This is the penultimate section, so for those of you who are looking forward to the end (for one reason or another) there's only one chapter to go!
On Tinaria, relationships among the gang get strained quickly as they hide out, evade the law, and prepare for the theft. Although Amanda prefers to work alone, she finds herself quickly befriending Eileen and Ace (even though none of them trust Corvus, and wonder why the Doctor involved him)—Vorimar, though, remains utterly terrified of all of them and hates being forced into what he sees as a criminal enterprise. He has no choice, however; the Doctor revealed his old identity, and the only way to avoid recapture and a life in prison is to go through with the theft, after which Corvus will set him up with a new life at the Doctor’s behest. He wants no part of the money that the theft will bring, and will consider being left alive to be a reward. Corvus, in turn, has problems re-establishing his criminal contacts. Everyone believes him to be a turncoat, since his capture was so well-known among the criminal community, and he quickly comes to blame the Doctor for his fall from grace. Joachim, meanwhile, deals with his nervousness through drugs and alcohol. And the Doctor? He’s busy running errands, making preparations, and constructing a duplicate Key that can pass close inspection—the plan is to substitute the fake Key for the real one to avoid alerting the authorities as to its true value. (It’ll also keep the Baroness from trying to snatch the Key away from them, since she won’t know it’s been stolen until they have the Fleet itself.) The duplicate Key is just as beautiful as the real one…a twelve-sided crystal roughly the size of a golf-ball, shimmering through all the colors of the rainbow as it waits to be inserted into the control deck of the Doomforge flagship.
The heist itself is brilliantly planned. First, Vorimar uses his unique powers to create a precisely localized electromagnetic pulse. The pulse crashes the museum’s electronic systems, while leaving the gang’s perfectly intact. Then, using equipment procured by Corvus, Joachim hacks into the remaining shielded systems of the museum and brings down the rest of the security…leaving the Doctor and Amanda to enter the museum and make the switch, while Eileen waits in the getaway hovercar.
Everything goes as planned at first, but then disaster strikes. Over-medicated and a little bit too drunk, Joachim makes a crucial error in judgement while navigating the network. He attempts to use the emergency cut-out the Doctor had Corvus obtain for him in order to escape the network, but it fails and security programs fry out his brain from the inside, killing him. The museum’s core security systems re-activate, bringing some of the detectors online…a fact not noticed until Amanda picks up the Key, triggering alarms everywhere. Panicked, they are forced to depart before the Doctor can plant the duplicate Key, which means that Winter will know they have it. Fortunately, the Doctor says as they reach Eileen and outrace the police to safety, Winter doesn’t know where they are.
After the theft, the Doctor mourns the death of Joachim. He examines the emergency cut-out, and discovers it was sabotaged; someone set Joachim up to die if he made a mistake. Amanda has an immediate suspect in Corvus, who helped the Doctor procure and set up the equipment, but can prove nothing—and the Doctor appears unwilling to accuse the blackmailer. Instead, he continues with the original plan, and apologetically releases Vorimar. He explains that Corvus has used his contacts to set up a new identity for the Dyna, and thanks him for his help. Vorimar scorns the Doctor’s thanks, but goes to his new home hoping to put this whole incident behind him. He finds three people there waiting for him, though. The first, a blonde woman with icy blue eyes, is Baroness Winter herself. The second is her personal bodyguard, a massive, heavily armed man. The third, of course, is Corvus. They’re there to tie up a few loose ends…
After a night of cautious celebration, the Doctor prepares his (now five-member) crew to go and claim their prize. They fly out to the sector of space where the Doomforge Fleet awaits, but as they approach the Doomforge Fleet, Baroness Winter uses her own ship’s transmats to beam the four of them to her and her retinue of jackbooted thugs. The Baroness hasn’t reached the perimeter of the Fleet’s territory yet, but unfortunately for Miss O’Donnell, their ship has. It’s unfortunate because the pilot’s compartment is scan-shielded, meaning she couldn’t come along, and without the Key on board, the Fleet has just released drone ships to kill her, just to clarify. Winter brought them all along because she doesn’t know who has the Key, and didn’t want to take chances. Fortunately, after a quick search (with the Doctor having his usual assortment of useless junk), she finds it on Amanda’s person, and the group docks with the Doomforge ship without incident.