John Christian Falkenberg, head of Lord Fagin’s Smugglers Guild, has been shot and left in a coma. Yama Nels has been implicated in treacherous dealings with the Pirate King’s cronies. And three friends conspire to deal with these complications…

Cockpit <Fool’s Pride>

Crammed with equipment, the cockpit is nevertheless designed to seat more than six human-sized occupants in addition to its crew. Two grav-couches form an aisle between them, each apholstered in a dull black. At the aisles head are two gyroscopic chairs, before each a console. A wide viewscreen occupies the fore wall, projecting an image of the space before the ship there for the occupants and crew alike. The area is well-lit, comfortably warm to most species.

The central console, obviously the pilot’s, has obviously been modified from its factory specifications, scopes and buttons jutting out from it at irregular angles adding to its complexity. Just to its port is a weapons console, almost running into the pilot’s, likely itself a post-production addition to the ship, its metal silverish rather than black. The scopes and buttons of this console glow a dull green, adding an unearthly cast to whatever gunner hunches over them.

Vampire whirs into the cockpit aboard his hoverchair, making “woo-woo” noises.

Jaxx is, presently, only visible from the hips down. The rest of his body is obscured by the navigation console, on which he is working. He greets, muffledly, “Good day, Corpse.”

Vampire slides the hoverchair to a halt and smirks at Jaxx. “Bon dieu, mon ami.” He puckers his lips, then looks to Sha. “Ah, and the blushing bride.”

N’Sha-El positively LEAPS up from where she’s been sitting on a grav couch, moodily working on some circuitry. “VAMPIRE!”

Vampire shrinks back from the pounce. “Careful, Cel, you might send me sprawlin’!”

N’Sha-El sends her circuitry flying and dives for Vampire to give him a gigantic hug. “Vampire dammit yer a sight for sore eyes dood.”

Vampire barely avoids toppling off the hoverchair, hanging on barely by gripping the steering toggle. “Yeah, right, gotcha…” He chuckles. “Cel, what’s so important ya wanted me comin’ back into Connieland?”

There’s a sharp clank, and then a tinkling sound from beneath the Navigation console. A moment later, Jaxx says, “Hmm.”

N’Sha-El tosses her braid, quirking a glance over at Jaxx before gripping one arm of the hoverchair tightly and saying, “I need a hack. Like, before I go crazy.” Her eyes, fever-bright and smouldering, give evidence to her claim.

Vampire opens his mouth into a small “O,” then nods. “Ooookay. Name the target.”

Yet another clank comes from beneath the Navigation console, followed by another bout of tinkling.

Jaxx , once more, says “Hmm.”

N’Sha-El furrows her brow, glancing over at the half-invisible Jaxx. “Anything wrong with the nav, love?” Only for a moment though as she swings her attention back to Vampire with a restless, caged energy about her. “Fagin’s security system. His records.”

Jaxx says, muffled by the console. “Not precisely.”

Vampire arches his hairless brows. “His security system records. Uh-huh.” He glances toward the vague form of Jaxx. “What *did* you do to her during the honeymoon?”

Jaxx slides from beneath the Navigation console. In his hands he is holding what appears to be a small glass bottle. Threaded through it is a filiment of wire, protruding on each end.

A chuckle escapes Sha. “He didn’t do nothin’ Vamp, ain’t his fault. I just…hell, I don’t know, it’s like bein’ caged y’know? I did half a sim last night but it ain’t the same. I’m tryin’ to be good and it bloody ain’t workin’.” There’s some desperation in her voice despite the evident half-humor.

Vampire nods to Sha. “Maybe you’d better tell me what this is all about, yeh?”

Jaxx sits up, holding in his hand the glass bottle. His brows are knit. He replies to Vampire, “Sha has been feeling without a place beyond our marriage. It is something I have had some difficulty helping her with.

Vampire raises his hands. “Whoa, sweet cheeks, I don’t get into that kinda kinkiness. Usually.”

N’Sha-El draws a deep breath, casting a rather nervous glance over at Jaxx before she responds to Vampire’s question. “I dunno how to explain it Vampire. ..What’s kinky?” She blinks.

