Better the devil you know?

2 - 1122.

Corina goes to visit Black at his office, as that's the only place where she's sure that Black knows exactly who's listening. She's definitely not sure about her apartment or the Ducal palace. She asks Black if he knows yet if the car accident was the result of sabotage, or just her bad driving. Black tells her the tapes are "inconclusive", but there are ten seconds missing on the tapes, just before the accident. The tricky part is figuring out when the ten seconds disappeared. Black obtained the tapes from Damian White of the Palladium Group, and they also have surveillance footage of White getting the black box from the police impound lot, so apparently he was the first person to get his hands on the box. Corina wants the missing ten seconds restored, and if that means picking up White and bringing him in for questioning, then so be it. Black points out that White has not been exactly cooperative in the past, and there's some concern that White could possibly self-determine, or die in the process, but Corina doesn't care how they get the information - just get it. Black tells Corina that he may know someone who could get the information from White without his cooperation, if Corina "isn't squeamish". She wants the ten seconds back, and how Black gets them is his business.

Corina also mentioned to Black that Blaelok and Solati were quite chummy at the reception. Solati is a person of some concern. Corina's opinion is that people like Solati who see the big picture frequently forget to shunt their blasting caps. In other words, don't forget the little details.

Corina is quite ticked off at the bungling of the investigation by the local authorities, who Black had told Corina would be able to handle the investigation. She doesn't believe the Macenites are responsible for everything they're being blamed for, especially the attempted kidnapping of Victoria, and they've become too easy a scapegoat for everyone. Corina asks Black if Globber is really as incompetent as he appears? Well, not exactly. Turns out Globber is a member of the Daedalus Club on Rhylanor, and has had numerous clandestine meetings with Grand Admiral Grey when everyone was under the impression that Globber was on one of his sybaritic pleasure trips. Also, Globber shouldn't take all the blame for fixating on the Macenites, as he did get sort of an official "hint" from Regina Security as to which direction to look for suspects. None of this makes Corina feel any better about Globber, and she wants him either removed completely, or busted in rank and replaced by a "reformer". But perhaps not spaced, if he's cooperative. And Black points out that they don't necessarily want to know who would be put into place if Globber were taken out.

Black sends his people to pick up Mikie. The door gets banged on during dinner, Mikie answers it, and is grabbed. Theresa goes right off, jumps one of the guys, and starts beating on him. Mikie gets kind of panicked that Theresa will be hurt, so he yells "No!" He also inadvertently did this psionically, so everyone else in the room grabs there heads (Ow!). MIkie tells Theresa to calm down, he'll be back. And he leaves with Black's people.

Corina meets with Globber, to give him his options: either become a team player and reformer, and rehabilitate his investigation of the accident, or he can be demoted to superintendent, and have a reformer appointed to commissioner in his stead. The latter would allow Globber to not be "blamed" for any of the reforms, and he would not have to take a cut in pay. Globber needs to think about it, and has asked for some time to do so. He also wants to have the chance to "confer" with Mr. Black.

Another trip to the big grey building with no windows for Mikie. He's ushered up to Mr. Black's office, who's in the office with several other people, and Black is quite civil and polite to Mikie. (Hmmm.) Black dismisses the others, and apologizes for any bother. He's quite pleasant and chatty, and then Christine slinks in, says hello to Mikie, rubs his shoulders, then perches on Black's desk. Black glares at Christine for sitting on his desk. She asks what the "boys" are up to, and if it's "something naughty". Black tells her that they're busy, she ruffles his hair (!!!!), and then slinks out. Black makes a comment about Mikie having siblings, so he knows what it's like. Black wants a "favor" from Mikie. He wants Mikie to help obtain some information from some one who does not want to give up the information; with Mikie's abilities, this shouldn't be a problem. Black will arrange for Mikie to be nearby when Black has lunch with the individual. Mikie asks what kind of information he's looking for, and Black gives him a picture of the person (Mr. White - qu'elle surprise!), and says he wants to know everything he can about him, and why Nathan Andrews is back on Regina, in a heavily bio-sculpted body (well, that is a good question). Mikie agrees to do this, but he has a couple of things he wants to discuss with Black first (if he wants Mikie to do something, he may not kill him for bringing up the wrong subject).

