BetaMountain – Cafeteria
"And you're really able to visit ArcheoCon this time? Niko, that's wonderful!" Jamie took a good bite of her well-sugared donut and smiled. "There should be some new Xeryon artifacts this time. Professor Moron is very excited about them."
"Really?" Niko tried to imagine her old professor, a very distinguished man, being excited and failed. "How do you know?"
Jamie grinned. "He forgot to clean his hands after class. Believe me, he had chalk at his sleeves!"
"Unbelievable!" She chuckled. "What's gotten him so excited about the Xeryon artifacts?"
"It's one of them. A hollow statue made off a very odd material. None of us at the university labs were able to scan it. We don't even know what causes that effect."
"Fascinating..." Niko took a sip of her green tea. "I'd really like to have a look at it."
"You'll get it. One at the expo, and a better one when Moron nags you to convince the formidable BETA-scientists to examine the thing for him." She suddenly gulped and pressed her hand against her waist.
"Jamie, are you okay?"
Her friend swallowed and straightened. "The day before." She smiled apologetically. "You know my circulation always dances chachacha, then."
"I remember. I was pretty worried about it myself the first time. Do you want to go to MedoStat to get some painkillers?"
"No, it's not that bad. I wasn't prepared for it, that's all. Guess I should make a short 'Ladies'-visit now." Jamie got up.
"Do you want me to accompany you?"
"Not necessary." She took her bag. "Have a look at the expo-catalogue draft till I'm back. I'd like to get your opinion about it."
Niko glanced for the sixth time at her watch. Fifteen minutes. Jamie couldn't need that long. That's imposs–
"Hello. Are you awaiting someone, Lieutenant?"
"Zachary! Good to see you." She jumped to her feet. "Can you keep an eye to my things while I'm looking for my friend? She didn't feel well and I'm a little worried because she's been in the Ladies room a long time now."
"Sure. I'll get a coffee while I'm waiting."
"Jamie?" She opened the door to the mirror room and looked inside. "Jamie, are you there?" Nothing. Could she still be in one of the stalls? She went into the second room. "Jamie? Are you in here?" Silence. "Jamie? This isn't funny!" Niko reached almost automatically for her badge.
The unexpected sensation of death blew her off her feet. She screamed in terror while pressing the emergency button on her wristcom and struggled to escape from the dangerous death emanations that wafted through the room.
"I don't care if it's forbidden for men. One of my officers is in trouble in there and I'm going to help her!" Zachary flung open the restroom door and rushed into the room followed by a still arguing female lavatory attendant. He covered the whole room in a wary look and was immediately at her side, steadying her. "Niko. Are you okay?"
She shook her head, cleaned her throat, then pointed at one of the stalls. "Jamie's in there," she whispered in a choked voice. "Something horrible must have happened to her..."
"Miss, open this stall, please."
"Absolutely out of the question. I can't disturb–"
"She needs help." Niko gathered herself up. "Immediately."
"You don't expect me–" the woman began.
"Madam, you open this cabin right now or I'll kick in the door." Zachary assured calmly.
"Your commander will hear about this!" The attendant snorted, but took her general key. A second later she staggered back. "Oh my goodness."
BetaMountain – SecStaff Office
"You knew the victim, Ranger?"
"Yes, Detective." Niko clamped her hands around her forearms, sitting in front of the investigator's desk, making her statement. "Her name is... was Jamie. I mean, Djamila McLaren. We were friends since I came to Earth. We met each oth–"
"Ranger Niko. I don't want your history. What I need to know is: Why was she there? Did she have any enemies? How long had she used drugs–?"
"Jamie was no user!" Niko almost jumped up. Zachary laid his hand on her shoulder, comforting her. "Detective Donegal. She paid a lot of attention to her physical condition. That's part of her people's religion and she would never–"
"I hate to destroy your illusions, miss. But she died of an overdose. That's obvious. I don't even need the autopsy result to tell you that." Donegal shoved his messy red hair back and sighed. "But I take from your words that you didn't know of her addiction. So," he pressed his palms on the desktop and got up, "we can stop this. I won't get the information I need from you. You can leave now. But stay within reach in case new questions arise."
BetaMountain – Office of Commander Walsh
"Senator! That's a job for SecStaff or the NDEA if you like but not for the Galaxy Rangers!" Walsh protested.
"Your Rangers, Walsh, are to protect the League and Earth! That woman died of Starwynd. Starwynd! That is a real threat against us. It destabilized whole governments in the past. They will work on it!"
"THEY WILL!" The line was closed.
And a nice day for you, too, asshole! Walsh opened the comlink to his outer office. "Sheela, emergency call for the S5's. And take care that the data already collected by SecStaff and NDEA about the McLaren case are transferred to us."
The four stood aline in front of his desk, awaiting their orders. Walsh looked up from his McLaren-summary, glanced at the team and noticed the red eyes of Niko. Shit. She knew the victim, personally. She shouldn't be assigned to the case. Nevertheless... "To make it short: You are commanded by prime order to end up the production, trade and use of Starwynd on Earth. Any other order is suspended till this is done. Since this is beyond our normal jobs I can't give you a suitable briefing. Here is a list of the people you should contact as soon as possible to get reliable information. Good luck, Rangers."
