. Everyone will be there or be highly suspicious.
Attend it. Doc, you go back to BETA. See, if you can convince
the mainframe into tracking one of the personnel even inside
personnel quarters if necessary."
The mainframe vs. ALMA round two. Does anyone want a
Niko snickered. "And five credits on
I take it that you'll take the airport then, Zach?"
And now get going. We have only tonight and tomorrow left,
hear the next three weeks that he outdid us." Doc shuddered.
in the evening this part of the mountain was utterly silent.
Usually. At the moment, the silence was broken by the
conversation Doc had with ALMA about granting him access to
you must see that it is in Goose's interest to allow me to make
sure he isn't hiding from us in there. If he hasn't left the
mountain at all, it is most likely that he will be punished for
not fulfilling his order."
are searching for him, therefore he has fulfilled his order,
scheduled exercise is the search for a *fugitive*, ALMA, not
hide-and-seek play." Doc smiled broadly. He was definitely
making progress here. "And if I can't convince myself that
he isn't hiding in his quarters then I won't go looking for him
elsewhere and thus he does not fulfill his order of fleeing from
not-at-all chirping electronic voice interrupted him briskly.
=Ranger Hartford, stop nitpicking at logical definitions! Fact:
you intend to enter these quarters without having a valid permit
of access. Fact: that is forbidden. Result: You violate the law.
Period. Get lost!=
indicated that the connection had been cut. Doc just gaped at the
door speakers for several minutes. Then he snorted. So that heap
of disorganized fuzzy-logic-bytes wanted to do this the hard
Air- and Spaceport
About six foot five?" The airport security's chief –
A. Smithee – frowned. "Hm... yea, there was one. Five
days ago. Though the hair was more sand than blond."
"You are sure about the
day?" Zachary inquired.
yea." The man snorted. "Look, Ranger. Usually, it's
the Space section where there's trouble, but that customer..."
he shook his head. "That South African poet was worse than
the 87 drunken Andorian math hooligans roaring obscene
equivalence relations across the C terminal!"
stopped. "Did you say 'poet'?"
He snorted again. "A Jan van Stratten. His wallet had been
remember him well?"
Smithee snipped an imagined dust flake off his desk. "I
won't forget that pettifogging fellow anytime soon! Man, that
man got on our nerves with his replacement IDs."
he have green eyes?"
to say. He wore a pair of those colored glasses."
turning from the counter, activated his wristcom.
got a trace. Cross-check with the hotel manager if there's a Jan
van Stratten – Stratten with double-T – on the
convention. It's poss–"
think that could be Goose?=
I must protest. Mr. van Stratten was very insisting about that he
was not to be disturbed before the afternoon tea. You cannot
possibly disturb a guest because of his sleeping hab–"
Delarus," Niko said firmly while keeping a tight grip on her
patience. "Mr. Stratten's–"
Stratten!" the hotel manager corrected her with an indignant
Stratten's sleeping habits are of no concern to me. But he is the
only guest who had arrived within the critical time for whom you
have only a temporary ID. That makes him highly suspicious. So
either we disturb Mr. *van* Stratten now, or I am forced to
involve the PPD and all this becomes official. What do you
darkly at her. Chicken-chested or not, the man defended his
guests. Niko had to give him credit for that, though that feature
of Mr. Delarus' character had become pretty annoying by now.
Finally, he deactivated the door bell block and had it ding.
Mr. van Stratten doesn't answer the door I'll need you to
override the lock," Niko said about two minutes
"Only if you show me
a valid search warrant for his rooms, Ranger." A muscle in
Delarus' cheesy cheek twitched. The argument was stopped by the
door sliding open.
man – Niko assumed it was one inside the ball of white,
fluffy hotel towels – had drawn a foamy wet path across the
carpet. A slowly expanding puddle formed around his hammertoed
bare feet, as he stood in the door. Apparently, he'd been taking
a bath when they rang him out.
van Stratten, I'm sorry to–" Delarus began.
Jan van Stratten?" Niko cut smoothly in, ignoring the hotel
manager for once.
he asked drowsily, in what was likely his mother tongue and
blinked through steamed glasses almost hidden in the chaotic
towel turban he'd wrapped around his head.
her inquiry he blinked some more, then failed to hide a yawn.
