16 - 1122.
When Mikie examines the SolSec medal more closely, he finds that it is engraved on the back: "For services above and beyond the call of duty, to the Solomani government. Michael Griffin. 15-1122." This is probably not something he's going to want to share with many people, lest they get the wrong idea.
Corina and Jack wake up together, and although they are both fully clothed, they do wake up on his bed. A bit of an awkward moment, and Jack will understand if Corina wants to replace him. She assures him it's not an issue, but she wants to make a few things clear with him about their relationship, and she tells the poor bastard (who is already depressed after the anniversary of his late wife's death) that she feels he is her friend and her confidant, her brother. [Insert knife in heart, twist blade...] Jack does not show any outward signs of his emotions, and of course he will continue to be her head of security.
Mikie has started to have nightmares, new ones. He wakes up feeling like he is choking or drowning. Just what he needs. He has also gone to see a doctor, to get rid of a couple of unexplained scars, and to check on whether or not the person who provided his new body was on lock - which he was not!! Jeeze, it's a good thing he checked, since Theresa can't use lock. This problem is remedied immediately, before something "happens". The one other thing he wanted to check was to see if he could find out what exactly was removed from Andrew and the other "brothers", including the body he's in now (this is so weird, but Mikie is trying not to think about it). Apparently, a sample of the tissue surrounding the piece of artifact was taken from all of them, as the "occlusion" seems to have caused changes in the surrounding tissue. But the Therian bit itself is still there.
Corina wants to know if she can get a tape of the conversation between Solati and Blaelok at the ball, prior to the SuSAG incident. Black is able to reproduce most of it, including some parts that Nicolai had not been able to read.
Solati is obviously not a happy camper.
Solati: I don't see why you're so interested in him.
Blaelok: It doesn't matter why I'm interested, he's with me, and you're not to go near him, or there will be serious consequences."
Solati gets ticked off that Blaelok evidently thinks he can tell Solati to do anything, who does he think he is? He may be the Consul, but Solati is the head of a megacorp, and he has friends in the Rim, etc. Blaelok can't tell him who not to "mess with", and he's left "your pet alone, but his brothers are a different matter, and as a matter of fact, I've decided I want him too, so you're going to deliver him to me. Tonight. Gift-wrapped...unless you want that other matter exposed. You understand me?"
Solati leaves, and Blaelok says to himself "You'll have your package - and I hope you choke on it". He then goes over to one of the Solomani, asks if he's superstitious or believes in ghosts, points out Solati, and says "You're looking at a dead man". The other Solomani responds with "I'll take care of it sir," But Blaelok says: "No, don't worry, it's already being taken care of."
Corina tells Black that SuSAG is going to know what actually happened when Solati was killed, because there were two witnesses left alive (the security guard and the waiter). Black makes a comment about that being sloppy, and Corina counters that she's sure if he had been there it wouldn't have happened. She tells him that there may not be any film of what happened, but what did happen in the basement was that one of Solati's constructs got loose, ended up in the same escape capsule as Solati (who was fleeing Corina and her band), and they killed each other. "So Solati was making constructs?" "Yes, he was." "Ah, so that explains what happened at the park. I knew SuSAG and the Solomani were up to something." And this links Andrew in as well, as he had been working in Arkadian space, and Solati was the one who wanted Corina to hire Andrew for the University position. Corina brings up Sontag, and the fact that Khan Zephes had been in the Consulate. Black knows that Khan has placed an ad to "Father", and that some one has answered it. Black knows about the "meet", and asks Corina if she wants to come along? Millie in wardrobe will make sure Corina "blends". Corina agrees, and then demands credit for resolving several of their mutual problems - Solati and the Solomani. Black does thank her, and offers to buy her dinner at the Jasmine Club before their little adventure, and Millie can meet them there later with the van. And since Black is concerned about dealing with an AP, he sends several of his men to go get Nicolai (politely, at the Bread and Bean), so he can speak with the Director about a contract. What Black is after is some one "higher up in the food chain" from Khan, like his "controller".
Khan goes early to the Cadaver, to set things up, while Hugo is at the bar (Shiv never rises before the crack of noon). He scopes out where to set up some smoke grenades (to be triggered by remote, via his Oyster watch) under the bar, and under a table near where he'll be sitting. Under his table, aimed out, he wants to install a TangleFoot (webbing) dispenser, which he is going to have to get from the police. Should be interesting, since he's an ex-cop.
