Vindir Obza braces a hand against the frame of the shuttle’s exit hatch, the other hand clutched close at his right side.

He wasn’t sure he’d make it to Impiruil Baile. Almost stopped caring. His troubles, he knew, were close to over. One way or another, the Aukami’s fight wouldn’t last much longer. The one who ordered him dead for his betrayal in the ruins of Multvaros might become someone else’s problem.

But not his. That provokes a weak smile from the wounded man as he joins the small crowd descending the ramp to the surface of the colony world.

The gray satchel bounces lightly against his left hip, the crystalline trinket within sometimes giving off a faint chime and a dull silver-blue glow.

During these warm summer days, it’s not uncommon to find Kethren perched on the fountain’s edge, and enjoying the pleasant misting effect it brings while doing a bit of work. Today it’s just a few contracts that need looking over. No matter what happens, some tedious things remain part of the daily routine. Less routine is the alert that his pda displays over the contract he was reading over. A couple of taps later, and a call is opened up with the hospital. “Councilor Kethren, here. Looks like a wounded Aukami has just disembarked the morning shuttle. Better send someone down to pick him up.”

“Who screens the passengers onto these flights?” comes the orderly’s complaint over the link to Kethren. “That’d be the morning shuttle from Kamsho, if my schedule’s correct.”

The councilor rubs the bridge of his nose. “We can worry about pointing fingers later. Right now there’s a person who has just landed on this planet, and needs treatment badly enough that the basic surveillance alerted me to it.”

The medics arrive within a few minutes, quietly taking Vindir Obza aside and trying to ascertain the extent of his injuries.

“You really shouldn’t trouble yourselves,” the Aukami insists through clenched teeth, although he does not overly resist as they help him settle onto a bench. He does take exception, however, when one of the medics tries to relieve him of the satchel. “I want to keep this close.”

The young woman checking his injury during this exchange frowns and calls in to the hospital: “We’ve got a male Aukami presenting with three fully cauterized plasma wounds to the torso. Significant internal organ damage detected. Prep for emergency surgery.”

A hoversled is nudged up next to the bench so Obza can be transferred aboard like a stretcher.

Kethren sighs slightly before hopping off the fountain, and addressing the calico kitten-ferret on his shoulder. “We better head on to the hospital.” Despite it being no more necessary than telling his ser companion, he nods at the tiger by his feet “C’mon, Nuala. I’d rather not be too far out of the loop.”

Bringing up the read of the odd trio is a guard who looks like he’s never particularly happy. Not even when wearing a macrame owl. Which he is.

The surgical procedure takes about three and a half hours, but the damage proves too severe. Doctors declare Obza dead on the operating table. “Transfer the body to the morgue for a complete autopsy,” the surgeon tells his team. Then he departs to wash his hands.

The councilor and his party arrive at the hospital, and make their way over to the reception desk. “So what’s the situation with our visitor?”

“Dead, but not before several valiant attempts to rescuscitate,” the charge nurse informs Kethren. “He suffered fatal internal injuries as a result of three plasma blasts.” She slides a satchel across the desk to the councillor. “His belongings, in case someone comes to claim him.”

Kethren nods as he lifts up his PDA to do a quick scan of the parcel, in case of dangerous contents and the like. “I’m sure the doctors did all they could. Aina wouldn’t have let someone who isn’t dedicated onto staff.”

“Of course they did,” the nurse replies. “He was simply too far gone. If he’d received treatment immediately after injury, perhaps he might’ve stood a chance. But he didn’t. Personal neglect doomed him from the outset.”

A scan of the parcel indicates that it contains a crystalline shard, the energy signature of which is consistent with a relic from the ruins of Aukam.

Kethren sighs a little at the scan results, and picks up the parcel with a nod to the nurse. “Pretty much everyone has something they’re stubborn about. Best we can do is try to keep it to less fatal issues. I better get his things somewhere secure for now. I think we have a good safe up on the Cro that should suffice.”

