The pipes groaned as the shower was turned off. Inside the stall, the elf wiped the water from his face.

"Vulka," he grunted, "Towel!"

Opposite the shower stall was a sink blocked off from the rest of the bathroom by a neck-high wall. On top of it was perched a small, horned demonic creature. Hearing it's name, it responded by grabbing a towel and flinging it over the top of the stall to its master.

"Thank you my pet," replied the shifter, and began towelling off. "SO," the elf's voice raised to a shout,

The door to the bathroom was open a crack and out in the small front room sat another pointy-eared humanoid, feet up on the table, enjoying a mixed drink.

His face contorted: "LATER THIS AFTERNOON I GUESS."


Outside the man downed his drink then stood, examining himself in a small mirror. The changeling's features shifted and his ears lost their points, the hair became short and tamed, and the facial features blunted into those of a human.

"I WAS THINKING OF A HUMAN, SINCE THERE'S A FAIR AMOUNT AROUND THIS PLACE," the face broke into a smile, then he exaggerated the teeth such that the look would leave an indelible impression on the mark.

"Fine, fine," the shifter strode out in a silk robe, his demonic familiar following close behind.

The changeling's face returned to it's original elvish visage. He went and found his seat again.

"How much you think we'll net on this?"

"Three hundred thousand, maybe three-fifty if we can find a fence who isn't too greedy," the shifter looked amused.

This brought a look of serenity to the the changeling. The pair had just finished a month's stay in the Paradise Federation,
but had gotten too complacent. The money they'd swindled from a pair of widowers in the United Worlds of Warlock had gone quickly after indulging themselves a bit too much. With cash running low the pair found that the Paradise planet known as Prism was linked to Port Eclipse via a portal. Unfortunately it cost 5000 credits per head to come to Port Eclipse so they struck up a temporary friendship with a local. Using the Dreamstream, they visited his Dream Pool after he left and used a Dream Window to travel hundreds of light years to the asteroid complex. While a decent place, Eclipse Station paled next to the Paradise Federation. For now, the lower cost of living was necessary.

"Erum, Erum," the changeling used the shifter's name for the first time today, "Please tell me you're not thinking of using that Temporal Raider again."

The shifter's face lost it's grin, "No. I've known enough prima donna spellcasters to last me a lifetime," which for an elf was a considerable amount of time. "But don't forget our dear friend," the smile returned to Erum's face, "I'm noodling on a special touch to setup the mood for the mark."

Ovok the changeling chuckled. While most elves weren't evil, his shifter friend was a natural at consorting with demons, ghosts and other supernatural creatures, and coming through it all unscathed. Ovok's mind switched to the bright, warm beaches of Diamond March in the Paradise Federation. Soaking his feet in the pure blue water and spending his days sipping drinks trying to determine where to spend the next night out, then starting all over again the following day.

The changeling sat forward with a start as the elf's demonic familiar thwacked his ear with a tiny, powerful, clawed hand.

"So," said Erum standing over him, "Let's see the face."


The store's showroom was spacious and tastefully laid out. All around were shiny glass showcases, housing everything from minor trinkets to bejeweled weapons. The color looked wrong: a mauvish-pink carpet and whitesmoke walls, but it setoff nicely from the black velvet inside the showcases. Even a quaint bell-ring when Ovok had entered like those ancient shops on Alexandria.

"Can I help you?" asked a voice.

Ovok's human form turned to face a small, greenish-skinned creature. It wore a finely crafted silk robe, and a scarf about it's neck. The hands were covered with gold and gems on several rings and it's claws were neatly trimmed. The face wore a happy look and the head was topped off with a turban. A student of how others look, Ovok noticed it was a goblin -- the most urbane and polished one the changeling had ever seen. Damn that Erum! Holding back on him so his first look would be genuine. He was at a momentary loss for words.

"Uh, Harv, Harv Grettle. I'm in on business from the Trade Worlds. This whole place is so...exotic. I was looking for something unusual, captiviating...ummm,..." The changeling flashed his huge smile, but the goblin handled it well. His eyes grew only the slightest amount.