Off Khan goes to the friendly neighborhood police station. He's recognized as being an ex-cop, an ex-hunter of "skin jobs", and the guy who shot the Duchess (then Duchess of Mora, aka Viper). They decide he's "come to the right place for special treatment". They start to reach for their nightsticks, but he beats them to the draw, literally, so they agree to deal. He can get the obscurant from MilTech, but he does need the TangleFoot, which one of them takes off his belt. He asks how much, and they are not going to ask for anything, but he pays them 50 creds anyway. And he adds another 50 to make certain that any future conversations with Ralph and Lenny go a bit smoother. Well all right! They didn't realize he was the kind of guy you could do business with. If he needs anything else, he should get in touch - they work level 3 Green sector.
Khan then heads off to MilTech for the obscurant. He speaks to Kelly, and Khan's not sure exactly what he wants as he's not military, but Kelly can advise him on exactly what he wants. She's even able to rig the remote up for his watch. And there's a fair bit of flirting going on too, as Kelly thinks Khan's kind of cute. And she gets off at eight, so they arrange to meet at the Cadaver, so Kelly can try to remember where she knows Khan from... school? He does tell her he was an ex-cop. "Ooh, did you do something naughty?" Before he leaves, she gives Khan a sample of the new golf ball sized fire frags, and a comment card. Khan returns to the Cadaver, to attempt to set his little surprises.
Viktor is busy working the negotiations, making sure that no reporters or other nosy people get in, and to "dissuade" anyone who gets in from "ever returning". Grey is depending on him to be creative. Nothing is getting out about the negotiations, but Grey and Zuluk have been spending a lot of time together, and seem to be getting on very well.
Khan is able to set his little devices, and then speaks with Shiv. He orders coffee, and tries to give her 500 creds. She wants to know why, as he's "not going to cause any problems in my bar, are you?" No, but "other people might". They eventually reach an agreement that Shiv will keep the money, and if there is any mess, the money will be a deposit "on getting your testicles back". Okay....
Khan takes his seat, and is going to just stay there until midnight. Fido Ravang comes up to bum a cigarette, or two, and while at first it looks like gunplay may break out (resulting in everyone on that side of the building moving out of the way), they eventually end up bonding. And sitting there bullshitting and smoking. Shiv gives Fido a bad time about his accuracy - "Hey, I haven't hit any innocent bystanders all year!" "Fido, it's day 16." Then Fido's brother Bingo shows up. Actually, that's Mr. Ravang, but Fido just has to tell Khan his name's Bingo (it's a sibling thing). Bingo sort of fondles Shiv briefly, and Fido makes a disparaging comment about "hairless females". Bingo sits down, with Shiv, and admires Khan's firearms, as he knows the maker. Guns are compared and discussed. Bingo's firearm is, of course, gorgeous. Then Bingo decides Khan shouldn't be drinking coffee, and orders him a Vargr dark. Oh boy. Khan manages to not spit it back out. Such control. Bingo announces that "this one's all right - get him something proper to drink". Khan decides to continue to drink the beer. Bingo asks for something from his personal bottle, a clear Terran brandy called Barak, that smells faintly of apricots, and "yes, my brother may have some". It's wonderful, and very potent. Much bonding.
Kelly shows up sharp at 8:00 p.m., with a big book under her arm. She spots Khan, waves, and heads over.
While all of the stuff at the Cadaver is going on, the rest of the world continues...
Nicolai is taken to the big grey building with no windows, to see the Director. Black wants to hire him, as they are going to be "chatting with an individual who is an artificial person, and as we do not know all of his capabilities, we would like some one who can match him, and naturally, I thought of you". Any reasonable fee will be acceptable, and of course, any medical care needed afterwards would be taken care of. They will give Nicolai the "target", and the time and place later, he just needs to stand by. And of course, should Nicolai perform well, he will have Black's gratitude.
