The three Adepts entered the Emperor's chamber and kneeled when directed. Once the guards had stood back, the opaque screen rolled down to reveal a screen. Behind which was the familiar shadow seated on a throne.
'Adepts Bern, Thum and Shau, I suppose you would like to know the purpose of this honour?' The figure asked rhetorically, 'You three are what I think of as chameleons, you blend into the crowd and aren't singled out as competitors or stepping stones.'
The audience waited patiently knowing that an answer wasn't required or permitted.
'A distant sector has a minor problem, twelve Adepts have disappeared from the force,' The figure said, 'Not dead or we would have felt it, at the same time we have detected the involvement of unknown intelligence. You are to join a freighter and travel to the Forno and Oxzen sectors to investigate. The staff will provide details, dismissed.'
The Opaque Shield rose from the floor, and the exit opened to allow the guards to escort the three to their briefing. This parade was done in silence as the party was well disciplined and knew better than to ask dangerous questions.
Arriving at the office where the briefing was to be held there the administrators would provide with information, each was handed a data stick for later. The Captain commenced the brief, 'These are your orders. Join the freighter Gartern travel to Fvelsving to join an Aurean vessel; you will have cover IDs as crew. Do not carry any items or display mental abilities that identify you as Adepts. Carry on.'
Once the three were back at the barracks, they compared notes, Thum started the discussion, 'Now we are chameleons? I gather that despite our hard work, we have become known to the bosses?'
'While we were in the lower echelons, it was easy to hide amongst the forest,' Bern said, 'We are to travel incognito and see what we can find out?'
'Analysis indicates a recent upsurge in Light Adept abilities among these sectors,' Shau said, 'Our task is to survey and report. We have a day to prepare; the Gartern leaves in twenty-four hours.'
'We can discuss this further as we travel, plenty of time on a slow freighter,' Thum said.
The three went through the routine of boarding the Gartern and travelling to their next ship waiting at Fvelsving.
Observing the Freighter New Dawn waiting on the tarmac, Thum said, 'Ah, our home for a time, not very luxurious.'
Arriving at the bottom of the ramp, they stopped to announce themselves, 'Ahoy New Dawn,' Bern called, 'Permission to board.'
A bleary eye showed followed by a whiskered face, this man grumbled, 'Hurry up, I am behind schedule.'
After the three had carried their gear aboard, the grumpy man called them to the bridge; then addressed them.
'A likely bunch, I am told that Bern is a pilot, Thum an engineer and Shau is a loadmaster? As if I need extra mouths to feed, but the boss says that someone has paid your fares.'
'Yes sir,' Bern answered.
Noting the disciplined response, 'whiskers' grimaced.
'Oh great, fresh out of Academy, I am Hans Borg,' He said, 'Just do your job and don't get in my way.'
'We are experienced with this class vessel,' Bern said, receiving a grunt for acknowledgement. This reception strained his patience, but as the briefing specifically forbade any display of Adept abilities or attitude, Bern had to accept this with silence.
Each took their assigned positions for departure, and the Dawn commenced the run through the systems gradually approaching the Forno Sector.
Hans called the crew to the bridge for a briefing before they arrived at Forno. He said, 'Keep your mind on the job, no questions or wandering outside the dock area. Recently, there has been a failed coup, and the Government is suspicious of all aliens, especially us. This brief is the only warning you get, if you are not on board when I lift, that is just too bad.'
The patrol vessel challenged their ship; Borg answered, 'Booni Freighter New Dawn, Captain Borg commanding, data on the way.'
'Proceed to the Customs Station where you will be processed,' The Patrol ordered.
Borg shrugged and pointed to the vector required, 'Use the helmet to update yourself on the Booni system. In the drawer, you will find your documents. Hand me your Corellian stuff, and I will file it.'
Borg opened a drawer, then pushed a hidden button, a false bottom slid back he then exchanged the data cards.
This exchange was no drama as they had legitimate ones to cover their travel to Fvelsving. Part of their training was arranging for valid documents wherever they toured.
The customs and immigration inspectors came aboard with the customs officer inspecting the hold for contraband and health. The immigration officer made a thorough inspection of their documents before setting up an interview separately.
'Pilot Bern? I am Lt Doos. Booni a pleasant planet? I hear that the rainbow aurora are particularly spectacular?' Lt Doos asked.
'You are thinking of another planet, the auroras are green and blue,' Bern said, 'Booni is renowned for the blue crystal sands of Narnia Beach.'
'Ah I stand corrected,' Doos said, glancing at his notes, 'Take note of the limits to your sightseeing, enjoy your stay. If you send Thum in please.'