"Provocative?" the goblin finished up his recovery.

"Yes! Provocative!" the changeling let go a nervous laugh. "I want something to showcase this exotic region of worlds. Something people will talk about."

"I'm Barak, the proprietor of this establishment," the goblin turned and Harv got a whif of perfume -- Night Mosaic -- if he wasn't mistaken. "Come this way."

The pair went through all 32 pieces in the showroom. Erum had been right, a nice haul, but a fence would want a healthy cut. Harv shooks his head no for the last time.

"Well," Barak's tone had soured a bit, unable to fill the customer's needs. "My partner is out on a job as we speak. He should be back at the end of the week, if you're still around you might want to check back then, see what he's brought back."

"I think I'll do that," and Harv let slip where he was staying for the next three nights, before leaving shortly thereafter.

His act was over, now it was time to spring the trap.


A single, long, shrill scream pierced the otherwise normal quiet of the southeast wing of level six.

There were an inumerable amount of noises around Eclipse Station on any given day: the drone of electric hovercycles, the wheez of contra-gravity packs, the occaisional voice raised in anger or a shout hello. With crime a rarity and personal assualts almost non-existant, the scream of a female in distress was a natural head-turner.

What's more was that the foot traffic on level six is the greatest, possibly rivaled by the first floor which handles most of the customs inspections for new arrivals being a close second, so even if Laranda Peabody hadn't stayed late for work that night someone would have had the misfortune to bump into the horrible, demonic, supernatural denizen known as a Temporal Raider.

Laranda had just finished locking up her boss's store, and was in the process of leaving, (Anderbury's is in a deadend corner on the farthest southeast corner, when the creature, comprised of blue-black metallic scales phased through the wall as she walked past.
She'd probably have been fine had she not frozen in terror and screamed, for when it heard her, it seemed to lose all control, it's eyes glowing with alien energy, which shot forth and struck her, before reaching out with its giant scaled arms to claw the life from her.

Onlookers feel that the proximity of another passerby, who happened to turn and observe the ill-fated encounter was what probably saved Laranda. While she'd fallen after being struck, the creature hadn't the time to finish her off. She'd been beaten unconscious for sure, but after noticing the awareness of a second party, the creature chose to withdraw, and phased back into the wall and disappeared.

By 7PM, the sighting was the running headline on Port Eclipse's nightly news net.


Erum downed his shot in a gulp, made a face and hoarsely called to the robo-tender for another.

Barak the Goblin, sitting two stools away shot a look at the elf.

"Tough day?"

The elf stared ahead blankly and nodded, surreptiously pinching the bandage on his little finger brought a rush of tears to his eyes. He'd had his familiar bite him there, his metabolism would regenerate the wound within a hour, but the pain was real and was an effective way to convey certain emotions.

"You might say that," the robo-tender slid over and poured another. Erum pulled a single bill from his pocket, flexed it a few times before dropping it. "My last note," under the bar, he pinched his pinky again and winced. After a long, deep breath, he downed the shot and sulked.

Barak moved over a stool as a look of recognition came over him.

"Weren't you in my store the other day?"

Erum nodded sadly, "Yes, I was hoping it wouldn't come to this."

"You were inquiring if I would perform appraisals."

Erum picked up the empty shot glass and gulped the tiny drop that remained. On cue, Barak signaled the robo-tender and produced his own stack of bills.

"Set him up again."

"No, no, no!"

"I insist. It's the least I can do." the goblin's own shifty nature surfaced, "So you're forced to sell something?"

"Yes a family heirloom," Erum downed the next shot, with his supernatural constitution his head was still clear. "Gods! It's been around for over nine hundred years!"

Barak's attention focused, "What is it?"

Erum sobbed, "A commemorative statue my father had commissioned, to celebrate the first demon he'd slain in service of the High King."

Barak's mind raced: a geniune artifact from an insider of the Elven Star Kingdom could fetch a nice price.

"What was his name?"

"Tuskgut," Erum straightened, downed the last shot, "Major Arlan Tuskgut," he blubbered. "Twenty third Warlock marine regiment."

