Another sound came from the bathroom. Perhaps the crewman was waking up? She drew her Grenville 40 and went in. The crewman had managed to somehow turn on the water and crawl partially out of the shower and was slumped face-down on the tiles. Stenibelle turned off the water and knelt down to check her. She was sopping wet, her hair drenched. She turned her over. Her body was freezing from the cold water in the shower, but, behind the topical cold was the roaring heat of her body threatening to reassert itself. The crewman was still unconscious, yet she must have woken up, at least for a moment, as her left hand was partially thrust into her pocket. Stenibelle carefully pulled her hand out.
A data crystal nestled in her limp fingers clattered to the floor.
Standing over the fallen crewman, Stenibelle was reminded of Gwendolyn lying bloody on the cold metal street of Planet Fall.
The sounds of Gwendolyn weeping behind the metal door passed through her thoughts, haunting them.
I’m so sorry, Gwen …
As she stood there she began having the first vague notions of feeling sorry for the poor crewman. She hadn’t intended to interact with the crew at all, but, here she was, sopping wet in front of her. And, for that matter, what was wrong with her? She was not asleep, and, had she been mildly drugged, the cold water should have rousted her out.
She dragged the girl from the bathroom and wrangled her into bed. She stripped and dried her with a towel. She checked her closet: several changes of clothing hung from a rack, along with a few uniforms, boots and shoes neatly arranged in a pigeon-hole waiter, and a plump terrycloth robe. An elaborate float camera sat on the floor, turned off and forgotten. She fetched the robe to keep her from catching a chill.
Her mission aboard this ship was clear, but, her Mother had taught her to be curious and to puzzle out a pressing problem until it was solved. Something sinister was at work aboard this ship and she had to know what she was dealing with. Perhaps, had she still been wearing her Bolabungs, she wouldn’t have cared, she was here for data, for Cammara and the well-being of her House, not the crew. But, the Bolabungs were gone and thankfully so, and Stenibelle’s heart spoke.
Help this person if you can.
She went through the crewman’s drawers and closet. She found her Fleet ID: Crewman Standard Lessa of Tharpoli, Lady of the Onaris House of Walpole and a junior assistant in the ship’s AV department; the Professor’s Ceril-Cone information was spot-on. She wondered about the creepy guy she’d imprisoned in the hold, there was no Ceril information on him at all.
Moving on, she checked her drawers for evidence of drugs, arcane tinctures or salves.
She went back into the bathroom to check her medicine chest and kicked the data crystal across the floor.
The crystal. It must mean something to her. She had it in her pocket and she had, if only for a moment, revived a bit and sought it out. Stenibelle got the Uni-mind back out set the crystal down next to it. Tiny legs came out and seized the crystal, moving it around. A holographic cone came up and the data came through. It was a vast collection of photos and vids showing a smiling Lady Lessa with her friends. There she was, waving, apparently quite gregarious making ample use of her free time, some of her friends in the pictures were Fleet crewmen like she was. There were a long series of pictures of herself on Bazz, by the beaches, splashing in the warm water with her pant-legs rolled up, sampling the hot local fare, trying on lacy Bazz clothing in the marketplaces and making silly faces for the camera with her friends.
Ah, look here, frequent photos of herself and a handsome gentleman, himself also a Fleet crewman. There they were swimming together, shopping in the Bazz sunshine; him bogged down with packages, him hand feeding her something red and unbearably hot at a cafe. Here was a photo of Lady Lessa wearing a floppy hat while in the gentleman’s embrace. They appeared to be sharing a kiss, though the brim of her hat covered their faces from the camera’s eye.
So, here she seemed a perfectly vivacious young lady with a love of camaraderie and picture-taking enjoying the sights and ports of call her Fleet duty bought her to and also enjoying the company of a young man. So, what happened? How had she ended up in a container in the hold like a cargo full of spoiled meat? She checked the date stamp on the photos. They went back several years with numerous photos and vids being taken at steady, regular intervals. The most recent picture was taken several weeks prior, and then they stopped all together—nothing more. The last picture was interesting. Lessa had taken a photo of a procession of strange, robed, slightly stunted people filing out of the Ripcar bay. Looking at the photo, the robed people had an ominous presence, their skin, what little she could see of it, had an orange hue. That was the last image before the end-of-file marker.
The Uni-Mind released the crystal and Stenibelle returned it to her HRN.
Something terrible had happened since the last picture was taken, and, Stenibelle had to assume all the rest of the containers she saw in the hold also contained crewmen in a similar state.
Stenibelle checked Crewman Lessa again. Her temperature appeared to be quite high,. Stenibelle guessed she had a fever of 102 to 104. She checked her for signs of drugging or poisoning: no drooling (which sometimes happened), no odd smells or aromas. Her breathing was nice and steady. Her heartbeat, however, was troubling. Her heart was racing. She shook her hand and produced a pinkie, placing it into her palm. The effects of the pinkie should calm her system and slow her heart rate a little. Without the pinkie her heart might have run away to over two hundred beats per minute. An accelerated heartbeat was a clear symptom of being under the influence of a spell.
Looking further, Lessa had on no arcane jewelry or trinkets that might have locked her into a spell, no Bolabungs. Using her thumbs she gently lifted one of her eyelids. Her pupils were unresponsive to light. She was, without question, under the influence of something external.
Hmmm, look here. She bore an odd black tattoo on her left shoulder which appeared to be of arcane origins. It was composed of twisting lines, dots and intersecting points. Her training told her that tattoos could be used to impart a spell upon a person; the ink used could have certain effects, the ceremonies enacted while the tattoo was being inked in and the pattern of the tattoo itself could be significant. She leaned down and sniffed the tattoo. A slight smell of rot. She used the Uni-Mind and consulted Lady Lessa’s photo and vid collection again. She was looking for a shot of her bare left shoulder to see if the tattoo had been there previously.
There—a set of shots of her splashing in the aqua waters of Bazz wearing a colorful swimsuit.
Stenibelle went over her with her arcane kit of holystones and various other detectors. She was found to not have been to the astral plane, nor had she been exposed to any of the more obvious ingredients used in arcane rituals. She did not read as a magical creature herself.
But, Stenibelle’s Shadow tech detector went utterly wild, so much so it cracked in her hand. This poor woman was saturated with Shadow tech, and probably more than enough to be rendered fatally toxic. Predictably, the Shadow tech came from the tattoo on her left shoulder.
What had Morgan-Jeterix said—that the George Parr had been befouled with Shadow tech, and here it was, slowly killing this girl.
The Uni-Mind jumped back into her coat. So, there it was, this woman, and possibly the most of the regular crew with her, were bespelled.
She grappled with herself for a moment. What to do? She needed the Cammara data, but this poor crewman required assisting. What could she do? She wasn’t a Hospitaler and her knowledge of Shadow tech was minimal at best. If she attempted to treat Lady Lessa and got it wrong she could end up killing her. And, what about the rest of them down in the hold? She was only one person. She couldn’t watch over them all.
Time was wasting.
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