Outside, Zachary glanced over the list: "QBall, the Chief of MedoStat – Dr. Miyar, a doctor of pathology – Martyna Marcus." He looked at his chrono and sighed. "None of them will be pleased to be disturbed now." He shrugged. "We'll split up. Doc, you go into the comps. Get all information available on Starwynd, its use, specialties, persons known to have contact with it, and so on. Correlate them with the data SecStaff and NDEA collected."
"Fine. The Doctor's operating again." Hartford grinned.
"Don't let me know about it." Fox said drily. "Goose, you talk with QBall. Niko, Miyar. I'll see what the pathologist can tell us. Meeting afterwards in our office. No matter how late it's going to be."
"Understood." Goose growled slightly. "Prime order."
BetaMountain – GRS5 Office
"Okay, since none of us is going to see his pillow tonight we better start putting together what we've found out." Zachary said. "GV, protocol the whole thing."
=Protocol on, Captain Fox.=
Zachary continued. "To begin with: it is confirmed. The drug we are dealing with is Starwynd. More precisely, one of its derivatives, Starwynd Theta."
"Dr. Miyar told me that Starwynd isn't a single drug with some derivatives, but a group of strongly different drugs which have almost the same effects and are collected by physicians under a single name to mark their specialty." Niko brought in.
"These drugs have no or only slight effects on the user except when their presence in the body system is running out. Someone who's taking Starwynd doesn't get high, doesn't have hallucinations and doesn't behave differently. Some of the derivatives aren't even detectable during medical exams if the body had received the proper dose."
"What are the differences if not in the way they work?" Zachary asked.
"From what Dr. Miyar explained to me, in the effects occurring when the drug dose in the body decreases. The first versions were created about twenty years ago and it wasn't important whether or not the user got his doses all in time. After a certain number of doses he died. With the original Starwynd that was around fifty." Niko shuddered. "When it was reached the people died."
"I can remember some news clips when I was a child, maybe ten years old," Zach said flatly, "about people collapsing dead right on the streets without obvious reasons."
Niko looked at the notes she'd made in Miyar's office and continued. "The derivatives that appeared later increased the amount of doses before the victim dies. The newest derivatives, Starwynd Eta and Theta, don't seem to have a lethal dose number any longer." She looked up. "But there's a fundamental difference between the two. If Starwynd Eta runs out, the victim goes through some days of heavy withdrawal and is then off the hook. A victim of Starwynd Theta dies immediately when the drug level decreases below a critical level. Dr. Miyar said there's no way known to keep Starwynd Theta users alive but to give them the drug." She wrapped her arms around herself to suppress her trembling. "Why should anybody invent a drug without any effect but to kill the victims?"
"Because Starwynd has another effect Miyar didn't mention." Goose said icily. "It blocks the brain receptors responsible for the effects of other - normal - drugs including truth finders like Sodium Pentothal and its modern equivalents. A soldier or spy on Starwynd can't be interrogated with drugs and if the enemy should take the drug from him he dies without revealing anything." The edge of his mouth twitched. "Was invented for the military. About sixty years ago."
"How do you know that, Gooseman?"
He shrugged. "School."
"I have some historical data matching Goose's statement, Zach." Doc cut in. "It seems that the Konsortium during the Take Over around 2035 learned pretty fast that these drugs, even the earliest, deadly, versions could be easily used to get full cooperation from officials. They exposed the targets to the stuff, waited till the first severe withdrawal symptoms occurred and then contacted them, told them what was going on with them and what they had to do now to get their doses in the future to stay alive. They most likely didn't tell the people that their time even with the drug would run out in a few weeks." Doc pushed his chair of the table and turned for his console. "The perfect form of slavery. The people did almost anything till they died of the drug." Doc projected some holographs with charts and institutional diagrams. "Some of the smaller autonomous regions on Earth just disappeared in those days and the remnants of the United Nations simply handed their powers to the Board. Officially."
"Charming." Zachary sighed. "But we aren't here for historical judgement. We need to focus on eliminating the present threat - Starwynd Theta. Someone seems to be using the old techniques for his current purposes." He opened the file from the pathologist and shoved the photographs, printouts and tables across the desk. "Dr. Marcus did a good job on the victim. She is one hundred percent sure that the woman got only one dose, likely sometime around midday. From the seizures of the muscles she died of sudden withdrawal symptoms including among other things severe muscle spasms that finally caused multiple myocardic lesions which directly led to her death. This is the list of substances found in her stomach. It's ordered by the times the stuffs were eaten. As you see the drug was in the middle field."
"Maybe it's better for the poor woman that she died of her first dose. At least she couldn't be blackmailed, and wasn't dependant on a criminal for the rest of her life." Doc commented.
"Stop that!" Niko jumped up. "She was a human being. She was young, alive, had plans for her future, her career, her family. We were planning a Xeryon exposition together when she died." She sobbed and retreated toward the door. "Stop talking about her as if she wasn't more than a Bovo-6!" The next moment the door slam shut behind her.
"Captain?" Goose was already at the door, when he remembered to ask for dismissal.
"Yes, follow her." Goose was gone immediately. Zachary turned angrily for Doc. "You should get your school fees back from Ms. Abercrombie. You've got the tact of a hippo! The victim was a good friend of Niko. If you'd taken a look at SecStaff's files you would have known that. And that she found her body."
