When the data stream from Ranar’s mission box finally came on the visuals were murky. Echo location schematics sketched a large room full of bolted-down furniture. English translation capacity had survived in an idiot-savant function of the box, but the voices Ann heard were not speaking First Contact English. They were using a kind of traders’ pidgin.
Ranar appeared to be drugged, to judge by his medical read outs. Thomas was smoking one of the vile cigarettes that fouled the air with something Ann’s analysis said was not tobacco smoke. The Gelack across from him sat with a trio of henchmen at his back. At least one henchman looked like a woman and wore a sword. Ann thought the greasy station master wore one too, but couldn’t be sure. One of the other henchmen wore something that looked like a hand gun.
As Ann watched, the woman with the sword flanked Thomas and another henchman picked up the drooping Ranar. Then the mission box jerked up off the floor and Ann’s view of Trinket Ring’s interior went bobbing and swaying through an unevenly lit corridor, pools of light alternating with shadow as the mission box passed. The light was cast by lanterns jutting out from the inner wall, crammed full of something soft and luminous.
The people carrying Ranar went up in an elevator. It opened on a cleaner, brighter floor. The mission box was carried through a set of double doors. Ann caught glimpses of Ranar being lugged into a suite of rooms and dumped onto a bed amid a scattering of dirty clothes.
“Hope you’re comfortable, yellow buns,” Thomas said, leaning over the mission box. “Looks like it’s going to be a bit of a wait after all. You just keep an eye on Ranar here, while I have some fun.”