“Preliminary subroutines are coming up positive." “Group seven variables?" “Fine." The technician, absorbed, rubbed the sweat on his brow onto his shirt cuffs. “That’s the manifold stability, then. Group six?" Yvonne watched the co-technician push himself on his wheeled chair to another terminal. “All coming up niner-niner." “Okay group six relays.” With this the co-technician produced a key from the lanyard around his neck, and inserted it into a recessed area in the group six terminal console. Having done this, he looked over at the technician. The technician then revealed a key which he used in much the same way. “The time is four-fifteen, group six relays are,” the two operators looked at each other. “Go, go, go.” As they turned their keys, the chamber of the Sealed Patron, which until now Yvonne had completely forgotten, flushed through with what sounded like fierce pressured air. When she turned around, the chamber was no longer glowing its peaceful neon blue. Emitting an anxious luminous orange light, Yvonne got the feeling the Patron was getting ready for something. It was like staring into a lava lamp that had just been turned on - the plasmoidic substrate in which the Patron resided was being charged with something, warming the beautiful maiden up. “Fifteen seconds until we transfer to tertiary carrier groups,” the action was back in front of the consoles. “You got those new protocols loaded in memory?" The co-technician failed to respond for a moment, “yep." “Alright go." A switch was thrown, and suddenly the mainframe sprung alive. Switches, lights and terminal displays behaved autonomously, performing fearsome mechanical Mexican-waves from left to right across the room. The two operators appeared to only pay attention to a small display unit next to the co-technician. After some moments text flooded its screen, and then it began, with great violence, to flash green and black. “Well done - are groups six and seven still in memory?" “No that’s been done." “How are we going for subspace DX?" “Still waiting on a ping - no wait, we’re good." “Whose retainer?" “Empress of,” the co-technician scrolled through some text on a terminal monitor, hammering the same key quickly. “China." The technician took a sip of something from a green bottle. “We’re good for group five I think - is she up yet?" “Yeah she’s up - mind you, we’ve been a bit rude, keeping her out of the loop for so long." Yvonne turned to look at the Patron. She floated peacefully orange, silent. “It was those tertiary group protocols - she’d understand." “So we’ll go local?" “Yeah go live locally." The co-technician reached for a phone receiver to his left. “Hello? Yeah this is Legs. We’re going live so I’d suggest moving to emulated terminals just in case she plays with anyone’s stuff. Yeah, emulated. Ask… um… ask Sloan, she’d know. Yeah. No worries.” When he hung up the phone and looked at his watch for some time. “That should do it." “Okay going live,” a reach was made, a switch thrown. The technician adjusted the volume on a small speaker on his terminal. “Afternoon, Mary!" Good afternoon. “We’re going for a special energy exchange and we’ve got the Empress of China on the line,” the technician nattered jovially. “We were wondering if you’ve be happy to oblige." For a while there was nothing but static. Then: I see. Yvonne continued to study the Patron in her tank. No movement, apart from those caused by the fluid-conditioning. “You probably want to know what’s going on." Another pause: Yes. .. “The whole thing is a circus act designed to start up a machine with an enormous amount of what you might callcosmic limiting static friction,” the technician said, taking a swig from a khaki-coloured bottle.