Goose found her above the hangars, overlooking the parked vessels, after he followed the faint footsteps in the distance. Niko had her arms folded around her body, and didn't turn when he slowly came closer. He smelled the faint odor of pain around her, but her straightened back forbade any attempt to hold her. Her voice trembled when she finally started to speak, faintly, a monotonous whisper of sadness and loneliness.
"Jamie was the first one who accepted me like I am, when I came to Earth. We met each other at the Archeological faculty. We were both especially fascinated by the Xeryons. But I didn't understand this... this physical world at all... everything was that confusing and–" She stopped, and continued from another point of view. "She didn't care for what I can do, but she accepted that my powers are a part of me. She never tried to separate me from them or saw the powers first. She–" She stopped again. "Jamie was my best friend outside work." Niko involuntarily started to sob. "She was my friend. Mine. Not because my powers could be that helpful, or because it was cool to know a freak. Jamie was a real friend." Her sobbing became more audible. "It's not easy for someone like me to find friends."
"Hey," hesitatingly, Goose laid his gloved hand on her tense shoulder, "remember who you're talking to?" He stiffened in surprise when Niko whirled round and started to cry in his shirt. Then, carefully, with uncertain motions, he hugged her, hold her close, waited, till she calmed down. "Better?" he asked finally with a hoarse voice.
She sniffed and nodded.
With a relieved sigh he let her go. "Wish someone had told me how to deal with crying women. I haven't got a clue what to do."
Niko wiped her last tears from her cheek and managed a weak smile towards his half grin, considering his background as strange as her own. "Believe me, Shane. You do it just fine."
"I'm sorry, Niko. I didn't mean to hurt you. I wasn't aware that she was a friend of yours." Doc said with remorse when she and Goose reentered the office. "If I–"
"Forget it, Doc. It was just the last straw. I think almost everything anybody could have said would have caused the same. Maybe just a little later."
"If I can help somehow...?" He stopped, realizing that he couldn't do anything and looked helplessly towards her, seeing that she accepted that.
"Is it okay for you to continue?" Zachary asked in the lingering silence.
"It is." Niko assured him, composed again. "This goddamn murderer won't slip out of our hands because of my weakness!"
Fox frowned. "This isn't a personal vendetta, Niko. Our main concern is to stop the drug circulation. Don't forget that."
"I know. But I won't forget the killer either."
Zach sighed. "Okay, then. We tried to continue without you two but couldn't find the info you should have gotten from QBall. Where are they, Gooseman?"
"Here." Goose fetched a memorychip card out off his shirt pocket and flipped it on the table.
Zachary took it with a questioning look.
"Q-ie was in a real 'I'll talk you through the wall'-mood." He grinned apologetically and shrugged. "I recorded it."
"Can you sum it up?" Zach asked, slightly annoyed.
"Sure. Simply said, you can't brew Starwynd - least of all Starwynd Theta - in a backyard apartment on a cooking plate. It's a pretty tricky process that needs quite a list of substances and can easily blow up. And most of the necessary ingredients aren't easily obtainable on Earth."
"You mean, they need access to a lab?"
"To a very good one. The normal labs of companies or universities won't do it. And the brewer must have an education in medical chemistry."
Zach snorted. "Together with what you said about the past use of it that brings us to high sec labs related to government or military."
"Yes, Sir. Pretty unlikely that we can track down a criminal chemist in those circles."
"Right. But it means also that if we catch the brewer our job's done. The dealers won't be able to find a new one." Zach said grimly. "That brings us to the substances used. They can't be taken from military supplies. That would cause too much official attention for the facility used."
"Especially since the BWL is riding its austerity horse again." Niko added.
"Which means the stuff must be acquired outside the facility." Zach finished. "We should do a bit of probing on that."
"With a substance listing I could search the trade markets for transactions." Doc grinned. "As long as I can keep my programs from refreshing my e-cash account..."
"Do you have a listing, Goose?"
"On the chip."
Doc took it and screamed. "QBall talked for four hours?!! It'll be hell to find the listing in all this. Can't you specify the time a little?"
The ST concentrated a moment. "About 75 minutes from the start, Doc."
Doc entered a time window. "Rats! It's really there! How can someone who's always late have such a time sense anyway?"
"Maybe we should check the League planetary imports and customs, too." Niko thought aloud. "If those stuffs are forbidden here it's maybe easier to smuggle them in than to buy them here."
"Illegal substances won't be declared as what they are in the custom documents."
"Not here, Zach. But what about the freight declarations for the worlds they came from?" She narrowed her eyes while thinking about it. "It's a lot of data but–"
"She's right. The most likely way to track the stuff." Doc said, while one of his programs scrolled the listing on his monitor. "I'll automate search and comparison. My little prog's can do the work overnight then."
"Sounds good. Do it. Any other ideas?"
"Captain. We should cut the control the dealers have on their victims."
"Gooseman. As we already know there's no withdrawal possibility for Starwynd."
"I know, Sir. But the danger isn't the use of Starwynd but the victims' total dependence on the dealers. And that's something we can change!"
"You want BETA to hand out Starwynd!?"