'Certainly,' Bern said as he past Thum in the passageway he gave him the high sign to expect questions to test him.
'You are next.' This little advice was necessary as a guard was observing.
'Engineer Thum?' The officer asked while Thum seated himself.
'Yes sir,' Thum answered.
'Military trained are you?' Lt Doos asked
'Did some but decided that a merchant's life was safer,' Thum said, 'The discipline was also a bit annoying.'
'Bern tells me that the Purple sands are worth seeing on Nadia Shores?' Lt Doos asked.
'Pilots aren't usually colour blind; the Nadia Beach has Blue sand,' Thum said with a raised eyebrow.
'It is my job to ask silly questions and see what responses I get,' Doos said, 'We have had a little disturbance, and I had fun catching one of those adepts out when he got all uptight.'
'Those bastards are only there to make life miserable for us working stiffs. I admire your bravery and suspect your sanity,' Thum said with a head shake.
'I agree with the first, I do have some gadgets to protect myself and was safe enough,' Doos said, 'Send in Shau, and I will finish this. Mind you obey the guidelines when you wander around.'
Shau came in and sat. 'Welcome to Forno. Do you intend to sightsee while you are here?' Lt Doos asked, 'Because of the incident last year, we restrict visitors to conducted tours.'
'I only want to shake the stardust from my boots and get some dirt time,' Shau said, 'As this is my first tour outside of the Booni system, I will do a little acclimatising.'
'When you hit the terminal there will be pamphlets showing you where you can go,' Doos said.
'No funny questions?' Shau asked, 'By the faces of my mates, you asked a couple.'
'So as not to disappoint you. Why do you look like the Corellian?' Doos asked.
'My people migrated from there when the Adepts took over and made life miserable,' Shau said, 'That was before they cracked down on travel. Not a good idea to visit the old home.'
‘Yes if half of what I heard is true, they are nasty fellows,' Doos said subtly watching for a reaction and when he didn't receive any waved Shau away, 'Carry on enjoy your stay.'
'Yeah, wouldn't want to meet a darkie in an alley. See you around,' Shau said as he left.
Gathering later after the Inspection team had left the discussion began.
'He did his best to ruffle our feathers, but pretty soft compared to what we get at home,' Thum said, 'I wonder what are the gadgets he has so much confidence?'
'Let's not find out the hard way,' Bern said, 'Our people have established a church here as a meeting place. It has an ankh symbol to indicate that it is from Booni.'
'Yes covered in our brief, have to be careful that it is not bugged,' Shau said, 'Once we are unloaded, we have three days free to celebrate and act like the average merchant crew.'
The ship landed in its assigned park where dock workers swapped and secured the freight.
'Okay boys, have a couple of days rest. Don't stuff up and be on board for liftoff,' Borg said.
'Yep, I remember your warning. We have friends on Elysium we need to meet,' Thum said.
'As long as you don't hold me up, I could care less,' Borg said.
The trio waved him goodbye and set out on their cover tour setting the local bars on a low burner rather than on fire. Spending enough cash and drink to blend in without affecting their health before casually making their way to the Booni Church to perform a ritual as a cover for a clandestine meeting with the local Imperial agent. When they arrived at the building with the Ankh sign; entering, the trio exchanged signs with the acolyte identifying themselves as fellow agents.
'Have you offered penance for your sins, brothers?' The priest asked, 'I am Brother Simms. If you need to pray, follow me into the rectory.'
The three nodded and followed their man, to behind the screen and sat as directed in a tight circle.
'If you grasp each other's hands, it will free your mind,' Simms said, 'Relax and let your mind seek the Overmind,'
The visitors did this being the technique to allow mental conversation without observers detecting the telltale telepathic emanations.
'Well that is a relief it has been awkward talking all the time, and I missed the instant exchange of ideas,' Thum said, 'What is the local situation?'
'There are listening posts everywhere, and they have a field which jams our frequency,' Simms said, 'A couple of know-it-all Adepts wouldn't listen to my advice and were carted off to Elysium.'
'We are to look for the missing adepts,' Bern said, 'What do you know?'
'Not a great deal. The three led by Klien were running things one moment, then disappeared,' Simms said, 'I occasionally get the feeling that he is close and fuming, like in a dream. Not a good way to spend a relaxing sleep.'
'Every novice has nightmares of him,' Shau said, 'Let us see if we can search out a clue?'
'Form an image of Klien in your mind and let your thoughts drift,' Thum said.
The three did so, and the thoughts of an annoyed Klien emanated from close by as did the other three missing adepts. The image wasn't clear as if they were listening through a shower door with the water running. The direction was just outside; puzzled Thum broke the seance to ask, 'To me, he is just outside the door yet not?'