As an aside, on Lunion, Mark Bach is sleeping peacefully in the Ducal palace, and there is a knock on the door. Mark goes to answer it, turns the knob, which is a bit stiff, and as soon as the latch clears the doors fly open, as all the water (water????) rushes in, half-filling the room with water. Some one snorkels in, and pops up - it's Katerina Zhakirov (the sister of the Emperor). Mark laughs, shuts the door, and then sees that Katerina has not got a stitch on, and he's overdressed. Clothing is removed, and cavorting takes place, down the hall toward a servant (up to his waist in water) carrying a tray with champagne, and oysters Rockefeller. The tray is fetched back into the room, and they sit (sort of bobbing gently) and enjoy the snack. Mark thinks this is the funniest thing since Winyates and the bald and orange bit, and explains it to her.
Katerina tells Mark that after the Jell-O incident she was really angry, but then she decided that he was the first person to not treat her like a porcelain princess or the Grand Duchess, like an object, but like a "bud". And she liked it. Besides, Mark's cute. She's obviously had a couple of drinks already, and nods towards the bed as it floats by. Mark says he's willing, but he's never been on a floating bed before. She tells him that's okay, as she's "never been with a man before". Ah. Mark endeavors to be romantic, and ........... [Scribe's note: None of your damned business.]
Some time later, Katerina is asleep, Mark is all relaxed, and a Pikhan wades in, takes a few measurements, and asks Mark if they'll all done now? Yes. The Pikhan radios some one, and the fountain in the garden gets it's bits blown off. That has got to hurt. Well, it looks like Mark is off the market. And if he doesn't make an honest woman out of her after what he just did, he's a dead man.
Mikie has made arrangements to have Andrew and his other brother cremated. When this is done, something odd happens, first with Andrew, then with the other - there is a bright flash, and the furnace bulges, and there is nothing left except for the small shard of black crystal. When this occurs with Andrew, the funeral parlor people look somewhat confused, then decide to use the other furnace, and the same damn thing happens. No, Mikie does not have any idea why this happened, but he takes what little remains there are, and leaves.
Nicolai is given the rest of the information at around 7:00 p.m., and is given the where, who, and when of his op. He goes directly to the Cadaver, and is briefed by Black's people. Khan is in there, with two gunfighters - the Ravang brothers, as well as Shiv. They don't know what connection, if any, the Ravangs have to Khan, or if they will get involved, but they are good. And Shiv is not to be harmed. Nicolai is briefed on all ten of the known exits (eight doors, and two secret panels).
Corina is introduced to a number of interesting people at the Jasmine Club, who turn out to be the current membership committee, and Corina is, in fact, interesting enough to be made a member. Mr. Sykes (the owner/operator of the club) gives her a grey metallic, simple card that reads: "Jasmine Club", and "Member". The rather sumptuous meal, featuring a large stuffed Jenghe shrimp, follows, which the new member (of course) will be paying for.
Kelly has brought in a Regina High School yearbook, with Khan's picture in it. Khan remembers nothing of this. Kelly asks him what happened after graduation - he sort of disappeared, and people thought he'd joined the army. No, but he was sort of traveling around a lot before he came back. She asks if he's seen his parents lately, and the answer is no, and asks if she's seen them recently. Evidently Kelly's mom sees Khan's mother regularly. Kelly was very plain in those days, but has blossomed really nicely. Khan was on the chess club, etc., not that he remembers. Khan has really vague, old memories, with a four year gap, that coincides with high school. Khan finds out that there is a reunion in about four weeks (47-1122), and he's interested in going. Especially when Kelly mentions the "creepy principal" they had for four months, Mr. Sontag. Oh.
Nicolai is not able to get a close enough camera shot to read their lips, but they do identify Kelly. Nicolai is waiting for the bar to get more smoky and filled, so he won't be noticed. Meanwhile, he checks on the commo gear in the van. When the time is appropriate, Nicolai goes into the bar, and orders a vodka.
Back on Lunion...
In the afterglow of the next morning, Katerina tells Mark she loves him, and he asks if she wants to elope, or does she want a big wedding? She'd love to elope, but her brother, and especially her father, would be very disappointed. So it looks like a Capitol wedding. Fortunately, as Grand Duchess, she doesn't have any actual formal duties, so they can have fun. Now if she can just remember where she put clothes, they can go look for rings...
On Regina once more...
Millie does her magic with Corina, and she is unrecognizable as Corina. And she looks like a very expensive hooker. When she gets out of the van, Black lowers the window and asks if she's "looking for some action?" He does have a sense of humor.
