A fronte precipitum, a tergo lupus.

< A precipice before, a wolf behind. >

74 - 1122.

Corina has to go to the Times offices to disperse the angry mob of Red Shirts and other faithfuls, who gathered around the offices after the inflammatory article about Corina was published. She managed to calm them down enough so they would not actually use the torches. How traditional.

The other important Times story is about the escape of the three assassins who were awaiting trial. Some how they got guns in the courtroom, and escaped, killing a judge, six bystanders, and several police officers. Four other police officers were wounded. One of the dead officers was killed when he was just walking past the building.

Corina goes to see Behrel, about acquiring certain items of a Sengi nature. Behrel goes to see Steiner, who is currently on Regina. He needs a couple of kelaeir, and a few Sengi to assist with a matter of honor; he asks this as one who is held in esteem by the Kaesthra. Steiner asks how many he wants (hoping not all of them - 100,000 Sengi on Up Port would be bad, briefly), and Behrel explains that a person involved in this affair of honor might be inclined to "cheat", which is why he wants Sengi - you can't bribe them, and you can't threaten them off. Well, that would definitely describe the Sengi. Behrel figures ten would be adequate, and a couple of extra kelaeir. Steiner agrees, but asks if the "potential 'cheater' is the sort who might show up with extra people, or will set some one up on the top balcony of Clairidges to blow people's heads off?" Behrel thinks about this for a moment, then says "Yes. Better make that twenty." Ah. Steiner agrees, but since she does not know exactly who this affair involves, she tells Behrel that this is now a matter of his honor. Behrel agrees, and states he's concerned that one of the parties will not behave honorably, but that his "friend" will. Steiner asks if the reason Behrel wants to 'borrow' some Sengi, is to ensure that all parties behave honorably? Since the answer is yes, Steiner will make sure her men know precisely what they are to do. Behrel will let Steiner know when and where. Interesting. Steiner goes to speak with her Sengi.

Viktor is on Regina to make contact with Ghaer, who he hopes will help contact Katya. Before he is able to do this, Viktor receives a diplomatic pouch containing twenty Imperial warrants for the arrest of people known to be on Regina (or at least to normally reside there), who are wanted for crimes against the Imperium (i.e., crimes on multiple planets, piracy, etc.). Nineteen of the warrants are no one Viktor knows, but the twentieth is one Katya Androchev. Bugger. Viktor goes to see Commissioner Globber. Globber will naturally see him, as Viktor is important (although not an attractive female), so he shoos out the young, attractive female in the short skirt. Viktor shows Globber the nineteen warrants, and then tells Globber that there is one warrant that requires somewhat more "delicate handling", and gives him Katya's warrant. Globber is fairly quick to jump to his little conclusions as to what Viktor wants, but Viktor does eventually get across that all he wants to do is speak with Katya before the authorities are involved, as he hopes to convince her to turn herself in. Not a problem. Globber calls in Detective Weseli, introduces him to Viktor, has him give Viktor his card. Once Viktor has had his little conversation, he can call the detective, who Globber will brief later.

Viktor then goes to Regina University, to find Ghaer. He checks at the Registrar's office, and after he explains that he and Ghaer have been working on a project together, he is told (since he's obviously an Imperial officer - although the person in the office calls him Captain, and thinks he's in the navy...) where Ghaer is. He locates the classroom, and waits outside for Ghaer. After the class lets out, Viktor waits for Ghaer to finish his notes, and then says hello. Ghaer asks "So, what are we looking for?" "The same as before." He shows Ghaer the warrant for Katya, which lists charges of piracy, assault, murder, interference with commerce, theft, arson, nonpayment of taxes, unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, etc., etc., etc.. Viktor wants Ghaer to round up an extra person or two, and the tracker (it's in a drawer somewhere...), and Viktor will go with the group. Viktor will also buy Ghaer lunch, as he's done with classes for the day. They go to the Escargot d'Or.