"Sorry, what did you say?"
repeated patiently, searching for a sign of Goose among the
towels and in the room behind him.
ring me out of my bath... at this afschuwelijk time to ask about
rubbed a bare left foot against his right ankle and spread his
toes. If his heavily colored Standard was any indication, then he
wasn't happy at all. Though his cold glare would have been far
more impressive if his glasses weren't almost opaque with steam.
"My wallet was stolen at
arrival. Do you know what it means to get temporary replacements
at this place?" He snorted. "Something unnecessary, if
the authorities–" He glared at Niko as if she
personally had robbed him of his papers. "–had done
their jobs." With that he turned his back towards
Niko got the impression they'd really annoyed the man, for his
accent had become even worse. His 'Delarus' sounded like
'Dehjarysh'. "Have a bediende taking care of the wet
carpet." The door slammed into their faces. "Daag."
of Cmdr. Walsh
I swear I have *no idea* why the Mountain suffered a massive
power failure! What makes you think that I'm
this note from Ranger Gooseman's AI informing me about an
attempted violation of Ranger Gooseman's privacy?" Walsh
asked him in a dry voice, indicating a message displayed on the
ceramic surface of his desk.
program did *what*?!" Hartford gaped.
informed me about your attempted violation of privacy, Ranger
Hartford." Walsh repeated patiently and scrolled down to the
end of the message. "Including a list of the usually applied
penalties – just in case it slipped my mind." He added
with irony. "Did you know that the maximum punishment issued
for it so far is nearly ten years close confinement?"
fact that the mainframe is whining across the base that its
shrink talked it into being a bad comp..." Walsh pressed his
fingertips together. "...was a strong hint, too."
The pink eyeball
of Gooseman's AI suddenly appeared on Walsh's desk, replacing the
message. The commander only winced slightly and leaned back. The
humming of the console systems indicated that the room was being
scanned. With a blip the AI disappeared from the screen on
Walsh's desk to glare down from the window projector behind the
Earth–" Doc began. "I thought the display
function is access-limited!"
is." Walsh shrugged fatalistically.
single eye seemed to narrow and zero in on the hacker. Its
larger-than-life display bathed the room in a cozy pink light.
It's electronic voice was anything but. =You, sir, are a privacy
violating boob who ought to learn personal rights on the spot!=
With another blip, it was gone.
thought you knew by now that ALMA's no standard AI, Hartford."
Walsh sighed. "She's programmed to keep Gooseman at bay if
necessary. So keep that in mind, dammit! Last time you pulled a
stunt like this it took me six months to reconstruct the payroll
"Please tell me it didn't happen again this time..." He
swallowed. "You have no idea what kind of invoice-agents
Morcistof has in it's service..."
were lucky, Hartford. It killed some emails and my good humor."
Walsh grunted. "And now, realign Rhondda. She's getting on
my nerves with her continuous apologies!"
close to your friends
Be closer to your opponents
and enjoy that if possible...
Great Banquet Hall
LLPC evening reception
yet strangely determined male voice interrupted Niko who tried to
convince Senator Wheiner that she was here in terms of her
service and not because she was offering *escort
"The dame is
here with me and I need her exclusive presence. Right now."
Van Stratten deliberately stepped between her and the obnoxious
senator. "I'm sorry, lieb, but the wine's warming." His
silk gloved hand laid her hand over his arm. "*Play along,*"
he hissed under his breath and nodded briskly over his shoulder
at Wheiner. "I'm sure you'll excuse us."
pair of surprisingly rigid shoulders shielded her from the fuming
politician. She frowned. Since when...?
if on cue the poet slumped into a posture that would have every
martial arts trainer worth his money burst into tears. "Sorry,
I'm not good at that," he admitted with a somehow helpless
smile after they left the senator's vicinity.
is good at Eric Wheiner." She eased the comment with a
smile. "Thank you, Mr. van Stratten. For your help against
Van Stratten hesitated uncertainly. "Is that man any
didn't know him? He belongs to the Board."
so he's not."
comment had her looking up at him, but all she saw were the
hundreds of ceiling lights reflecting in his bluish glasses.