"Better that than to leave the victims under foreign control, Sir."
"And," Niko cut in, "if we successfully stop the circulation of Starwynd BETA must do it anyway. Or do you want all those people to die out there?"
Fox lowered his head and clenched his fist. "I know." He sighed. "But it's like dealing ourselves. It doesn't feel right."
"Neither do innocent casualties," Goose said coldly.
Somewhere outside Embassies Area near BetaMountain
"You stupid idiot!" The violet alien cowered under the hissing voice of the angry human man in the blurring holographic body mask and folded its stalk eyes safely behind its neck. "How could you let her go?!"
"I didn't know she'd have a clearance for the mountain. By the time I got my visitor-ID she was already gone. When I found her again she was sitting at a table with a Galaxy Ranger. It was impossible to approach her then and–" It pointed one of its stalk eyes towards the terrestrian man. "But she'd got only a tiny dose. Maybe she makes it till tomorrow."
"She got Starwynd, headbanger. Starwynd! She's already dead now. And the authorities are informed about our ongoing business, which increases the risk for us from now on. I'd really like to use your carcass for the fermentation process." The human snapped. "But I'll insist on a fifty percent higher payment for my services instead! I'll contact your chief tomorrow through the usual channels." He disappeared into the darkness.
"The boss won't like that at all." Wqwarrth murmured, feeling unlucky to have to bring back this news.
BetaMountain – Office of Commander Walsh
"I'd like you to know that the Board, though it didn't take long to make a general decision in your favor, isn't pleased at all with this issue. I'm here to negotiate the final details."
"Senator," The slim physician with short dark hair folded his hands in front of him. "A controlled handout of the drug is the only option if we want to save a lot of people from dying since a withdrawal from Starwynd Theta isn't possible." Miyar looked earnestly over the other people in the office. "And MedoStat needs quite a supply of the drug before the circulation is shut down by your men. We don't know how many people are affected."
Senator Paula St. John said. "The Board assures that your requests on this issue will be handled immediately should they occur, Dr. Miyar. But the drug-keeping restrictions for medical facilities apply also for BETA MedoStat."
"Senator, I know these restrictions quite well and I accept their sense and need," Miyar spoke very firmly, "but in this case they are very dangerous. You must see, a victim of Starwynd Theta–"
"You mean an user, Doctor." The Senator cut in.
"The doctor's right with his choice of words." Walsh nodded towards Zachary giving him permission to explain the facts.
"Nobody takes Starwynd Theta for a trip or something like that, Senator." Zach explained carefully. "It's a toxin somebody gave them without their knowledge to make them totally dependent on his mercy. And it works awfully well. Those people are victims. To call them users would do them wrong."
The Senator screwed up her nose but decided to drop the issue. "Go on, Doctor."
"A victim of Starwynd Theta has about fifteen minutes when the drug runs out, Senator. Not more. We have absolutely no reliable information about how many people we would have to serve when we make the announcement."
"It won't work if we have to tell some of them they should stay by their local dealer for a while till MedoStat gets the necessary amount of the drug."
"Why not, Commander?" The Senator said coldly. "They stayed with them before."
"Senator, we don't do this for their benefit alone. We want to break the control the dealers have over them, since that control gives those criminals an incalculable influence on society. Since Starwynd when taken properly doesn't change behavior, it's even possible that that includes politics, military, and the economy. If we don't cut all their controls at once we give them the chance to launch a counterattack against us, using their still dependent victims. Nobody wants that."
The Senator's face got pale at the scenario Walsh described. Briskly she looked up and hardened her chin. "Okay, Commander. You won. I suspend the drug keeping restrictions in this case. You will get immediate access to the whole supply of Starwynd Theta the Board and its military allies have."
"We also have to make sure that the drug supply doesn't run out, Senator." Miyar said. "The victims are going to need Starwynd in daily doses for the rest of their lives."
"I understand that, Doctor." The following 'My name's not Wheiner' was clearly understandable. "The Board will take care for that. Maybe we can use the money of some of the public health funds for it. If they don't apply here, where do they apply?" She composed herself a little more and got up. "I expect you to take care that the drug is kept safe and that its hand out is under strict observation. You," she nodded towards Miyar, "and you," she looked at Walsh, "are responsible for that. If something goes wrong with this your heads will be the ones rolling. Clear?"
"You will get the first delivery of Starwynd Theta in two hours. I expect you to launch this project immediately. Today would be best. I don't want any criminals having the option to decide Earth's fate!" With an arrogant turn she left the office.
You mean other than the criminals already ruling Earth's fate. Walsh mumbled under his breath. Aloud, he said, "Okay, Doctor. You've got a lot of work to do. Start it. I'll get some MP's transferred to MedoStat to take care of security."
When Miyar had gone too, he said, "Captain Fox, do you and your people have a trace already?"
"We are still checking custom and freight papers from all around the League, Sir. Since it looks like the chemist belongs to a high class laboratory it's likely that he moves in high military and security circles. We can't track him down directly but we'll try to get him through the deliveries of substances that he must get to produce the drugs."
"You've concentrated on the brewer alone?" The commander frowned.
"Yes, Sir. Since Starwynd Theta is difficult and dangerous to produce, the circulation will come to an end if we drain the well, which means catch the brewer. The distribution organization alone is no threat. It's very unlikely that they'll be able to find another brewer for that stuff. So we could leave them to Police and SecStaff."
