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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Starry the Space-Hippie Spy - Chapter 1: Far Out, Man

For the free monthly serial fiction for 2014, I decided to revive a planned series I had intended to do some years ago. I'd written only this introductory story and never came back to it. The premise is a husband and wife spy team go on missions for the system government, Plenary Organization of Planets (POoP) under the cover that he is a comedian. A bit of James Bond, comedy, detective, and space opera. What more could you want? Sit back and enjoy the ride.


Starry the Space-Hippie Spy Cover"Time for our next mission." Starry Skyward held his wrist-vid up.

Tramal arched her bald head closer to listen. "About time. We'll dock with the Armageddon soon."

Her scent rose from sweat beading on her neck. He didn't know why, but it always smelled sweet to him. His attention drifted to the beauty of her translucent skin and the gentle pulses of her spine-ridges through her thin blouse. "I'm feeling a little hot. Are you hot?"

She cracked a smile. "Aren't I always?"

Dolan cleared his throat. "Mind if I join the party?"

Starry jumped and looked at his wrist-vid. He felt his cheeks flush. Dolan's chubby face, surrounded by a thin film of sandy hair, filled the screen.

"Sorry, Boss." Starry cleared his throat. "What's up?"

"Explosions, that's what."

Starry glanced at Tramal. "You suspect the Armageddon will be next?"

"Yes. The Planetary Intelligence Tribunal believes the Armageddon is the next target of the terrorists."

Starry twisted his mouth. "Inside job?"

"We believe so. Most likely one of the groups out to destroy the Plenary Organization of Planets."

"It's easy to gin up support against POoP, but dang hard to find anyone for it."

Dolan frowned. "Starry, do you know how many of those jokes I've heard? We get those comments all the time from the public, I don't need my agents shoving it in my face too."

"Sorry, Sir. But they should have considered that when they named the organization. I do stand-up for a living you know, can't help it."

"You're an agent for a living, the stand-up is your cover. Keep it straight." Dolan narrowed his eyes.

"Yes, Sir."

Tramal sighed. "Can we get back to the mission, guys?"

"My wife's right, let's flush the POoP and get back to the mission."

Dolan rolled his eyes. "We believe one rebel integrates himself into the crew and gains access to sensitive engine areas. He disables the fusion containment collective, allowing the fusion process to burn out of control and destroy the ship. They all have the marks of an inside job, which is disturbing."

"I'll say," Starry said. "Your filtering of recruits leaves something to be desired."

Dolan leaned over his desk. "Leave the recruiting process to others. Your mission is to find this saboteur before he blows up another ship. Got it?"

"Yes, Sir," they both said.

"Good. Make contact once you're off the ship. Transmission ended." The screen blanked out.

Tramal placed a hand on his knee. "Why do you antagonize him?"

"You're touching me. Read my mind why don't you?"

"I can only get impressions of intentions that way. I know you're enjoying his reactions, but why is my question."

Leave it to a Hilmosian to make that distinction. "It's an Academy thing. You would've had to have been there to appreciate it."

Her face color flowed from pale gold to a light blue—her business mode. "We'll be docking within two minutes, and we still need to plan our strategy."

Starry craned his neck to the port window. He could see the Armageddon's polished hull glancing beams of sunlight into space. A thin body running through a hollow tube rotated on a magnetic track. Two engines flared from the outer hull and one from the back of the main body. "Well, I suggest we go in, track down the bad guy, and take him or her out."

"What kind of plan is that? Do I always have to come up with the plans?"

He smiled. "Why do you think we make such a good team? You plan, I execute."

"Yeah. Right."

The ship docked. Air locks locked. Soon they entered the receiving hall of the Armageddon. The Captain and officers awaited them amidst metal so clean Starry could see his reflection waver as it followed them. Echoes of his and Tramal's boots reverberated through the high-ceilinged room, leaving the impression of a sparse life aboard the starship.

The Captain stretched out a hand. "Welcome aboard. I'm Captain Raleigh." He nodded to the man next to him. "This is Commander Speller, my second-in-command. He oversees the operational administration of the ship."

The Commander frowned, as if he would rather they weren't there, but nodded.

Starry nodded back. "Looks like you could use some laughs on this ship."

The captain chuckled and slapped the stoic Commander on the back. "Yes, we could use some laughs. We've been through a lot the last several months heightened by the fear of blowing-up at any moment. I can't wait to hear your routine."

Tramal reached out a hand to the Commander. "Do you think the saboteur is here?"

