This is Bad, Very Bad.

71 - 1122.

Corina has decided to find out exactly what her relationship with Dirk is, and where it's going. Dirk is a bit concerned about the "relationship" word, and doesn't see why they need to change things. Corina wants to know if he intends to stay on Regina for the long term, or if this is just a short term fling to him, so she can get on with her life. He's been married before, and she hasn't, so "what was it that went wrong"?

"One day I woke up and discovered I'd made a terrible, terrible mistake. That was my first marriage."

"So what was wrong with it?"

"Well, we didn't really have much in common except the sex, and neither one of use was really ready for marriage."

Dirk is concerned that Corina is involved in really serious business, and he's well, he really has more of a frivolous approach to life, and that's how he likes it. But Corina doesn't want to come home to something that's as serious as what she does all day. Dirk isn't sure he's ready to be a "hausfrau". Corina isn't suggesting that.

Mostly, Dirk is concerned about Corina's "job", and the people around her. "Ian is a great villain, but he's actually a really nice guy. Some of the people around you really are villains - and they're not acting. Frankly, they scare me. I'm sure they're capable of things that people like me can only imagine."

Dirk is concerned about what Corina's job is doing to her, that it's wearing her down. Corina tells him that it's not the "boulder on her shoulders", as Dirk refers to it, that wears her down, it's the never-ending flow of sand.

Dirk goes off to think in his convertible (since he thinks better while speeding, and Black walks out of her kitchen just to check on what she's doing. "Most people use the front door. And most people knock." "True, but I'm not most people. You know Dirk just isn't you. Or you aren't Dirk. Any how, it doesn't scan." "Well, you don't like the limelight." Black asks if Corina knows about the new little quirk of her "Red Shirts" - they've taken to wearing a little locket with a Corina cameo or icon on it. "It's getting to the point that if you don't become a martyr, it's going to disappoint them."

Black says "I wanted to ask you what you want done about Mr. LaBland and his new 'pet'?" "Well, I have pointed out that even if he's been 'scrubbed', it's not really diplomatically a good idea for the 'body' to be wandering around." And Corina isn't so sure Blaelok has been "erased", or whatever. She doesn't think Blaelok's personality would be that easy to get rid of, but she admits it may just be that she is not familiar enough with the procedure to trust it. Black would like to believe Corina's right. "Mr. Blaelok, for all his faults, made the universe a bit more interesting. I love a challenge, and I'm afraid I'll grow soft. Any way, would you like my men to speak with Dirk?" "No, I think he already has an aversion to your men." "True. I wouldn't have thought such a 'he-man hunk' would be so skittish." "Mercer, it's an act." "Ah yes. Well, I won't take up any more of your valuable time." Corina wants Black's input on what he would like out of the deal if the naval base deal should happen to work; Black will have it for her in the morning. He pauses, and says "Oh and I've been meaning to tell you - the scarlet dress? Bravo. Or rather brava." "Thank you. That reminds me, when is our date for Puccini?" "This weekend, actually". Black will send a car for her around 7:00 p.m. Black departs in his fashion, one minute, he's there, the next, gone.

Corina wakes up in the middle of the night, and something's not right. She starts to cough, and realizes there's smoke in the room - a lot of it. There's a crackling noise, and the door to her bedroom is starting to sag. Not good. And being Up Port, there is no other exit. She takes a wool blanket to the bathroom, soaks it in water, puts on leather shoes, wraps herself in the blanket and goes to the door, which sags in completely. Corina runs past a body on the floor, to the front door, which is locked, and won't open; it appears that a key has been broken off in the lock. She tries the balcony door, but it's locked too, and the bulletproof glass won't break. She hears some one banging on the main door and calling her name. It's Jack. He tells her to stand back, and he shoots the lock and opens the door. WOOF!! Corina starts for the door, Jack grabs her an pulls her out. She has not been burned so much as turned into a large, steamed humbau. Jack is yelling for an ambulance, and why the hell didn't the alarm and sprinklers go off?

Corina borrows Jack's cell phone, calls Black, and says: "Either you're an incompetent fuck, or you just tried to kill me again. And what I told you earlier goes double now!" And she hangs up. Off to Regina Trauma, where the burn specialist is waiting, having been rousted out of bed by strange men and dragged to the hospital. She's very lucky. Mostly first degree burns, some second degree on her hands. Her hair is somewhat scorched, and she won't be sitting down for a while. Black does show up, and tells Corina that they will find out who was responsible (in other words, it wasn't him). Whoever is responsible was a real pro. He asks for a list of people who might want to kill her, then he says, "actually is there anyone who doesn't want you dead?"