Once safely surrounded by sound dampers, they discuss Katya. Viktor doesn't actually know his sister, and he certainly doesn't approve of her choice of lifestyle, but he wants to help her if he can. Ghaer tells him that he'll help, but he doesn't know how closely Viktor wants to get involved, due to Katya's connection with a "black op". Viktor doesn't know what Ghaer means, so he tells him it involves the near destruction of Leighton's anti-piracy league, and all that mess, after asking if Viktor was absolutely sure he wants to know, and yes, he is. Ghaer doesn't know exactly who was involved, but he gives Viktor at least an idea of the mess, that started with a carefully orchestrated set up of Leighton. Ghaer and Katya were able to give some assistance to Leighton's people, and warn them of the pirate ambush, but then the black ships showed up. And it got ugly. Escape pods were targeted, individuals in vac suits were targeted - all the possible survivors. It involved the Cross of St. Andrew, and Carl Petrov (a shipping magnate, with a certain taint of 'naughtiness') was involved (Note: this is just prior to the keeping of game notes. Sorry.), but no one is really positive how, except that he was after the Cross. Nothing in this is necessarily going to help Katya, as nothing can be really proved, but Viktor needs to know that Katya believed the black ships were Imperial Navy, so she's not going to react well to an Imperial uniform. The first order of business is to find Katya.

Mikie had been convinced by Theresa to not go out hunting for whoever until after dinner and sleep. He has to go to work at D.S. any way, so he makes a couple of calls to shake the Weasels up a bit, see if they can locate Khan. Word is that he's spending a lot of quality time with Kelly from MilTech. The Weseli goes to watch Kelly's apartment, to see if Khan's there, and there will be some money in it for him. Meanwhile, Mikie tries to figure out who could be used as a backup patsy, in case Khan can't be found in time, since Ghaer is currently the other option. Maybe the guy in Black's group who Blaelok has programmed? Blaelok told Mikie what the guy's command codes were at the Consular fete, but that was after he backed himself up, so he doesn't remember that Mikie knows. This could be useful, especially if it can be used to implicate LaBland.

Out of time line note: on day 73, early evening, Blaelok had called Corina to ask what she wanted programmed into Christine. She wanted a command-triggered compulsion to commit suicide. Blaelok agrees. But did he do it? Did he have the time? Did he even intend to do it?

Jack will recover, although he was shot eleven times. Ouch. Nice grouping. He's not going to be available right away, but at least he'll be okay. This means Corina can't ask Jack to help her acquire something she's after. Something of a very interesting nature...

Dirk has not yet turned up, so who knows where he is. Corina goes to the Foundation office, to wade through the stuff on her desk. Corina is struck by the fact that Randi Kyle, who's working for the Foundation, really looks like some one Corina has seen earlier, but she can't figure out where. On the other hand, Corina realizes she'd been looking at all those photos, and sure enough, there's a picture of Norris with some one who is evidently Randi's mother. She tells Randi that since the latest attempt on her life, she wants to make sure that Randi knows how to access everything she would need in the event of Corina's untimely demise. And she tells Randi that there is also an envelope addressed to her, in the safe, and she'll know when to open it. It's one of the "in the case of my death" kind of letters. What Corina doesn't tell Randi is what's in the envelope, which is the photos and letters relating to Randi's mother and Norris. Corina has sent her mother's incriminating material to her mother, care of her uncle who's on Regina, with a note: How could you? Norris???

Corina calls Blaelok to ask how his guest is coming along. "Quite nicely. Everything is proceeding according to plan." C: "And what about Mr. LaBland?" B: "I'll be taking care of that shortly." C: "But aren't you on a short timetable?" B: "Only relatively." C: "But you are making progress?" B: "It's a bit early, but the subject is already emotionally unstable, so there is quite a bit to work with. How soon do you need her?" C: "The night of the opera - didn't you say you needed a date?" B: "Ah yes, and I have the box next to Black's. I tried to get Black's, as it's the best seat, but..." So that's settled.

Corina then gets a delivery from Pharmacopoeia. It's a small box, with what she ordered. It's not exactly what she wanted originally, but that's not easily available now that the Imperium is back, so she had to settle for something from the "next level down". Hmmm.

