73 - 1122.

Corina remains in Regina Trauma Center, recovering from her scalding and burns. She may eventually need to be transported to Regina General on Down Port for skin grafting, as the replacement skin will need to be regrown. She has to go first to get the preliminaries done so that can be done.

Ghaer has been attending classes at the University, in his pursuit of wisdom. Well, at least knowledge, which could lead to wisdom. Or something. While not boinking Krin. Khirrll is another matter.

Nicolai attempts to purchase an interest in the Bread and Bean, and discovers that the owner is a female Aslan, and her Martel partner. Evidently the Aslan does not take kindly to the "superior Solomani" in the area, and will have nothing to do with Nicolai's offer. The Martel is a bit more receptive, but the result is the same, once the Aslan glares at him. So Nicolai goes on with the tea drinking and poetry reading.

There may be a problem with the Dirk Savage film production, as Dirk has evidently disappeared. Rumor has it that he's left planet.

Mikie has not yet delivered the Vermeer to Black from Blaelok, when Blaelok calls him. He's glad the painting has not yet been delivered, as he has something much more valuable for Black. He asks Mikie to bring the painting to a meeting at the Bread and Bean.

Corina is released from Regina General, after the skin graft prelims have been done. She has some temporary syntheskin, and will be wearing gloves for now, but she's out of the hospital at any rate. Then she takes the shuttle Up Port, and goes to the Ambassadore to see Stern. She calls him from the lobby (as opposed to just bursting in, a la Stern).

Ghaer has, of course, seen the papers, with their coverage of Corina's most recent brush with death. And which version depends on which of the NewsFaxes you read - the Times writes about a third attempted assassination, the Tattler about the secret clinic and the Droyne skin transplant to correct Corina's disfigurement, and Free Thoughts goes on about the conspiracy of silence, and what really caused the fire Corina's attempt to destroy evidence linking her to the late Duke Norris Aledon - photos of her mother with Duke Norris (who was Corina's father, really?).

As Nicolai sits in the Bread and Bean, waiting for something bad to come to him, Blaelok walks in. Nicolai knows Blaelok is still pretending to be a shiny happy person, so he just says hello. Blaelok is trying to be all bright and happy, and he does have the blank look, but the smile has gone back to being a grimace again. Greetings are exchanged, in a polite, Solomani sort of way, and Blaelok sits down at a table.

Corina gets past Stern's secretary, and speaks directly with the man, who, when asked if he is "free", replies "As free as I want to be", and throws out everyone in the room. Corina goes up to his suites, and awaits his appearance, which is not long in coming. Stern inquires about Corina's "paws", and asks if she wants his doctors to take a look at her. No, but she does tell him she knows who was behind the latest attempt on her life, and perhaps one of the others. Has Stern had his room swept recently, and does he trust his security people? Hell yes, and it was swept only an hour ago. They have had food brought in recently, so that's kind of suspect, so they decide to go elsewhere. Corina suggests they go to her club (the Jasmine Club), which is NOT bugged.

They get into Stern's car (if you can call it that). Corina gets a boost up, as it's Stern's newest acquisition, and it's from Terrainasaurus (sort of a Hummer on steroids). No one gets in their way for long. It's not a really speedy ride, but Stern does keep taking his hands off the steering wheel to gesture, and he's not really watching the road. They arrive at the Jasmine Club with no actual problems.

Into the Jasmine Club. It's lunchtime, and Black is there, and on the phone. He hangs up, walks deliberately by Corina's table, and smiles at her on his way out. Corina believes Black is pleased because he has Dirk, believing that she is more fond of Dirk than she really is. Corina and Gerhardt have lunch, and she is somewhat curious as to why he's been so solicitous towards her. He feels that they are of a similar type of people - doers. Corina tells Stern that some of the things she's "done", and this is causing some problems. Stern feels she should just have anyone who is giving her trouble she should just have taken care of. She's concerned that her having the head of Regina Security whacked would not look very good. Stern offers to get rid of the "little weasel" for her, but she discourages this. She tells him that she's broken off with Dirk, mostly because of her concern for his safety, and it might not be "safe" for Stern to even have lunch with her; he's not concerned, as people have tried to get rid of him repeatedly (eight times by rocket launcher vs. his car). But that's all minor, as he's interested in business.

Stern needs some one with Corina's style and looks and know how to "charm" the nobles. He had Mark Bach for a while, and "a useless ball of fluff he turned out to be". Stern wants some one who won't let their morals get in the way of profit. SternMetal has, for some unknown reason, a bad reputation in some circles, and Corina would be very useful to help sway local nobles and populace as well. Stern is perfectly willing to actually spend money to make money, and "contribute" to the planet, as an alternative to spending the money on bribes and security forces. He realises that Corina is in one of those life stages where she actually feels she needs to do something for the "little people", but she hasn't lost her business "edge". Not on Regina, of course, it's not really the best place to be right now. But it's Corina's "planet, and [her] people". Right. Stern wants Corina because she will also tell him when she thinks he's wrong, as she doesn't seem to have any problems expressing her opinion. She'll think about it, and he promises to "take care of" the little Regina Security problem. She's not too keen on that, but does tell him she may need help from his security people, as hers have been damaged. Ah, "you've broken your toys, and now you want to play with mine?" No problem - he writes his personal number on a linen napkin, just in case. Then he leaves.

