The crew of the IMCR Consolation meets for the first time on Peresvet in the Draeb subsystem. They take delivery of the R Type Subsidized Merchant freighter Consolation, and get started operating their nascent freight line.
Using military reputation and the raw powers of charm, they are able to collect a full load of cargo, mail and passengers, destination : the Diane System.
The crew also meets the mysterious man who calls himself Skreen, who begs passage in exchange for a promise of critical assistance to save their lives during the journey. he knows a LOT about them, and seems to have insight into the future (he knew what Avery was going to name the cat!). Indeed, he claims to be from the future. Though suspicious, the crew reluctantly agrees to give him passage.
Meanwhile , Laurence and Theo are jostled by a man fleeing authority, and afterward, Laurence (or was it Theo?) finds a data stick in his pocket. Was it planted? Some research and computer time en route to Diane reveals that the datastick has a single file on it; which is encrypted. The contents consist of a series of legal claim documents apparently about to be filed describing a salvage claim in the Ilwran system, filed by Egata Mining Corporation. The document describes the salvage only in terms of location in orbit around the Jovian planet at the edge of the system.
Entry into the Diane system is the danger point, Skreen warns, and he posts himself onto the bridge for the drop back into real space. in spite of warnings and very specific instructions, Daniel is unable to completely avoid a close encounter with The SS Abyssinia, a huge passenger ship. Skreen looking distraught, cries out in anguish and literally fades away; was the future altered in some way?
Luckily, Abyssinia is clearly more of a sightseeing ship than an interstellar liner, and it features vast expanses of smooth glassteel. The lack of hull protrusions allowed Consolation to slide along the hull for a stretch, which limited the damage. If the Consolation had hit a solid protrusion or otherwise hung up on the hull of the liner, it would likely have been torn to bits.
As it stands, the almost-collision neatly peels the under hull away, releasing freight and Mail into space, in addition damaging the M-Drive and compromising the hull. Many passengers were injured, but none seriously. As the crew worked to get power jury-rigged, the pinnace launched out into the void, and luckily tracked down the precious Mail before it disappeared into the vastness. Crippled, the Consolation now limps down the well towards Diane.