Corina receives Viktor, who is there to do the official meet and greet thing, and sort of check in, and let her know about the warrants he gave to Globber. Corina is fine with some of the locals being rounded up, as it could only help. Corina wants Viktor to make sure that the Imperial personnel on Regina are aware that things are rather unsettled on Regina. Her concern is that, after the mob scene she had to diffuse at the Times, should she be killed or severely injured again, the Red Shirts and other might go right off, and she wants the marines to be on alert, and not just "wandering around drunk". Viktor assures her he will take care of this, and when he returns to his people, he makes sure his officers are aware of the situation, and go out in groups of no less than three, and in uniform, but not in class As, as that would involve red shirts.... Good thought.

It's quiet for a while. Corina does not hear anything from Black. Not a peep from the big grey building with no windows. On the other hand, some people in white robe-like things start appearing amongst her Red Shirts. Such fun.

Behrel contacts Samantha Telford, to contract her services as an assassin. He doesn't want to take any chances, so he wants her to kill the remaining Solati brother. Just in case. It will be expensive, but Behrel has the money, and Samantha accepts the contract.

Ghaer shows up at D.S., and asks if Mikie is available to takes care of some "unfinished business"? What now, for heaven's sake? It's Katya. Oh that. Ghaer wants some help, as Katya is probably in Old Port, and Ghaer has more problems with that since he's gotten all fuzzy. Ghaer looks up at the tridee behind the bar just in time to see a news flash about the people rounded up by the IBI - including Katya. Damn. Ghaer calls Viktor and tells him, then Globber calls Viktor to tell him the same thing. She's currently being held in the local jail, as the I.B.I. does not yet have their own facilities on Regina. Viktor decides that since Ghaer and Katya are potential witnesses to a naval matter, maybe he can use that to get Katya out of their hands. He wants Ghaer to meet him at the local lockup, and bring whoever he was going to bring to pick up Katya. Viktor decides to use the old Imperial embassy, and to send some Imperial marine police to the lockup with orders to have Katya Androchev turned over to their custody. This is not going to be well received.

Corina also finds out about the I.B.I.'s little op, as they are quite proud of themselves. Besides, they only had two agents on Regina at this point, and one of them is a public relations officer. Black may not be too pleased about this going on without his knowledge. Yet one more thing to make him unhappy.

Viktor will have to go along with the MPs, as he has the rank to maybe make this work. He still wants Ghaer to be at the detention center, just in case. Mikie asks Ghaer if still needs him to go along, and Ghaer says no. Mikie then tells Ghaer that "there's a lot of stuff going on right now, so be careful." Ghaer asks if he's worried about Theresa, but Mikie says "right now I'm worried about you." Ghaer raises an eyebrow about this, and asks if from whom? "For now, assume everyone." "Is it local or off-planet?" "Let's just say that it's people currently on planet." Ghaer will be careful, and off he goes.

Viktor, et al arrive, and he sends in some of the MPs to make certain that the prisoners are "alive, and are currently only answering questions of a nonmilitary nature". The MPs can't wait - they almost never get to do anything. Viktor is not certain exactly how to do this, but here goes nothing. He demands to see the agent in charge, who turns out to be Senior Agent in Charge Rawlings. Viktor tells him that he has information that one of the prisoners has information of a military import. Rawlings says "Really? And which prisoner would that be? Let me guess - Katya Androchev? Androchev, gee that's a really familiar name isn't it, General Androchev? What a fucking coincidence! She wouldn't happen to be related to you? You wouldn't be trying to improperly use your position to interfere with an official investigation, would you? Because then I'd have to complain to your superiors!" Viktor is told he can see the prisoner once she's been processed. Period. Viktor wants an MP present during all questioning, but is told Rawlings will think about it. Viktor informs Rawlings that he will be held responsible for the safety and well being of all the prisoners. Rawlings is not impressed by Viktor's concern for the "scum", and he slams the door on Viktor. Viktor orders the MPs to make certain at least one Marine is present for all questioning. Then he needs to find out if there's some way to do this other than the hard way, and he calls one of the Adjutant General's officers, explaining that this is about military security. They will try to find a sympathetic judge to get her transferred into military custody.