Walsh nodded. "Right. Go on with it and keep me informed. Dismissed."
transmit to: *@*.*
BUREAU OF EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL AFFAIRS
– PRESS RELEASE –
WEDNESDAY, 2087-01-22 21:56
THIS IS TO INFORM YOU ABOUT THE SAD FACT THAT A VERY DANGEROUS DRUG CALLED STARWYND THETA IS CURRENTLY IN CIRCULATION ON EARTH. WHOEVER COMES IN CONTACT WITH THIS DRUG SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CONTACT BETAMOUNTAIN MEDOSTAT TO GET FREE TREATMENT.
ABSOLUTE DISCRETION IS GUARANTEED.
PLEASE FORWARD THIS MESSAGE TO ALL PEOPLE YOU KNOW AND INFORM FELLOW CITIZENS WITHOUT REGULAR COMPUTER-ACCESS.
SIGNED: MIYAR, CHIEF OF MEDOSTAT
SIGNED: WALSH, SUPREME COMMANDER OF BETA
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE IN AN AUTOMATED NEWSLETTER:
MAILTO: email@example.com. USE "Starwynd" FOR SUBJECT LINE.
Embassy of planet Lorraint
"Do you see now, what you caused us, you mwregstalf!?" The ceremonial scepter slammed on his forehead for the sixth or seventh time. After the third, Wqwarrth had stopped counting. A heavy claw kick sent him down the three steps to the lower floor and thankfully out of reach for further strikes. The ambassador turned briskly for his first attache. "Collect our finances. Take care that the terrestrial freight papers are in order." He snorted and twisted his stalk eyes in annoyance. "And I want a full information bulletin about the bloodhounds they send for us. We have to strike back severe and fast, otherwise the damage can't be kept limited and our daily income will decrease."
"What do you have in mind, my prince?"
"If one or more of the hunters die of Starwynd, our clientele most likely would lose its trust in the official stuff." The leading Lorraint stopped at a marble-topped table and tapped a fast rhythm on it with his three fingers. "I want you to identify the hunters and to poison at least one of them, preferably with a dose close to the lethal decrease level. I don't want to leave them enough time to react."
The attache bowed deeply at his new orders. "A magnificent idea, as always, my prince."
"And contact our deliverer. We are going to need more stuff to replace the losses this mess costs us." His attache was nearly gone when he added a last command to his order: "And take care that Wqwarrth doesn't ruin our further plans."
"Of course, my prince." The attache checked the charge of his energy weapon while leaving for the lower halls to search for Wqwarrth.
NORAD Memorial cemetery
We always thought it would be you standing at my grave, Jamie, since I'm the one of us with the dangerous job. Niko laid her armful of sunflowers down on her friend wrapped in rich embroidered sheets. Djamila's mother was from an old clan of southern Sahara and insisted on a traditional funeral: no coffin, no church, but silence remembrance and burial objects for good-bye. Djamila had always loved sunflowers.
We are preparing the findings for the far future generations of your profession, Jamie... Niko shivered at the odd thought cruising through her mind and lowered her head. I miss you, Jamie. She tightened her chin. I will get the one who did that to you!
She didn't notice the violet, stalk eyed alien standing near the cemetery fence.
BetaMountain – GRS5 Office
=Got your goodies, Doccie!= The green sparkle shot out of the console and danced around his head, bouncing a couple of times off his temples. =OOooooh. Goodie, goodie, goodie, Doccie! Wanna party with it?=
"Did you feed them the formula of LSD, Doc?" Niko hid a smile behind her hand, watching Doc who opened his cyberspace portal while hurrying to the main console.
"Of course not." He snorted. "With my new Sensib-function they're sophisticated enough to adapt themselves to the topic they are aimed at."
=Dooooooooooouuuuuuuuuucccieieieieieeeeee.= Firefly screamed and caused a dozen red blips on the screen where foreign freight papers showed up.
"Obviously," Goose said in a dry voice, "they're high."
"That's it!!!" Doc clapped his fingers on the console next to his keyboard. "Pathfinder! Collect your wits and track this freight down to its consignee."
=Oooowwwwwwwww.= The green sparkle whimpered. =Don't shout. My brain aches.=
"You don't have a brain. Do your job!" Doc grunted. "Let's hope this leads to something, it'll be hell to program this off them again."
=Consignee of -ick- all the goods is -ick- the Lorraint Embassy on -ick- Earth, Doc-ick-sey.=
"Display full address and a list of inhabitants with holos." He decided to ignore the verbal interrupts his program had.
It appeared immediately on the screen. Doc pressed a key to print and save it. "Okay, save it to file–" He frowned. "What are these green pixels scattered across the image, Pathfinder?"
=Sorriiiiiiiieeeee, Doc.= The program sounded somehow ashamed. =I felt suddenly sick to my stomach...=
Doc buried his head in his hands. "Why me?" He asked the gods of bytes. "Why is it always me?"
Niko took the printout. "I'm going to inform Zach. We'll need an official okay for questioning at an embassy."
"I'll come with you," Shane grinned, "gives Doc some time to get his progs through withdrawal."