Ghaer is invited by Corina to move in temporarily with her and Victoria. Although he doesn't have to sleep in Victoria's room, he can have one of his own. Ghaer agrees to move in for a while, as he did promise to help protect Victoria.

Mikie asks Black about Natasha. He doesn't understand why Black sent his people after Natasha, panicking her. Black pointed out that his men were some one unnerved themselves, as they didn't expect a woman to make a two-story leap when they tried to pick her up, and sometimes things don't go as hoped, but there were pressures being brought to bear... Well, did he get the results he wanted? No, what happened was unfortunate. But Black knew Natasha was an AP? Yes, he did. Then he knew that she was made for Blaelok, and that he would have had all sorts of blocks and security measures on her, and besides, he was too paranoid to say anything around Natasha in the first place. The most she could have done was maybe give them some information on Mr. White. Black admits that he was aware of that, but that he felt it was worth the risk. Mikie tells Black that he would be more than willing to help Black get to Blaelok, Black didn't have to go after Natasha. Black does regret the results of the incident (but oh, well). Mikie (who has not been exactly emotionally on an even keel since Natasha's death - among other things - and is really ticked off at Blaelok) asks Black if he's aware that Blaelok has gotten himself a new "pet"? Black was not. Mikie tells him that she's blonde, and asks Black if he ever met Blaelok's late ex-wife. No, Black was not aware that Blaelok was into "that". Mikie is not having that conversation, but Blaelok has evidently made himself a copy of his dead wife. Black wonders if she could possibly be used as leverage over Blaelok, but Mikie doesn't think Blaelok is that fond of anyone. Or anything. But Black thinks Blaelok is rather fond of Mikie... Mikie was not buying into that, but Black feels that this is a good thing, and that he should continue to cultivate his relationship with Blaelok, and report whatever he finds out back to Black. Mikie tells Black he's willing, but he doesn't know if he'll be able to. When he tries to explain to Black that he means he might not be able to tell Black what he knows, he finds he's unable to say this, he just sort of locks up. (Damn Blaelok.) Mikie tells Black he'll do what he can, and Black tells Mikie to be at the Jasmine Club the next day around 11:30, and Black will arrange for him to have a good table.

Before Mikie leaves, Black asks about Mikie having spent some time lately around the Regent, and what is that all about? Mikie explains that he and Ghaer were really just helping with Victoria. Black wants to know if Corina is going to be some one he'll be able to work with, or if she's really serious about the "reforms". If she's actually gone fanatical about things, she may discover that Regina is a really dangerous place for some one who is bound and determined to screw up the status quo. Mikie agrees, in theory, to help with information-gathering (or attitude-scoping), but not with anything else. Mikie is allowed to leave, and he walks home, to be greeted by a very happy Theresa, who hugs him and thanks him. Thanks him for what??? There is a beautiful bouquet of roses in the apartment, that evidently were sent from Mikie, although not by him. At least Black has style.

Mikie makes arrangements to get off early the next day from work, and also takes off for a couple of hours to burn off some stress at the gym that night. It's easier to beat on an inanimate object, that do it at a bar with people who may actually turn out to be involved in some Byzantine plot of which Mikie is blissfully unaware so far. The gym's safer, and Theresa understands. Besides, if he wears himself out a bit, maybe he'll get some sleep.

Corina sends a message to Rutledge, telling him that she will take his "suggestions" under advisement. Jack Armstrong, Corina's head of security, is concerned about Mr. Black, and wants to add some extra people to Corina's security contingent. These would be people Jack knows personally, and almost trusts completely. Corina agrees. Then Jack gets a sort of softer look, and apologizes for being impertinent, but he's worried that Corina is not getting enough rest. It's so touching. He'll be right outside her door, should she need anything.

