The elevated temperature inside the Hall started to drop, as people left. The access gates were almost never closed, therefore fresh cooler air was constantly filling the room. Overall, it looked as if the night-show was over. Nothing more spectacular could have happened that night. Besides, everybody was rushing to the privacy and security of his or her suite, in order to analyze in minute details the precious data collected.

     A Medical Team rushed in and went working feverishly in one side, up, near the periphery of the Hall. Bruce heard people saying that someone had collapsed, though he paid little attention to the news. Medical Teams on Iradina 41 were capable of bringing people back from death. It was rather unlikely that someone actually died accidentally in the Equal Coalition Worlds, except for a few specific brain injuries, or for the destruction of more than sixty percent of the body integrity; anything else was easily dealt with.

     “Hey, Baan; would you like to join me for a fruit cocktail?” asked Bruce.
     Baan watched him for a while, trying to come back from some deep inner thoughts, then he agreed in a low, soft voice, “Sure, Bruce.”
     They left their friends, and they passed together through the huge opened gate of the Hall, then they took the first available TUP-module. Bruce programmed it with his suite location. The TUP-module was designed to plot its own way through corridors, ramps, and elevators up to its destination, without further need of assistance and at the highest speed possible. The trip, however, was going to last for more than fifty conventional minutes.
     Both men kept silent for a long while, then Bruce asked, “Tell me, Baan: did you witness Miss Kinlen’s previous cup filling?”
     Baan looked at Bruce in wonder, then asked, “Didn’t you, Bruce?”
     Bruce explained, “I came from my last raid ten conventional days ago. I heard about Miss Kinlen while I was on my perimeter, but it was too hard to believe. Now that I actually saw what happened it seems even harder . . .
     I mean, how is that possible, Baan? Right to the last color! I had the feeling we were a bunch of idiots fussing around, breaking our brains for two conventional years trying to crack the Mystery, and now this Lady comes from somewhere out of the blue and takes all the fun of it.” Bruce felt a lot of disappointment, as if an important part of the great Mystery of the Fountains had vanished, never to return.
     Baan understood what was happening to Bruce because he had the same feelings. He said, “Yeah, it was just like today, Bruce: no hesitation, no bumps, as if she was called for it! The only difference was, she had to wait in line for her turn to the fill—unlike today—and only a few people happened to watch her from the very beginning. I was one of the lucky ones, because she has those unusual, intriguing features . . . Besides, she was a new one and she had to be monitored . . .
     Today, it has been like a live-show with all that long walk down the ramp, and then everybody knew her and cleared the path. Her previous fill happened exactly twenty four conventional days ago, and she stunned everybody in the Hall.
     Ha, ha! The first time, Bruce, there was a perfect silence inside the Hall for a full eleven conventional minutes after she left, then everybody exploded. Nobody was prepared to record that event properly—not like today.”
     Bruce remembered about his electron-resonator job, and he started feeling annoyingly hot. He tried to divert his inner thoughts by asking, “Who is this Lady, Baan?”
     “Well, she is now the famous Miss Laleah H’Ven Kinlen of the Early Mornings House from the great Tzed System. She came on the Base about thirty-eight conventional days ago as a level nine Maintenance, and she has been assigned to People and Merchandise Transportation Department.
     I bet she didn’t even hear about the Legends before her first fill. She sure didn’t look like she knew anything because, once she stepped on the path, she went straight to the Violet Fountain without looking at the other colors, and with no hesitation, as if she was called for it!”
     Highly excited by Baan’s narration Bruce exploded, “Blast’n pieces! Do you think that is the secret, Baan? I mean, do you think you should feel some sort of an interior call, a mental drive towards the Fountains?”
     Baan watched him doubtfully for a few moments, then replied, “I do not know what to think, Bruce. I suspect there must be some telepathic signals exchanged.”