At the Bread and Bean, Ghaer is showing some fellow students what real coffee tastes like, and LaBland comes in, and sits down by Blaelok, who starts acting all shiny and happy again. LaBland stands up, looks at his shoe, puts his foot up on a chair and has Blaelok polish his shoe. As he leaves, he absentmindedly pats Ghaer on the head. And then LaBland brushes up against Mikie, who's just entering the restaurant, "copping a feel" on the way by. Mikie doesn't do anything, except want to kill him. [arrrggh] Blaelok waves Mikie over, offers to buy him a hot cocoa. Blaelok's having one, and it has little marshmallows on it. Mikie declines, and sits down. Blaelok puts his fingers to his forehead, and says "I sense you're not having a good day?" Mikie responds with "I sense you're trying to develop a sense of humour; it doesn't suit you." Oooh. Blaelok tells Mikie that he's found a better peace offering for Black - "a how do I put it, a 'gem of Regina' has come into my possession, and as I know it's something Mr. Black would appreciate, I thought I would pass it on to him." Then he decides to tell Mikie what is really going on - about Corina sending her "thugs" after Christine, etc. Mikie is shocked, and thinks Corina must be nuts. Apparently Christine was slightly injured, but nothing the Solomani doctors couldn't handle, and she is now enjoying the hospitality of the Solomani Consulate, and Blaelok thinks she's currently having tea with Pamela. Mikie would rather not think about that. Ever. Blaelok takes back the tube containing the Vermeer, and makes a comment about knowing a "certain Imperial Admiral who will like this." Mikie agrees to pass on the message to Black, and leaves to do so, with one of Blaelok's old Consul card, for the contact phone number.

Mikie goes to a phone booth, calls the contact number he has for Regina Security, and tells the person who answers that he has information on something Mr.Black is looking for. Mikie is told to stay where he is (like that's a surprise), and a car will be sent. Just to make sure, the door to the phone booth automatically locks shut. A car pulls up, the door unlocks, and a couple of Black's goons get out. Another trip to the big grey building with no windows. Mikie is escorted to Black's office, (there's some one screaming for mercy nearby...) and waits a few minutes before Black himself shows up. Black walks up to Mikie, says "I hear you have some information for me?", and grabs Mikie by the throat (very efficiently, and quite painful). Mikie carefully extracts Blaelok's card from his pocket, and shows it to Black. Black takes the card, and slowly releases Mikie (breathing is good). Black looks at the card and says "I see". Mikie tells him he has a message for him, and gives Black the full message from Blaelok (i.e., Christine, Corina, what she wanted Blaelok to do with Christine, etc.). Black wants Mikie to make arrangements, and Mikie borrows Black's phone and calls Blaelok. Claire answers the phone, and then Mikie speaks with Blaelok. Black takes the phone, speaks with Blaelok, and they arrange to meet at the park, in the maze in the English garden section, at 10:00 pm tonight. Black is only willing to listen to Blaelok after he sees that Christine is all right.

To make sure that Christine is all right, and hasn't been "tampered with", Black wants Mikie to come along, and check her out. "You can do that, correct?" There's a bit of an implied threat there (okay, so it's a flipping overt threat), so Mikie tells him he thinks he can, as he knows what Blaelok read like when he had been scrubbed. So the meeting is arranged, and Mikie gets to leave, but Black sends several men with Mikie to make sure "nothing happens" to him. Oh joy.

Nicolai gets a phone call from Mr. LaBland, who would like to speak with him about a job. They arrange to meet when LaBland goes jogging at 2:00 pm that afternoon, in the park. Nicolai shows up in his jogging togs, and off they go. LaBland, it turns out, is kind of concerned about Mr. Blaelok modification job not having been as thorough as it should have been, as it was somewhat rushed. So, he wants Nicolai as a bodyguard, just in case Blaelok goes off or something. After all, Blaelok was a psychopath, and could be capable of anything. LaBland knows that Nicolai's background means that he's one of those people who can kill some one, if necessary. Nicolai stops jogging, and LaBland stops too. Nicolai makes a comment about Blaelok's scrub being unauthorized, but LaBland says no way - he had the authorization of "the Ambassador, and if she didn't have it, that's her problem." (Ah, more interesting info for Nicolai to use later?) Nicolai informs LaBland that if he believes Blaelok may "come back", or whatever, Nicolai's advice is to "run". As far, and as fast as possible. And there's no way that Nicolai is going to take this job, as he's not stupid, and has already figured out that all LaBland wants is some one deniable to whack Blaelok. Not. LaBland tries threatening Nicolai with telling people who have ill will towards Nicolai where he is. Nicolai is not impressed. Been done. They part company, LaBland not realizing just how ticked off Nicolai gets about this hiring a Solomani to kill another Solomani thing.

