It happened the next morning, around two quarters and a half. Although Bruce had submitted his application for Legal Assistance to Miss Kinlen, it was only a formal gesture of sympathy. He had absolutely no hopes—not even in his wildest dreams—that his application was going to be considered.

     The K-link ringed, and he touched the “Audio & Visual Connect” sensor without checking the name first. The next thing that happened was, he saw Miss Kinlen’s face and he entered in a state of cataleptic mental retardation. He was watching her with scared eyes, while being totally incapable of producing sounds.
     “Mr. Scott, are you all right? Mr. Scott . . . Mr. Scott!” asked Miss Kinlen in a very sweet voice, appearing to be alarmed by Bruce’s dumb attitude.
     Bruce had the feeling that time had become unreal, same as the surrounding space. He managed to answer with great efforts, “Y–yes Miss K–Kinlen. P–p–please excuse me. I wasn’t expecting this—”
     “Mr. Scott, you did send to me your application for Legal Assistance, did you not?” asked Miss Kinlen for clarifications while looking a little bit worried.
     Bruce replied, while making hard efforts to collect himself, “Yes, Miss Kinlen; pardon me, please, Miss Kinlen. It is a great privilege to Assist you.”
     “Well then, Mr. Scott, what would you say about meeting together for dinner, to discuss the situation?” proposed Miss Kinlen.
     Bruce felt that his heart was pounding very fast. He rushed to agree, “Thank you, Miss Kinlen, I am truly honored of meeting with you. Do you have a place in mind?”
     She replied confused, “I thought you knew a quiet place where we could discuss things without being—”
     Bruce interrupted her quickly, “Of course I do, Miss Kinlen, except I cannot name it over the public K-link. Please, allow me to meet with you at the first evening quarter in a place that is convenient to you; then, we shall depart to the safe and quiet place I know.”
     “Let me see . . . the first evening quarter . . . Yes, I think I can make it. Let’s meet in Fedhel Mall Level 3207, the Green Sector. Do you know the place, Mr. Scott?”
     “No, Miss Kinlen, but I shall be there at the first evening quarter. Thank you very much for considering my application for Legal Assistance, Miss Kinlen.”
     “Well, Mr. Scott, thank you for sending your application to me and . . . I hope this is not a burden—”
     He rushed to assure her, “Not at all, Miss Kinlen! As I said, it is the greatest privilege!”
     “Good bye then, Mr. Scott.”
     “Good bye, Miss Kinlen.”

     Long conventional minutes passed before Bruce could move. That was unheard of: he was just a lousy Level 12 Technician! He waited for his heartbeats to slow down, then he called Baan. When he answered to the K-link call, Bruce said with deep emotion, “Baan, you cannot imagine what just happened to me.”
     Baan watched him critically. He noticed unusual colors on Bruce’s face, therefore he asked with concern, “Are you sick, Bruce? You look very strange—”
     He explained in a heart-beat, “Miss Laleah H’Ven Kinlen has accepted my application for Legal Assistance!” Both men remained speechless looking attentively at each other.
     After a while, Baan said cautiously, “Bruce, you have to play this game extremely careful.”
     “I know, Baan. I need your help, and the help of all our friends,” confessed Bruce.
     Baan promised, “I shall help you with everything I can, and I am certain that everybody else will. I mean, our friends and some other Technicians, though we do have to implement each step mathematically, Bruce. Do you understand this?”
     “That is exactly the way we are going to do it, Baan—no doubt about it. I called you now because I need a good place to discuss business with Miss Kinlen. A place where nobody knows her, if you know what I mean, and with not much technology around—”
     Baan interrupted him, “Do not think of a place like that, Bruce. Think of a place where you are a Technician and everybody knows Miss Kinlen.”
     Bruce objected, “Yes, Baan, but the Techies—”.
     “I shall be there, Bruce, and also Ab, R’Ezan, and Troxi—most likely. You do not have to fear anything,” assured Baan.
     “I wouldn’t ask that much—”
     Baan interrupted him appearing to be in control of the situation, “As I said, do not worry about anything, Bruce. Just take Miss Kinlen to Vultures’ Nest.”
     Bruce protested perplexed, “Vultures’ Nest! That place has more bugs than I have hairs on my head, Baan. Are you coming there?”
     Baan replied, “Coming! I intend to escort you there, my dear friend, and I am going to fry all bugs on six Levels and three Sectors. When and where do you meet?”
     Bruce told him the meeting details.
     Fedhel Mall, Level 3207 the Green Sector, was a nice place crowded with little shops selling, mostly, the products manufactured on Fedhel Planet, from Bogja System. When Bruce arrived, Baan, Ab, R’Ezan, and Troxi were already deployed in strategic positions on the periphery: that way, nothing remained unsupervised.
     Each of them was equipped with the “hard-combat gear”, the hand-made stuff, the heaviest and strangest additions to the standard uniforms used not only for detection, but also for inactivation of any surveillance equipment. Apparently, they looked more like preoccupied clowns, and they exchanged just a few brief glances with Bruce.