"Do you share my warm wine
with me? As my pardon regarding our bad start this
She didn't know
herself why she answered with an all too swift, "Sure."
you really have solely Boer ancestors?" Niko asked curiously
and sipped at her wine.
van Strattens are in South Africa since the Seventeenth Century."
He shrugged and had a small sip of his white wine. "The
estates are near Capetown and on Witwatersrand."
thought they were in the diamond business," Niko thought
"Diamonds and gold
ore." He shrugged dismissively. "I'm not into
She thought of the
arguments she caught at the round-table. "Why don't you
publish your writing then?"
do. Under a pen name."
He had another sip
of his wine before he answered. "Kruisridder."
thought to catch a spark of mischief in the light grey eyes
behind the glasses, but the lens reflections erased the
impression quickly. "Does it have a meaning?"
He nodded and sipped at his wine. "Maybe I tell you later."
After a moment he put the glass down and looked at her. "My...
family wouldn't be too happy about it." He quirked a smile.
"I'm the black sheep among them."
your work or your pseudonym?" she queried.
tilt of his head that had the reflections of the glasses hide his
expression. "Likely both."
don't you give them a chance?"
looked away, had the candle flames reflecting heavily in his
glasses. Then he said, mostly to the potted palm next to them:
he doesn't dare,
monsters of Camelot."
fell silent for a moment. "Do you have much family
He shrugged and
reclaimed his glass. "Not too much, not too close." He
took another sip, studying her over the edge of his glass. "Why
do you ask?"
look had her blushing. "I mean, I just thought... after the
catastrophic epidemic in your country... How come..." Her
sentence trailed off when she realized that she was about to talk
about untouchable matters to a mere stranger.
Stratten smirked. "My family practices celibacy since five
out loud. "Then how come that you're existing?"
grey eyes behind the ridiculous glasses sparkled, dragging her
in. "That's a matter of further discussions."
laughed faintly. "Discussions for another time. After all,
I'm supposed to be working here tonight." She pushed her
chair back and got up. "It was a pleasure. And thank
He stood as well. "The pleasure was all mine."
Governor Square 38
did you say this scan came from?" Senator Eric Wheiner
asked, unsuccessfully hiding his shock. "A poet
Fifth League Literati and Poetics Convention, sir." The
leading InterSec agent – identification P, today
confirmed. "It's held until today at the Saguaro Hotel
Galaxy Rangers present?"
The agent nodded briskly. Wheiner relaxed. "They were
performing a training investigation on a fake
be that your agent scanned one of the rangers
sir. Agent S solely focussed on the listed conventioneers. The
audience is of no concern to us."
"We scan the
participants of the LLPC by default. Aliens and literati are most
often subversive." The edges of the agent's mouth dropped
down. "The scan that triggered your alarm undoubtedly
belongs to a conventioneer." He had a look at his e-pad. "A
previously unregistered human male: Jan van Stratten, officially
a citizen of Cape Town. But we have no registration of any
residence of him there. Shall we investigate
Wheiner made a
weak gesture waving the comment aside. "That's not
necessary, agent P. That's all for the moment."
agent clapped his heels and left.
stared at the closed door for a long time. There had been a
couple of invitations to the convention that were issued to
pseudonyms. 'Crusader' had been on the list since last Fall after
he had ruined Wheiner's chances for Premiership. And hadn't
appeared. But this year... according to InterSec's data, the
host named the list of conventioneers complete. And there was one
among them who knew what that hack had to know...
How could he have been so blind? So stupid? 
face of a man long dead appeared in front of his inner eye.