Stern shows up, tossing people out of his way, to make sure Corina's okay. If he finds out who's responsible, "they'll be eating out of a straw!" He has shown up with a shirt and jeans thrown on over his red silk SternMetal pajamas. How sweet. Corina declines his offer to go to the Stern medical facilities, and after threatening the medical staff if they don't treat her properly, Stern leaves, tossing orderlies in his wake.

Corina tells Black that there was a body in the apartment, and it's just now occurred to her that it might have been Dirk, since he was out driving his Denzetti. She wants to know who it was, Dirk, the arsonist, or some one else. Her press secretary, Francesca Thomas, wants to know what they should release to the press? "That I've survived a third assassination attempt. It's not like no one will notice the large fire, the ambulance, the reconstruction crew, etc., etc." Corina doesn't want to have to mourn Dirk, if it was him, with Black around so she throws everyone out and has a good cry.

72 - 1122.

The next morning, after the drugs have worn off, and Corina has woken up, Francesca comes in with the morning papers. The press looks good, and she's already arranged for the hairdresser, proper bedclothing, etc. And the Red Shirts are camped outside. Corina asks to see Black before reading the papers. He shows up, and no they have not identified the body, but yes they've found Dirk. And aside from a massive hangover, he'll be fine. She wants Dirk brought to the hospital. Black asks "Brought to the hospital?" (As opposed to sent?) That's correct. She wants to see him. Black will take care of it personally.

Jack discreetly lets Corina know that he managed to get a quick look at the body, and if he was the arsonist, he didn't die from smoke inhalation because the fire got out of hand, as Regina Security seems to think. There was either an entry wound for a small caliber bullet, or the puncture wound from something like an icepick in the back of the dead man's head (right around medulla oblongata region). Corina wants Jack to be careful with his investigation.

Corina makes a balcony appearance, and speaks briefly with the press. She asks that the flowers be sent to the children's ward. The nurse asks about the one with the black roses? Corina asks to see it. It's a wreath, with a banner that reads: "Once unlucky, twice burned". Ouch. This is not sent to the children's ward.

A couple of Black's people come in to see Corina, and tell her that they've brought Dirk to the hospital. They look a bit uneasy, so Corina asks if Dirk's all right? Mostly. He's apparently hung over, as is the female he was with. They weren't sure what to do with her, so they brought them both to the hospital, and well, Dirk got all over-protective-like about the female, but he'll be fine, really! Aha. Dirk is sent in, and aside from looking a bit ragged around the edges, limping slightly, holding his ribs, and eye that's going to be black in a few hours - he's just fine! Corina looks at him and says: "You're right, you are out of your league. I love you, but you're going to get hurt here. Maybe you should leave." Dirk says nothing, just turns and limps out, pausing, but not responding, when Corina asks "Not even a good-bye?" When the security guys check back, Corina does not take them up on their offer to put Dirk on a ship out, but asks them to make sure he sees a doctor. So much for the storybook romance angle.

A few hours later, Corina is looking at tapes of the various newscasts, when one of the tapes turns out to be different. It was apparently taken by a 'peekaboo' camera. It's Black (and evidently he's miffed - such language), in his own office, and he's very unhappy with some one out of camera range. "You stupid fuck! How could you screw up something this simple?" His minion is really sorry, and apologizes repeatedly. Black says he may still be able to turn things to his advantage. The phone rings, and Black answers it. He tells the person at the other end that he knows, but the woman is annoyingly hard to kill, and things need to be handled carefully. Black hasn't "forgotten our agreement". And comments about her "starting to believe what she's spouting", which has made it impossible to keep her under control. And to top it off, one of her security people is very good, and very devoted. Then evidently the man on the other end gives Black some interesting information, and Black says "I see. How tragic. I believe he will be found to have acted out of unrequited love. Very good. " Black hangs up the phone, and speaks to the man who is evidently filming through his left eye.... (???) Black points out that there's a bright side to everything. And sends the human camera off to do something else, after a brief discussion about Black's sister waiting for him. End tape, which self destructs. Then the phone rings. It's an electronically altered voice, who asks if Corina enjoyed the tape, and wants to arrange a meeting. Corina wants to know if they can come to the hospital, and the caller says they will call back.

Corina sends for Jack, and carries on a whispered conversation, telling him that Regina Security was responsible for the attempt on her life, and they are planning on framing Jack for it. "Do you understand?" Jack nods. Corina asks Jack if he wants to leave planet or stay. He wants to stay. Corina tells him that it's time to go on the offensive, and she wants Jack to take some of his people, and go pick up Black's sister Christine. [oh no, please God no] She believes Christine is dangerous, so Jack is to be careful. And Corina wants a gun, so Jack gives her his. And goes off to get Christine. [Corina has absolutely no idea what she's done.]