     Bruce had to wait for only eight conventional minutes. He noticed a discrete signal from R’Ezan, and then Miss Kinlen appeared. He froze for a brief moment, with his mind completely wiped out, then he gathered all his strength and courage and went meeting with her. She was dressed in her Maintenance uniform, and she watched him approaching with attentive, analytical looks . . . She was soo beautiful!

     Miss Kinlen took a good look at Mr. Virgil Bruce Scott while he approached her. The man was tall, slim, with a bit bent back, and he was walking with rather swaying moves. His skin color was light brown to pink, he had a short cut gray hair—unexpected at his age, though not unusual—and his eyes had brown irises. Mr. Scott’s face was vaguely triangular, with nicely proportioned nose and mouth, and he had a friendly smile, though somewhat weird, since he appeared to be either very scared or too shy . . .

     They exchanged the usual greetings, then they went to the nearest TUP-modules station. Miss Kinlen noticed the four strangely dressed Technicians moving at a distance, though in tempo with them, therefore she pointed out alarmed, in a semi-whispered voice, “Excuse me, Mr. Scott; there are a few bizarre individuals following us.”
     Bruce thought he could listen to her voice forever! He explained, “I am sorry for not warning you, Miss Kinlen. Those are four friends of mine: they offered to assure us protection and security. Each of them is a highly specialized Technician, and each carries the best anti-surveillance equipment that may be found in the ECW. In this way, we do not have to be concerned about security issues, and we may concentrate entirely on the problem at hand.”
     She replied, “Mr. Scott, you surprise me! It appears that you are far more resourceful than I initially considered. Please, convey my warmest thanks and my gratitude to all your friends.”
     They took TUP-modules: Baan and Troxi, the first; Bruce and Miss Kinlen, the second; then Ab and R’Ezan, the third one. Ab programmed all TUP-modules to form a chain.
     “Ah, I have never seen this done before; it is so nice!” said Miss Kinlen smiling amused.
    Bruce felt very happy that she was pleased. He noticed her smile was just an idea of expression, though it was stunningly beautiful! He started feeling dizzy, sitting so close to her and sensing a faint, strange, wonderful scent . . . Bruce made hard efforts to keep his eyes away from her, and to focus his thoughts on how to proceed with their business.

     They reached Vultures’ Nest, and they stopped at a table close to the windows. The Elgam Star appeared to be setting, although there was no such thing on Elgam Four. The Shecca Mountain was situated in the ring area between always-day and always-night, and from that window they could see very far in both directions.
     The few Technicians in the cafeteria went very stiff when they noticed Miss Laleah H’Ven Kinlen entering. Soon, everybody understood the situation, especially after seeing the four guards in hard-combat gear taking tactical positions into the corners. Following, all customers left the cafeteria in an unanimous show of discretion and respect.
     Dinner was brief and silent. They had dishes prepared from various and, supposedly, fresh vegetables, then cakes and fruit cocktails for dessert.