Vampire chuckles. “Never you mind, Cel. Just try splainin’ this wackiness you’re spoutin’.”

N’Sha-El draws a deep breath. And then almost as if a dam has burst, a torrent of words tumble from her. “Feels like I’m caged, Vampire…I can’t hack an’ I can’t do nothin’ wrong or else th’damn press or whoever it is that’s interested in us gets wind of it, my lil’ sis is marryin’ damn YAMA of all forsaken bloody whackheads, and my other sis is in the Smuggler’s Guild again, an’ I dunno how to be good an’ I’m trying but it ain’t workin’ and gods it feels like I’m gonna bust or somethin’!”

Vampire gets a rather dark and flinty look in his eyes. “You haven’t heard, have you?”

Jaxx says, “Heard what?”

Vampire shrugs. “Her boss got capped last night.”

Jaxx settles into the pilot’s chair, setting the bottle onto the console. “Falkenberg? He is dead?”

Vampire chuckles. “About as good as. He’s in a coma.”

N’Sha-El blinks. “Falkenberg? No I hadn’t…” She trails off and stares at Vampire. “Vampire…you didn’t….did you?”

Vampire arches his hairless brows. “Shoot him? Why no, Cel, I didn’t shoot him. It would have been the slowest getaway in history.”

N’Sha-El snorts. “Slow? SLOW? Hell you ain’t slow Vampire. That chair’s faster’n Grim can run I’d think, he’s such an anal bastard. You heard bout Hernandez headin’ the Pie-Rats Guild now, I’m sure.” She pauses. “He’s in a coma. Gods, I hope sis will get out. Who’s the main squeeze now that Falk’s down for the count?”

Vampire shrugs. “No names yet, but Messer seems an odds-on favorite. Still…Cel, if yer gonna get her out, *now* is the time. Like him or not, Falkenberg was protecting her from Fagin’s hounds. With him out of the way…”

N’Sha-El nods, a grim expression in her eyes. “If she’ll go. I was gonna mail her anyhows, there’s been some damndest complications over Hernandez and Jet and sis gets the whack if Jet ain’t co-op.”

Jaxx says, “She’ll be stubborn.”

Vampire nods, looking darkly at Sha. “If she needs a push, I can find someone to finish the boy.”

N’Sha-El looks a little weary. “If she doesn’t go, she doesn’t go. I can’t stop her there. She seemed to like Falk a great deal…” Her eyes smoulder. “I’d love for that to happen Vampire…butchoo know, I think she’d kill me.” She gives a bit of a mirthless laugh. “Gods I hope she ain’t fallen for the man. He’s charismatic and all. But STILL.”

Jaxx says, “She’s in love with him.”

Vampire frowns. “She’s not in love with the job, I wager.”

Jaxx shakes his head. “That’s irrelevant. She loves him. I see it in her…It’s strong enough to be quite obvious. She won’t leave him, I suspect.

Vampire shrugs. “So get *him* out of there.”

N’Sha-El swallows, her eyes blazing suddenly. “You mean… ARGH!” She makes a swift turn away from Vampire and the hoverchair and paces, caged fury obvious.

Vampire chuckles faintly. “I mean, Cel, find a way to remove Falkenberg from that environment – and you’ll bring her with him.”

Jaxx says, “That seems the only solution. Such an extraction, though, would only be complicated by the fact that Jest’liana herself might misinterpret its motivations.”

Vampire nods. “So you’ll have to make it look legit.”

N’Sha-El bites her lips, arms folded tightly about herself. “Legit. Gods, she’ll still misinterpret it. She doesn’t even know /me/ any more, much less the rest of us…” A sharp turn, more restless pacing. “Legit. Anything that’d bring down Fagin’s wrath on Falk’ll shift her I suspect.”

Vampire shrugs. “Word of the shooting has been all over the nets. I suspect the Vanguard wouldn’t mind taking Falkenberg into protective custody, yeh?”