Wheiner flipped the InterSec report open and had another glance
at the front page. The secretly taken hologram showed the ST in
dress uniform at a recent event. The senator swore violently. How
could he have forgotten that the gengineered bastard wasn't only
his arch enemy's brat but also...
grandson of the most dangerous man he'd ever met?
wolf at the leash, a sword bound in its sheath, to hunt the
Whining man's enemy.*
snorted. He definitely didn't regret Hays untimely death. Quite
contrary! But apparently the gengin had gotten more from that
side than those ridiculous green eyes. How could he ever have
believed that a military dumb ass like Walsh would be able to
keep something like that at bay?! Hadn't that tinseled asshole
even set the brat to catch the hack-writer last year? Wasn't it
likely that the cretin knew...?!
that wasn't the point now.
control he'd counted on was either rapidly thinning or didn't
exist at all. The brat lacked the education Jonathon Hays had
had, but – sheesh, it had managed to sneak itself military
honors! Making it difficult to get the necessary majority for
He couldn't risk
facing such an enemy again. No way. The senator clenched his
Hays. In all the years
there'd only been one attack on the man that hadn't led to an
immediate and devastating retaliation: the assassination. He'd
been damn happy that the Orange-T issue hadn't been answered. The
first Premier had had a history to take out the backroom people
The creature had to
disappear before it got a chance to disrupt his career.
cynical voice in his head told Wheiner that Walsh's gengineered
brat had done enough of that already!
Saguaro Hotel Tower
Niko?" The receptionist called a very tired Niko over. "Mr.
van Stratten left this message for you."
looked up. "For me?"
He said to thank you again for the nice evening." He handed
her a small, gold-plated tray, holding a folded piece of paper on
a small book. On top of it all gleamed...
set of cuff links; two whitish, rectangular milk opals, each with
a red Medieval cross embedded in its center. She hesitated to
touch them. She had been on duty, she couldn't possibly accept
something that expensive!
Mr. van Stratten still in the house?" she asked the
Ranger. Mr. van Stratten left an hour ago."
he leave an address?"
afraid not. But wait a moment, I will check the system..."
Hesitantly, she put the cuff
links aside and unfolded the pale yellow paper...
He has to dare
to face again
the monsters of Camelot.
looked at the handwriting that was so very precise that she
doubted very much that it was his usual style. And stopped at the
signature below them: Kruisridder. He'd told her before but now
she saw it written. Somehow the word seemed to ring a bell inside
her that she couldn't quite touch. Her eyes fell onto the third
item on the tray: the book.
turned out to be a small Afrikaans-English dictionary. One of the
pages was marked. She opened it at the marking, found an entry
emphasized with blue marker pen:
!?!!" She clamped her mouth shut over the rest, stuffed cuff
links, note, and booklet into her pocket and stormed out of the
of Cmdr. Walsh
2 hours later
Lt. McIntyre looked suspiciously up at the tall stranger
strolling eagerly into the base commander's office as if he did
it every day. He handed her a formal business calling card.
"Jan van Stratten for
commander Walsh, please."
guest pass is to be worn in plain sight." She narrowed her
eyes. "The officers told you, didn't they?"
a careless shrug, he said, "A guest pass? I don't have such
a thing, Miss." He looked astonished at Sheela's service
weapon suddenly pointing unwaveringly at his chest, and tilted
his head. "Shall I go back and fetch me one?" he
Walsh's adjutant was not
tempted to laugh. "Don't move an inch, mister."
I have an appointment with the commander!"
according to his schedule," Sheela snapped. "Listen,
it's a miracle that you got this deep into the administration
area without a correct guest pass."
man in front of her kept his hands in plain sight. "Would a
personnel ID card do, miss? It did everywhere else." He
blinked. "If you can refrain from shooting me I might give
it to you."
She did not indicate the movement with her weapon. He fumbled
with two fingers in his chest pocket, pulled a card out, and held
it out for her. Sheela snorted. She knew the man on the holo well
enough not to be fooled. "Activate the DNA check," she
He pressed his thumb
onto the card edge with the reading sensor. After a moment the ID
blinked green. "Heavens, Gooseman!" Sheela lowered her
weapon and shook her head. "I'd never have recognized
grinned. "That was the reason for all this. May I go in
already waiting for you." She stopped and held up van
Stratten's calling card. "Shall I introduce you?" She
"Yes, please. That
would be very kind," he answered in that Afrikaans accented
Sheela snickered. "Be
serious. Ranger Hartford was injured."
happened to him?"
it's the kind of injury for which you don't apply for a purple
he got intimate with a thorny specimen of the local flora,"
Sheela managed to say straight-faced.
are the first to recognize me straight off, sir. May I ask what
my mistake was?"
known you for twenty-five years, Gooseman, and Struyvens at Wolf
Den served under my command. Give me some credit."