     Bruce explained, “Look, Baan, my theory is this. If there are telepathic signals exchanged, then it has to be a reflex action, without the awareness of the subject. However, I cannot figure out what is initiating the first telepathic contact. It has to be a logic device of some sort . . . hidden somewhere . . .”
     The TUP-module was accessing an express elevator, and both men observed the maneuver attentively. Bruce was very anxious to ask about the data Baan had recorded, but he knew that nobody talked about “nipping” in a public environment. He asked instead, “What else did you find out about Miss Kinlen?”
     Baan replied, “Only generalities, and I am certain that you, and everybody else, have the same data. The Ladies on her Planet, Cosnna, have no match in beauty throughout ECW, and it is highly unusual for a Lady like her to venture outside their System. She is very young, of only thirty-four conventional years old, and she is of a medium House origin. Of course, she is too young to be married, and then she is a Wadd Lady—ever heard of the Wadd Ladies before, Bruce?”
     “I am positive I heard someone mentioning them, but I cannot remember details. Please, explain it to me.”
     Baan smiled indulgently at him, then started, “Fact is, the Wadd Ladies are a true living legend which says, they must have been genetically engineered for beauty a few thousand years ago—nobody knows when, why, or how. During the ancient times, the Wadd Ladies were capable of controlling to perfection their physical appearance using the power of their thoughts only.
     Today, the few remaining Wadd Ladies have lost their exceptional gift; these days it is more like a reflex action in response to psychical emotions, but they are still stunningly beautiful. Their Planet, Cosnna, is the most restrictive and also the richest one in the entire ECW—”
     Bruce interrupted him intrigued, “Wai—wai—wait a minute, Baan. I know the most powerful Planet of the Coalition is Karan, in the Oda System.”
     “Ha! Karan! You see, Bruce, since old times the richest and most powerful people in the ECW married the Wadd Ladies, and that marriage was considered to be the crowning of their business success—that was, if they managed to convince the Wadd Ladies to marry them. At this time, I suspect that almost one quarter of all the fortunes in the ECW belong to the Houses of the Wadd Ladies. Your powerful Karan Planet is—I am almost certain about this—just a family domain for some House on Cosnna.”
     “Blast’n pieces! Are you serious, Baan?” asked Bruce stupefied by the news.
     Baan smiled ironically at him for a few moments, then said, “Bruce, my friend, you have absolutely no idea how the strings of power are pulled in our dear Equal Coalition Worlds.”
     “I was never interested in this subject, Baan,” confessed Bruce.
     “Why should you be?” replied Baan with understanding.
     Bruce remained silent for a while, analyzing the news, then he asked timidly, “Did you try talking to her?”
     “Are you joking, Bruce?” asked Baan amused; he added, “Don’t tell me that you have the guts to try talking to her.”
     “Noo, but I was thinking that you have better manners and . . .” explained Bruce troubled while Baan continued watching him amused, “and maybe we can come up with something . . . Do not get me wrong, Baan: I am thinking of something innocent; something that seems accidental, or incidental—”
     “Aah, forget it,” said Baan with abandonment.
     “Yeah, although I wish—” started Bruce.
     “We all wish it, son; every one of us . . .” interrupted Baan thoughtfully.
     The TUP-module was slowing down near Bruce’s suite. He had been assigned class twelve accommodations for the contract period. There were very many suites available on the Base, therefore Bruce had been told he could apply for a class fourteen suite after his second loading-raid, if he wanted—he didn’t.
     The suite was nothing fancy with a sufficiently spacious day room, one little bedroom, plus a tiny bathroom, all equipped with the standard furniture and technologies. His personal possessions could have been easily packed in just two medium travel containers. They consisted in a few data processors, various interface adaptors, translators, some instrumentation, three highly specialized tool kits, a bundle of fancy clothes and clothing accessories—sufficiently dashing!—then a handful of optic-memory cartridges containing books, soft programs, qualifications, registrations and licenses.

