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Sinclair wanted to persuade Merreck to heed his words, but there would have been little point. 'Alright, you'll leave straight away,' he said. 'Make sure I see you all again when this is over.'

The three of them left. No words were spoken between them as returned to the dorm. When they arrived, Bakkatt was waiting for them, Durhan by his side.

'Leave your Ranger pins and uniforms,' said Bakkatt. 'We will be travelling to Zhabar in disguise.'

Vance could see the simple robes laid out on their bunks. Before they could change, Durhan stepped forward. 'You have all excelled in the combat arena, one way or another.' Vance amused himself with the thought that getting beaten to a pulp and protected by a female must have been the "other" way to excel in the combat arena. 'There is one piece of equipment you will all require.' From within his robes, Durhan produced three denn'boks. He handed one to each of them, bowing as he did so. Vance held the small piece of metal in his hand, wondering how long it would be until he was required to use it on their mission.

The three of them silently changed into their plain robes and followed Bakkatt to the landing platform. A shabby-looking freighter waited for them, and they boarded, each silently contemplating their own thoughts and fates. Once in orbit, Bakkatt turned, his piercing blue eyes regarding them from within his ruined face. 'Follow my lead at all times. Use your initiative when appropriate, but stay focused on the job at hand. We must first find out what has happened to Keldulan and then, if necessary, take action.'

They nodded their reply. Vance could feel the butterflies fluttering in his stomach, as they did before the start of any mission. This time, though, an inner calmness seemed to act as a net to catch those
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