Dec. 21st, 2011

"Okay, let's review," said Lopez. "We're going to whack the Crown Prince, steal his Chain of Awesomeness, and…"

"No," said McMillan. "Nobody gets whacked. At least, not indiscriminately. You see, it is of paramount importance that we steal the chain without its loss being discovered."

"No indiscriminate violence?" I asked. "Oh well; I'll try to stay busy."

"You'll have plenty on your hands," McMillan said. "There are four squadrons of Space Marines on board, playing the Crown Prince's babysitters."

I blinked. I used to be a Space Marine. Tough bastards. Good with guns, swords, fists. Don't like being betrayed. "Uh…" I said, "how do you expect me to deal with them without…"

"One thing at a time," said McMillan. "You should be aware that the Chain of Office is too valuable to be kept on the Crown Prince's person. A special vault has been built to house it."

"Oh yes," said Lopez, "the easy-to-penetrate variety of vault, no doubt."

"Penetrating the vault will not be hard," said McMillan. "However, its walls house a containment bubble full of Fatir gas."

Kima whistled. "That eats through anything," she said. "No known cure."

"Not quite anything," hissed Sarpalian.

"Oh, let me guess," I said. "It can't eat Javanite."

"It cannot," said McMillan. "The artificial gravity pushes away from all the walls, and the chain floats at the center."

"Okay, STOP," said Grabsy. "Just so we can sum up: we're going to remove the chain from a trapped vault, without letting anybody know, without killing anybody, without disturbing anything, and then we're going to get away, right?"

"Yes," said McMillan. "We'll start by infiltrating the ship's fire command system."

Grabsy threw up his hands. "Wake me up when there's a plan I can understand," he said, retiring to his bunk. The briefing meeting broke up, and as McMillan wasn't in the head-blowing-up mood, Lopez and I retired as well.

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"That was some pretty radical plastic surgery that you had," I admired. Swami didn't look anything like the painfully thin little stick-man I had known for a long time.

"I actually decided to do a brain transplant," Swami said. "It was easier. Also, once you've done one, it's easy to just pull up roots, as it were, and move on to another body."

"Yeah?" I asked. "What happened to the other brains? The original occupants, I mean?"

"That's not an interesting question," said Swami. "The interesting question is, how am I going to spring you and your friends?"

"I like that question," I said. "You can start by getting this collar off."

"Nope," said Swami. "Can't do that. I know McMillan and his handiwork; getting that off safely will not be a quick exercise. No, we'll have to play a complicated game. You'll have to remain in his service, follow through with the plan, while I work on getting you free."

"Yeah, okay," I said. The space marines were starting to stare at me, engaged as I was in a conversation with one of the help. I sat down on my bench and resumed pumping iron. Swami removed one of my shoes and started relacing it.

"Well, you better free us before we get off the ship," I suggested. "McMillan's still out there in his Gorelid Deuce; this is probably a lot easier to pull off while he's remote."

Swami shook his head. "I think McMillan lied to you, Jackpot," he said. "I very much doubt that he would do this job remotely. No, I think the odds are excellent that, for reasons of his own, McMillan has chosen not to tell you how close he really is. I'll put five to one odds that he's on board _Golden_Empire_."

"Yeah?" I said. "Staying in one of the luxury suites while we squat in our own stink on _Glom_, eh?"

"Possibly," said Swami, "but he might be even closer than that. I'll give you three to one odds that he's actually part of _Glom_'s crew."

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