     “Miss Kinlen, when did you find out about the Hall of the Fountains?”
     “I was told by . . . a friend of mine, during the very first days on Iradina 41. It has been pointed out to me as a local mystery attraction which makes this place special in the entire ECW.”
     “Could you, please, describe for me in your words what happened during each visit to the Hall of the Fountains?”
     “Yes . . . The first time I was intrigued. I have been told the waters of the Fountains induce a state of good disposition, although they are just natural spring water. Nobody bothered to mention to me that people cannot access more than three or four of the Fountains,” started Miss Kinlen, and Bruce swallowed a big rough knot down his throat.
     Miss Kinlen was speaking the Coalition Language perfectly well, in a crystalline voice, and Bruce had to fight very hard to keep his mind alert, functional, undeterred by the enchanting music of her dialog.
     She continued, “I have to admit I was very scared the first time when I entered the Hall and I saw so many Technicians inside. I remember I was waiting in line for my fill at the Fountains, when I noticed that some of the people were watching me. I mean, not in a bad way. They were watching me somewhat impersonally, as when watching an instrument: attentive though relaxed in the same time. I felt an impulse to leave, but then it came my turn to the fill.
     Oh, the aroma of the waters was so strange, pleasing, and incredibly . . . tempting! I stepped on the path, then I walked until I reached the Violet Fountain. I do like all colors, though violet is my favorite—it remembers me of the night sky on my Planet, Cosnna . . . Anyway, I filled my cup and I started on the way back, then I noticed that something was not right . . . ARE YOU all right, Mr. Scott?”
     Bruce realized that he was staring at her with his mouth half open. He closed his mouth, then said, “Pardon me, please, Miss Kinlen. Please do understand that, to me, your performance is staggering. Please, continue with your story, Miss Kinlen.”
     “I think I do understand your feelings, Mr. Scott, though I would like a few clarifications from you later, if you do not mind.”
     “Not at all, Miss Kinlen. Please continue.”
     “Yes . . . When I was coming back on the path I noticed that something was wrong inside the Hall. There was no sound, and everybody was staring at me—exactly as you did, Mr. Scott. Oh, not only that they were staring, but their faces looked congested as if they couldn’t breathe. It was a nightmare! I managed to ignore them all, and I got out of that place.” She paused to take a sip from her drink.
     Bruce felt like a little child listening to a story about magic, witches, and gremlins. He also took a sip from his drink.
     “The next day at work Mr. Wosket, our General Dispatcher, came to my desk. He is a very nice person, but he was behaving strangely that day. He asked me if I was satisfied with my suite, if I wanted something better—even five classes higher!—if I needed a few days off, for rest, if I wanted a more flexible work schedule, and so on. I was again very scared, and I didn’t know what to say. I had only a few days on the job, and I thought that I did, probably, something terribly wrong.
     Anyway, he finally left, and then I started feeling a bit better. Later that day, I realized that all my colleagues and the persons I was discussing with went out of the way to please me. I called . . . umm, my friend, and I explained what was happening to me. She said that it had been broadcasted throughout the Base that I managed to drink from the Violet Fountain. She asked me if that was true, and I replied, yes, it was true. I asked her if that was a mistake, and then she laughed and said, no.
     It was then when I found out that I was the only person who ever got close to the Violet Fountain, therefore I began understanding all those staring looks.” She paused and took another sip from her cup, and Bruce did exactly the same thing as if he was under the spell of her voice. She watched him in wonder for a brief moment, then asked, “Was that important, Mr. Scott?”
     “What?” asked Bruce in a dumb attitude.
     She explained with a bit ironic smile, “Drinking from the Violet Fountain.”
     Bruce collected himself and replied, “Oh—oh yes, Miss Kinlen, and I shall try explaining why. We cannot understand the behavior of the Fountains, and it is clear they are way beyond our actual level of technology. Therefore, the Fountains are a unique, true, real mystery to us, Miss Kinlen.
     We, the Technicians, are people who deal a lot with technological wonders. We see technological limits pushed permanently, day after day, and it is not easy to keep up to date with this wave of new and better technologies—sometimes, even radically better.
     Think of a scientist having a Technician Level 30, Miss Kinlen, who works all his life on improving the ‘Independent Flux Galaxy Drive’ engines. His job is easy, because he deals each day only with the Galaxy Drive engines. We, the Field Technicians, are expected to know in details each new Independent Flux engine, plus thousands other related things almost at the time they come out from the production line. That aspect requires a permanent study on our part, and that continuous investigation of technical miracles has become a part of our very existence.
     Now, we have discovered something that is far beyond our technology and understanding, the Fountains, therefore we simply venerate them! They are the most important thing in our lives; they are our most valued treasure; they are the final goal of all our endeavors—” explained Bruce with passion.
     “I think I start to understand,” interrupted Miss Kinlen smilingly, trying to temper him down.
     Bruce composed himself, then said, “To us, Miss Kinlen, you represent the Great Wizard who knows the magic spell. We respect you very much for that.”
     “I see . . . Well! Shall we go on?”
     “By all means! Please continue, Miss Kinlen.”
     “Once I knew what was the cause of my problems, I started feeling a little better. I decided I would never visit the Fountains again but . . . my friend . . . ah, umm . . . she kept on asking me questions about the waters, until I promised to bring her a cup of the violet drink. That was two conventional days ago. Were you in there, Mr. Scott?”
     “Yes, Miss Kinlen. I wasn’t present the first time, but I was there during your second visit. However, I would like to hear your version of the events and, please, do not misunderstand me: for the duration of this Process, I no longer care about the Mystery of the Fountains. All I want now is to clear your name of any accusation. Please continue.”
     “Thank you, Mr. Scott. My friend insisted that we should go together to the Fountains that night. She didn’t enter the Hall because she was too scared to see so many Technicians, therefore I went inside alone. This time I was noticed almost as soon as I entered, so everybody cleared the way. I went straight to the Fountains and I filled a cup with the violet drink, then I left, trying all the time not to look at anybody’s face.
     Oh! There was a noise during my walk towards the Fountains, as if something was dropped down on the floor, but I didn’t pay attention. Then, someone shouted something at me, and I got so scared that I almost dropped the cup . . . That was all.
     The following morning I received a letter delivered by official currier saying that I was accused of PDCC, because a person died that night inside the Hall of the Fountains. I brought the letter with me—would you like to see it, Mr. Scott?”
     “Very much so, Miss Kinlen. Actually, may I keep it?”
     “I suppose . . .”
     “Miss Kinlen, may I ask about the name of your friend?”
     She looked straight into his eyes, then she said in a firm voice, “Mr. Scott; I want that my friend shall never suffer any inconvenience because of this Process!”
     Bruce felt pain in his chest as he saw the beauty of her clear, dark-blue irises. He assured her, “Miss Kinlen, I promise to you I shall take particular care that your friend would suffer absolutely no discomfort but, please, tell me your friend’s name.”
     She paused thinking for a while, still looking attentively at him, then said, “Her name is Alneth H’Ven Lerlond, from the Early Mornings House on Cosnna.”
     “Thank you, Miss Kinlen. I have only three more questions for tonight and, hopefully, that should be everything I need for the Process.”
     “Please ask, Mr. Scott.”
     She was watching him in a very serious attitude—not even the shadow of a smile! For the first time Bruce dared to study her attentively, for a few seconds. Her face had the perfection of a porcelain doll, and her skin texture looked very much like . . . the petal of a flower. Her hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes had the gray metal color; the eyes were dark-blue; the skin color was pearl-white, and her lips were pale-pink. Her hands were small, yet perfectly proportioned to her body, with long, narrow, white-pink nails. What was unusually beautiful about her was, depending on her internal feelings, her face, and even her eyes the hair and fingernails, could change their colors, sometimes in a dramatic way, as if she was permanently changing into another person!
     Bruce remembered perfectly clear that he had seen her hair having shades of blue when they first met, and violet inside the Hall of the Fountains. Her eyes were dark-blue, but he had seen them purple previously; her lips were bright red, though he had seen them pink when they met, same as her fingernails. It was fascinating to be in such a close proximity, and to observe attentively all those miraculous transformations—should he dare staring at her.