The mystery caller calls back, and will be able to come to the hospital, but is concerned about Corina's security. Corina arranges for her people to expect a "Dr. Frank", who is to be allowed into her room, but not allowed to leave until she says it's okay. About a half hour later, a female Dr. Frank arrives, in gloves, gown, and mask - as is appropriate for dealing with a burn victim. The doctor tells Corina's security people that the Governor will need privacy, and closes the door. When the mask is removed, it's Pamela Blaelok. Corina is somewhat surprised, and she's not certain what exactly Pamela hoped to gain by sending Corina the tape. Pamela explains that it was an effort to repair the "strained relations" between "them" and Corina, and try to establish a more normal relationship, particularly between Corina and Christopher. But Christopher is not exactly himself any more, so what's up here? Then the door opens and another gowned doctor walks in and shuts the door. It's Blaelok himself. Ah. Blaelok wants to fix things with Corina so that he can complete some business he has on Regina. It's not that Blaelok has any real interest in Regina itself, it's just that he has some issues to resolve. So he has decided to see if he can assist Corina with Mr. Black, who Blaelok refers to as "a talented amateur". Corina is definitely interested. Blaelok doesn't know with whom Black was speaking on the phone, but they are "working on it". So, now that a deal is in the making, how does Blaelok expect to change from the "shiny happy person" (as Corina puts it), to his normal self? It's agreed that Blaelok will be on Regina as a normal citizen, not part of the diplomatic service, so that he's no longer under the "persona non grata" order, and Corina suggests he "arrive" by liner in a day or two. But Blaelok has been seen too much around Up Port, so that's sort of out. They decide that he will just be seen in public with Corina, in a public setting, to show it's not a problem with her. Blaelok will handle Mr. LaBland.

Then there's the matter of Mr. Black, and what to do about him. He's not going to be happy about Blaelok's "return". She asks if Blaelok has access to whatever is needed to apply Solomani "mind control" procedures to some one, and the answer is yes, sort of. The local equipment is sort of "primitive", but it's enough for some levels of that kind of thing. Blaelok agrees that it would be very interesting to make use of some one close to Black, and if he could have the subject for a week, he could make sure they'd do anything Corina wanted, up to and including actions that would be against their nature normally. Corina tells Blaelok that she's already put a plan in action to apply leverage on Black, using the only person she knows he has any affection for, Black's sister Christine. Blaelok agrees that Black and his sister are "close", and that she and Black are definitely "fond of each other... Some people might say unnaturally so." Corina looks at Blaelok, then asks "Are you trying to tell me they're lovers?" "Yes. For quite some time apparently." Well that's certainly news to Corina, but it does confirm that Christine is a good source of leverage. Corina tells him that Christine disappearing for a week to say, the Solomani consulate, and then reappearing in public with Corina, all friendly like, would have the desired impact on Black. Now all Blaelok needs is the subject. Corina tells him that she has sent some of her people to pick up Christine. Blaelok is a bit taken aback, looks at Corina oddly, and says "You haven't sent anyone you're overly attached to, I hope?" Oh-oh. Corina asks "why, is she enhanced, or something?" "No.... But she's quite mad you know." No, she didn't, and coming from Blaelok, that does not sound good. Corina and Blaelok make arrangements for getting Christine to Blaelok once she's been picked up, and the Blaelok's leave. He pauses at the door, to assure Corina that her "security people will recover, don't worry." Oops.

Soon after, one of the Corina's security entourage tells her she might want to take a look at the tridee. A newscast is describing the aftermath of what they describe as a "fusillade" on level 2. There's blood on the sidewalk, but no bodies, so it's kind of confusing. What happened was that Christine saw a group of unknown men coming down the street, and looking in the direction of her apartment, so she started shooting at them (okay, so she's paranoid - but they really were out to get her). Jack, et al draw weapons and return fire.

Right after the broadcast, Corina's phone rings - it's Jack. "The cat's in the bag." Corina tells him where to take her, and Jack say he'll "try". Corina wants to if they need a pick up, and Jack says "I've got four men down, and two walking wounded, including myself." Jack is not sounding good, and is having difficulty telling Corina where they are. She calls over the Ling-Standard security guy, and tells him to trace the cell phone call. He asks if it's Jack, she says yes, and he tells her they can track Jack by his company transponder. Back up and medical assistance is on it's way.

Corina is left alone in her hospital room, and the phone rings. It's Black: "I hope for your sake, she's all right." Click.

This is the kind of situation that can only end badly - probably with a gunshot (s).