"A guy like you who's immune against everything shouldn't joke about withdrawals, Gooseman." Doc snapped as the door slid shut behind them.
So only Niko saw Shane stopping in his tracks for a second, clenching his fist till the muscles under the cloth of his sleeve trembled with tension, before he walked on as if nothing had happened. Another one of his demons. She thought sadly. He won't talk about this one either.
Embassy of planet Lorraint
"I regret having to tell you that ambassador Qaarth is not available at the moment. He's in hypercom conference with our government on Lorraint. It's impossible to disturb him now."
"Attache, we have to talk with him in the case of pre-drug substances smuggling in the name of Lorraint's embassy. That's a very serious matter."
"Do you accuse the independent world of Lorraint of being involved?" The attache asked coldly.
"We are investigating a serious drug threat on our world." Zachary said firmly. "Our government wishes to have this done and expects cooperation from our League allies since these drugs are not only dangerous for human beings."
"We understand that." The Lorraint stiffened. "But the ambassador cannot speak with you. I'm sorry." The heavy door fell shut.
"That's it for cooperation." He sighed. "Until we get permission to call him to BETA as an individual."
"Anywhere but Earth we'd be in there already and cause that crook to squeal." Goose grumbled.
"Goose, we protect the law, we don't break it." Zach was frustrated himself.
"What about a little bending?"
"No bending, Gooseman!" Captain Fox snapped heading for their glider. "Get us to HyperSpaceCom. I'd like to check something."
"The Commander didn't grant a warrant for interrogating the ambassador." Zachary sighed. "I thought we'd have a chance since I could prove that they obviously lied to us, but it didn't matter for the decision." He looked around. "Niko should already be here."
"What's up with Doc?" Gooseman asked, searching, too.
"Doc called me this morning, said he had some problems with his programs to fix. I promised him not to call him unless there's an emergency." He shrugged. "Don't know what the problem is."
"Withdrawal symptoms," Goose chuckled. His look wandered along the line of tables at the panorama window front. Niko always liked the spectacular view when eating.
Fox turned frowning for him at the cryptic comment. "What–?"
Something breakable fell down, table-legs slid screaming across the floor, a couple of angry – and frightened - shouts. Before Niko realized what was happening a gloved hand clenched like a vice around her wrist, pressed her bones until the lettuce-filled fork dropped from her numbed hand. She screamed and tried to pull her hand free of– "Gooseman!"
He didn't react to her. "Did you eat any of this?"
"You hurt me."
"Answer me! Did you eat any?"
"Shane!" Instinctively her powers flared, drove her pain into his mind causing him to stagger, while she prepared for the anger there, but– Fear?
Zachary appeared behind him, his bionic hand grabbed for Goose's shoulder to free her.
The fear chewed on her. She made a denial sign and Fox stopped, frowning. "I haven't start eating yet, Shane." She said as calmly as she could into those green eyes fixed on her face and a wave of relief rushed over her. "Would you now please let go before I lose all sense in my fingers?"
He looked down on her fragile wrist, caught in his cruel grip, as if noticing it the first time and his eyes widened in shock. She rubbed the throbbing, reddened skin. "What made you do that?"
"There's something on your leaves." He said hoarsely, almost choked, still staring at her injured wrist.
"It's sugared lettuce." She massaged her hurting wrist and continued, annoyed. "It's not the first time I've eaten it."
His eyes narrowed. "That's not sugar on it!"
She stopped, stared at him in disbelief. "How–?" Then she remembered. "Your eyes," she whispered. "What do you see?"
"Blue-green. There's no sugar with that color in it."
"Are you sure–" She remembered a day at the lake half a year ago. "Forget it."
"Did you let your dish out of your sight?" He asked, tensed again.
"No." She interrupted herself. "But... yes. I went to get my lemon tea."
"We should get that to QBall. Fast. For an examination." He nodded towards her dish.
"Gooseman!" Fox cut in. "Did you come to your senses finally?" His impatient movement covered the chaos of fallen and broken dishes and the crowd of silently staring people around them.
"Was that me?" Goose finally asked.
Fox rolled his eyes.
BetaMountain – Office of Commander Walsh
"Yes, Commander," QBall on the screen pushed his viewing aide higher on his nose, "there is Starwynd Theta on Ranger Niko's sugared lettuce. The total amount is very close to the lethal declining amount." He took a deep breath. "She would have died within seconds after consuming her meal. Though I haven't a clue how Gooseman could know that."
Walsh turned for the Rangers in front of his desk. Niko became slightly pale at QBall's news but didn't say anything. He noticed the red finger marks on her lower arm and two claw scratches. Damn, the boy must've been pretty afraid for her to grab her that hard. "Gooseman, to QBall's question: How did you know it?"
"I didn't know it was Starwynd, Sir. But I knew it wasn't sugar on those leaves. And after all that's currently happened I thought it better not to risk anything."
"How did you realize that it wasn't sugar, Gooseman?" Fox frowned at his answer. "We were more than twenty meters away. And Starwynd does look like sugar."
"No, Sir. It doesn't."
"The enhanced senses," Walsh explained shortly. "His color resolution greatly exceeds the normal."
"Someone has tried to kill me." Niko said suddenly with a slight tremor in her voice.