'That is the image I received,' Bern said, 'What do you think that means?'
'More questions than answers, I am afraid,' Shau said, 'It seems like he is close in another dimension, I attended a lecture by one of our scientists who suggested that there are millions of parallel Universes and the hyperdrive uses one that has no distance between systems.'
'Good theory fits the evidence. What can we do about it?' Bern asked, 'I am not sure I want to be the one who opens the door to let him out; he felt mad.'
'Not exactly a happy camper at the best of times,' Shau said, ' Our task is to discover information, then return to pass it onto the boffins and let them work it out.'
'Our time here is just about over, so it is back to the ship for the next leg,' Thum said, 'If we spend any more time and get stuck here it would put us on the nose.'
'Yes, and with everyone,' Bern said. Breaking the circle, the three went through a cover-up routine and made their observance of the faith which the academy had taught them. After that, they made their way back to the New Dawn to run the next leg of the route.
Slowly approaching Elysium, the team were aware of the increasing surveillance the closer they travelled. The ship went through the cycle of a challenge by patrolling ships and then on to the orbiting Custom's satellite. By then they expected a closer inspection and now fully conversant with the procedure.
Attendants ushered Thum into the interview room; he became aware that there was an adept present. Though there was no overt attempt to read Thum's mind; it was evident that this agent was watchful.
'Welcome to Elysium, I am Lt Einsland,' Helen said, 'Your ID reads that you are from Booni and have cousins from Auria?'
'True enough, my people are refugees from there,' Thum said, 'I have heard that I have relatives living on Elysium.'
'Could you give me the names?' Helen asked.
'Ouch, what was that?' Thom complained, 'You one of them adepts?'
'Yes, though I didn't mean to hurt,' Helen said, 'I asked could you give me their names.'
Thum had covered his ability reacting the way he had been taught. 'My cousins Otto Griener and his family,' Thum said, looking worried about meeting one of the adepts that he professed to fear.
'I will send a message. Hopefully, your cousins can be located when you land,' Helen said, 'Send Bern in, and I will speed your meeting up.'
'Thanks, I will see you around perhaps?' Thum said.
As he left, Thum gave Bern the sign to be aware of an adept. 'Cute girl, a lieutenant even,' Thum said as he waved Bern in.
Bern entered and sat on the seat indicated and reacted like he had been jabbed with a pin when Helen used telepathy.
'Sorry I am not used to non-telepaths coming through, I should be more careful,' Helen said, 'Could you send Shau in and I am finished?'
This interview went the same way, and Dawn descended to land at the port.
Back in the Custom's Ship, Helen transmitted the code for three suspected adepts were in the crew of the New Dawn. When queried, Helen explained that they had covered up their abilities a little too well, overreacting when telepathed, a non-telepath usually looking puzzled and didn't make a fuss.
On the Dawn, the three had compared notes and felt confident that they had escaped detection.
'Aurian girl?' Thum asked, 'I thought all of the young potentials had been rounded up and couldn't get to Coruscent.'
'That unknown intellect has set up a new academy here,' Shau said, 'We have to avoid it as they probably have extra security since Klien meddled.'
'A dilemma as it is the most likely place for at least some of them to be held,' Bern said.
'That is true, we will cross that bridge when we get to it,' Thum said, 'For now I find my cousin and see what he knows. A handicap not being able to use telepathy.'
'From the rumours, it seems that people called Droman are very sensitive to our usual frequency and can spot us using it a mile away,' Shau said.
'First, we find your cousin,' Bern said, 'Then do a little mingling and see how the land lies.'
Bern headed towards the Hall with the Ankh sign. Walking in and seating himself towards the rear while keeping an eye out for possible security agents. After a while, the resident Brother made himself known and made the inquiry before leading Bern into the back for deeper meditation.
‘How are you faring in your quest, brother?' The Brother asked, 'I am Brother Nicolas.'
'Bern from the home planet,' Bern said, this being the code for an agent, 'Would you how I could find my cousin, Otto Griener?'
'He lives close by; visits regularly,' Nicholas said.
'I need to see him and get in touch,' Bern said, 'It has been a while, and I hardly remember him, my Uncle wants me to pass a message on to him.'
‘I will do so Brother Bern,' Nicholas said, 'Are you being looked after for accommodation?'
'I am on the Booni ship New Dawn, the captain has about three days of negotiating his new cargo before we are on the way again,' Bern said, 'Then on the way back in a month another three. After that, we make our way back to Booni for a holiday where Otto's father is waiting.'
'I believe that if you call back tomorrow at this time, you should find Otto waiting eagerly for the news,' Nicholas said, 'He usually wears a red scarf.'