During Nicolai and LaBland's little run, they passed the rock garden, where the Sengi were playing. It was an incredible game of J'la, at the sixth level, and the last move brought sighs from the observers at it's perfection. So good was the game that Joe Lee was floating two feet in the air, and was drawn into such a state of Zen completeness that he started to see things beyond the patterns, and through them, flashes of people, perhaps things some one or some force was trying to show him...and then some one poked him.

Mikie has been informed by a Weseli, and a couple of other sources, that Corina may be in for a surprise, and that her father wasn't who she thinks. Evidently the photo of her mother and Duke Norris may not be a fake after all! Other than that, all Mikie has to do is not explain the two minders to Theresa. "Just ignore us and go on with whatever you would normally do." Oh sure, no problem. Sigh. Mikie makes dinner, and feeds the two security guys too.

Corina spends time working at the Foundation, and then goes to the Ducal estates. The main bedroom (Freddie never used it, so no one has since Norris). Corina spends some time checking out the secret passages, and finds an old section with two metal cases, very dusty, with metal locks on them, and some mice. After she goes to bed, she's forced to listen to some damned cat yowelling in the secret passageway, but she ignores it. Otherwise, she'll have the cat there every night, expecting to be let in.

The magic hour arrives, and Mikie goes with Mr. Black and some of his men. Blaelok's voice tells them to enter the maze, and Black answers that he better not be jerking him around. They head off into the maze, where they wander around a bit until Black gets tired of the "stupid fucks" leading them down the wrong section, and has Mikie take the lead. As Mikie used to work in the park, he walks over and pivots the secret section that goes directly to the middle, where Blaelok, Pamela, and Christine are waiting. Black has Mikie check out Christine, who is currently thinking unkind thoughts about Pamela's dress and breast size. Well, that certainly sounds like Christine is her normal self. Christine then bounces over to her dear brother. Black wonders out loud why he needs Blaelok, now that he has Christine?

Blaelok convinces Black that perhaps it would be in his best interest to reconsider. After all, they have a common problem in Corina. All Blaelok wants is to be on Regina unmolested, and he could be of some use to Black, especially once Corina knows she's been betrayed. Black agrees that Blaelok can wander around Up Port, with Black's blessing, for now.

Black agrees that something defintely needs to be done with Corina, and perhaps it's time for a more permanent solution. Some one close to her, perhaps, Blaelok suggests, "the Vargr? After all, they're so unstable." He and Black bandie about comments on the SuSAG Vargr experiments (hyper-fur, etc.)and how that can be used. Blaelok and Pamela depart, as Black will take care of things for now.

Mikie is not pleased that they are obviously planning on setting Ghaer up for Corina's murder, and he tells Black that Ghaer is no longer around Corina, since he was there only for Victoria. Black isn't buying it and wants to know where Ghaer and Mikie's "Russian friend" would be? Nicolai, obviously, who Black is planning on using as the man who shows up too late to save the Governor, but in time to kill her assassin. Mikie is trying to find some way to get Black to not use Ghaer, and Black eventually does say that if Mikie doesn't want Ghaer used, he will have to come up with a substitute for Black to use. Some one who has the motive, and the opportunity, and he'll have to figure out who by tomorrow night (24 hours). Mikie tells Black that he may need help with the opportunity, but he knows some one who has had several run ins with Corina, and would be perfect: Khan Zephes. Black thinks this is interesting, and Khan may certainly be used as a patsy at a later point, but for now, Black doesn't know where he is. So Mikie has 24 hours to come up with a substitute. Or Khan? Mikie will work on it (he's determined to find Khan). Before he leaves, Mikie tells Christine he's glad she's all right. Christine gives Mikie a hug and a kiss (and a grope, but that's okay, it's Christine), and Mikie leaves, taking a different route than the main one. When Black and his party leave, Nicolai (who's been wandering through the park) sees them leave the maze, but he's not close enough to see who they are. Oh well, just the locals.

Mikie calls home to let Theresa know he'll be out late, but the phone is busy. He stops at one of the public restrooms to any signs of lipstick, etc. (so as not to unduly upset Theresa), and then goes home to tell her. And to make sure she's okay. Then it's back out on the streets for some hunting, and maybe to shake a few Weasels.

74 - 1122

Corina gets a call from a reporter for the Times, extremely early in the morning. Seems he's at the front gate, and wants to speak with her about a story they are going to run that morning, as it concerns her. She agrees to see him, and he tells her that they've discovered information that proves she's not only related to the late Duke Norris - she's his daughter. And they've done genetic testing to prove it. "Any comments?"

Corina asks the marines who are in the room if this man was let in without being searched, and they say no, that he was checked for weapons. "But he did not have permission to bring in that recording device," she points out. Oh dear. He didn't ask permission. The recording device is stomped on rather professionally, but Corina does instruct the marines to not harm the reporter when he is escorted out.

The Times runs the article, with a side note on the reporter having been beaten up by Corina's "goons", along with a picture of the reporter, all beaten up. Of course, it could be an old picture

Corina goes into the secret chamber, and opens the metal boxes. She finds love letters and other mementos of Norris' dalliances, sort of separated out by individual. And yes, her Mom's in there. This should be an interesting bit of news for the Ling family...