The Commander hesitated, then shook her hand. "No ma'am, I'm sure he isn't."

"Commander, show these people to their quarters."

He saluted. "Aye, Captain." Then he turned and proceeded down the hall. "Follow me."


"You can put the luggage over there." Tramal pointed to a corner.

Three ensigns dragged the suitcases into the room and dropped them in a pile. The last one, huffing and sweating. "You have a lot of luggage, Ma'am."

Starry cupped his palm to one side of his mouth. "Guess you've never been married before, have you?"

"No, Sir."

"While single, you are a pack rat, but once you are married, you become a pack mule."

"Good one, Sir." He exited the room.

"I would say pretty lame. I hope you have better stuff tonight."

"Hey, I can't give my best stuff away before the show."

Her lips turned up. "Oh, the responses I could say to that. You're wide open."

Starry checked his zipper then pointed a finger at her. "Be nice."

She pulled out a small rectangular device from a suitcase. "Have I ever been any other way?" Before he could answer, she pushed a button and screaming hard rock music blasted through the room. She rotated around, bopping to the beat, and then sauntered to a spot next to a mirror on the wall. The unit had uncovered an eavesdropping portal. She slid out the back of the unit a nearly transparent film and stuck it over the wall where a bare pinprick could be seen.

The film replaced themselves with pre-recorded images of them sleeping, chatting, taking baths and the like. Computer scans would integrate the images with the current room layout whenever they were in the room.

She continued scanning while Starry finished unpacking until she had found them all. Then she shut the music off; they could talk freely.

Starry sat in a chair by the table and ordered a glass of tea from the computer. "Specify kind," the computer responded.

"Chamomile, iced, no sugar."

"Thank you, your beverage will arrive in one minute and ten seconds."

"Computers leave out all the mystery."

"Speaking of mystery, I didn't detect any attempts to deceive from the Captain."

"And the Commander?"

"He didn't like us here...I felt he hid something. He's one to watch."

"Bring up his service record."

Tramal tapped on her wrist-vid. "Says he's been with the ship for five years now."

Starry scratched his head. "Can't be him then. Who has signed on recently?"

"The Chief Engineer and an Ensign assigned to navigation."

"Either of them previously assigned to the Bolgart?" Starry waited patiently while she searched. The Bolgart had been the last of five ships to go down.

"Hum, yes. The Chief Engineer. His name is Chris Stanson."

"Bingo!" This could prove to be an easy assignment. "Let me see his photo."

She held her wrist-vid to his eyes. "Why don't we go eat in the mess hall. Maybe we'll spot him."

The door light lit up and beeped. "Right after I've had my tea, Babe. Have a seat."


Chatter filled the mess hall: a long narrow room full of tables and chairs bolted to the floor met a counter dividing the dining area from the kitchen. Metal covered every inch, giving the room an impersonal feel. Nevertheless, people clustered around tables offset the Spartan atmosphere.

Starry and Tramal filled their trays with the day's special. To his pleasure, Starry discovered the chief engineer at a table by himself. He pointed at him for Tramal to follow.

"Is this seat taken?" Starry put his hand on its back and waited for Chris to respond.

"Go ahead, I just sat down myself." He didn't bother to raise his head.

"Thanks. My name's Starry, by the way, and this is my wife, Tramal." They sat their food down and pulled themselves up to the table.

"Oh, the funny guy, right?" He glanced up at Starry and then checked out Tramal. "You're a Hilmosian, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am. And you're an Earthling, aren't you?" She held out her hand.

"Yes. Obviously." Instead of shaking hands, he dropped his gaze down to his plate. He hadn't taken a bite but seemed to be playing with his food.

"Hey, there's something in your ear." Starry reached over and pulled a coin from it and tacked a tracking device onto the back of his ear. "Now you're rich. Don't spend it all in one place." He tossed the coin onto the table. It rolled until it fell to a circling stop.

"Cute trick, but old."

Starry shrugged his shoulders and examined Chris's meal. "Yum, smells good. What is it?"

Chris put some on his fork, raised it to his nose, and sniffed. "Seaweed salad with the 'house' dressing. Looked better at the counter."

"Wow, brings back memories. I grew up on seaweed salad. Botanically grown on the ship, right?"

"He grew up on a space ship." Tramal stuffed a forkful of fish into her mouth.

"Here, you can have it. I'm not hungry."