     “Are you a Hinna citizen, Bruce?” asked Baan.
     Bruce answered only, “Yeah,” since he knew the next statement to follow.
     “You do not look like a Hinna.”
     “I was made a citizen by Adoption.” The answer was short, and the meaning was very clear: do not ask more.
     Baan had no intention to continue questioning him because the social privacy convention was, nobody pried into someone’s life uninvited. Bruce’s registrations and social data were openly available for everybody to check, though nothing more than that. All the ECW citizens were registered, and their data was publicly available in order to avoid lengthy and useless explanations.
     Bruce knew that Baan was a citizen of the Aun System. He was seventy-two conventional years old, not married, and he had a level fourteen Technician qualification. Baan was about two heads taller than Bruce, and he had a robustly built body. His head was bald, with dark-brown skin, and he had black-irises eyes positioned in a slight “V”. Bruce enjoyed Baan’s company mostly for his good humor, but also for his strong moral sense.
     “Did you nip anything interesting, Baan?” asked Bruce, suddenly in a conspirator attitude.
     Baan looked around, and then at Bruce with an interrogatory facial mimic.
     “It’s all right. I have a new Anti-Surveillance Generator of Tosla construction,” assured Bruce, then he extracted a beautiful piece of equipment from a wall drawer. The device was functioning, as it could be seen from its flickering controls. He added proudly, “This is the best ASGEN I could buy for 2000 ECC! Ab sold it to me.”
     Baan inspected the hardware briefly, then said, “It’s good. I got one from Ab myself, only a little older.” He looked at Bruce and disclosed in a low voice, “I took a low frequencies record.”
     “How low?”
     “Everything from infrared down. You?”
     Bruce felt really hot. He replied appearing to be troubled, “I got a chemical spectrum of the atmosphere in the Hall and . . . Look, Baan . . . I started an inductive electron-resonator working on a random pattern sequence—”
     Baan interrupted him nervously, “Bruce, are you totally IN-SANE? When did you start that thing?”
     “Just before Miss Kinlen entered—” confessed Bruce timidly.
     “Dear Mother of all Troubles! How could you do such a stupid thing? You’ve spoiled everybody’s records!”
     “I do not know, Baan; it seemed to be a good joke. Honestly, I had no idea of what was going to happen. After Miss Kinlen entered, I simply forgot about it until very late, when we recovered—”
     “You mean, no nips are good during Miss Kinlen’s fill?” asked Baan terrified by the news.
     Not much pleased Bruce admitted, “Yeah.”
     “That is the worst bad joke ever made in the history of the Hall—” started Baal.
     Bruce interrupted him, “Oh, come on, Baan; what is done is done now. So, I would like to study your recordings, and then I need to find some higher frequencies ones. Give me your data to filter my pattern out.”
     Baan watched him for some time with ostentatiously disappointed looks on his face, then confessed, “You know, we could get into lots of nasty troubles if someone finds out that you spoiled the records. How good is your random pattern sequence?”
     Bruce explained, “Nobody noticed inside the Hall. It appeared to be some strange, strong activity, and that kept everybody happy.”
     “Yeah, me too. Here is the record,” said Baan while opening his yellow cone shaped hat. He extracted a flat, small, semi-transparent box having a few colored interface appendices hanging from it.
     Bruce took the device and went to his work-desk. He opened a tool kit, then started working fast. When he was finished, he handed back the data processor saying, “It is clear now. Don’t tell anybody. I downloaded a copy of my records for you.”
     “Of course I won’t tell anybody—we are all involved into this now. By the way; I think it is better to let me contact the others and tell them to come to you, to filter-out their data.”
     Bruce agreed, “Yeah, that’s better. Please do it tomorrow morning, Baan.”