Joseph had known only one man to wear an obviously expensive
custom suit with such an eager carelessness. But that was a
heritage the boy had no clue about. Shane could alter his
appearance, but this went deeper...
gave him a brief smile of approval. "You gave your teammates
quite of a race, boy."
brow, still much paler than usual, was raised. "I thought
that was my order, sir."
was," the commander confirmed, calling the mission file onto
his display, skimming the automated entries briefly. "You
didn't use the credit card?"
used it only for the hotel. I wasn't sure Doc wouldn't be able to
find out which one I'd gotten. I had the bills sent to your
here." Walsh confirmed. "Let's see what we have
here..." He expanded the faintly glowing display in his
desktop and called the bills in order of their date. "You
took the European saying of 'sending someone into the desert'
needed time for the preparations, sir. And the Saguaro bloom is
quite impressive." The ST added with a grin. "Everybody
should see it once."
Hartford got wounded." The commander reminded him
"Hey! It's not my
fault if Doc doesn't know how to keep his butt off a
not to comment that. "How did you manage to gain access to
convention hosts like to have authors with public impact. After
last year's elections, they placed a permanent invitation to
Walsh seemed to
choke at Gooseman's careless shrug.
been hunting him for almost a year now. There're a lot of things
nobody else but me – and Crusader himself – knows
shook his head. "How could you keep the transformation up
for that long?"
from the jaw line, that I could do - if I wasn't going to eat –
with cheek pads, it's mostly pigment alteration. I limited that
to the visible areas. The hair is a non-permanent dye job. I
pretended to suffer from jeg lag and spent only some hours out
among the people. Lots of food and ten to twelve hours of sleep a
day, and all's well. I even kept a little back for
Ranger Niko appearing at your doorstep asking about your
threw him a doubtful look. "You took a considerable risk,
the trafo, sir."
with the situation as a whole, Gooseman."
an exercise, sir. Isn't that for pushing the limits?"
snorted. "Let's talk about the bills. The suit is ok,
suitcase and hotel as well. Glasses... tsk. Shoes, socks, a
dictionary, books about South Africa..." The commander
scanned the bills quickly, scrolling rapidly. Stopped. Read
again. Stopped again. And barked: "*1,826 credits for
cufflinks?!* Did you settle for raw diamonds or what?!"
"Opals, sir." The ST
raised a fair brow. "Milk opals, to be exact."
sighed wearily, thinking about a certain individual's affection
for glittering objects, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Take
off these glasses. They get on my nerves!"
in the anteroom
Gooseman arrived twenty minutes ago." Lt. McIntyre told Niko
who almost raced into the outer office. "You can go in."
Noticing the verve with which
the Ranger passed the barrier to the inner office, Sheela mused
aloud. "Looks as if the rabbit is going to be skinned..."
stormed in without as much as a glance for the commander, let
alone a salute for her highest superior, and got straight into
she quoted and the single word oozed with fury. "How dare
you –" She drew a deep breath, glaring at him. He wore
still the grey custom suit of van Stratten but back in his usual,
slightly aggressive posture.
she repeated. "Is that how you see me?! Is that what you
think we are?! And don't dare tell me," her voice increased
another ten decibels, causing the commander to wince, "it
was for the art's sake!"
Niko, I–" Walsh began.
now!" she barked, definitely not caring at whom. Behind
them, the door to the office was opening again to allow Zach and
the Captain began, and was drowned out by Niko:
I know damn well it was not!" she snorted. "You
ST gave back. "As far as I can tell you're angry because I
did *not* tell you!"
She flared up. "*Angry?!* I could kill you for that
minute! *You* are furious at *me*!?! Just for the record: *I*
should be furious, since *you* betrayed me!"
and Doc exchanged a long glance with each other and the
commander, then edged for the door. Outside, the Captain wiped
his forehead, looked at the hacker, and said under his breath,
"Run! We can take him to task later, I don't want to be
ordered to sort that out!" Doc wholeheartedly agreed. Before
they'd even crossed the outer office, Walsh's door hissed open
again and Niko stormed out.
your damned play of a poet you played with me! But I'll tell you
now, mister! I am nobody to play with!*"
"Oh yes, right
now!" Doc, Zachary right behind him, bellowed back, thinking
of a predatory cactus and an obstinate AI. "Because she
won't listen to you anyway and the two of us have a bone to pick
want it to be one of yours?" the ST growled back over his
shoulder. And – seriously – his snarl was somewhat
more impressive than Doc's. "Then keep getting on my
nerves!" But this time, his growl utterly failed.