'Thank you for your help. I will see you again,' Bern said as he stood and started to leave.
'Go in peace,' Nicholas said.
Bern made his way back to his compatriots and passed on the information, 'Otto should be there tomorrow and will have the information, he will wear a red scarf if it is safe to talk.'
'Good, I suppose we had better pretend to be normal crewmen by visiting the tavern for a little R & R,' Thum said.
‘Yes we will do that,' Shau agreed, 'The pain we have to go through for the cause.'
'Yes I noticed how hard it is to get you into one at home,' Thum laughed.
The three made their way to an innocuous hotel where they could blend in without being hassled by drunks. Settling in with a few light refreshments they just chatted about the rigours of merchant life swapping tall stories with any who would listen.
After a time, Shau noticed a group of women becoming interested in their conversation. Two were remarkable as they were a little older than the average clients of the place and had the Forno green features, the other two were Corellian featured.
The girls gravitated to their table and joined the tall-tale circle. From the stories, the leader was a merchant captain who had visited Aurea in her travels.
Eventually, the conversation descended into small talk, and the women introduced themselves.
'I am Ito; this is Veoos, Dierdre and Helen. We are off the Troy,' Ito said, 'Where do you call home?'
'From Booni, our ship New Dawn, we are the crew of a merchant making a run through the sector,' Bern said, 'I am Bern, Thum and Shau.'
'I am now from the School, I escaped from the Troy,' Dierdre said, 'I also act as a scout for likely students. Perhaps you may like to visit and be assessed as I know Aurea settled Booni where they have a potential for adept training.'
'Our parents escaped from there when the adepts took over,' Bern said, 'Adepts are nasty people and best to avoid them like the plague.' Bern looked worried that these may be the nasty types.
'The light adepts are pretty harmless,' Dierdre said, 'I haven't heard any reports that they bite. Only nibble a little.' delivered with a challenging grin.
'Really? Do you have a sister on the Elysium Patrol? You look familiar,' Bern said after giving the codesign that he would take the bait.
'Yes, Helen Einsland is my sister,' Dierdre said, 'If you are still game, visit my office at this address.' Scribbling a quick note and passing it over.
'I may take you up on that, but I can't stay too long as my ship leaves in a couple of days,' Bern said, 'I had better get back now to secure the cargo.'
'I will be on the job at eight hundred hours, perhaps I will see you then,' Dierdre said as the boys said their farewells and departed.
When they had left Ito, and the others also departed to have a private conference.
'What do you reckon, Dark or Light?' Ito asked.
'If dark they hide it well, light, why bother?' Helen said, 'None has that nasty superiority complex I usually see in Dark Adepts. I will be there with Dierdre and see if I can get him to open up.'
'Veoos and I would look a little suspicious if we were there. I will listen in via you back at the Troy,' Ito said. The women then split up to their respective homes.
Once back on the Dream, the trio discussed the meeting, 'I think they know just who we are but haven't confirmed it. I will take the bait and see what I can learn; I will act as a Latent and then see if I can learn something. I have felt a blank spot about where the address is marked,' Bern said, 'If I am not out in an hour best you make a run for it. This amount of time will tell you that it is where the missing adepts are being kept, and they are aware of us.'
'They will have the ship under watch,' Thum said, 'Tonight I will see if I can contact Otto and set up a safe house.'
'I should be safe enough; the soft Lights don't go in for rough stuff. I should be able to handle Dierdre or Helen if they want to start something physical,' Bern said, 'If they crowd me, I will just fake a stomach cramp and leave early.'
At the appointed time Bern made his way to the Academy and asked after Dierdre. The receptionist rang a number and when answered, sent him through to Dierdre's office. Bern felt sure that he wasn't walking into a trap with students of all ages walking past to their classrooms with only passing curiosity for a strange face.
Arriving at the described door he knocked and Dierdre opened it and invited him in, 'Good morning Bern, Come in and take a seat,' Dierdre said, 'You remember Helen?'
'Yes good morning, when does the inquisition start,' Bern said with a smile, 'I warn you that I have been hiding from Adepts for a long time.'
'Nothing too nasty, I have already assessed you as a latent, and that didn't hurt a bit, did it?' Dierdre asked, 'I will just ask you to try a few tasks.'
'What happens if I chicken out and want to leave?' Bern asked, looking nervous.
'On your way in, did you see any security? If not, I suppose you can walk back out the way you came in. If you had been judged a Dark Adept there may have been wall to wall guards.'
'Sure of yourself, aren't you? I have heard that some Darkies are sneaky and hide their talent,' Bern said, 'One reason I am walking on eggs around here. If there had been the guards, I wouldn't have come close.'