“The last report we have indicates that Obza disembarked from a shuttle on Impiruil Baile before he was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries,” the man tells his employer via commlink. “No further word on his condition or the status of his cargo.”

“Get word,” the employer replies. “I’m not paying you for outdated information. I want what Obza stole from me.”

“Yes, sir,” the man says.

A short walk through town later finds Kethren and his usual followers board the DNC Amadaun for the short jump up to the Cro, in orbit over Baile. Activity on the flagship is at it’s normal level, so there’s a tedious amount of salutes and greetings as the councilor makes his way up to the security section, and greets the chief thereof. “I’m sure you’re already familiar with the situation. This parcel needs to be stowed in the armory until we can determine the rightful owner.”

“Understood, sir,” the chief replies. He conducts a cursory PDA scan of the parcel. An eyebrow goes up. “I’ll keep it insulated from the explosives.”

Kethren smirks “Indeed. If the boss ever recovers, she wouldn’t appreciate the Cro being an orbiting pile of rubble.”

The man at the controls of the wedge-shaped transport Cooperstown locks in the coordinates for Impiruil Baile. He sets the ship’s thrusters to accelerate toward FTL velocity, then notifies traffic control on Kamsho that he’s outward bound.

“Safe travels, Cooperstown,” comes a grumbled response from the bayside tower in the city of Vor.

Captain Douglas Brell’s under no illusions about how safe this trip’s liable to be. His employer’s not someone who takes “can’t” for an answer. Anyone who stands in the way of his ambitions risks life more than limb, although both are imperiled.

Brell’s not coming back from Impiruil Baile if he’s not coming back with the stolen artifact. And if he’s not coming back, he’s expecting a brilliant body count on the way out.

The councilor nods to the security chief “Any rate, I’m going to be using the conference room to do some work. Direct any inquiries there.”

The Cooperstown lands on the pad on the outskirts of town, a couple of berths over from where the shuttle delivered Obza earlier in the day. Brell completes a post-touchdown check before cycling through the airlock and descending from the transport. He locks up the ship, then makes his way to the hospital.

He tells the nurse that a friend was brought in with serious injuries. Last name “Obza.”

Kethren enters the conference room and takes a seat at the head of the table, with Nuala seated in alert at his side, a calico kittenferret curled up on his shoulder, and Butch taking up a guardlike position by the door.

Before getting into the latest round of dull contracts, he pushes a button on the table to open up a line to the kitchen “Could you send some coffee up to the conference room? I may be up here awhile.”

A message is transmitted to Kethren a short time after Brell makes his inquiry at the hospital: “Councillor, a man claiming to be a friend of our dead Aukami paid a visit, asking about the victim. I told him that all patient information was confidential except for relatives. That seemed to satisfy the visitor. At least, he left without further argument. He said that he was staying in town for a few days. He may return to visit. Am I allowed to reveal the patient’s condition?”

Kethren takes a long sip of his coffee as he listens to the message. “Considering how quickly this friend arrived after such a severely wounded person arrived on my planet, I’d wager he already knows, or at the least has reason to suspect that death has already occurred. So I don’t see any great harm in letting him know.”

With that call ended, the councilor opens a fresh line to security on the planet. “Let’s not do anything to alert our guest, but I’d like any surveillance footage that covers his activities to be flagged for later perusal.”

“Dead?” Brell muses at the nurse’s station. He crosses his arms and frowns. “His family will be quite distraught to hear the news. I’ll notify them at once.”

With his calls made, and no further updates from his people, the councilor starts poking around with some holograms of a railroad. A pet project that may never come to pass, but it passes the time.

A hospital official contacts Kethren aboard the Cro, saying: “Sir, we’ve received a message from someone who claims to be Davir Obza, brother of the dead Aukami. He wants to come here to retrieve the victim’s personal belongings.”’

Kethren raises an eyebrow. “I must say, our deceased visitor has surprisingly quick friends and family. Does the brother have convincing identification, or proof of kinship?”