The goblin filed the information away for later.

Two shots later the elf could barely sit up straight, so Barak helped the man home. Twenty feet from his door the elf passed out and Barak, grunting, cursing and wheezing, dragged the man in after fishing out his keys. He lay the elf on a sofa and straightened himself out, when something caught his eye.

Standing on a table, covered by a towel was something. The goblin wandered over and snuck a peek. He almost gasped as underneath he found a polished marble statue of a demon, who's eyes, mouth and ears held an impressive number of inlaid stones. Inscribed in dragonese on the base was "Death to Demons" along with the familiar symbol of the High King. It must have weighed eighty pounds or more.

When Erum groaned, the goblin hastily covered the item back up. He retreated back to the elf and shook him. When he didn't respond he gazed once more at the covered statue. Licking his lips, he let himself out and headed for his office and his computer database.

With any luck all of this would be on file. Somewhere.


"Barak, Barak, Barak," chided Dorum Locke, "Now's not a good time."

The goblin stepped past the human and into the man's foyer.

"Hey! I got a ton of programming to do for the Journeyman Merchant Society, I just can't..."

"I'll drop 3 points on your antique dagger if I sell it," the goblin shot quickly from the hip.

"Four and it's a deal," Locke held his finger out like a pistol.


"Have a seat," the goblin made himself at home in Locke's eclectic townhouse. "What's so important?"

"I need some research done."


"And I'm afraid I need to poke around in some Warlock historical databases."

"Go online and jack into the net, I'm sure..."

The goblin's hand came up halting Locke in place, "I already have, but there isn't enough detail to work with."

"And you want me to get you into the Institute's computer RES."

His beady eyes grew large as Barak's small fangs showed in his smile.

"That's worth four points," Locke was a computer genius and had supplemented his income by handling special projects for the JMS and many locals. He quickly theorized the goblin must have a way of making up the four points and then some.

The human gathered his hair into a ponytail, and herded Barak into his study. He snapped on his cyberjacking deck and tossed Barak a remote jack.

"Try the chair, it's more comfortable," he said herding the goblin away. He then sat where Barak had first gone. "Hey,
this is the driver's seat." He stretched back into sofa, adjusted its posture until he looked like a pilot sitting on an acceleration couch. After Barak jacked-in, he activated his transfer pak and a wave of black over took them.

The pair sprung to life as the Port Eclipse RES popped up suddenly around them. It looked like a replica of the actual space station except the central nexus was filled with reddish electrical discharges and thick gloms of pulsing energy.

Locke phased the pair down to the first level. With a snap of his fingers he changed their avatars such that they resembled a pair of robots, both the same size.

They moved to the area where the port water company had its office. Next to it sat an old beggar in a simple rocking chair. Dorum's avatar removed a grenade and rolled it in front of the beggar. He looked at it but didn't move. It exploded,
but instead of an explosion, it simply fractured into thirty pieces, each of which in turn changed into a large rat. This moved the beggar. He jumped up and stood on the chair screaming at the pair to help him. Locke cursed, raised his right hand and hit the beggar with a bolt of thick, white glue, glomming him to the wall and clogging up his mouth. After a few seconds the rats dissolved and Locke's avatar began touching the wall.

"Help me," he said and Barak followed suit.

After a few seconds the wall slid open, from a synchronized effort.

"The backdoor to the Inner City's RES," he said. He removed a small canister from his belt and spray painted a circle on the floor. A scantily clad, busty, female Catyr appeared immediately. Locked handed her 100 virtual credits "Sweety keep the old man happy for a a while."

"Sure shu-guh," she said in between snaps of her chewing gum. She stuck her tongue in old man's ear and his mumbled cries turned to soft moans of delight.

The backdoor resembled a tunnel, as much as they arrived inside the first RES, the Inner City flashed up around them. It too was laid out, replica-style.

Another snap of his fingers summoned a flying carpet and their avatars changed again, into humans dressed as medievel mages,
pointy hats and all. After zooming across the landscape, they circled the tower-like keep of the Institute of Spatial Magicks and descended.