Maybe Doc's teeth were less
impressive than Shane's fangs, but with a decharged implant
Zach's charged bionics were somewhat more substantial than
Shane's muscles. And they both were clearly settled on having a
talk with the ST. Right now, though not necessarily right here...
said I'll answer your damned questions," the ST growled
furiously, whirling back at the door. "But first let me go
until you explained to me why you sent us into the boondocks!"
The Captain interrupted him briskly, leaning in the door frame
and effectively blocking the exit. "And while we're at it.
I'd like to know how you got the idea of hiding at a *poet
convention* of all chances!"
somebody like me doesn't fit in there, right?!" Fox stopped
at the sharp cynicism in the ST's voice. "Because I'm just
the gunslinger. The thug, destined to blow the shit out of some
petty ass. Nothing else. Right?"
his teammates winced visibly. They had had his trail at the
airport. They had the irregularity at the convention. They even
frisked the hotel he stayed in. They just hadn't believed he
could be among the visiting poets themselves.
must have shown on their faces.
ever believed I'd be able to find Crusader. Nobody expected me
just to gather some information about him." There was anger
in his voice. And accusation. But also a weary exhaustion that
hadn't shown as long as the ST had been furious enough. To Zach's
silent relief, Goose dropped himself into the chair in front of
his cluttered desk.
did," the Captain mentioned.
I told her," the ST shot back. "Three days ago she
walked past me. There weren't ten meters between us. I sat in a
bright spotlight, dammit! My cammie wasn't *that* good, if it
weren't what you didn't expect to see. I even flirted with her
last night and she didn't see me." Frustation ran high in
his voice, as he slumped down, as close to defeated as he ever
came. "So I told her. I just damned told her! This
Doc cut in. "That you offered my testicles to a hedgehog
cereus? That you set ALMA onto me? That you played that
"*That I *am*
had grown late during her wandering in and around the mountain,
but she'd needed time. Time to calm down, time to become
accustomed to the idea that he'd hurt her just to keep up his
Niko laid her hand upon
the door opener to her apartment and steeled herself inwardly.
His psionical imprint was still very fresh on the door. He had
touched it. Not long ago. Likely, he'd used ALMA again to enter,
to invade her rooms and was now waiting for her...
door hissed back. Emptiness welcomed her.
satisfied. She was disappointed.
furious at herself because she was both.
he had been here. That was a fact. On the small table next to her
wardrobe lay some sheets that hadn't been there when she'd left.
A not too clean hardcopy drawn
from a book. With a coffee mug ring on it.
even an address on top. She was tempted to tear the three
The atypical rustling of
paper kept her from doing it – only the topmost was a
transparency – the rustling of cheap, rough paper, that
easily crumpled, that didn't hold the ink well. The lines on
them, written in blue ink, were already fading. The words would
be gone if the paper ever got wet. Gone in an instant, if the dry
paper ever touched a flame.
on a paper clearly not meant for eternity...
reach for the limbs
Swords tear through the flesh
projectiles hit the chest
hurts more than the pain of shattered souls
when shards of
self splinter at the helpless attempt
to find a way in a life
that doesn't make any sense.
trapped within mankind
who had twenty years to learn
not two like the knight.
feared by mankind
who only sees a knight's armor
the soul within.
but how are feelings considered
was old, already yellowed. He'd never intended to show this to
She'd worked enough
with paper texts to know that the sheets were likely about two
years old. Two years...
hadn't been active that early.
these certainly weren't anywhere in the comps.