'Could you form a small flame in front of you?' Helen asked.
'That would confirm my status, it is the test that the nasty guys use to test the school kids,' Bern said, 'I was advised not to do so when a child.'
'Go on be a sport,' Dierdre said.
'Okay if you go to put a nose ring in, I am out of here,' Bern said and made a small, weak flame, 'Dad taught me that much, says I am not to do it in front of the wrong people. I guessed that you are not the nasty ones as they discourage women from joining.'
'Some of our strongest are women, two fenced with Klien and fought him to a standstill,' Dierdre said.
'Bull, rumour says that no one has gotten the better of him, last I heard he was still alive. He didn't lose,' Bern said.
'We let him off with a warning,' Dierdre laughed, 'Not that he appreciated the honour.'
'Pull the other leg it's got bells on it,' Bern said sceptically.
'He is in safe hands where he can't hurt peaceful people,' Dierdre said, ignoring Helen's head shake.
'Hypothetically, if I were a dark pretending to be nice,' Bern asked, 'What would prevent me from throwing my weight around?'
'First I would inform you that I was one of those women mentioned,' Helen advised, 'I am aware that you are a Dark Adept and you could make a lot of noise if you were cornered. I explain this and allow you a great deal of freedom in an attempt to educate you as to where you would be better off.'
'I should go perhaps,' Bern said, 'You did say that I could leave anytime.'
'Indeed, I did. But wouldn't you like a tour first?' Helen said.
'If as you said that you know what I am, would you still let me walk out of here?' Bern asked.
'I can allow that,' Helen said.
'I have to trust you, lead the way I promise to behave,' Bern said.
'One last bit of information, I am a Droman and yes I allowed Klien to live without raising a sweat,' Helen said, 'In all modesty, I was in no danger then or now. I advise that you shouldn't test my ability.'
Bern shrugged suspecting that out of sight, there were overwhelming forces ready to pounce on him if he played up. He stood and waved the girls forward to show him around.
'What is a Droman that I should be wary? I have heard stories, some of which are unbelievable, mainly about a big Teddy bear named Humph,' Bern said conversationally.
'Yes he was the first of my people into space, and we can look like anything we wish,' Helen said, changing her face to look like a teddy bear.
Startled Bern gasped, 'I prefer the cute girl,' He said regretting the diminutive reference, Helen laughed.
'I do have to be a little circumspect with my abilities, I have limitations, and I am not invulnerable,' Helen said, 'I only say this to assure you that I am not a monster, only a cute girl with extra talents.'
Bern gave a wry smile, 'Shall we?'
Helen led the way pointing out the lessons and what the aims were.
'Now I will take a risk and show you how your compatriots are faring,' Helen said, 'If you recognise the men I will know, and it will confirm your quest. I have consulted with several people, and they suggest that if you know the truth, you may turn away from the Dark, and embrace the Light; I talk on in this hope. I don't know if you are aware that you can't contact the Dark Overmind inside this building.'
'I wouldn't know,' Bern said, 'I have avoided any telepathic contacts for so long it is second nature, I don't try.'
The path led to a viewing window where a man was sitting reading a book, Bern recognised him but covered it as best he could. 'Why is he locked in?' Bern asked, 'On what charge?'
'He was in a party that broke in with the intent to do murder,' Helen said, 'Ito who you met, disarmed him easily and we secured him inside a cell where he can't cause any harm to himself or others.'
'Really? No longer any point denying that I am an adept, that man is the most deadly man after the Emperor and Klien,' Bern said soberly, 'Before he came here, he was lining me up for his next target after being identified as a potential challenger.'
'I have interviewed him several times; I would agree that he is formidable and has an arrogant superiority complex. I haven't detected the same mental attitude in you or your two friends, which is why I have allowed you so much latitude,' Helen said, 'The last pair tried to muscle their way through the sector, security caught because they thought they were invincible. They are in the next rooms resting.'
'What do you intend to do with me, now that I know what I was sent to find out?' Bern asked, 'I doubt that you would like me to deliver the data.'
'I could use mental force to revise your memory, this is against my ethics I would prefer to avoid doing it,' Helen said, 'However there are others who wouldn't be bothered by this restriction.'
'How much time do I have to think about it?' Bern asked, caught between a rock and a hard place.
'Until you leave the planet, Ito will be waiting to have a chat and give you a final chance,' Helen said, 'As her other title is Commodore, you understand she will be a little reluctant to allow you to remember what you have learned.'
'What would happen if I accessed the light Overmind?' Bern asked.