"What the hell are those things?" asked Barak's avatar nervously.

The inside of the Institute's Archive resembled an ancient castle and the files it contained looked like worn books sitting on twenty foot tall, wooden shelves. Periodically a ghost-like form would flit overhead and observe them before flying off.

"It's the system admin's daemons," explained Locke, "They think we're students using a guest pass."

No doubt the reason Locke's avatar had summoned a pair of bright orange capes for each of them to wear.

"The admin runs periodic checks, all routine," Locke's avatar strode around to the next aisle, where one of the shelves was marked with a large capital W.

"Here we go," he patted the dusty tomes, "Warlock marines should be nearby," and they were. Forty eight books of varying sizes were stacked on adjoining shelves. One could say the Institute's Archivist was thorough.

While Barak studied book titles for one containing regimental histories and background, Locke strode to the end of the shelf. He donned a pair of thick, spectacles and suddenly a pair of notes rezzed into being in front of him. They looked like worn parchment held up by crude thumbtacks.

"That's odd," he said squinting to read the left-most note. "It seems all the books on those shelves were accessed recently." He paged through 48 virtual notes.

Barak didn't care, then his shifty mind caught up to him. "Wait! Did you say all of them? By whom and when?"

"Ramswell Gaines, an undergrad, last week. What does it mean?" asked Locke, "Competition?"

"Maybe, or maybe not. Could be a coincidence." Barak's beady eyes narrowed. "Well at any rate, I need copies of both of these."

Locke's avatar pulled a wand from his belt and tapped each book, a duplicate appeared, he then folded each up like a piece of paper.
As soon as Barak replaced the books on the shelf, one of the daemons showed up and updated each list.

"Let's go, I don't know how long that hooker will keep the old man busy for that hundred."

"I've been meaning to ask you about her," said Barak. Locked laughed. Goblins didn't get very much action.

With a snap of his fingers the RES melted away, replaced by thick white clouds and then they were both out of the RES and sitting in Locke's study.

"Computer," Locke ordered his desktop, "Display those two new files." Locke turned to Barak. "Who are you looking for?"

"Major Arlan Tuskgut, twenty third Warlock Marine regiment."


"The thing's filled with chi," said Dorum Locke looking over the demonic statue that Erum the Star Elf had dropped off twenty minutes ago. Locke's martial discipline had taught him a few oriental secrets.

With his suspicions aroused, Barak had told the elf he'd need a day to appraise the statue. Erum didn't like it but finally gave in. As soon as the elf had gone, Barak called in Locke who took time to help his friend. He sensed the chi as soon as he entered Barak's store.

"And the gems in its eyes are real," the goblin put down his loupe. The pair were in the back workshop.

The body of the three-foot tall demon had a few minor nicks and gouges but overall it was in nice shape.

"What are you going to offer for it?"

"Twenty-five, maybe thirty thousand," said the Goblin grabbing the loupe and inspecting the engraving at the base. He picked out some dust and grime. It seemed genuine.

Locke's eyes mushroomed, "Gotta be worth ten times that."

"At least," Barak sat back. "Buyer's market. You know, I'm getting a magical tingling too." Barak was a psi-goblin.

"I assume you heard about the sighting of a Temporal Raider on the station?" Locke commented.

"Oh, yes. I plan on spending the night in my shop. With two million in inventory he'll have to take it over my dead body."

After a short silence, their attention focused back on the statue.

"Preservational magic?" Locke theorized.

"Yes! That might be why it's in such good condition." Barak hopped off his stool when the door bell tinkled and went to tend to his customer.

Locke examined it again. Beautiful workmanship. Amazing attention to detail, yet a part of him was suspicious too. Whatever it was that bothered him, he couldn't put his finger on it.

"At any rate," he thought, "Barak can't go wrong at twenty-five thousand," and made to leave, pausing at the door to the workshop briefly for one last look before heading out.


"I really appreciate your involvement in this," Dorum Locke fished out a tiny, coin-sized data disk out of his pocket. "And to prove it, here's a complementary set of my new cyberjacking utilities," and handed them to Parlan.