"Thanks!" Starry dragged the plate to himself and filled his mouth with the salty leaves. "Pretty good. My mom cooked it better, but still, pretty good."

"I don't suppose you've heard any recent news about the Bolgart have you?" Tramal paused for a moment, awaiting his response.

"Me? No. Why would I have any news?" Chris's eyes darted around and then he focused on his hands.

"Mess halls are where we get our news. Kind of grass roots level, you know."

"Why not news-vids?"

"They only tell you what POoP wants you to hear. You get the real low down here."

"Or a lot of bloated opinion." He rose from the table. "Sorry to leave you, but I have duties to attend to. Hope your show goes well."

Starry swallowed a mouthful of seaweed. "You aren't attending?"

"Sorry, I have station duty tonight. I'll have to catch a different show. Now, if you'll pardon me..." He nodded and stepped through the hall and out the door.

"Well, I don't have to be a Hilmosian to read his body language. You see how he reacted when you brought up the topic?"

She nodded. "What I'm more worried about is tonight while you're doing the show would be a perfect time for him to set off the reactors."

"At least it means I could go out with a bang."

Tramal rubbed her forehead.

He shrugged. "Okay, during the act, why don't you track him and keep an eye on him. If he starts messing with the reactors, take him out."

"That'll go over good: 'But Captain, your engineer worked on the engines so I took him out.'"

Starry winked at her. "Just don't blow our cover."

"But you said I plan, you execute. What happened to that?"

"Well, you know. I've got a show people are dying to hear."

She groaned. "Just finish your seaweed before I cram it down your throat."


A crowd filled the rec-room. Starry noticed the Captain and Commander, grim as ever, at a front table. He spotted Tramal slipping out the back door. He knew she could handle herself, but he worried anyway. He sucked in a deep breath as a man on the narrow stage introduced him.

"And now, here he is, Starry the Space Hippie!"

He bounded onto the stage and waited for the clapping to die down. "I grew up with some groovy parents. Dad would always say, 'Yeah man, we're really far out now!'

"We traveled on several space ships, wherever we could hitch a ride. I had free love and free trouble . . ."


Starry entered their room after the show. Tramal sat at the table staring into her wrist-vid.

"Well, the show's over and I'm still alive. How did it go?"

She sighed. "He worked on the thrust engines all night. Never came close to the fusion reactors. Then his shift ended and he left to get some zees." She held her wrist-vid for him to see. "Right now, he's in his quarters."

"I'll bet he is the one, though. He's just playing his hand carefully. We might have aroused his something's-not-right radar at supper." Starry stretched and yawned. "I'm ready for dreamland."

"Not without me you don't." She stood up and grabbed him around the waist, then pulled his lips into hers for a few seconds.

Starry reveled in the familiar warmth and love. They broke for air. "I hoped I would meet you in my dreams."

"Who said I was talking about dreams?" She kissed him as they fell onto the bed.


"Take your hands off those controls or we'll fire!"

Starry shook his head. Chills raced across his body. As his eyes focused, the engine room filled his vision. His hands rested on the fusion reactor control panel.

"What the . . .?" He examined himself. Not one piece of clothing covered his body. "What am I doing here?"

"That's what we want to know. Step away or we fire."

Starry glanced around. Several guards with Erupter-class ray-rifles surrounded him. He backed away and held his hands up. "I don't suppose anyone has a spare set of clothes?"

"Mind telling us, funny guy, why you're in the engine room initiating a containment field shutdown?"

Starry shrugged. "Honestly, I don't know. If I had planned this, do you think I would 'sneak' in naked? Give me a little more credit."

Chris entered the room and stopped when he saw Starry. First his face fell, but then his jaw firmed and his eyes narrowed. "So, you're the one who killed all my friends. You no account, son of . . ." He shot towards Starry.

Several of the guards grabbed him but not before Starry ducked a swinging fist. They pulled Chris back.

"Seriously, I didn't do it." Starry felt desperation take over. He couldn't be locked up while the real killer still roamed the ship. But how did he get here? Why was he shutting down the containment field? He didn't even know how to shut down a containment field.

"You lying dog!" Chris struggled to free himself from the guard's grip. "You're caught in the act."

"He's right," the head-guard said. He motioned with his rifle. "Time to lock you up. We already have guards going to arrest your wife and accomplice. We tracked her studying the engine room layout last night. Obviously you two are a team. A team that will now be out of business, thankfully."