     Bruce started a bit hesitantly, “First of all, Miss Kinlen, could you, please, explain to me . . . why you accepted me? I mean, I suspect you have received at least one hundred more applications.”
     Miss Kinlen turned her looks down, and then her hair began changing towards chestnut colors. A little bit of red dared sneaking on her high cheeks, and Bruce thought that she was way beyond beautiful!
     It was her turn to be hesitant; she said, “I received over eight hundred applications by the time I made my decision, Mr. Scott, and they continued coming . . . Why, I accepted your application? Well, you see, Mr. Scott . . . you are an outsider . . . As far as I know, you were not born in any World of the ECW . . . maybe not even in our Galaxy . . . Am I right, Mr. Scott?”
     Bruce had to clear his throat before he could reply, “Hmm, yes, hmm, Miss Kinlen, that is true. I couldn’t locate my Planetary System in this Galaxy. Actually, this Hilsa’N Tassa Galaxy doesn’t look at all like the Galaxy I know that my birth Planet belongs to. Please continue; why is that important, Miss Kinlen?”
     “Aah . . . it is a matter of history, Mr. Scott, and . . . and it would take too long to explain. To give you a short answer, I prefer that my Legal Assistant is unbiased by the ECW political affairs. Is this sufficient, Mr. Scott?” She ended her question watching him with troubled purple irises, while her hair was entirely brown.
     He replied with consideration, “It is, for now, Miss Kinlen, because I feel inclined to believe there could be a few complex issues in development. However, my intention is to handle this Process without complicating things.”
     “Do you think you can, Mr. Scott?” asked Miss Kinlen, and there was bright, pale-blue, sincere hope in her eyes. Her hair turned almost instantly into an explosion of yellow nuances!
     “I shall do my best, Miss Kinlen. My belief is that most problems have more than one solving solution. I intend to work with those that would involve you less, as much as it is possible. My second question to you is this: do you suspect that the motives of your Accusers go beyond the incident inside the Hall of the Fountains?”
     “Oh, yes, Mr. Scott. I know for certain the incident in the Hall of the Fountains is a premeditated conspiracy in connection to . . . particular reasons . . . umm . . . of which I am not prepared to discuss. My wish is that you should try, Mr. Scott, to avoid the development of the Process beyond the incident inside the Hall of the Fountains.”
     He promised, “I shall take care that everything is going to be done exactly the way you want it, Miss Kinlen. The last question is, why did you come to work on Iradina 41? I presume your House is not poor.”
     “I had to come here, Mr. Scott . . . Please, do not ask more on this subject . . . unless you have to. I am sorry I cannot be more helpful, but there are some things I cannot talk about . . . Maybe, if you win this Process . . .”
     “Thank you, Miss Kinlen. I understand your position, and I shall proceed only the way you want me to do it. Now, before we leave, I would like to ask your permission for a ‘Person in Custody Process’—”
     She interrupted him with indignation, and also with an instant red hair color, “Mr. Scott! Do you realize what you are asking?”
     Her eyes were velvety dark-brown, and Bruce felt an unexplained sorrow. He replied gently, “Yes, Miss Kinlen.”
     “Then, how can you suggest such a preposterous thing?”
     “You see, Miss Kinlen, this Process is a frame up, and I trust I am capable of proving it. I do not know the true reasons behind it, and I do not want to know them if it means that much to you. However, the prize of the Process is your person, and your freedom. If I am the Person in Custody, I take your place as the prize of the Process. Therefore, your Accusers may drop all their accusations from the very beginning, once they lose the prize they are really after. Do you understand this, Miss Kinlen?”
     “Yes, Mr. Scott, I can follow your logic. However, there are other potential developments you do not consider. It is perfectly possible that you may not be able to prove the frame up, therefore you will be convicted. Then, it may be that my Accusers are very powerful people, and they will seek a harsh revenge. You would become involved into a tough, merciless politics, and you are going to lose again. What can you do to avoid all these, Mr. Scott?” asked Miss Kinlen, and her eyes showed a dark-green, genuine concern.
     Bruce answered with an amused smile, “Miss Kinlen, it is my special privilege to observe that you are also a very intelligent person—”
     She interrupted him with irritation, “Ah, you are smiling, Mr. Scott! Are you joking? Let me remind you that this Process is a very serious one, and it may have particularly harmful consequences for—”
     He interrupted her, while continuing to smile, “I understand perfectly well what it is at stake, Miss Kinlen, and I shall be a little bit direct with you now—please, forgive me for this. The reason you have chosen me as your Legal Assistant was the fact that I do not have anybody in this Galaxy to cry for me, if I fail. I knew it five conventional minutes after our discussion on K-link, because I am a little slow, but almost never wrong.”
     She tried to say something, though Bruce raised his right arm a bit, with an open palm facing her, and said in a gentle tone, “Please, do not interrupt me now, Miss Kinlen; allow me to continue. I am greatly honored to assist you in this Process, except I do not do it because I am a man and you are an unusually beautiful Lady, or because you are the one who reached the Violet Fountain. What I see in you, Miss Kinlen, is a lot more than that and, please believe me: I know people.
     [. . .]