Jaxx’s brows arch. “The Vanguard? I question whether they’d violate a planet’s sovereignty to protect the former head of the Smuggler’s Guild.

Vampire chuckles. “C’mon, ol’ boy, Tomin Kora ain’t exactly a sovereign world, unless you consider Fagin a sovereign – and he’s a wanted criminal. As is Little Lord Falkenberg, yeh? Smugglin’ ain’t exactly a legal-wise activity.”

N’Sha-El reaches one taut hand out to tug at her braid. Hard. “No. No, that wouldn’t work. I don’t like bein’ around Vannie space any more’n you, Vampire. Would Savage take ’em?”

Vampire shrugs. “I happen to know two possible Vannie officers who might like to get their hands on Mr. Falkenberg on some long-standing orders.”

N’Sha-El tugs at her braid so hard it’s a wonder she doesn’t rip it out entirely. “For Jest to wanna come voluntarily…Falk can’t bloody be in custody,” she says bitterly. Then, explosively, “SISTERS! ARGH!”

Vampire smiles ferally. “She won’t bloody have a choice, if he’s in custody. The decision will be made for her!”

Jaxx says, “I suspect that this new commander will deal with Fagin, but I’m not sure an assault on Tomin Kora will be his first goal. If I were to select a criminal to extract from the Fringe, beyond Fagin himself, I’d choose Hernandez. Her betrayal, once it becomes more public, will be a slap in the face of the Consortium.”

Vampire glances toward Jaxx. “Yeh, well, this criminal is comatose, sitting in the medical specialties office in Freewheeling, free for the taking.”

N’Sha-El closes her eyes, hands reaching to cup her face as if in pain. “I like it…but oh, /damn/ if she finds out I had a hand in it…”

Vampire shrugs. “There is one other way.”

N’Sha-El eyes Vampire. “What is it?” She looks as frazzled as she sounds, although she seems to be attempting valiantly to marshall her thoughts and emotions into some sort of practical order.

Vampire smiles faintly. “Falkenberg dies. Or, at least, he seems to. I can pay the doctor to make it look good. I’ve done it before.”

Jaxx’s brows lift. “Of course, Jest’liana would have to realize that he is truly alive, lest she react in the same way that she would react were he actually to die.

N’Sha-El actually stops pacing. For a moment a bit of incomprehension flits across her face, then her eyes widen. “Yeh…like that Ro Mee O thingy right?”

Vampire rolls his eyes. “You don’t think she’s *that* goo-goo over this flop, do you?

Jaxx says, “Actually, yes, I do. I, too, fail to understand it, but I definitely feel that it is so.”

Vampire frowns. “A girl with her priorities that far out of whack may be better off dead.” He snaps his eyes toward Sha. “No offense, Cel.”

N’Sha-El looks acutely miserable at that. “Y’know Vampire…sometimes I wish that too. Gods, that’s just so wrong. But hell…Jet’s gonna die when he finds out. And she’s leavin’ /that/ to me to tell him too I’ll wager.”

Vampire arches his eyebrows. “Hmm. No, there is another way.”

N’Sha-El paces again, stopping her arc of perambulation near Jaxx. It seems to be an instinct as she draws in close. “Let’s hear it. I’m outta ideas.” A snort of laughter. “Don’t tell the gang that, they ain’t never gonna let me hear the end of it.”

Vampire shrugs. “He recovers. He tells her to scram.”

N’Sha-El rolls her eyes. “He won’t. Long as he got her to play patsy he’ll use her over my head.”

Vampire smirks. “Well, you know…he got shot in the head…he’s pretty much bandaged…”

N’Sha-El tilts her head, looking slightly puzzled. “Yeh…and…?”

Vampire shrugs. “Get someone to pose as the big guy, wearing bandages.”

Jaxx has reconnected.

Jaxx’s brows lift. “He’d have to recover, first, unless you wished to fake that…Of course, it is possible that she would learn the truth.

Vampire shrugs. “Get someone to pose as the big guy, wearing bandages.”

Jaxx has partially disconnected.

Jaxx says, “And if he truly recovers? What then?”