Starry slumped. "Can I at least get some clothes from my room? I'm a little cold." Goosebumps covered his arms. "Not to mention some of these guards seem to be staring a little too longingly at me."

The head-guard shook his head. "Always the comedian to the end, eh? Now you can entertain the executioner." He examined Starry with a grimace. "But first, we'll drop by your room to cover up this sorry excuse for a body."

Several rifles followed Starry as he exited the room. He hoped none of the guards carried enough resentment to take it out on him. They would probably get no more than a slap on the hand for killing the "saboteur."

But, more disturbing, Chris didn't act like someone who had blown-up the Bogart much less planned to take out the Armageddon. Either he had pegged the wrong man or Chris put on a good act. If an act, they would all die soon. If they thought they had caught the real criminal, he could finish the job unhindered.


The door to Starry's quarters slid open. The leader pointed to two of his three men. "You two, guard the door."

"Ay, Sir," they said in unison and took up positions on either side.

He shoved Starry into his room, ray-rifle still trained on his head. "Get on your clothes and don't go slow. We'll start going through your luggage while we wait." The door closed behind them.

"Sure, why not. Just don't open the green one over there." Starry pointed at the pile. "It's my wife's and she doesn't like people going through her stuff."

The two men exchanged grins and chuckled. "Why don't we start with that one?"

"Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you." Starry opened his suitcase and grabbed the filter nose-plugs.

"Where's the latch on this one?" One of the men had it in the air, rotating it to get a better view.

"See the hole by the latch? Stick your finger in and it'll open right up." Starry shoved the plugs firmly in.

"Oh, I see it." He stuck his finger in the hole. A gas shot into their faces and they collapsed onto the floor in a twisted pile of bodies.

"Cool, works every time." He reached down to straighten the men out. "You can come out now, Babe."

A larger suitcase unlatched and opened. Tramal stretched. "Thank goodness, my joints ached in there. The computer warned of a forced entry and I—" She stopped upon spotting him naked. "Who was she?"

"No one. I woke up at the controls of the fusion reactor, in the process of shutting down the containment field. One minute I'm going to sleep in your arms, next I'm standing naked in front of several armed guards. Like I sleep-walked or something."

"Really?" She put her chin in her right hand. "It wasn't meant for you. Don't you see, the rebels use mind control to explode the ships. They must have meant to control someone who wouldn't arouse suspicions. Like one of the crew who works here."

Starry scratched his head. "And somehow I ended up with it by accident. But how? The members of the crew I had contact with were the Captain, the Commander, and Chris, the Chief Engineer."

Tramal's eyes widened. "The salad. The cook prepared it for the chief engineer, but you ate it instead. There had to be Delirium in the dressing."

"Delirium? You're saying I'm crazy?" Starry began undressing the two guards.

"Well, I'm not saying you're not crazy, but no, not in this instance. Delirium is a chemical used to control people. By coding the chemical signatures, it creates the pathways in the brain's subconscious to carry out commands at a pre-determined time."

"How come you know so much about this? You haven't used it on me, have you?" Starry pulled the guard's pants around his own waist and buckled the belt.

She winked at him. "Maybe, maybe not. I'm not telling."


"Don't you think we had better focus on the task at hand? If I heard correctly, we have two guards outside our door, two asleep in here, and a scant few minutes to clear our names." She tucked the guard's uniform-shirt into her pants.

Starry jerked his shoes on harder than needed. "Yeah, right. Ignore the issue. Meanwhile, why don't you send those guys back an hour in time while I create the masks."

She pulled what appeared to be a flashlight from her suitcase. "One hour it is," she said as she dialed it in. Then she put the unit on the forehead, back, and sides of each head. A red light glowed while on one spot, and she moved it to the next location when it turned green. "The last hour of their lives never existed. No tattle-telling for them."

Starry unwrapped a sheet of mask paper and laid it over the head-guard's face. He shined the red activating-light onto the paper and it molded into a perfect replica. He peeled the mask off and carefully placed it onto his own face. "Did you get the recording of the head-guard while you were in the suitcase?"

"Yeah, here." She held her wrist-vid close to his mask and tapped on the screen a few times. "There, say something."

"Do you ever go out with other men?"

"Perfect, you sound just like him. And no, I don't. Nor do I stalk the ship at night, naked, scaring everyone." She accepted the mask from him and placed it securely onto her face.

"You should try it sometime. A real hoot." He chuckled. "Here, put this cap on."

"Thanks. Tie those two up and I'll prepare our alibi."