Helen passed the necessary frequency to Bern, 'There you are, open yourself to the light, who doesn't think of herself as an overmind, rather a mentor,' Helen said.
Bern opened himself carefully to the suggested frequency and entered into a mental rapport encountering an overall peaceful feeling. Nearby he could feel Helen's benign presence.
'Welcome my son. I have been missing your presence. I am available for your peace of mind,' The Mind intoned, 'Listen to my daughter Helen who will help you find peace. If you desire you have the ability to close yourself from me and I won't be upset by this action.'
The Overmind faded to the background leaving a close rapport with Helen. Her presence was nearly as potent yet peaceful with a hint of the immense reserve of power, which was daunting yet supportive.
After dissolving the contact which left Bern feeling empty, 'Man, that was something. Would you be the strange intellect that the bosses are so worried about?' Bern asked.
'Part of it I suppose, I am not the only one,' Helen said, 'I feel that you are wavering in your resolve so that I won't test your patience. Feel free to leave and brief your partners who I feel are of a like mind and receptive as you. We will keep a gentle watch on you until you make your decision. This surveillance may be pressure on you, but my partner needs to control the situation, believing that the information that you have could threaten the peace of millions of planets.'
'I have my duty, as you have yours,' Bern said, 'We aren't at war, I haven't broken any laws or threatened violence. I suppose that if I hung a sign around my neck suggesting something adverse, you might find an issue. I will suggest that if our roles were reversed, my Government wouldn't allow the same latitude. So I thank you for such information that you have provided; I would advise my superiors to stay friendly and cease any belligerence.'
'Reasonable statement, if you wish there is a refuge here,' Helen said, 'You may leave, and I would prefer to see you soon as a friend.'
'Thank you, I am unable to say anything further at this point,' Bern said, 'May the force be with you.'
'And with you,' Helen said and then watched as Bern left.
Bern made his way to the meeting point to relay what he had found.
'Yes they know who we are and they are watching our behaviour closely. The Elysium Government have laws concerning any restriction of the freedom of movement; so unless we are caught spying they won't just lock us up,' Bern reported, 'At least eight of the missing adepts are here and being kept in the Academy; they were caught attacking the building. That slip of a girl who was there last night duelled with Klien and defeated him. Despite that, I only have her word. I have no reservations in believing her story. The only thing that stopped her short of squashing Klien like a bug was her ethics.'
'Sounds like a fantasy, they didn't give you anything?' Thum asked.
'I had a meeting with the Light Mind,' Bern said, 'Outstanding feeling; if I have contact with our Overmind I hope I can hide the comparison. Luckily I am not usually singled out for personal attention.'
'I have heard of someone on the receiving end, and they didn't survive,' Shau said, 'So what do you advise we do now?'
'Meet Otto to convey what we know, then proceed with the crewman routine being aware our cover is blown,' Bern said.
'How close do you think the surveillance is?' Thum asked.
'Unknown, Helen demonstrated her shape-changing ability. Adding what we suspect about the Droman, any animal or object bigger than a cat could be her,' Bern said, 'I was en rapport with her and learnt a great deal. Not everything and I would suspect that she knows more about me.'
'Daunting, we carry on. Otto should be waiting at the rendezvous point,' Thum said, 'Let the chips fall where they may.'
Exchanging shrugs, the three left and headed towards the church where they spotted their man wearing the red scarf.
'Otto Griener? I am Thum Dern, your cousin from Booni,' Thum said, 'Your father asked to pass on his best wishes and see how you are going.'
'Everything is fine; Mari and the kids are fit and healthy, I have a job fixing land speeders,' Otto said, 'How are dad and mum?'
'They are well, enjoying retirement, otherwise okay,' Thum said, 'Would you like to come to the tavern, we can have a few drinks and catch up on old times.'
'Sounds good, I have permission from Mari as long as I don't roll home,' Otto said, 'But first I should give my confession. Mind you; I will have to think up some new stuff for Brother Nicholas to entertain him.' Otto said, giving Thum a conspiratorial nudge.
They made their way to the church and then into the back room where they formed a circle to commune.
'Well, our assigned task has been successful as we know where our men are,' Bern said, 'Up to a point we can have that information and may even be allowed to leave with it. Any attempt to learn more the Navy may use a mind wipe, regretfully done nevertheless.'
'I haven't been able to learn anything more myself,' Otto said, 'I set out once to investigate the Academy and the next I knew I was heading home without a clue where I had been.'
'I guessed that Helen wasn't bluffing in that area,' Bern said, 'What do you suggest we do?'
'Not much, we have the data, if incomplete, our task doesn't include providing an answer,' Thum said, 'If we are allowed to leave with the data it would be up to the Powers that be to take the next steps.'