Ghaer has remained at the station, and hears the I.B.I. guys discussing Androchev's little problem. Rawlings wants to find out more about Androchev, and see if he's got any interesting local people he's pissed off that could be useful. And they're going to prepare a press release about Androchev's abuse of power.

Viktor decides he needs to let somebody in on what is going on, so he speaks with some one in the JAG office. He tells him that Katya is apparently his sister, although he only recently found that out. The JAG officer advises Viktor that this being the case, Viktor should withdraw from the matter immediately, to avoid any hint of wrongdoing. And he does have to ask, to make sure that's not what Viktor has in mind. No. Viktor is concerned about her, as she is family, but she has to answer for her actions. His main concern is the information she may have with regard to an incident involving the local anti-piracy league. And he leaves it to the JAG officer.

The JAG officer, since the holding facility is actually a local facility, contacts the Governor. Corina understands, and decides that there's obviously a problem with jail overcrowding, and orders Katya Androchev, and a couple of the local prostitutes released. This is made so. "And tell Viktor he's welcome." The officer gives Corina a bottle of Narcoleth, from the General, with his compliments - although it has nothing to do with the current discussion! So, Katya briefly thinks she's getting off, and then goes directly into the waiting arms of the SPs - and off to the Agamemnon, an Imperial Naval ship. As a former pirate, she'd really like to go back to the I.B.I.!!!

Viktor does get the opportunity to see Katya, although via camera, during part of her interrogation on board the Agamemnon. The navy interrogation team is playing bad cop - bad cop, and showing her pictures of her victims, asking if she remembers them, telling her which ones "remember you" (the living ones, that is), etc., etc. As they have the luxury of just sending in replacements when they get tired, they eventually wear Katya down to the point of making and signing a confession. It's not like she really had any options once she was in their hands, and she really was a pirate.

Meanwhile, Corina sits at her desk, wearing her naval academy ring, chatting up the JAG officer. They have a lovely time discussing the people from the Academy, etc., etc. Finally, a friendly conversation. And he is kind of cute. Tall, aristocratic, blue eyes, looks like a candidate for a recruiting poster. He asks if she's happy to get a rest now that the general's on his way? Excuse me? Turns out General Collingwood (John Fitzpatrick Collingwood, known to his men as "Tiger") is en route to take over for Corina, not that she knew this, but the officer evidently thinks this is good news, as he understands "things have been rather rough here lately". Oh. He extends Captain Jellicoe's invitation to dine with him on his ship, but she declines. This is certainly interesting news.

Corina calls Black, and asks to meet her in the park, in the Italian formal garden at 3:00 pm. To discuss his sister. Black agrees. Corina sends written invitations to the following people, same place, same time: Behrel, the Sengi, Viktor, Ghaer, Globber, Mr. White, Uncle Ling, Mr. Blaelok, and Mr. Stern. Most of these people have no clue what the hell this is about, and come at least partially out of curiosity.

Steiner has come with her men, and the twenty with Behrel are in full armor, horned helmets and all. Steiner is in uniform, but not full armor, and is just there to observe. Her men figured out it's a duel, as did Steiner, and they immediately set to picking the proper ground. Steiner tells them to pick the ground, and set the circle, so when people start to arrive, they see an outward-facing circle of large men in black armor, with pointy bits. This does not perhaps bode well? Steiner has set some of her people, not in the obvious armor, to make sure that any snipers (or whatever) are taken care of quietly.

Ten minutes before 3:00 pm, Corina's secretary has instructions to call the press to tell them there is a big story in the park, and the location, and to bring tridee.