     To come back to our issues, I know for certain that I can win this Process, regardless of how difficult it could be, ONLY IF I AM the Person in Custody. Please be aware, Miss Kinlen, that without a Person in Custody Process things CAN and they WILL develop towards the political Process you try so hard to avoid.”
     She appeared to be troubled—with a chestnut hair and hazel eyes—and said, “Mr. Scott, I shall not agree to a Person in Custody Process unless you assure me, somehow, that you can win this Process.”
     He replied smiling amused, “All right then; I give you my word that I shall win this Process.”
     “How can you be so sure, Mr. Scott? Think that you may have to face the best lawyers of the Coalition!”
     “Miss Kinlen—” started Bruce smiling gently at her, and he deliberately let his words unfinished to help her focus.
     “Yes,” she said while watching him attentively.
     Bruce pronounced his words slowly, in order to emphasize their importance, “I SHALL WIN this Process.”
     She looked long at him, with sorrow and renunciation in her brown-green eyes, then said, “Somehow, you make me believe everything you say, Mr. Scott. Now, how can I repay you for your efforts?”
     Bruce felt a wave of hot blood rushing inside his chest. He said, “I would like to ask you to do something for me, in return.”
     She replied slightly suspicious, “Could you, please, be more specific, Mr. Scott?”
     “Yes, Miss Kinlen. I would like you to spend the first two evening quarters at our table, inside the Hall of the Fountains.”
     She watched him for a long while—appearing to be in doubt if he was truly sane—then she replied in a firm voice, “Mr. Scott, I agree to a Person in Custody Process only if you promise to me that I am going to share your fate, in case you are convicted. It is your choice.”
     Her proposition was surprising, therefore Bruce went on analyzing fast if there was any possibility of danger for her. The hardest punishment in the ECW was imprisonment for one hundred eleven conventional years on the prison Planet Hoshal. That secluded and forsaken place was full of Dalk radiation, and there was no medical assistance available. There were extremely dangerous creatures living on Hoshal, and there was no technology allowed. Even more, the worst were the gangs of irresponsible, ferocious, beast-like criminals. Only a few people had survived the entire conviction term, though they came out with irremediable psychical traumas.
     On the other hand, Hoshal was so heavily guarded that she had no chance to get close to it, even if he would allow her to accompany him. Should he agree to her terms, it was the equivalent of lying to her, and he felt miserable he had to do it. However, it shouldn’t be his fault if she was not going to be permitted to accompany him . . .