The Itragon Trade Office was a small one, just getting underway and run by Corvus Auctor and Parlan. Parlan was no slouch when it came to cyberjacking either, he just wasn't as seasoned.

"No problem," Parlan drew up the chair to his workstation and insert the disk. Corvus Auctor came out of the bathroom.

"The bathroom's a mess, wet towels all over the floor," he said while drying his hands.

"Wasn't me," Parlan replied, "Probably Harmony and her late-night workouts."

Locke, who known both men for a while looked around the office, "Where is your girl?" Normally, Harmony was close by.

Corvus smiled, "She said she hurt herself last night, minor injury, but that she's getting burned out and needs a change of scenery.
Right now she's lying on the deck of a sailboat in the Inner City, getting some sun. As a matter of fact she's asked to come on this trade mission. So you'll see her."

Locke nodded, his curiosity satisfied. Corvus walked over and joined the pair, staring over their shoulders at the deskcomp's holo-screen.

"What's going on?"

"Just checking out Dorum's utilities...a WATCHMAN, an EXORCIST and a STATIC anti-intrusion program. They're ok. Not worth the price of a trip though." The pair were ferrying Locke up into the Trade Worlds via their starship, and Parlan was joking.

Corvus, a mage by trade, seemed bewildered.

Locke laughed, "Yeah, sure my boy. The WATCHMAN and the EXORCIST contain limited-AI routines, which means when you run them you simply start them up and they'll do work by themselves. STATIC is very nasty. If you'd like, I'll demonstrate on you."

Parlan's smile turned into an emphatic: "No way!"

Corvus shrugged, "Well, we plan to shove off around dinner time," he patted Locke's shoulder, "Just keep your communicator on."

"I'll be ready," he produced another data disk and showed it to Parlan.

"What's that?"

"What I'm pitching to JMS. Real slick. Care for a test drive?"

And with that the two men jacked in and began testing. Corvus Auctor began penning a letter.


With a feeling of satisfaction Barak watched a pair of security men from the port make their rounds outside his shop.

There had been an emergency meeting of the station's retailers who'd requested special help from Port Security. Zondas a Promethean,
who was Chief of Security, promised he'd put his people on twelve hour shifts and increase the frequency of patrols during "night hours"
when people felt the most vulnerable.

Barak spent a sleepless night in his shop, favorite vibro-katana in hand watching over things like a miser. His dwarven partner Vord was away on assignment, and his friend Locke had shipped out with the Itragon crew, leaving him alone. Fortunately his neighbors,
another pair of shop owners agreed that they should keep tabs on each other, and the night passed uneventfully.

Barak's door bell tinkled.

The goblin shuffled out, it was the down-on-his-luck elf.

"Where is it? Do you have it? Has it been stolen?" the barrage of questions left the elf breathless.

"Of course, everything's fine. It's in my vault."

"I'd too much to drink and slept all night and woke up this morning to the news about the Temporal Raider."

"Yes, we were all well aware of it last night. I assure you our port security is quite vigilant. And just to be safe, I kept it company all night." The pair strolled into the back room, where the magnificent statue stood.

"That's a relief. Did you get a chance to appraise it?"

"All night. But yes I did arrive at a figure. Twenty six thousand credits."

The smile on Erum's faced vanished. He looked like he was in shock.

"The name you mentioned, wasn't in any of my databases, apparently that sort of information is available only upon direct request of his majesty's archivist or the regimental leader and they take their time about such things," lied the goblin, not mentioning his little trip into virtual space to research the piece. "I might be able to do better if you're willing to wait a bit. I understand the Regimental Publcity Office takes seven to fourteen days to respond to external information requests." Barak had no idea if there even was such an office.

"I...see," the elf sat on a nearby chair. "Could you make it twenty eight? That was Major Tuskgut's lucky number."

Barak had to hold back for a few seconds, before putting on his kind face and accepting the offer. The paperwork was completed in a few minutes as the goblin detailed the fine print of the sales document.

The elf bade a tearful farewell to the item before leaving.

"Six to one odds he's back at the bar tonight for round two," thought the goblin.