Nicolai is holding up in his home on Regina down, with all his surf guns loaded, and the door barred. Just in case Pamela (Mark 2) shows up. Not that he's paranoid, mind you, just a bit twitchy.

While Mikie is beating on the bag, an oddly accented voice comments that he's "up late - is anything wrong?" No, nothing's wrong. Blaelok kindly inquires after things at Mikie's homelife. Everything is fine. Thank you. Blaelok eventually leaves, after making several remarks about how quiet things are at night, and it's so nice to have all this room. Where Blaelok comes from, even this late at night there would be crowds. Blaelok eventually oozes away, leaving Mikie to finish wearing himself out. Mikie eventually goes home, falls dead asleep, and wakes up to the alarm going off about 5 minutes later (from his perspective). He has evidently been dreaming all night, although he doesn't remember them, because the sheets are wet and messed up, and Theresa tells him he's been muttering all night. Mikie gets up, does the usual, then goes to work to relieve Irving at D.S. There's only one customer in the bar, a young Solomani who has been there all night drinking. Irving's been watering his drinks for some time, and doesn't know what's wrong with the guy. After Irving leaves, Mikie serves the guy a drink, and yes, he's really unhappy. He keeps muttering about some one not being "right", and "why haven't they fixed him?". Mikie decides to find out what's going on, so he reads his surface thoughts, just as he is having a flashback of what has weirded him out so much... Evidently the young man (who's name is Alan Darmin) walked in on Blaelok in the special interrogation room, playing with Pamela. A really hideous torture scene is in process, Blaelok in his rubber apron, using all sorts of nasty tools on his subject, who is strapped to a table and screaming. Blaelok turns around, says "Yes?" as if some one had interrupted his coffee. Alan then ran off, although he really feels he should have done something to help. Mikie disengages just before becoming ill, and then does his best to help Alan get past the flashback loop he's in. Turns out it's sort of like psionically bumping a record that's stuck. Alan falls into a peaceful drunken stupor, and Mikie goes to lunch.

At the Jasmine Club, Mr. White meets Black for lunch. They order, exchange pleasantries, then Black asks just what Mr. Andrews is up to on Regina? Or would he prefer Shelzie? Or White? Well, Mr. White is not too surprised that Black has figured it out. They converse on various subjects, from Sontag (Black seriously recommends that White forget he ever heard that name, and never, ever, mention it again), to Blaelok, to whatever White/Andrews is really after. Then they part company, after a fine lunch for which Black pays. Nathan notices as he leaves that his collar tabs - psi shield - are hot. He goes back to his office and checks the shield, and no it is not working correctly. Maybe some kind of electromagnetic device? He returns to watch the Jasmine Club, and sees a tall, swarthy man in a turban leave. The Zhodani looks at Mr. White, and sort of smiles.

Mr. White then goes to see Capt. Midnight, to inquire about the status of the job he had given him. The Captain tells him it wasn't easy, and they had a lot of ice, but he was able to get some information from the Solomani computers. Apparently the Solomani are here specifically looking for a certain thing or person (what or who is unknown), and that's why the consulate was set up - they are not interested in Regina at all. The Captain's computers were damaged in this operation, so the bill has gone up, but White pays it and takes the disk. The Captain will be wiping his drives after this one. White also wants the Captain to set up a system for the Palladium Group's office computer system so that White would know if anyone was tapping into the system. This will be done within the next week, as the Captain will need to install some equipment in the office. As he's leaving, White notices a very high tech laptop, that looks remarkably like the one that Blaelok had. The Captain is reticent to discuss it, and when White tells him he hopes he's been careful with that, the Captain tells him basically to not try to teach his grandmother to suck eggs. White leaves, and is going to have to spend the next 16 to 24 hours making a disk image of the disk he got, as he's going to have to take the mostly still encrypted disk somewhere he can access a mainframe to get past the encryption.