'Next would be a couple of drinks at the tavern, then a family meal at my home to complete the formula,' Otto said, 'Let us set forth and do the rounds.'
The quick visit to the tavern done, Otto led the way to his house and introduced them to his family.
'These are my cousin Thum and his friends Bern and Shau; my darling wife Mari, children Greg and Susie,' Otto said, 'They expected you and wanted to know all about Booni.'
After settling down for the domestic conference, the visitors were regaled with questions and the news about their studies from the children.
'What school do you go to?' Bern asked, being polite.
'To the Academy for Talents, great fun,' Greg answered.
At a query glance from Thum, Otto said, ‘Adepts interviewed them at their old school, I didn't refuse the offer obviously.'
'I understand,' Thum said, 'Well we have imposed enough on your hospitality and should return to our ship, bound to have some work waiting.'
Otto shook hands with the trio and walked them out.
'See you next time we travel through,' Thum said, the three then travelled back to the Dream.
Once aboard, they set their circle to discuss the day's events.
'Likely Otto is compromised; if they wiped a bit of memory we would have to assume they read his memory first,' Bern said, 'I expect that they monitor Otto and Mari each time they drop the children off.'
'I thought that but felt I should not say anything while I was there,' Thum said, 'Probably Nicholas is also blown, and they use him as a Judas goat to spot agents.'
'We test our luck and leave?' Shau asked.
'The only other option is to throw our lot in with the Light Adepts and hope our bosses don't find out,' Bern said, 'We have survived this long by flying under the radar, returning with this news will throw the spotlight on us and make us prime targets.'
'Supposing we survive the friendly interrogations,' Shau said.
'Bern, what did the Light mind feel like?' Thum asked.
'Peaceful, encouraging, offers knowledge without requiring anything in return,' Bern said, 'The few times I have had near contact with the Overmind, it was quite challenging, and for everything the dark Overmind gave me, he exacted a price.'
'And what was Helen like?' Shau asked.
'Words are hard to find, I would sound biased, but with a mind like hers, I don't know whether to fall in love or run for my life. Klien and Frederichs were lucky to survive their encounter yet she is keen to preserve life when possible,' Bern said, 'There are some that the Droman removes from the force without regret. Have you heard about the 'Zombie Beast? They zap those whenever they can find them.'
'What little I have heard, the best advice is to avoid going anywhere near any place suspected of having them,' Shau said.
'What now?' Thum asked.
'Pretend nothing has happened and go, leaving the ball in their court,' Bern said, 'Helen said that her partner Ito Roos would likely want an interview first, the level of compulsion wasn't laid out.'
'Didn't she say that she was a Merchant Captain?' Thum asked, 'Why she be involved?'
They thought for a while before carrying out their jobs preparing the Dawn for the next leg. After an hour doing this, Captain Borg called them to the bridge, where they found Dierdre, Ito and Helen waiting.
'These ladies want to interview you before you leave,' Borg said, 'What did you get up to while you were on leave?
'Only sightseeing. On what authority are you asking for us to talk about?' Thum asked.
'Semi-official at the moment, Lt Einsland is Elysium Navy, I am the Ambassador for Forno, and your passage through the sector is of concern to my Government,' Ito said, 'Voluntary for now unless Lt Einsland has to call the heavies in the case of noncooperation.'
'If it stays friendly I suppose we can help. We are subjects of a friendly sector and can produce documents to support,' Bern said, 'Under the law of Elysium this ship is sovereign foreign territory.'
'And suspected of covert surveillance and not from the sector that it is registered,' Dierdre said.
'Okay, ask away,' Bern said, 'The ship lifts in the morning, and Captain Borg has a program to complete.'
'I will start, Bern, have you obtained information covertly?' Ito asked.
'Such data I have was freely offered by Lt Einsland and Captain Helen, all else is common knowledge,' Bern replied, 'When I deliver the information, it would be with the advice to leave your sectors in peace.'
'Your opinion where Adept Klien is held?' Ito asked.
'A guess would be in another dimension, the how gives me a headache,' Bern said, 'My party only has the task of gaining intelligence without causing any fuss.'
'Well, it seems that you have learnt nothing new,' Ito said, 'I apologise for having deleted a couple of critical memories. Now I will ask whether you wish to remain as refugees?'
'We would need to consider that for more than a few minutes, the repercussions of accepting would be fatal if our superiors found out,' Thum said, 'If you have removed memories I didn't notice and hardly gives me confidence with your ethics.'
'I believe Klien or a like mind would have eliminated you as a threat after learning all that you knew,' Helen said.