Khan gets up, goes to the bathroom (finally!), and on the way out he drops a one credit bill with "Father, later" written on it into the lap of the man who's been unconscious since Khan's been there. (What he doesn't realize is that this man has been unconscious at that table since any of the characters can remember.) Then he goes to sit down by Nicolai, and chats with him, all friendly (and paranoid) like.
Corina is hit on outside, but one of Black's people appears out of the shadows and shakes his head, so the guy backs off. Once inside, a rather more aggressive patron flashes some money (and his privates) at her, until Black joins them and offers to buy her a drink.
Khan invites Nicolai over to his table, and he does join them for a while. Khan looks at the unconscious man, and sees that the money is gone, and there's a beer on his table, but he seems to have still not moved. Then Khan gets an envelope with a note saying "Back room". He reads it and burns it. Nicolai makes his excuses as he's waiting for a meeting about a contract, and he returns to his own table.
Khan waits until a new person enters and goes to the bar, then he walks up to the man, starts talking to him like he knows him, and then leaves him some money on the bar, and heads towards the bathroom. Black points out that Khan has just chatted up Mr. Scalese, who is looking after Khan rather quizzically. Khan goes into the men's room, here's some one being "dealt with" in one of the stalls, then darts into the back room.
Tabasco Jack has stopped by to say hello to Corina, and then excuses himself and heads toward the back, nodding at a couple of his men. Black and Nicolai start to head that direction, and Corina goes up to Mr. Scalese, who wants to know if she's with Black, and mentions that his wife and their sons will be going off planet for a while....
Khan tries to set a couple of the businessmen in the back up as a distraction, but they just leave. Then Tabasco Jack comes in, walks up to Khan, and asks if he's waiting for "Dad"? Khan asks if he can get them out of there, and Jack does. When they get to the car, they try to tranq him, and he drops as if it works, although most of it hits his armor. He's tossed into the trunk after they discuss the fact that they are pleased to have such a perfect match, and they only need his "heart and liver". Khan waits until the car's engine starts, then empties both guns into the back of the car, reloads, gets out of the trunk, and up to the driver's side, and points his guns at Jack (whose driving). At this point, Black's people show up, draw down on him, and tell him to freeze. Black does not want Jack shot, and Khan agrees if Jack apologizes. Jack does apologize. Black tells Khan he really can't blame the organ leggers, as publishing his DNA code in the ad gives them the information to pre-match him as a donor before even picking him up, and how much temptation can they be expected to pass up?
Black wants to have a little conversation with Khan, if he is amenable? Khan agrees to go with Black to have a discussion, as long as it doesn't involve riding in the trunk. Black tells him "of course not, that's why we have Mr. Griffin, but he's not with us tonight." They all go to the big grey building with no windows, and upon entering, Khan is hit by an industrial strength taser, which does work. He's stripped, tossed on a gurney, and well secured. Then it's off to the interrogation room, where Khan impresses Black with his rather glib attitude. Unfortunately, he doesn't have any decent information, as he just goes on about Father, who Black knows is dead. Black wants Khan's "controller", but Khan says it's Father. They do discuss Khan's visit with Blaelok, and the missing 20 minutes. Just to make sure he's actually telling the truth, which Khan says he is because he doesn't "want to see what's under the doily" (the white cloth covering the little tool tray), Black decides to see if Khan's been "hardened" against truth drug. Turns out he's definitely not, and has a really good time on the drug, until they use the Narcan to shut off the fun drug. During the drugged state however, Khan does go on (and on, and on) about Sontag and the "keys" to controlling people being genetically encoded, and how Sontag had been around "forever", and had had "many, many bodies.
Black decides that Khan has told them all the useful information he has, which is not much as far as Black's concerned. Black is going to kill Khan, and has the 5mm pressed up to his head when Corina expresses her opinion that he could still be useful as a tool, and mentions the "gutted like a trout" incident. Black reluctantly agrees, has Khan memwiped, and dumped on level 4 behind a bar, after being beaten up enough for it to make sense for him to have some memory loss.