At the park, Corina takes Black off to one side, after Black asks what this is about. She tells him that Blaelok has programmed his sister to kill herself if given a command code, and Corina knows it. As long as Black doesn't harm Jack, or Dirk, or Victoria, Corina won't use it. Of course, he might be somewhat concerned about Blaelok knowing... Black tells her that he and Blaelok have come to an understanding, and he waves to Christine on the balcony. Black does not intend to duel with Corina, especially in public, and with the press there, but he's given to understand that he has no choice in the matter, as Corina has led him into the circle, and the Sengi have instructions to not allow the participants out of the circle until the duel is over. And so it begins.

Black tries to talk Corina out of it, as they are drawing the proffered blades, but it's no good. Black has absolutely no blade skill, so he doesn't even bother using the sword. He does, however, have a very high level of unarmed combat, plus his wild psionic ability that makes him hard to focus on. When Corina realizes this, she covertly uses the auto-injector of Combat she was saving for later. It is very unpleasant. Blood, from Black, internal bleeding from Corina. Both eventually lapse into unconsciousness. Some of the members of the group watching want to intervene, but Steiner will not allow it. After a few minutes, they both slowly regain consciousness, and go at it again. Once more, it is a nasty piece of work, especially after Black puts out one of Corina's eyes. After a couple of minutes, they lose consciousness again. Viktor is really concerned about all this, and asks Steiner about the situation. She informs him that it was at the request of Behrel (favored by the Kaesthra, etc.), and on behalf of the Governor, so it's on her head. Well then.

Steiner looks up at the balcony Christine was on, and she's not there. Oh-oh. She shows up charging the circle, in full scream. Steiner orders her stopped, but not killed." One of the Sengi steps up, and punches Christine in the side of the head. She drops like a rock. The Sengi picks her up, takes her pulse, and tells Steiner that "she lives". Once again the duelists regain consciousness. The fight is on again, and Corina's other eye is hit, so now she's blind. Corina takes a stance with kelaeir in hand, and waits for Black to make a move. Black disengages, and stays away from her temporarily, while holding on to his side (near where his appendix would be), although he does not appear to be bleeding as profusely as one might have expected. The Red Shirts who have been arriving, don't much like the situation, and one of them yells out Black's location to Corina. This is not kosher, so Steiner gives the word, and the individual suddenly sprouts a full kelaeir. Dead center, nice hit. The Sengi leaves the circle, which closes up to cover his location until he returns with his weapon. The Red Shirts then start chanting "Corina, Corina!" That's fine, although it's inhibiting Corina's ability to hear Black move. It's getting unpleasant, and some of the Red Shirts are starting to rile up the mob to advance toward the circle. Steiner contacts the Sengi out on the edge, telling them to backup the circle. So when the mob advances forward, and the members of the circle fix position and start singing death songs, a few of the leaders are very neatly shot (no one is hit who is not intended to be hit). Then Black picks up the kelaeir, and lops off Corina's hand. And the mob surges forward.

Fortunately, Viktor has already suggested to Globber that he have the gravs turned off, so all of a sudden the lights go out, and the gravs cut off. About five minutes later, the lights come on, and the gravs come back on, much higher than before. Most people in the park are crushed to the ground, and Globber is spread out like a really big fried egg. He desperately calls on his phone to "turn the damned gravs down!!!" Then the gravs come on and Corina is gone! All except for her hand, which is still in the circle. Sigh. The Red Shirts are dispersing already, and one of them reverently retrieves Corina's hand. Steiner tells the still standing Black that his sister is all right, just unconscious, and he really should sit down. Then she formally discharges her duty to Behrel, gathers her people, and leaves. The Sengi are sent off to the ship, and Steiner goes to join her liege-lord, who is playing j'la.

Since the Governor has vanished (or been "taken up", or some damned thing), the president of the senate, Senator Rutledge, is sworn in as governor. Viktor speaks with him, and Rutledge declares martial law. People have an hour to get to their homes, before the curfew takes effect. Viktor calls in his marines, working with Rutledge and Globber, to make sure everything is done by the book. Viktor is asked what they should do about the Sengi camped out in the Japanese garden, since they don't seem to be into the spirit of the curfew. Viktor assigns some of his marines to guard the local populace against the Sengi. Steiner speaks with the Captain of the Marine unit, and suggests that should he need anything, it might be best for him to speak with Steiner. The Captain understands, and he has been briefed. He then asks Steiner "Is that barbecue?" Naturally, it is. Steiner speaks with her lord, who of course arranges for half of something on a spit, and beer to be provided. The beer is delivered to the Captain, and he can distribute it when and if he sees fit, since the Marines are on duty. This quickly becomes the choice assignment, and Viktor makes sure that it rotates.