'That is true, can we give you our answer on the way back?' Bern asked.
'Yes, the information you now have is already known to the Emperor,' Ito said.
'Helen, the Troy is yours? The records show that it is registered in the Oxzen Sector, it operates as both a consular ship for Forno and merchant for Oxz?' Bern asked, 'Strange combination.'
'That is the way a Droman can live off the planet, and except for a few with the Elysium Navy, that is the way all of us live away from Droma,' Helen said, 'Interested?'
'I blush to admit yes,' Bern said with a grin.
'Depart in peace, Captain Borg is due to return in two weeks, perhaps we can discuss this further,' Ito said.
'We will have an answer then, otherwise we have to return to our base,' Thum said.
The women left to allow the team to assess their future.
'What memories do you think we lost?' Thum said, 'I can't detect any gaps and remember that the adepts are in jail here for a violent attack. We still have to discover what happened to Klien's group.'
'Simms said he dreamed about him but had no clue where he was,' Shau said, 'Let us commune mind to mind as that didn't sound right.'
The three entered rapport and assessed their minds. 'Yes there is a blank spot, they did a little tinkering, I suppose if we asked Borg, he might tell us that it was a bit longer than we remember,' Bern said. Then thought for a moment, 'Yes, Ito captured my mind for a time.'
'It didn't hurt, can we access this Light Mind?' Thum said.
'Should we risk that?' After a nod, 'Here is the frequency,' Bern said.
They merged into the presence of Light, 'Welcome my sons, what would you like to know?' The warm presence asked.
'Can we be shielded fully from the Dark Overmind?' Bern asked.
'You do have that ability if you wish, contact with my brother or myself is entirely voluntary despite what you have been taught. It takes a strength of mind to allow contact to happen,' Light said, 'In asking that question you have grown beyond servitude to either of us.'
'I don't suppose the Emperor would appreciate such a change?' Thum asked.
'This is the frequency that you have to avoid,' Light said, passing the data.
'Thanks, we have to discuss the implications,' Bern said together they changed their contact to resume their usual rapport.
'Amazing. Now, what do we do?' Thum asked.
'I think we have burnt our bridges and Corellia is the last place we should show any part of ourselves,' Shau said, 'Arriving home with gaps in our memory probably means our life expectancy is short.'
'Do we throw our chips in with these Adepts?' Thum said, 'Even if all was rosy with the boss, we now have targets on our backs for all comers.'
'Or we can find a hole and drag it back on top, His Nibbs isn't about to come anywhere near here,' Bern said, 'I suppose we can ask and hold out for the best deal we can get. While strong those girls could learn a lot from us.'
'Do you think we should catch up with them and give them the good news?' Thum asked.
'What can we lose?' Bern said, 'On the way out we can let Borg know that he doesn't have to put up with us any longer.'
They gathered their gear and on the way past the bridge located Borg, 'Sorry to break it to you. From now you don't have to put up with us. It seems that it is safer for all if we split our company,' Thum said, 'I am sure that you are heartbroken by this news.'
'Why are you still here? I thought all my passengers had left earlier,' Borg said puzzled.
'We just forgot some gear, lucky we remembered before you lifted,' Thum said.
'Okay buzz off, I am busy,' Borg grumbled.
The three glanced at each other and then walked off.
'The girls are so sure of themselves aren't they, so likely we won't have far to go to meet them?' Bern said.
As he suspected there was a vehicle standing nearby with the women inside.
'Took you long enough, climb in,' Helen said.
'As long as that is the last time you fiddle with our minds,' Shau said, 'It is not polite.'
'If you are with us and can be trusted, I will show you how to avoid that happening,' Helen said.
'What are Ito and your connections?' Bern asked.
'I am the owner and Captain of the Troy. Ito is my partner and mentor,' Helen said, 'And my best friend.'
'Fine and Dierdre, you were crew?' Bern asked.
'My family stowed away on another Droman ship and arrived at Elysium, Helen identified us as latent, and together we formed the Academy, for a time we were supernumerary crew under Ito's training before resuming our place in the Navy,' Dierdre said.
'I feel it is best to have you stay on the Troy where Helen can keep tabs on you,' Ito said, 'If that is not suitable, there are spare cells at the Academy.'
'The Troy for sure, as long as it doesn't inconvenience you,' Bern said, 'And would allow us to learn what we are getting ourselves into.'
'There is accommodation for casual passengers, we won't be crowded,' Helen said, 'Get in, and we will drop you off there after we take Dierdre home.'
The men loaded the gear and themselves into the car; Helen drove to the two destinations. The group arrived at the Academy then the Troy where they transferred the luggage and cabins assigned.