Black and Corina have a rather heated discussion in her office. There apparently was a certain lack of communication between them, as Black was rather annoyed that Corina had gone to one of Black's people without Black's knowledge - namely Globber. Corina thought Black had understood she was going to see Globber, and Black's unhappy with her so-called reforms. Voices are raised to the point that the faithful Jack enters the office and asks if Corina wants Black removed since he is "bothering" her. Corina tells him to get out! Black then decides that perhaps they are both tired and cranky, and perhaps they should finish this conversation later. Black leaves.

Mikie gets word that Black wants to debrief him, so he goes to the big grey building with no windows. When he gets outside of Blacks office, several people tell Mikie that if they were him, they wouldn't go in there... Oh good, like not showing up when Black asks is an option. Mikie goes in to find Black in a really foul mood, and there are broken things in the office, and Black is muttering something about "who does that bitch think she is?" Then Black looks at Mikie and tells him he better have good news. Mikie gives Blaelok all the information he was able to obtain, but White wasn't really thinking about what his "plan" was, but then he may not actually have a real plan. Black is not happy. But he goes off about Blaelok, and evidently comes up with a thought that involves Blaelok and the Regent having an accident. Mikie just really wants to not be around people giving him information he does not want to have. Black is in a better mood, so Mikie leaves intact. He walks home, and arrives to find Blaelok and two of his bio-sculpted goons in the living room with Theresa.

Blaelok has brought a lovely fruit basket, and Theresa is unharmed, just unhappy at having the evil, creepy man in her apartment. Blaelok asks to borrow Mikie briefly, for some "man talk", and they step outside into the corridor. Blaelok evidently gives Mikie some kind of command, because there's a gap in time, and Blaelok thanks Mikie for the interesting information. Mikie then is able to confirm that he cannot hurt Blaelok, because when he tries to hit him (or when the thought forms that proceeds hitting him) he gets incredibly nauseous. Blaelok and his henchman leave. Mikie is seriously unhappy about what is going on with Blaelok.

Black arranges to meet with Mr. White later that evening, at the Cadaver. Black hires the Palladium Group to assist with a little project - the Regent is going to have an accident, and Mr. White is to make sure that the proper facts come to light at the right time so that Blaelok and the Solomani's are revealed to have been behind the "accident", as well as the death of the Duchess. White agrees to this.

Then Mr. Blaelok contacts Corina and arranges to speak with her. He informs Corina that in the spirit of friendship between the Solomanis and the Regent, he wishes to pass on some information to her. He tells her that a source has told Blaelok that Black is arranging an "on purpose" for Corina. When Blaelok leaves, Corina tells Jack to step up the security, several notches. This is done. Corina then calls Mr. Black and invites him to the Tea House.

3 - 1122.

Black and Corina meet at the Tea House, have tea, and a fascinating conversation. Corina basically tells Black that she realizes they had some misunderstandings, but she thought they were partners. The one thing she will not tolerate is one of her compatriots taking out a contract on her. Black starts to protest, but Corina tells him to cut the crap. They come to an understanding, as Black has evidently underestimated Corina, and she lets him know that he can mess with all the little people he wants, but if he screws with her or anyone he loves, she will destroy him. And even if she's dead, she has friends off planet who will ensure that Black's life is very short, and extremely unpleasant. They agree to work together, and arrange for a weekly meeting, at the Jasmine Club, to make sure this sort of misunderstanding does not happen again.

Mr. Black later contacts Mr. White to tell him the project is on hold. For now. But White can keep the million credits he gave him as a retainer. Mr. White will continue to attempt to gather information to use later against Blaelok.