“The family comes from Multvaros,” the hospital official replies. “We might be able to check the records locally, if we survive the effort to fight our way through the ruins in the jungle. They claim to have records, but confirmation will prove difficult.”

Another sip of coffee barely conceals the councilor’s smirk. “I’m hardly suggesting we mount that kind of expedition. Do the records they have look at all genuine? I’m not handing that parcel over if the only documents look like they were drawn in crayons. I’m assuming that there’re still no governments or hospitals issuing records in crayon or similar.”

“No, the documents aren’t in crayon,” the official replies. “They’re electronic, with legitimate-seeming signatures. However, such documents can be faked.”

The councilor sighs a bit. “All too easily, it seems. Anyrate, if they’re willing to be unarmed for a bit, see to it they get escorted up to the conference room on the Cro. The Filte should be available for ferrying purposes.”

“Yes, sir,” the hospital official replies. “I’ll direct them to you after they arrive.”

With the latest call to the hospital ended, the councilor sends out orders to shuffle security around slightly. Chiefly to pull a couple of the randomly patrolling guards into the conference room. While this is happening, Nuala takes up a seated guarding position next to Kethren.

The Aukami claiming to be Davir Obza steps off a chartered shuttle on Impiruil Baile and makes his way to the hospital, where he’s told that he must travel to the orbital station to meet with Kethren about the dead man’s personal effects.

Davir tilts his head, lips pulled taut in a frown. “I have provided identification. Why must I go through further effort?”

“It is the way it is,” the hospital official replies. “Sorry about that. I can arrange a shuttle to take you up to the Cro.”

The Aukami nods. “Fine.”

Kethren idly scratches his tiger’s head while he waits, and opens up a line to security “Probably too late to worry about this, but do we have any intel on this Davir Obza? Outstanding warrants, proof of existence, anything like that?”

“No offworld criminal records,” the security officer replies. “Can’t give you anything about his record on Aukam, given the current condition of Multvaros. He has psionic abilities, though. Would you like us to take any steps?”

The councilor drums his fingers on the table for a moment “Well, if we have any of the psi blockers on board, might not hurt to have one in the conference room.”

The security officer places a psi blocker, as requested, in the conference room in advance of Davir Obza’s arrival.

A few minutes later, the Aukami arrives. “I was told to report to this room about my brother’s belongings,” he says. Then his eyes narrow as he laces his fingers together. “You have employed psionic-dampening technology. Why?”

The councilor nods to the new arrival. “Welcome. Please, Take a seat. The dampener is purely a precaution. This may surprise you, but we’ve met a disturbing amount of psionic capable individuals who feel that having that ability means it’s alright to go rifling around in someone’s head without consent.”

“I’m telekinetic, not telepathic,” the Aukami states grimly. But then he settles into a chair across from Kethren and says, “However, if it makes you feel more secure on your own station, surrounded by your own guards, with me pretty much at your mercy, then who am I to argue?”

Kethren nods. “I’m very sorry for your loss, and I really have no interest in inconveniencing anyone. But given the current state of your home world, verifying records is somewhat difficult. So if there’s anything you can tell me to set my mind at ease about all this, it would be appreciated. We don’t often have people disembarking the public shuttles in such bad shape here.”

“I understand your concern, and I share it,” Davir Obza replies to the councillor. “I hadn’t heard from him in several weeks. Then a few days ago, he sent a PDA message telling me that he was going home. Our home was once a sprawling estate on the outskirts of Multvaros. As you must know, the jungle consumed the city – and the estate. He was desperate to get a family heirloom, an old Kamir amplification crystal, presumably to give to someone to settle one of his abundant debts.”

The councilor nods. “Was hard to miss the news about the jungle taking over. Made me regret that I never found the time to visit. As you might have noticed on the planet below us, I do have a fondness for architecture, and seeing what other cultures have done… if it’s not asking too much, what sort of power would that crystal grant? Obviously none to me, I’m just a human from an era where psionic activity was just a thing that happened in stories.”