     Baan went on his way, and Bruce was left feeling miserable because he didn’t have a visual record of Miss Laleah H’Ven Kinlen. Such a beautiful Lady!
     He went to bed, then he dreamt all night that he was arguing with some Lady who pretended to be Miss Kinlen, except she did not look like her . . . Far from that.
     Bruce woke up late, when he became aware that his K-link was beeping continuously. It was Ab, therefore he touched the “Audio & Visual Connect” sensor.
     “A’e you still sleeping at th’ee qua’te’s in the mo’ning, B’uce?” asked Ab in a highly reproachful tone of voice; even angry.
     “Ab, I just started my recovery program—” protested Bruce defensively.
     Ab interrupted him in a displeased attitude, “I talked to Baan, and he told me that we should get togethe’—”
     “Oh yes, Ab. Please drop by. I’ll be up in a minute.”

     Bruce went to the bathroom for his morning ritual. He remembered, full of shame, of the previous night and of the electron-resonator job. That was, indeed, a terribly nasty joke, and he wished with all his heart that nobody would ever find out about it.

     When he entered Bruce’s suite, Ab produced an ASGEN of a model Bruce had never seen before—it must have been worth at least 5000 ECC! Ab asked Bruce to turn his ASGEN off, then he enabled his baby.
     He started furiously, “How could you do that, B’uce? Eve’ybody is going to find out! They a’e buzzing like fu’ious wasps al’eady!”
     Bruce replied defensively, with guilty looks, “Did anybody ask you?”
     “Of cou’se they did: COUNTLESS TIMES! Do you think we live in the wild? I’m telling you, my f’iend, this sto’y is thick! They say they would settle for nothing else but shee’ blood!”
     Bruce explained timidly, “Well, if it turns too ugly I can make a public statement to apologize, and then I shall make the randomizing algorithm available for everybody to—”
     Ab interrupted him with scared looks, “Don’t even d’eam of doing that. Haven’t you hea’d the mo’ning news?”
     “No. What happened?” Bruce started feeling uneasy, although he knew very well that Ab used to exaggerate things a lot.
     “The last night meeting tu’ned ve’y bad.”
     “Please tell me all, Ab,” asked Bruce while watching Ab with highly concerned looks.
     Ab turned to a superior knows-all attitude, then explained, “Well, my dea’ f’iend, as I said, this sto’y is thick. It has been announced du’ing the mo’ning news that Miss Laleah H’Ven Kinlen is officially accused of PDCC inside the Hall of the Fountains.”
     “What is that PDCC?” asked Bruce perplexed.
     “Possible Death-Causing C’ime.”
     “WHAT! Did that person die last night?” asked Bruce alarmed.
     Ab replied with detachment, “They say so.”
     Bruce said nervously, “Noo, that is not right; it is a frame up!”
     Ab smiled indulgently at him, then said, “Of cou’se it is a f’ame up. Wake up, B’uce: EVE’YBODY KNOWS it is a f’ame up.”
     Highly stirred, Bruce rushed, “Ab, do you realize this could be our chance of talking to Miss Kinlen? We’ve got to offer Legal Assistance!”
     “I al’eady offe’ed my Assistance, one qua’te’ ago,” confessed Ab proudly. He was from the Tosla System, and he belonged to a very intelligent race blessed with an average life span of three hundred conventional years. Ab was small in height, with a plump body and thin legs, and with even thinner arms. His head was relatively big, bald, and covered by a bluish-gray skin. In addition, Ab’s all-black eyes were positioned in a sharp “V”, and on his face protruded a very small mouth, a tiny nose, and barely noticeable ears. Although Ab was particularly intelligent, he was too young at sixty-one conventional years; therefore, he had a rather unstable temper. It was a well known fact that his race gained intellectual maturity only after one hundred fifty.
     Genetically, Ab had a suspicious character, and he laughed on rare occasions because he had a funny way of doing it. Everybody made hard efforts to irritate Ab, since he inspired tons of excitement with his spontaneous attitude, though they also liked him a lot since he was, without doubt, a very nice and reliable person.
     Bruce asked, “What did you nip last night? Give it to me to filter my pattern out.”
     Ab lost all his brilliance. He replied hesitantly, “Aah . . . I didn’t nip anything impo’tant . . . I ’ecorded only the ene’gy-flow of the data patte’ns to find out what type of equipments we’e used inside the Hall. You know, I have to keep up to date—”
     Bruce interrupted him in a lost attitude, “How did you manage to do that?”
     Ab replied, “Neve’ mind—I ’eceived some p’ototype equipment. Bette’, give me you’ patte’n and I shall filte’ the data myself.”

     During the following six conventional minutes, Bruce watched enviously how Ab handled, like a wizard, an incredibly sophisticated piece of data processor and Bruce’s tools. They exchanged copies of the recordings, then they parted after Ab advised him again not to act “’ecklessly” with the electron-resonator job.
     Bruce sent his formal application for Legal Assistance to Miss Laleah H’Ven Kinlen over the Iradina Base K-link, then he spent the rest of the morning meeting with R’Ezan and Troxi. It came out that R’Ezan had an oxygen isotopes distribution record, and Troxi had—“Victory!”—a full-circle visual spectrum recording, including a bit of low infrared and some deep ultraviolet!
     The afternoon quarters were dedicated to medical therapy, then to analyzing the data collected. At nighttime, Bruce equipped himself with a full-circle visual spectrum recorder—ingeniously camouflaged inside an old, worn out, Gubdow miner helmet—then he went to the Hall.

     Nothing of substance happened that night inside the Hall, except that most Technicians were fussing furiously around with concealed inductive electron-resonator detectors. Bruce and his friends held well to everybody, and they even managed to determine Ab to attempt a filling from the Orange Fountain. It didn’t happen for Ab, though he incited tons of priceless moments of excellent disposition!
     Overall, however, the atmosphere inside the Hall of the Fountains that night was a lot cooler than usual. Everybody was expressing support for Miss Laleah H’Ven Kinlen. Even the electron-resonator job was suspected it was a component of the frame-up scheme.
     Bruce left early, same as many others, because the interest towards the Fountains was much diminished compared to Miss Kinlen’s juridical troubles.



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