"Yes, Ranger. And it's likely that all of you are targets for further assassination attempts." Walsh said coldly. "What better way to create distrust between the drug victims and MedoStat's anti-slavery project than if one of the investigators dies of Starwynd?"
"Are there any opportunities to detect Starwynd?" Fox asked. "I'm afraid for my family."
"There's a portable laser scanner at LongShot sensitive enough for that," QBall mentioned.
"But we can't use it all the time, Sir."
"Correct, Captain. It would send the wrong signal to the victims." Walsh snorted. "Your team has to be very careful till the investigation's finished. But that's enough. I give you permission to interrogate your prime suspect here at BETA."
"We are allowed to summon ambassador Qaarth, Sir?"
"Yes, you are. But be careful of protocol."
"Of course, Sir."
Outside Walsh's office, Zachary stopped. "I'll go to InterSec right now. It's their responsibility to put a diplomatic VIP to the question."
Niko raised a brow at his grim statement. "You want to set the inquisition after them?"
"I believe that would be too nice. Especially when considering that there were no hyperspace comlines to Lorraint open today." He walked briskly towards InterSec's office at the other end of the waste administration hall.
"Do you know what these non-established HCCL's mean, Goose?"
"That ambassador Qaarth got his people to lie right to our faces this morning." They continued their way back to their own office in silence. After a while, he said in a very low voice. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you."
Niko ran her fingers across her still throbbing wrist and saw him wincing at that movement and his tension growing up again. "You saved my life doing it," she said trying to comfort him. "I owe you–"
"No." He said roughly. "Don't excuse it."
"It will heal, Shane." She assured. "Look, it's almost gone by now."
"You don't see... I didn't even notice."
"I know. You were too busy saving my life," she teased him. "Nobody destroyed half of the cafeteria for me before."
"I take care for my friends. As you said - people like us don't find friends easily."
BetaMountain – SecStaff Interrogation Room 2
"Ranger, you are aware that you created a diplomatic incident with scanning my pockets let alone my person without my agreement!" The stalk eyes of Lorraint ambassador Qaarth twitched agitated. "This will have serious consequences for you!"
"Ambassador," Zachary said as calmly as he could, "you're carrying two hundred grams of Starwynd with you. Two hundred. Enough stuff to enslave at least five thousand people. Drug dealing is a serious crime here on Earth. That means you will be facing consequences. Extremely serious ones if you don't give us the names of your accomplices and drug deliverers."
"Nonsense. Don't forget, I am ambassador. I am diplomatically immune as long as my government doesn't hand me over." The Lorraint smiled softly and took the detected drug parcel out of his pocket positioning it in plain sight on the table. "And I'm sure my father won't do that. Not for some minor problems on a foreign planet as far away as yours."
"Minor problems!" Niko behind the observation window shot up from her seat that fast that Goose beside her automatically grabbed her wrist to prevent her from jumping through the mirrored glass in front of them. "This drug dealing bastard–"
"–is an ambassador." He continued with a slight growl for her.
She sank back onto her seat. "Jamie's murderer will slip our fingers because we're never going to get his deliverer's name out of him."
Goose's eyes rested for a short moment at her shoulders, bowed down with grief. Then he looked into the interrogation room, at the table between Zachary and the angry ambassador, at a transparent parcel with tiny sugarlike white crystals that looked slightly blue-green to him. His eyes narrowed when he recognized the drug seeing it in its pure form for the first time. "Maybe we don't need it." He grabbed his coffee mug and headed for the door.
Zach looked up in surprise when the door behind him opened and Goose strolled in.
"Sorry to disturb you." Shane grinned and overlooked the table. "Fine, there it is." He tore open the parcel with a sharp fingernail and poured its contents into his mug.
The ambassador jumped up from his chair. "You–"
But the ST had already taken a deep sip and smiled. "Ah, that's better. This machine oil wasn't drinkable without sugar." He took another deep sip then drunk his coffee down to the mug's bottom. "If it were at least hot, but..." He shrugged and turned for the door. "Excuse me, Captain."
Qaarth stared at him with open mouth. "You mean your coffee was sweet?" The alien ambassador asked carefully without letting Goose out off his stalk eyes.
"Sure it was. Sweet as sin." He opened the door to the corridor again. "I'm continuing with my reports, Cap." The door slid shut behind him.
BetaMountain – Office of Commander Walsh
48 minutes later
"I gave you permission to question Mr. Qaarth. Nothing else." Walsh slammed his palm onto the desk and continued in a harsh voice. "And you accused the ambassador of a sovereign planet of drug dealing with sugar!"
"No, Sir. We accused him because he carried Starwynd Theta around. We tried to convince him to give us the name of the one who produces the toxin." Zachary exclaimed.
Walsh looked from him to Goose and back. "Would you four explain to me the following scene from the interrogation room recording that the ambassador had ordered, then?" He played the scene with Goose drinking his coffee.
"Sir–" Zachary started, but ignoring military behavior, Goose interrupted him.
"I think the ambassador isn't pleased to be ripped off by his chemist." He smiled cruelly. "As far as I know the Lorraints take that kind of loss of face very personally," the cruel smile deepened, "and usually give it back. Literally."