Parlan re-entered the cockpit of the starship, a small smirk appeared on his face.

"They're still..." he began.

"Cohabitating?" Locked finished.


The QUICKSILVER had engaged it's faster than light drive an hour after leaving Port Eclipse yesterday. With a top speed of 1.7 light years per hour, the small, scaled, dart-shaped craft had moved just over 66 light years from home. Within two hours of liftoff, Corvus and his shapely girlfriend had confined themselves in the aft cabin. The occaisional grunt and moan had escaped out into the passageway.

"She's uh, a babe."

"Yeah, lucky bastard," commented Parlan, who once had eyes for Harmony Frost too. "He get's this starship and then gets her."

"What about you?"

That was all water under the bridge now. They trio had worked together, adventured togther and had bonded, more or less.

"Me? Interested in her?" Parlan shook his head, "No, although I wouldn't mind signing my name to a piece like that."

Locke chuckled then abruptly stopped, "That's it!"

"What? You want her?"

"No. What you said: signing my name to a piece of work."


"Barak the psi-goblin on level nine runs an antique shop. He and I were looking over an item yesterday before we left. There was something about it that was funny. It had no signature, stamp or mark made by the maker."

"Okay, if you say so," Parlan was fuzzy on the whole theory since he only had the vaguest idea of what Locke was talking about.

"All craftsman mark their goods in some way. This one had none," the computer man looked around the empty cockpit, the only thing visible were a pair of holographic portals that simulated the ship's movement through space. "Are we still within comm range of Port Eclipse?"

Parlan spoke to the ship and another holo-panel sprang up showing them ten light years beyond comm range. "No, besides we'd have to stop and make the broadcast, then wait for a reply."

Parlan brought up a navigational map of the sector.

"Tell you what," he pointed out the next planet the ship was stopping at. "Shyme is only 11 hours away and they're hooked into the Trade Worlds comm-net. When we get there you can talk to Port Eclipse in real time via the network's relay subsystem."

Locke thought of what Barak was going to pay for it, which wasn't bad, the piece was worth that at least.

"Yeah, it can wait."


Barak entered his shop as usual and went to turn off his alarm. Since there had been no more sightings of the Dimensional Raider on the station things had gotten back to normal. He brought the lights up and went to insert his 12-digit key. Strangely, the alarm was turned off.

"Did I forget?"

His eye caught the display case closest to him.

It was empty. A knot grew in his stomach.

He moved from case to case. Each had their locks melted away and its contents removed.

The goblin felt sick.

He stumbled into the backroom and stared in horror at his tiny vault. Something had melted through the door and the statue was gone. There had been two paintings inside and they were now ashes.

He gaped at the blowtorched safe for a few moments, the calmly walked over to the comm-set and dialed security.


Finding Ovok's Dream Pool was simple for the shifter since they were such good friends.

After taking Barak's token payment, the shifter booked passage on a starship heading for the nearby vacation world of Varo.
He didn't want to be on the station when Barak discovered his store had been plundered.

The shifter and his small demonic familiar, slipped through the membrane of the changeling's dream pool and found themselves inside a slowly pulsing, sphere-shaped expanse. Ovok was there, laying quietly not dreaming, while a pair of minor dream personas lay inert nearby.

Erum had his familiar drop the bag of artifacts from Barak's store and stand still. Obediently the small gargoyle turned itself into living stone and froze in place. It was important that the pair not wake the sleeping changeling up.

The mage began chanting a spell, and in response, Ovok began tossing in his sleep. Lights of all colors began appearing, flashing softly at first and with a slow pace that got faster and faster, while the lights got brighter and brighter until finally a tear opened up inside the Dream Pool.

The mage whisked himself, the bag and his familiar through it and they travelled hundreds of light years in a single step: right into Ovok's room. Then in response to the snap of his fingers, the tear mended itself and the lights stopped.

Erum's hand shook the changeling Ovok and woke him from his sleep.

"Ummm, you made it?"

Erum brandished the bag, "Oh yes."

"Any fallout?"

"Not so far. And relax," said the shifter, "The goblin's insured."