Following the explosion of the hulk, the crew begin assessing the ship for damage. Remote checking (consisting of looking out of the portholes) is upgraded to EVA when Rob becomes aware of scratching noises coming from outside of the hull.
The crew emerge in two pairs, Marcus/Charles and Alumiya/Dex, and begin scouring the external hull. Marcus, momentarily separated from Charles, spots one of the “lobsters” clinging onto the hull near the cockpit, and calls for help. Initial shots bounce off the creature’s carapace, so the two close to point-blank range. It grabs Marcus’ leg and its pincer closes hard enough to crush the suit’s armoured joint and bruise his knee, before Charles is able to unleash a barrage of shots into a crack in the alien’s armour, killing it outright. Dex and Alumiya encounter another one near the tail, but they are forewarned and make short work of it with the help of the power axe. Marcus is brought inside and extracted from his suit with difficulty. His injury is not serious but it will be a few days before he can walk on it properly.
The Beowulf jumps from the immediate vicinity of the wreck and begins the long trip to Earth, stopping off in the Kuiper Belt to hide the salvage on the way. She arrives in the vicinity of Jupiter and the crew immediately sends out messages to Asoka Jones, a “procurement specialist” known by Marcus, and Professor Hendricks, a former colleague of Rob. Jones is viewed as a potential sales route for the crystal technology, while Hendricks is an xenobiologist and would be interested in the alien body parts.
They then head for Earth orbit, where they enter a tightly-constrained parking orbit. They are approached by a small unmarked vessel, which communicates only by laser beam. After checking the supplied credentials, they let the lone occupant aboard. He turns out to be an agent for Jones and has come to inspect the “merchandise”. Satisfied, he departs, advising that Jones will be in touch to discuss terms.
Rob gets an email from Hendricks, offering to meet in a restaurant in New York with his wife. He’s instantly suspicious, the Professor hates restaurants and is a life-long bachelor. Is this some kind of warning? They decide not to take the risk of replying until they’ve done some further investigation.
As they have several days to spare, Marcus decides it’s time they took some shore leave. Leaving orbit, they put the Beowulf down at the main British spaceport near Glasgow. As they are inspected by customs and pass through immigration, they become aware of a heightened local anxiety about GELFs. Alumiya decides that she’ll stay out of public unless she’s in disguise.
Marcus wants to go fishing and tracks down a suitably-isolated cabin. Alumiya decides to accompany him, while Jack heads for Edinburgh to take the ghost tours. Dex accompanies Rob to the local university, where he hopes to investigate the latest xenobiology research and also what happened to Hendricks.
Rob discovers that most xenobiology research has been concentrated at his old laboratory, originally based at Cambridge, but now an independent corporation funded directly by the military and run by his old research partner, Aaron Cooper. Hendricks, the old head of the laboratory, has been pushed out and is now working at a smaller college in North America.
He also discovers why there has been a panic over GELFs: rumours are spreading that engineered lifeforms, visually identical to humans, have arrived on Earth to wreak havoc following a breakout at a Black Tower BioTech facility on Wolf’s Star b. While he is buried in his research, Dex takes their hired vehicle out for a spin, this causing some issues for Rob, who emerges from the university to find his ride missing. Dex does turn up later at their agreed meeting spot.
Marcus and Alumiya’s vacation has been relatively uneventful, excepting her attempt to apply gravitational technology to her rod, which resulted in a minor electrocution incident along a stretch of the river. That evening, they are approached at the lodge by a fairly obvious “heavy”. It turns out that Asoka Jones is waiting for them at the local watering hole. They go to visit her and Marcus finds himself negotiating for the crystal technology. Unfortunately, Jones is both a member of the Capella Nero and aware of the origins of the Beowulf. As Ingrid Sorrenson was attempting to cheat the organisation anyway and was dead, it had been decided not to make an example of the crew, but restitution was required. Eventually, they agreed that Jones would take the technology in return for Marcus and the crew keeping the ship. They would also get a smaller amount of crash for delivering a cargo to the outer colonies, along with the missing fire control components, although the Capella Nero might also require a future service from them. Marcus reluctantly agrees and hopes the others won’t mind. He calls a meeting with the others at the same bar later that evening.
Following the discussion and having decided to try and make some extra money smuggling, Dex enters a bar in the seedier part of town and starts actively looking for drug dealers. Eventually, he is successful and is directed towards one of the old tenement districts. He becomes aware of being followed as he leaves after making a deal and gets into a taxi to evade his followers, but never gets to his destination.
Unfortunately, nobody knows where he went in the first place.
That night, the crew get concerned over Dex’s disappearance and contact the police. Despite searches, the pilot doesn’t turn up until the following lunchtime, asleep in a ditch on one of the main roads towards Edinburgh.
After the police bring him in, Rob checks him over. There’s little sign of injury, except for signs of bindings on his wrists and ankles, and a lack of memory of the intervening time. They come to the conclusion that he was tied, drugged and interrogated, but by whom? And Rob wants to know how?
Dex explains his background as a GELF soldier, including the reversed proteins that make up his biochemistry. The medic points out that normal drugs wouldn’t have worked on him – so the mysterious captors must have known what he was.
Who are they? And what do they want?