"What's that?" Broonzy starts, seizing the opportunity to desert the wheel and look through the viewfinder himself. All he beholds is a tall… man… and a bald creature, both gaily colored, both talking. Chimes swirl round Marina like Johanna’s flies as it began to drift, the walls of the boneship beginning to rattle as the great gravity of the black hole draws it ever nearer the abyss.

"Do your jammin' job!" Rats snaps, jerking Marina away from destruction.

"Sorry," Broonze apologizes. "But what in the name of Rassoul were you talking about?"

"Let me explain in the simplest of terms that even bools like you can understand," Kollucks replies.  "Wealth... wealth beyond your wildest imaginings! That small brown thing, moving twice as fast as the rest of this rawth and against the flow of the Hurt chimes. Do you think we are alone in this galaxy... science says that we are and the Regency enforces science, but I think not. The evidence is everywhere, young man, if we will but look for it… and believe!"

"Rawth!... no such thing as strangers," says Broonze, returning to the wheel with... as he remembers it... embarrassment and defiance. "Just bugs, bugs like caused the Blue Plague!"

"To the contrary, not only did unsolar intelligent beings exist, they exist today... on unexplored systems, even among us, disguised. Strangers transmitted chimes millions, not merely hundreds of years ago, so theirs are found only on the very lip of Bezend! They are small and brown, not gray, indubitably fast and so valuable because no catcher has ever brought one back..."

"Hold on... if they're what Davey said was worth ten million soys, I'm for heading back in! Broonze... give this boner more meth!"

Broonzy turns the marina back towards Bezend and she begins trembling under the enormous gravitation of the galactic center... Kollucks motions Turp to throw audio wide open in the hope of detecting alien frequencies, but the babel of talking images is suddenly drowned out by a digital cough of Regency law.

"Unidentified vehicle, pull out of Bezend orbit at once and identify yourself. This is Regency Probe 8182..."

"Nuts!" Broonze responds. "Jam yourself, Regency!"

"Twelve interceptor drones will be deployed in forty seconds!" the probe threatens. "Pull out, now!"

"Pull out, Captain! We can't outrun twelve drones," Kollucks frowns. "Get back to Nag... we've already got eighty three percent of a load. We can come back!"

"Thought the Regency stopped worrying about our health decades ago," Rats spits, but gestures to Broonze to pull out.

Kollucks glares out the bay window like a general in retreat, clutching his catchbox in which imprisoned chimes whirl and glower, awaiting reconstitution. "It's not about our welfare, gentlemen, it's about the Regency's revenue. There are some... they think the chimes are a common historical resource that should be left alone, flying around Bezend like so many blind bats. And others... more of these... who'd rather do the collecting themselves. Authorities despise competition... they'd kill to stop it... so take us out of here, Mr. Broonzy!"

"You got that part right!" Broonze agrees, banking Marina away sharply through jittering, squawking images as four drones sweep past... two falling into Bezend. The soup clears... they’re out of the gravitational vortex and, ahead, looms the white ring of Nag.

“Regency boffs,” Broonzy snarls.  “Cowards.  Never risk their own, send machines in to hunt the jims they want exterminated…”

"Unidentified vehicle, this is a Regency Probe. Identify yourself and surrender!"

"Jam you!" Broonzy answers, thrusting Marina towards the lip of the snake at an impossible angle, then suddenly swerving inside, causing the drones to overshoot or, in one instance, explode against the side of the white wormhole. Jagged white light boils from at the corners of the deck like a swarm of radioactive burgooth as he tries to right the boneship.

"We've been damaged!" Kollucks wails as brightly colored gases well up from the cold plasma dripping from of the Marina's ruptured pipes and spattering the walls of the snake.

"Been through this... twice," Broonzy warns the others. "Gotta stand in the absolute center... don't move, don't make a jammin' sound."

He sets the controls to autopilot... ain't so hard navigating inside a snake for only seven seconds, remember... and they line up single file: Broonzy, Rateyes, Turpin, then Doctor Kollucks, holding the catchbox like an old jane on the Baawl clutching the purse that holds her pension skilk. White light envelops them and the press of time from a thousand directions shreds their clothes and pops the Unilators from their ears. Kollucks' hand trembles and he fumbles the catchbox. It explodes upon impact with the floor... freeing dozens of chimes that swoop and soar and scream in the white, blinding light.

"Mein schreckgestaltaah!" Broonze remembers the Doc screaming before he stumbles away after them!"

"Don't move!" Broonzy shouts to the others.

Kollucks disappears into the light with an agonized shriek, distorting the faces of the rest of Marina’s crew with gravity and with terror. The chimes, Broonzy swore... and this was before his miracle, so I give it credence!... had warped, taking on such hideous aspects, that he’d whispered to Turpin...


With a screaming from out of the depths of space, Marina spurts from Nag, pursued by fragments of the Regency drones - debris that spins away into the void. On deck, Turpin and Rateyes collapse with exhaustion and terror... Broonzy taking control of communications and navigation. Chimes... warped by the gravity of the snake... flit through the cabin. No longer demonic, however… rather pathetic, if truth be told… repeating their litanies mindlessly at their seven second intervals...

"Did we just go through what I think we did?" Rateyes says, rising from the floor, a skinny golem still encircled within a cloud of bright, hissing gases...

"We did!" Broonze assured him.