17 - 1122
Black's people do as instructed, and take great glee in kicking the shit out of Khan, and leaving him there. When Khan regains consciousness, he's lost 72 hours, hurts like hell, and has a terrible headache. He stumbles into the bar for aspirin and a beer, and listens to the tape on his Oyster (which he had set to taping at around 8:00 p.m. when Kelly showed up, and the Regina Security guys did not pick up on this, and will pay for it if the boss ever finds out). He now has a bunch of pieces of what happened at the Cadaver and Regina Security, but still has two and a half days missing. And evidently at some point when he was unconscious after the beating, there are odd voices on the tape:
"Fuuuud?" "No fuuuud." "No fuuuud?" "No fuuuud..." And he has an odd "hickey" on his ankle. Ick, ick, ick. Being memwiped and beaten up is one thing, but being "tasted" is another!
Corina is returned to her apartment to find Dirk there, in his white evening dress, and loosened tie. He raises an eyebrow when he sees her outfit, and she tells him "it's a costume, and I'll just change so I can return it". "Must you?" Hmm. She sends the driver off with a message that the costume will be sent back later, and locks the door. Then she sees the lobster (cold now, but oh well), and the rope dangling onto the balcony, which explains how Dirk got in. Before the go into the bedroom, she has Dirk get rid of the rope, so no one else uses it, and so Jack doesn't see it, panic, and charge in at a really, really awkward moment. Then they retire to the boudoir, in true Dick Salamander fashion - in evening dress and disguise.
After the service for Andrew (attended only by immediate family and Ghaer Raller), Mikie's father leaves, and Theresa, who's rented a car, drives Mikie home, makes him eat something she heats up, and then puts him to bed. Theresa understands that Mikie has gone through a lot recently, and if he wants to postpone the wedding, she's okay with that; they hadn't set a date yet, but were planning on sooner rather than later. Theresa suggests that maybe they should get away for a while, and the family's cabin is available. Mikie does tell Theresa that he's having a "Lock problem". Her response is: "Is that a problem?" Um. Some discussion takes place, but in the end Theresa is right - if something happens, something happens (God's will and all that). If Mikie wants to, he can go to the cabin by himself, but Theresa would like to be with him. No, he really doesn't want to be alone (and probably shouldn't be), and it's a big cabin if he needs space. And Theresa can take care of all the outside stuff like going for firewood and the like, as she knows he gets kind of weirded out about this "outdoors" business (what's holding the air in?????). Well, after she brings up the wolves, mountain lions, and bears, yeah he's not keen on going into the woods! Theresa has already checked with her father, and everything is set to go (power, food, transport, etc.). When she's right, she's right. The next week or two will be spent away from Up Port and all the unpleasantness. And Mikie can work out by cutting firewood and other physical chores.
Time passes, with Corina spending time with the dashing Dirk Savage, the legations not telling anyone anything, Viper returning to Rhylanor (at least temporarily) to be checked on by her own doctors, Theresa and Mikie away from everyone else, Khan still trying to piece things together, and Regina basically trying to recover from the first two weeks of the new year.
On Regina proper, Mikie's nightmare gets worse and worse, and gradually more and more clear. Eventually it gets clear enough to make sense: Blaelok's voice saying "I'm sorry, but I need this body", and looking out through a plastic bag while being strangled by Blaelok. Mikie already figured the "oh this one was brain dead" statement was too convenient, but Mikie didn't really want to think about that right away; now he has no choice. So, it's guilt over Andrew's death, guilt over the death of the "brother" who's body he's in, and a lot of unresolved anger.
Corina is seen often in the company of Dirk Savage, although his shooting schedule does keep him occupied a lot of the time. Many photographs appear of the new "couple" - out riding, dining in a trendy eatery, or dancing.
Speculation runs rampant over the Imperial - Zhodani talks, fueled by the complete lack of information released to the press. It may be that nothing is happening and the talks are stalled, but no one is sure. This is making some factions in the area somewhat nervous.
28 - 1122
H. Duncan LaBland, the new Solomani Consul arrives. Yea rah. After having an "eww" reaction when he disembarks - "Don't worry sir, you'll get used to the smell" is Nicolai's comment, the Consul presents his bona fides to the Regent, apologizes for the previous Consul's behavior, and tells her that Mr. Blaelok is in custody, and is being "dealt with". LaBland wants to assure Corina that Mr. Blaelok was "not a true representative of the Solomani government". This new guy is into homogenousness, and bean counting. Should remain to be seen if people start to look back on the former Consul with "fondness"....... Nah!