Sometime later, Corina regains consciousness, to a certain degree. There are bandages over her eyes, and a gentle voice nearby. "I found it." Then right by her: " Rest now. You are safe and among friends." Then a feeling of cold, and unconsciousness.

75 to 79 - 1122.

Things actually stay pretty peaceful during the curfew, which is gradually relaxed. Senator Rutledge is enjoying the power he's come into, giving orders, and such. Once the daytime curfew is done away with, Steiner asks to speak with Rutledge. She wants to make sure he understands what went on in the park with regard to the Sengi's involvement. Rutledge has evidently been well briefed about the Sengi, so he very carefully does not make eye contact with Steiner, and complements her on her Galanglic. Sigh. "Thank you, so I've been told." She compliments Rutledge on his manners, but explains that since she is not a Var-Sengi lord, he can look directly at her. Steiner explains that they were there at the request of the Governor, to ensure that the integrity of dueling circle was maintained. It was a matter of honor. And they had absolutely nothing to do with Corina's disappearance. Rutledge asks if Steiner believes there is any possibility that Corina is still alive? Steiner says that Corina was alive when the lights went out, and there's no body, so Steiner is positive Corina is alive. Rutledge kind of mutters "Damn!" under his breath.

Corina mostly wakes up several times, and there are always people near by to help her eat or drink or move. Her right hand is somewhat shaky, and hurts to move... Her right hand??? Evidently it's been reattached. Interesting. She wakes up sometime later, and there are voices again, and light? Bandages are removed from her face, and she can see light, but it's too bright yet to focus. One of the voices admires the blue eyes, "very fetching. And an excellent job, no one will ever recognize her." Corina is too drugged to really be able to recognize the voices, or what's going on, and then she drifts off again.

One of the perks of declaring martial law is that the people enforcing it can pretty much do what they want, so a concentrated effort results in the apprehension (so to speak) of two of the three escaped assassins. One was killed while trying to escape, and the other, although somewhat damaged, is alive. The third will be found a few days later, having been inexpertly "interrogated" to death by some unknown but evidently very unhappy person. Stern, perhaps? He has taken Corina's "death" very personally, locking himself into his hotel room and drinking heavily.

Viktor gets word that General Collingwood has arrived. Although he's now a field marshall. And he has a writ from the Archduke of Deneb appointing him as the Governor, and Duke presumptive (just needs the official word from the Emperor to make it permanent). It turns out that the new Duke knows Viktor's wife, Katerina, and he compliments Viktor on his lovely spouse. (Hey, Viktor has quite a rep for having married well.) Collingwood requests Viktor do him the favor of delivering this news to acting Governor Rutledge. Viktor does so, and Rutledge does not take it well when Viktor informs him that a new governor has been appointed. Rutledge says "So he thinks he can just waltz in her and take over? Well, we'll see about that won't we?" Then Viktor drops the other shoe by telling Rutledge that not only is Collingwood the new governor, he has an Imperial writ making him the Duke presumptive. Rutledge almost literally deflates at this news; there's no way he can do anything now.

Viktor goes back to inform the Field Marshall about Rutledge's reaction to the news. Mr. Black (not quite all better yet, and walking with a cane) is in with Collingwood, and departs shortly after Viktor arrives; he apparently has established at least a civil relationship with his new boss, and after his departure Collingwood indicates to Viktor that people like Black have their place, and he seems at least competent, even though Collingwood really isn't all that keen on spies and others of that ilk. But back to the Rutledge thing. Viktor is not exactly happy that Collingwood did not meet with Rutledge personally, as that was a definite slight, but he doesn't say anything. All becomes clearer when Collingwood comments that he "never could stomach cowards". He then explains to Viktor that Rutledge got out of Imperial service on a "medical" discharge for "combat fatigue". Ah. The fact that it was an intended insult, to "put the little coward in his place", makes it much better. A deliberate insult being preferable to the new Duke being dumb enough to do it by accident.