“Rumor has it that the crystal could be used to gain the powers of an ancient Kamir,” Obza answers. “If the rumor were true, I suspect my relatives would’ve ascended long before now. Mostly, it just looks pretty.”

Kethren nods. “That’s quite a rumor. I am curious, though. If looking pretty is all it does, why did my security chief insist we keep it insulated from explosives? Could just be traces of the kamir history on it, I suppose. I’m afraid that the only thing I’ve seen a kamir artifact do is nearly crush my boss… but that would have happened with even the most ordinary of large pillar. The equipment being used to move that thing just wasn’t up to the job.”

“Your security chief exercised prudent caution,” Obza says with a thin smile. He laces his fingers together. “One can never be too sure about the sort of power imbued in an ancient crystal of such design. It may accentuate certain instabilities. I am more than willing to see that it is safely removed and no longer poses a hazard to your station.”

The councilor drums his fingers on the table idly. “Can you tell me anything of note about the Kamir? Mainly interested in the circumstances of their apparent departure. It was somewhat before my time here, and I’ve heard a lot of stories, but no real consensus.”

“They created an artificial intelligence called the Il’ri’kamm Hive Mind,” the Aukami answers, his face betraying no clear emotion. “Ultimately, this intelligence turned against them. Many died before using crystals such as the one you took from my brother to ascend to another plane of existence.”

Keth raises an eyebrow. “So they do work, then?”

“They have worked, in the past, but it has been many millennia since then,” the visitor replies. “I would not pin my hopes for ascension on that single crystal shard.”

Kethren nods as he enters some more notes into his PDA. “So you believe his wounds were the result of an aggressive jungle?”

“My brother?” The Aukami shrugs, but shakes his head. “I was informed by hospital personnel that he was shot with a plasma weapon.”

The councilor nods, tapping his PDA. “That tallies with what I’ve been told, yes. Do you have any idea who would’ve been taking shots at him, then? Surely anyone seeking to be reimbursed for his debts would wait for him to emerge with treasure. Unless they’re the shooting type, in which case they could rest comfortably knowing the jungle would probably take care of it.”

“He never told me who he was involved with,” the Aukami responds. “Do you consider any of this justification for you to steal an heirloom from my family? Or will you release it into my custody so that I can be on my way?”

Keth raises an eyebrow “And would you, in my position, distribute a deceased visitor’s personal effects to the first person who comes along and claims they’re rightfully his without establishing proof of identity? Proof which, you yourself have agreed, is hard to verify considering the unfortunate state of your home world? Especially when the contents are potentially quite dangerous.” He drums his fingers lightly on the table a moment. “Can I assume your relationship is one of blood rather than law? In which case, would you consent to a DNA scan? That would establish things pretty firmly.”

“Sadly, Vindir was adopted,” Davir Obza tells Kethren without missing a beat. He places the palm of one hand on the table and then rises to his feet. “I wish we could have reached a more amicable resolution, but I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me.”

Keth scratches the ser on his shoulder. “I’m sorry we couldn’t reach an agreement… this is nominally a neutral government, so we really have no interest in holding onto that parcel. At the same time though, we can’t in good conscience let something so potentially dangerous out in the wild without reasonable proof of ownership. Does he have any surviving blood relatives? Failing that, we could take the issue to a disinterested third party for arbitration.”

“No blood relatives that I know of,” the Aukami replies. “Arbitration may be wise. I will seek lodging on the planet below. Goodbye.” He turns and strides from the conference room.

After the visitor has departed, the councilor opens up a line to security again “It sounds like our visitor isn’t happy about my unwillingness to part with dangerous goods on the say so of the first person to take an interest. Keep enough of an eye on him to make sure he’s not causing trouble, make sure his bills are forwarded to the official guest accounts, and see if we have any suitable arbiters on file. I’d like to use Al, but given our history, I doubt our guest would go along with it.”