"Oh? What alibi?"

She lifted a vial into view. "Delirium, of course."

"I knew you were using that!"

"Every good undercover agent has to use all tools at their disposal." She put a drop into a small box and held it to her wrist-vid. "But no, I've not used this on you. This stuff cost too much."

"Oh, so now I'm not worth it, is that it?"

She put the box on the table and tapped her screen. "Now, Dear, you're worth it." She grabbed his face with her free hand and shook it back and forth. "But I don't need it to control you." The box beeped.

Starry twisted his mouth into a frown. "I give up."

Tramel smirked. "See?"

Starry shook his head. "So, what did you program the Delirium to do?"

"Once injected, it directs the person to go straight to a computer and download all information he or she knows about the sabotage plans via voice recording and send it to headquarters."

He took the injector from her, filled with the drop. "Just as good as a confession."

"But make sure we get it into the person who put the chemical into the dressing, or we'll be sending a worthless confession to headquarters."

"The guards are tied, gagged, and under the covers. They won't have a clue when they wake up."

She shoved the cap well down her head. "So, they're undercover guards."

"Hey, I was going to say that."

"I know. You're way too predictable." She pecked his cheek.

Starry sighed and slid his cap into place. "Let's go."

The door slid open and they stepped through. Starry faced the guards. "We've had a change of plans. We have bound them and put them on the beds. They're confined to quarters. Don't let anyone in or out with a rank lower than mine."

"Aye, Sir."

Starry and Tramal marched to the kitchen.


Starry slipped through the open doors into the Mess Hall. Several people milled around; various groups of crew members sat at tables eating. He glanced at Tramal. "How are we going to know who the culprit is?"

"Deductive reasoning, my dear Starry." She winked.

Nothing to do but take the direct approach. He moved to the order counter. A young man approached them.

"Where's the head-cook, Scrub?"

"Just a second, I'll get her." He scurried to the back.

Five seconds passed before she came out with the young man on her heals. "Yes, what can I do for you?"

"What's in your house salad-dressing?"

The cook's brow wrinkled. "Well, the usual. Oil, salt, pepper, oregano, a little lemon spice."

"Any 'secret' ingredients?"

She cocked an eye at him. "Planning on starting a competing brand, are we, Jarrel?"

"No. I can taste something, but I can't put my finger on it. I can't sleep thinking about it."

"Poor baby." She patted Starry's cheek. "Guess you aren't going to get much sleep for a while, are you?"

This trail led to a brick wall, but she ranked as the most likely suspect. He would have to take the risk, their window would soon close. He waved her closer. "I'll let you in on my secret."

She leaned over and Starry reached for her shoulder as he drew near to her ear, palming the injector.

Doubt flooded over him. He couldn't inject her. "Psssst, it's a secret: I can't tell you," he whispered in her ear.

She pulled back with her hands on her hips, a frown on her face.

"Guard Jarrel!" a commanding voice rang out. The Mess Hall buzz abruptly died.

It took Starry a moment before he responded, forgetting he wore Jarrel's face and clothes. The Captain and the Commander approached him. Starry stood straight and saluted. "Yes, Sir."

"I don't recall receiving any reports on the status of the two who were arrested? Why are you in the Mess Hall getting something to eat?" The Captain asked.

"I wasn't, Sir. I was . . . investigating."

"Investigating what?"

"My house dressing," the head-cook said.

The Commander's face reddened.

The Captain's eyes narrowed and his face grew stern. "Let's go to the holding cell where the captives are, Guard. You'll give your report to us there."

"But Sir, I had a valid reason for wanting to know about the salad dressing."

"Out with it then."

Starry felt the eyes in the room staring at him. "It's classified, could you two come in close?"

The Commander grunted and frowned, but drew in with the Captain. Starry put his right hand on the Commander's neck and shot the chemical into him. He flinched as if a fly had landed on his neck, but said nothing.

"I have reason to believe the house dressing was spiked with a chemical."

The Commander gritted his teeth. "We've caught the ones who are exploding ships all over the fleet, and you're investigating chemicals in a house dressing? Your orders are to take care of the criminals we did catch. Move it!"

"Yes, Sir."

The Captain and Commander followed behind Starry and Tramal in silence. A few seconds ticked by as they turned down one hall, and then another.

"Stop," the Captain said.

Starry turned back and saw the Commander approaching a com console. The chemical had taken effect. But what would he say?