Vampire sighs. “Well, sure, shoot a plan in the belly.”

N’Sha-El holds her head. “Stop, stop for a minute please…” she begs, looking haggard. “No, that won’t work…it’s cruel. Yeh I hate Falk but Jest is my sister and hell, I love her even if she is trouble. I’ll tell her we’ll get her and Falk out safe. Ask her to let me work the details.”

Vampire nods. “Fine. So, uh, what does *any* of this have to do with ol’ wirebrain’s security records?”

Jaxx has partially disconnected.

N’Sha-El blinks, apparently having forgotten the original thread of conversation. “Oh. That…well. You said you wanted a place to hack. That’s it. See…Some damn Mekke called Acran said something about Demaria bein’ under threat from the Nalls or somethin’ like it.”

Vampire nods slowly. “And that would have to do with Fagin’s security records because…?”

Jaxx says, “The theory, perhaps, is that Fagin has a clearer notion of Nall plans than we do.”

Vampire shrugs. “Hell, I’ve got a clearer notion. The Nalls are too busy cleanin’ up crap at home to be worried about anyone else’s business. Whatever Fagin had goin’ wasn’t with the Nalls in general, but some particular Nalls. Rogues, if you can believe it.”

N’Sha-El wrinkles her nose. “Coz I wanna see just how involved Mutt Head is with the Lizzies. An’ I s’ggested we toss rumors aroun’ that Fagin wants ta sell the Lizzies out and is doublecrossin’ em to the furballs and that he’s waitin’ in his place with most of the Demarian troops. So boom, leak coords to the Nalls and no Fagin?”

Vampire chuckles. “Cel, the Nalls know about Fagin’s little hideaway. In fact, a few of ’em lizzies had to be eradicated before he could take up residence. Little Lord Falkenberg led the cleanup.”

N’Sha-El stares. “Meat Head Falk led the…!” She clamps her lips shut, then says, after some dark glares at the absent unfortunate Falk, “So let’s get them to off Mutt Head for me…no hell /I/ want dibs on that.” Vampire chuckles. “Demaria ain’t in no danger from the Nalls. Heh, no, Demaria has much more to worry about from Fagin and his hatchet men in the Senate.”

N’Sha-El exhales. “Vampire, you /have/ to tell Teel this. She’s got it inta her head that she wants ta help ’em coz of damn Yama idjit and Acran’s a damn pain. He weirds me out, hell, keeps sayin’ he’s keepin’ track of me. Which brings me to somethin’ else. Yama. I wanna get into Fagin’s records to see if that tape Jet showed me is lyin’.”

Vampire quirks his hairless brows. “What tape?”

N’Sha-El glances at Jaxx, slipping her hand into his. “I got it in the Widow. Wanna come look?”

Jaxx says, “Certainly.”

Vampire nods. “Sure, I got time.”

N’Sha-El nods. “Let’s go. It’s what’s been upsettin’ Teel.” She tugs Jaxx off, her face set in a dark scowl.

Vampire whirs backward.

The group reconvenes aboard the Black Widow, in the docking bay of the Consortium starbase, Citadel…

Cockpit

This small cockpit is rather cramped, with most of its exposed surfaces dominated by both a panoramic window and a vast control console. The former wraps around the forward wall of the cockpit, providing a spectacular view of the small vessel’s surroundings. The single navigation station rests before this window, its surface covered by numerous controls and displays. A single exit aft leads into the passenger compartment.

Vampire whirs into the cockpit.

Jaxx has arrived.

N’Sha-El gestures to a holodisplay unit on the nav console. “There it is.”

Vampire leans over, tapping the activation key.

The holographic display lights up, showing the image of a holding cell with stone walls. Crouched in the cell is a human male who appears to be about six feet tall, with Asiatic complexion and well-defined nose and cheekbones. Standing in the cell with him are a gaunt man with silvery hair and a malignant-looking thug with a sword.

“We are going to release you, Mr. Nels,” speaks the silvery haired man, “but your freedom is not without a price.”

From the shadows, the crouching figure growls, “Name it and be done with it.”