With a deep breath, she
turned for the new sheet, the transparency. It was a page from a
textbook. The lines at the top hadn't been copied legibly, but it
was about a German poet of the last century. One of the small
quoted poems had been circled with a pencil:
the wall was written with chalk:
want the war'
one who wrote it, has already fallen.
part of the line beneath it was also marked: "...like nobody
else Brecht understood the sharp poignancy that turned a poem
into a weapon." 
the bottom of the page was a single line scribbled in his typical
handwriting of slightly tilted block letters: "I AIMED AT
xxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx E.W., NEVER AT YOU."
smiled weakly, deciphering the crossed out words as 'the rotten
asshole'. The following sob took her by surprise.
asked you once about the poems," Niko, standing in his door,
said faintly. "Do you remember? And you denied
"No, I told you
the poem in my mind was in the comps." He pushed the door
wide open and let her in. "And it was by then."
you didn't tell me, Shane," she whispered after he'd closed
the door behind her, shrouding them in darkness. He seldom used
lights, and he didn't activate them for her benefit this time.
Alone in the dark – another matter of trust. She had to
trust him completely, he on the other hand was able to see by the
tiny sparks of the few LEDs of his console on stand-by. "Don't
you trust me?"
wasn't a matter of trust, Niko. It was election week back then.
Do you remember what I wrote? And about whom? Had they caught me
they would have *cleansed* everything possibly contaminated with
me and my ideas. I don't... Your disbelief was a protection,
"You could have
told me afterwards."
order to hunt down Crusader was never withdrawn. And they wanted
me badly enough to set me onto me..." His voice trailed off
into silence. Then she heard him chuckling. "Hell, did you
notice how that sentence sounds?!" he groaned. "Seems
like all those books Walsh had me reading after Wolf Den were
for someone attending a poet convention, your diction is
horrible." She blindly made a step forward, and touched the
cloth of a uniform shirt, rough compared to the silk last
evening. The poet was gone, the soldier was back. Or...? "The
first one's..." she hesitated. "That was before Wheiner
seemed to win the election. Why did you upload them
comment in the hardcopy I gave you. It stuck. I'm trained to deal
with all weapons available. If poems are weapons, too, was I able
to handle them?" She felt him shrugging under her
fingertips. "It was a test."
why did you make such a mystery out of it? Why didn't you just
show–" She stopped. "You wanted to know what we
thought about the poems, not about you writing poems."
There was no
emotion in his voice. A carefully maintained shield to keep her
from sensing the hurt she knew must be there. She'd always wanted
him to be more than a weapon, and when he finally was, she just
didn't see him, not even when she sat at his table flirting with
him while searching for him. "I'm– Eeek!" She
jumped. Something furry rubbed along her legs.
The ST growled. "Keep your nose off my girlfriend. –
against the sudden brightness, the sudden change. "Believe
me, I never expected them to have such an impact." He'd
scooped the cat up, stroking his ears. "I didn't want to
hurt you. But then Wheiner was about to win the election, giving
me an opportunity to test those weapons in the field." He
gave her a twisted smirk. "That was just too damn good an
opportunity not to do it!"
on board Ranger-1
my Goose man. How are your iambic hexameters doing?" Doc
asked cheerfully while boarding Ranger-1.
jambo-what?" Goose stuffed his board bag into his locker and
slammed the door shut. A warning growl crept into his voice. "You
better didn't have this jambalaya again, or you make the flight
in the rear cargo."
Goose my man! It seems you have something against spicy Creole
something against spicy Creole cuisine in you in a closed room."
He stomped down the aisle past Zach.
where are you going? You're supposed to..."
get my gasmask." The ST vanished through the lock into the
Zach scratched his scalp.
are back at normal, captain," Doc told him
at what qualifies for 'normal' around here." Zach looked
doubtfully at the lock through which the ST had disappeared.
"You don't look too
relaxed about it."
can't help it." Zach sighed, secured his bag and headed for
the cockpit. "He's Crusader, Doc. That were *his* poems. And
the press was in a flurry because of them. I don't think the
matter will rest at that. There are bound to be consequences."
be continued in
[2092-07-02 – 2094-07-09]
Onbyr... Byron ;)
(m,f) Dutch, Scandinavian, Czech and Polish form of JOHN
(masculine) or a feminine form of JOHN. This was the name of
Flemish painter Jan van Eyck and Dutch painter Jan
Shane: Irish form of John