*** understand all of it, to be absorbed in it on a subconscious level. He could, thanks to progressive hypnotherapy, imagine himself falling with the data, swimming through it like a fish in the ocean. He and Jae would find what they needed. He entered expecting to find someone and finding no one. He had called from the prize and talked to Zool - hadn't he? - but she was not here. Kronz wasn't here. No one was here. Jae scanned the room as though she, too, was looking for someone. They looked at each other. He stayed in this reverie for a long time, peaceful and content. However, he did not find what he was looking for. He snapped suddenly out of it, unaware of how much time had passed, unsure what had brought him to awareness. The stars seemed different: some manner of redshift had occurred. He sat down in his captain's chair and found it cold. No one had sat in it, at least, even when Zool was here. Jae sat down where Kronz had sat while the Vulture had warped away from disaster. She scratched her left calf where the hard outer shell of the magnetic boot dug into the flesh. It made Lang remember the way her calves looked, dark in her room, akimbo. That thought was pleasant to him. "Skipper," Jae said, "Something's not right." "Sure thing." Business. It was time for business Nothing mattered as long as they got the prize back to Proxima. Strictly speaking, Land didn't need to yank a d-reader for a damage check, but experience had taught him to have his own idea of the value of the prize in case the Admiralty tried to low-ball him. Then again, after a disaster like that, losing a whole damn control ship, they might not want to bother. Or they may be in a cost-cutting mood. Impossible to say. Lang had barely processed what had happened to the Executor. That was huge. It had been forever since a control ship had been lost, period, but to lose one in that fashion. Lang blinked. What fashion had it been? What exactly had happened? One minute the Executor had been trying to contact him, the next it was flinging itself into a protostar. It made no sense. What kind of accident could have led to that? If it wasn't and accident, who would have done that, and why? He had no answers. He thought of playing back the recording of his dialogue with the Executor, but he declined. Sleep, he thought, sleep would feel good. A poem crossed his mind, and he enjoyed it for a few moments before plugging in the d-reader. Data poured across his virtual screen like a waterfall, a tsunami. He allowed it to pass by and not attempt to "You said that," said Lang. "No, I mean with the prize." "What? The prize is fine. One of the best we've had." There was more vehemence in his voice than he anticipated. What was going on with him? "Yeah, structurally, it's intact, it's worth credits out the ass. But look, Skipper. Look at this." She pointed a single finger at a single data stream. Lang blinked several times before he understood what he was reading. "That kind of radiation...shouldn't be there." "It shouldn't. Attack ships don't have those kind of engines. They're liquid-oxygen blimps, for St. Olga's sake. That kind of radiation signature..." "...only comes off a warp drive." "Exactly." "Why the hell would an attack ship have a warp drive?" "They wouldn't. They don't. Attack ships don't warp. Their entire function is to be controlled within tactical space. Absent a control ship, they..." "What?" said Lang. "I...I don't even know. It's the great open question. What happens when an attack ship loses its master? Does it start killing everything or does it shut down?" "You're telling me the Admiralty has never lost a control ship before?"