“When the time comes, we expect to have to deal with Fulton Hight,” the silvery haired man says. “You will provide assistance in this regard in exchange for your survival. Are we agreed?”

The crouched figure snarls: “Yes. Just get me out of here.”

Vampire seems to listen closely to the dialogue, and narrows his eyes as he studies the movements. “Okay, okay…at first glance, what we’re hearing from Mr. Nelsy-boy here is legit. Matches his mouth movements.” He glances toward Sha, then points at the somewhat obscured image of Grim. “Can’t tell if what he says is for real, but if it’s doctored, it’s doctored well. I’ll have to do digital analysis.”

Jaxx mmms. “He was under duress. He has agreed, but it is uncertain whether he intends to comply.

Vampire chuckles. “You don’t get away with that with Grim or Fagin. You know that, right?”

Jaxx shrugs his shoulders. “So I have heard. I do know, however, that even the strongest telepaths can be fooled…Duplicity is, therefore, a possibility. However, I do not think Nels’s mind is so strong as that.

Vampire smirks. “Loverboy, if Nels *lied* to Grim and failed to follow through, Ms. Teel would be a widow before too long, I think.”

N’Sha-El sighs. “What I think, is that it’s outta context. I hope. For Teel’s sake. No, I don’t think he lied. I hope not.”

Vampire nods. “Well, the man doesn’t say “Help us *kill* anyone,” now does he? He just says “deal with.” That could mean any number of things, couldn’t it? But, coming from Grim, it usually means one thing. I find it hard to imagine any other context. Yama Nels helped you crazy kids bust into Lord Fagin’s palace and send it into oblivion. Over time, the old man has been exacting his vengeance. Maybe part of it is making Nels serve his interests.”

N’Sha-El nods slowly. “Yeh that’s what I thought. Gods, the old man’s been enjoyin’ his vengeance.” Her eyes harden. “Hight was a good guy.”

Vampire shrugs. “Either way, Nels agreed to *something* in this tape. I can tell that much without a detailed analysis. And you can bet it wasn’t good.”

N’Sha-El snorts. “Hell I know it wasn’t good. Teel thinks he ain’t that kinda person but me, I think he’s a weasel. Jet don’t like him either. But give the boy his due, it was under duress.”

Vampire glances toward Sha. “You’ve been under duress before. Would you promise that villain anything to get away?”

N’Sha-El narrows her eyes. “Course not, hell, I got principles. I think. Nels is a brat. Spoiled richboy, he wants t’get married in the Vatican, gods, and bulldozed Teel into it.”

Vampire nods. “Well, at first glance, this thing’s genuine. A deeper digital analysis may reveal Grim asked for something else, but he definitely asked for something, and got Yama to agree.”

N’Sha-El nods. “It’s genuine ’nuff, I mean, this is before Bratboy lost his arm. I just don’t know /which/ part is.”

Vampire turns his eyes to Sha. “Have you shown it to him yet?”

N’Sha-El shakes her head. “No, coz we gotta FIND the bratling first. I’m waitin’ for Jet to get back here.”

Vampire nods. “Well, that should be interesting.” He glances toward the napping Jaxx, then back to Sha. “By the way, if you cats head back Tomin way sometime, I know someone might like to see loverboy.”

N’Sha-El arches a brow. “Anyone I know?” She glances down at Jaxx, touching his cheek gently with a quiet smile of affection. “I need to not serve him raspberry tea no more dammit.”

Vampire chuckles. “Hellifiknow.” He smirks. “I gotta dash. Need anythin’ more from me, Cel?”

N’Sha-El grins. “Hook me up with y’all and let’s go hack,” she avows, eyes gleaming. “You take care. You hear me? I want an afternoon uninterrupted hackin’.”

Vampire nods. “You got it.” He jerks on the hoverchair stick and whirs backward. “See ya soon. I’ll be round Tomin.”

N’Sha-El arches a brow. “Tomin? Why you back there again? It’s a hell hole for you.”

Vampire shrugs. “Keepin’ an eye on Jest.” He smirks, whirring away.