     Bruce said, “Thank you, Miss Kinlen. I agree to your condition: I shall take you with me if I am convicted. Now, could you, please, confirm both the Person in Custody Process and the Legal Assistant nomination with your registration code?”
     Miss Kinlen completed both tasks hesitantly, then they left Vulture’s Nest. Bruce asked for permission to escort her to her quarters. It was late, therefore she agreed.

     They all gathered inside Bruce’s suite. He said, “First of all, gang, I have to transmit to you Miss Kinlen’s gratitude for your generous help—”
     Bruce was interrupted by a choir of happy cheers. All of them wanted to hear “her words exactly”. After satisfying their egos, he continued, “I cannot disclose the conversation I had with my Protégée, but I can assure you, gang, that she is safe from any danger now.”
     He told them about the Person in Custody policy he had determined Miss Kinlen to accept and, of course, about their mutual agreements in case of success, or failure. All eyes of his friends were shining moist with admiration and each, in turn, told him a few nice words coming from the depth of their hearts.
     Bruce said, “Now, gang, if you want Miss Kinlen for an entire night at our table inside the Hall of the Fountains, we need to make certain that we win this Process.”

     Next morning Bruce sent by official courier his registrations as the Person in Custody, and as Miss Laleah H’Ven Kinlen’s Legal Assistant. Following, he worked all day with his friends to put together two encrypted and isolated K-links: one from his suite to Ab’s—which became the “Communications Center” and his source of information—and the second one to Miss Kinlen’s suite.
     At nighttime, they all went to the Hall and, subtly, they began spreading the rumor of a Person in Custody Process, in order to gain more sympathy, and some extra brainpower, on their side.



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