Mikie expects another visit from some one, so he tells Theresa he needs to go out, and doesn't know when he'll be back. He ends up calling the big grey building and telling them he has information that he can't give over the phone. He gets picked up, and goes to see Black, after some snide comments by the flunkies about Mikie being a "good heeler". Mikie tells Black about the Solomani from the bar, and what the guy saw Blaelok doing. Then it got tricky. Mikie was able to tell Black that he had other information, but didn't think he would be able to tell him. Black misunderstands, again, and says that surely Mikie can trust him. Mikie tells him that no, it's not that he doesn't want to tell him, he can't. Mikie tries to tell Black what's going on, but every time he tries, he gets nauseous, his heart races - all the symptoms of a heart attack. The more he tries, the worse it gets. Black eventually asks if some one has "done something" to him, and Mikie is able to nod yes. Black says that they have medical people there, and they can take a look at Mikie if he wants. He wants. The only thing they are able to find is an occlusion in the area that Mikie already knows he has one (the little piece of Therian something that his father implanted), so it's not apparently something physical, which is what Mikie was afraid of. Black apologizes to Mikie, but he has to be careful - followed by an auto-injector and unconsciousness.

4 - 1122.

Mikie wakes up at home, not remembering anything after leaving the Solomani party. Lovely - mem-wiped. Again. Mikie figures it was probably either Black or Blaelok, but since he can't remember, he doesn't know who or why. [NOTE: This means that Mikie does not remember Nicolai's 3:00 a.m. visit, Blaelok's "debriefing", finding out that White is actually Nathan Andrews, the meetings with Black, etc.] Theresa is concerned, and calls Ghaer, because Mikie's acting strangely, and apparently has amnesia. Ghaer comes over and yes, Mikie's been mem-wiped, so there's nothing to be done, really. Ghaer does tell Theresa that some one has given Mikie a drug to inhibit his memory, possibly to protect him. Theresa wants to know who would do such a thing, and who would have that kind of drug.

Mikie is out walking later, when Blaelok shows up. He says hello, then says that he knows that Mikie has been visiting Mr. Black, so "Now you know. I own you, Michael, body and soul. And there's nothing you can do about it." Mikie doesn't completely understand, but he tries to go for Blaelok and ends up leaning against the wall gasping for breath, nauseous, heart racing, etc. Blaelok is very sympathetic. "There there Michael, you'll be fine in a few minutes." Blaelok goes on that he's sorry he had to do it this way, but he's a cautious man, and couldn't take any chances. It's not that he enjoys doing this (hah!), he'd rather go back to being friends (??) with Mikie. Then he oozes off, leaving Mikie to desperately want to throttle him, and not being able to.

Later that night, Mikie has a hideous nightmare. If he remembered the Solomani from D.S., he'd realize that he when he tried to help with the "looped" images of Blaelok torturing Pamela, he sort of captured the images himself. Now he's stuck with one hell of a nightmare, but doesn't know why, and he can't get rid of it. And it makes no sense, as he knows Pamela is dead, and he doesn't remember the conversation with Nicolai at 3:00 a.m. at the Bread and Bean.

Mr. White makes an appointment to see Corina. When they meet, White gives her a copy of what he claims to be the original printout from the black box. Corina isn't sure exactly why White has done this, but he seems to want to establish some kind of reasonably friendly relationship with her for future business. White tells Corina that "if there's anything I can do for you in the future, don't hesitate to ask." Corina wonders why that phrase seems to come from the lips of everyone who sees her lately.

Blaelok approaches Mr. White, and tells him that while the plan to frame some one for the death of Corina was a good one, it would be a better plan to blame the head of Regina Security, who was trying to hold on to his power on Regina. White thinks about taking out Blaelok right then and there, but finds he can't start to draw a weapon. Now White believes he knows what the "implant" in his brain is for, and is determined to have it removed. He's pretty sure it happened when he was being bio-sculpted, and that it was almost certainly Blaelok who did it. Mr. Black later contacts Mr. White to tell him the project is on hold. For now. But White can keep the million credits he gave him as a retainer. Mr. White will continue to attempt to gather information to use later against Blaelok.