"You mean..." Niko began, turning towards him, forgetting Commander Walsh and the whole appalling situation for a moment.
"That his brewer is in really big trouble now." He shrugged. "Guess that's worth it."
"Worth what?" she asked, still struggling with the information she'd just got.
"For being worth at least 5 million credits it was the worst coffee I ever had."
Walsh snorted and got up from his desk. "The Board expects your final reports tomorrow morning. I expect them in two hours. Dismissed, except Gooseman."
After the others had left: "You took an unacceptable risk when consuming the stuff, Gooseman."
"Sir, I was sure Starwynd Theta wouldn't have any effect on me."
"How? You couldn't know whether your immunizations would cover Starwynd's newest derivatives or not."
"I could, Sir. Do you remember the stuff which was used on us back at Wolf Den when it showed up that not all ST's were fully immune against non-adapted drug effects? We were never told its name. It didn't have any effect on me."
"DefDrug-alpha." Walsh cursed under his breath. "They skipped it because it made the using ones too dependent on reliable supply routes. The goddamn stuff had cost us more than sixty lives. And where does that come in with Starwynd Theta?"
"It is the same."
EARTH TIMES, SUNDAY 2087-01-26
THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF CHARLES WILLIAMS
YESTERDAY MORNING SENATOR ERIC WHEINER'S PERSONAL ATTACHE, AIDE AND RIGHT HAND WAS FOUND SLAIN IN HIS SWIMMING POOL BY HIS SHOCKED SERVANTS. ACCORDING TO A POLICE PRESS COMMUNIQUE THE 41-YEAR-OLD FORMER MEDICAL CHEMIST WAS STABBED TWICE IN THE CHEST, AFTERWARDS HIS FACE WAS DISFIGURED. NO FURTHER INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE AT THIS TIME. THOUGH OUR CORRESPONDENT FROM BEYOND EARTH TOLD US THAT SOME POLITICAL GROUPS ON LEAGUE ALLY PLANET LORRAINT PERFORM THIS KIND OF EXECUTION TO MARK THE VICTIM AS A FRAUD. WE ALL HOPE THAT THIS ISN'T THE PRELUDE TO ANOTHER BOOM OF EXTRATERRESTRIAL CRIMES ON OUR BELOVED PLANET EARTH.
EARTH TIMES, MONDAY 2087-01-28
LORRAINT EMBASSY CLOSED
AFTER HIS INVOLVEMENT IN UNREVEALED CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES, THE BOARD OF WORLD LEADERS EVICTED LORRAINT'S AMBASSADOR ON EARTH, QAARTH OF LORR, AND ENDED EARTH'S DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS WITH LORRAINT. A PRESS SESSION ABOUT THIS TOPIC IS SCHEDULED LATER TODAY.
Thanks To S. 'Trivia' Blank for spending her time with chasing mistakes out of a 14-year-old story.
Adapted Drugs: collective noun for drugs created for and used on ST within STP. These drugs are engineered to overwhelm the defenses against exogenic substances. They are adapted to certain DNA-strands within the artificial genome causing the ST-physis to recognize them as endogenic. Adapted drugs for example are: Behavior controllers, Genetic enabler, X-factor...
Archeocon: annually Convention of League Archeologists. Well-known for its formidable exposition of artifacts found since the last Con.
Drug brewer: here: the one who makes Starwynd Theta out of the substances given to him "in commission" and then *delivers* the drug for payment back to those who provided him with the necessary substances.
Drug keeping restrictions: a set of laws that limits the maximum amount of a drug stored at a medical or research facility to reduce the risk that a significant amount of drugs can be stolen in a single robbery.
Embassies Area: a well-situated area outside Phoenix where a lot of embassies of League members and also the houses of some Board members are located. For example: Andor, Kirwin, Lorraint, WalkUp,...
Holographic body mask: technology to create a hologram around a person to mask it. Pretty expensive. Often used for camouflage between criminals. Detectable, because even the most expensive ones blur when the wearer moves, since the connected projectors have an finite reaction time.
InterSec: Internal Security. Police and Security Service. It is answerable only(!) to the Board of World Leaders
MedoStat: medical facility within BetaMountain, responsible for civilian and military staff.
Mwregstalf: extremely personal insult in Lorrainic. Not exactly translatable since it refers to physical specialties of the Lorraint species. A verbal description of a false colored individual with stalk eyes too short that it can't hold in position correctly. Before they joined the League disfigured ones were separated in special working camps from Lorraints society to do useful works like disposal cleaning without offending the others with their disfigured appearance.
NDEA: New Drug Enforcement Agency. Successor department to the former US. DEA with the same duties.
Non-adapted drugs: drugs not adapted to have effects on ST. (see also: Adapted drugs.)
Put s.o. to the question: special phrase used by inquisitors in the Middle Ages when referring to catching and torturing a suspect till it confesses (and/or dies).
SecStaff: Security Staff. Local police and security services at military and scientific bases. It is answerable to the commander of base and InterSec.
The Day before: paraphrase for the hours just before menstruation starts
Xeryon: mysterious species of spacefarers - less known than the Poes, left some beautiful technological artifacts behind which use most often couldn't be determined. Though their artifacts were found on planets far apart no real hints about their spaceship engines or their homeworld have been found yet.p but laugh.