"Patch through to headquarters and send the following message. This is Commander Arnold, second-in-command of the starship Armeggedon currently assigned to the Corona Cluster. Concerning the sabotage of several vessels of our fleet, I do not know who has conducted these operations."

Starry shook his head. They were dead meat now. Do we gas the Captain and the Commander and tie them up too? He glanced at Tramal and her eyes told him she didn't have any idea how they would get out of this either.

"However," the Commander continued, "I do have knowledge of the method employed. Coded Delirium is injected into the food of someone assigned to engineering. The code activates the victim at a specified time to shut down the fusion containment field, creating a breach and subsequent explosion of the ship."

The Captain's eyes were as big as golf balls and his mouth hung open. Starry gave Tramal the thumbs up sign.

"Additionally, I had been drugged, most likely at the Academy, so I would add Delirium to the house dressing of the chief engineer's salad to disable the fusion containment field."

Starry's mouth fell open. He saw Tramal's face light up. "Jackpot."

"Jackpot, indeed." The Captain whirled around. I'm sorry Guard Jarrel. You were on the money with this one. You'll be getting a huge promotion out of this. I would never have guessed. But how did you get him to confess?"

"Found some of his Delirium, and re-coded it to use against him. I knew I had to be sneaky about it as long as he ranked me."

"I'm highly impressed with your work. Obviously our comedian guest was a victim of this drug instead of the culprit. We're lucky he ended up with it instead of someone from engineering. We wouldn't have had a chance."

"Right, Sir." They both saluted. "With your permission, I'll take Commander Arnold into custody until we can determine if he is safe, and I'll free the two we have in custody. We'll also need to initiate scans on all food supplies for Delirium."

"Yes, yes, by all means. Carry on." The Captain turned and left.

Starry wrapped hand restraints around the Commander's wrists and headed toward the holding cells with his new prisoner.

"How did you know the Commander did it and not the cook?" Tramal asked after they had deposited the Commander in his cell and headed back to their room.

"Elementary, my dear Tramal. Body language. The cook told me she didn't do it, but the Commander did. Knowing he oversaw the administration of the ship, including food supplies, and you had sensed he hid something, his reaction to me said, 'I'm guilty' as if he had it written on his forehead."

"If you're so good at reading body language, what am I saying now?" She glanced up with soft, longing eyes.

"Hum, you're sweating, so you body says you want to get out of these disguises as soon as possible and into my arms."

She laughed. "I guess you can read body language."

Starry commanded the guards at their door to leave. Then, giving the bound guards in their room a little more gas and memory wipe, they pulled them into the hall and left them there.


The overhead vid-screen came to life as the transport shuttle pulled away from the star cruiser. The news flashed on and who else did Starry see but Guard Jarrel being interviewed. He tapped Tramal on the shoulder and pointed at the screen.

"I hear you're getting a big promotion for this amazing piece of detective work." The reporter thrust the mic into Jarrel's face.

"Huh, yeah. Promotion, I'm being told."

"What evidence first tipped you off?"

"Huh, that's...classified. Sorry."

"Can you tell us anything about how you saved the fleet from certain annihilation?"

"Well, huh, it's all so fuzzy. Like some surreal dream. But I can say my mind is working all the time, even when I'm asleep. I get a lot done when I'm asleep." He stared at the floor. "Apparently."

"There you have it folks, people like him make heroism seem so easy. Back to you, Henry."

A beep from their wrist-vid interrupted their entertainment.

"Yes, Sir. Starry and Tramal here." Starry held up his hand so Tramal could see.

"Congratulations." Dolan's face focused on the screen. "You not only kept the Armageddon from blowing up, but found out the source of the problem. We're testing everyone, including myself, for the presence of Delirium and counter-acting it if found. All the students at the Academy who had been drugged had one teacher in common. Professor Quin. Evidence uncovered in his quarters links the Professor to the rebels. He masterminded this whole operation. We owe you two a big debt."

"Cool, we can retire." Starry showed his best poker face.

"Who said anything about money. We'll pay you with excessive praise. Your wage will remain the same."

"That's gratitude for you." Starry frowned.

Dolan smiled. "I thought the son of space-hippies wouldn't be so hung up on money. All you need is love, right?"

"Love, yes. Love for Tramal. Love for food. Love for gadgets. Yes, gotta have love."

Tramal broke in. "Yep, all you need is love, doesn't say what you love though, does it." She laughed

"And a little Delirium of my own would be nice too." He grinned at Tramal. Her laughing died off.

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