Collingwood then informs Viktor, after asking him to sit down, and call him "John", at least when they're in private, that he is really going to need some one with local knowledge, at least at the beginning. He apologizes to Viktor, but he's going to ask him to stay on Regina for a while, and delay moving to take over his command for a few weeks. But there is a benefit to that, "Major General". He congratulates Viktor, and pins the extra stars on him. Collingwood will need Viktor's help as a former resident of Regina, since Collingwood is not from around here. And just so Viktor doesn't get all lonely like, who should be behind the other door but the aforementioned lovely Katerina! She comes in to greet and congratulate her husband, who suspects his darling little wife has arranged this with her old school chum, to get even with Viktor for his taking a more active duty assignment. Everyone sits down to chat a bit, as they are all the right sort of people, and John and Katerina can discuss other schoolmates. Very nice and civilized.

Collingwood would like Viktor and Katerina to join him and his wife, Caroline for dinner. But since they've only just arrived, and have not settled in yet (they are currently staying at the Ambassadore), would Viktor suggest a restaurant? He suggests the Savoy Grill, and a time is set. The Androchev's meet Mrs. Collingwood, known as "Bunny" to her husband and close friends. She's more a match for Viktor, as she's not the political animal her husband and Katerina are, and is just generally a nice, friendly, somewhat 'scattered' woman. Finally - a nice person in Regina's upper echelon!! Bunny is a keeper. But then John obviously knows that already, as they have been married for twenty years, and have two children, a boy and a girl (both adopted, as they were not able to have children).

Corina wakes up. She's on a park bench in Aguilon Park, and she can see! And her hand is back on!! And a nice policeman is pointing out that there's no sleeping in the park and she should move along. Corina sits up and takes stock. She has a small suitcase, which she opens. It contains some clothing, a small makeup and toiletries case, and Imperial id - but the picture on it is not Corina's! Corina uses a mirror to check herself out, and she does look like the photo - hair is cut differently, eyes are a sapphire blue, and she appears to have been bio-sculpted. She looks good, and sort of like some one who slightly resembles Corina. Interesting. Upon further investigation, the suitcase also contains a small, easily concealable gauss gun, some money, and a ticket to the rescheduled due to curfew production of Puccini. An invitation to say good-bye to Mr. Black, perhaps?

Corina calls Jack at the hospital (Note: just because she looks different doesn't mean the vocal cords have changed!). Jack recognizes her voice, but it's not like he thought she was dead, as his friends have been protecting him from the news lest he relapse. Corina tells Jack that she's all right, but people believe her to be dead, and she'd like him to leave Regina with her, "but not as her security". Jack is somewhat confused, but of course he will go with Corina, wherever she wants. Jack is told to not raise suspicions by leaving the hospital prematurely, but they were getting ready to discharge him anyway. Corina doesn't want to take any chances, so she will only make contact with Jack when the ship they take has actually left Regina. They agree on a time to book on a liner bound for Jenghe, later in the day. Corina takes some of the time to write and mail a letter to Randi Kyle, welcoming her to "the family", and letting her know that as far as Corina knows, the stuff about Randi's mother and Norris that Corina left her are the only copies. Oh, and there is a document making Randi the head of the Foundation.

Jack, his arm in a sling, and still obviously recovering, is standing on the ship as it moves away from the station, watching Regina fade in the distance, with a rather sad look in his eyes, when a voice to his side says hello. He's rather surprised by her appearance, but it's definitely Corina. Neither of them believe Jack was followed, and no one was overly shocked that Jack had decided to leave, although Stern did call him. Corina suggests they take the conversation somewhere more private, and they go to her room. Jack has taken a medical early retirement from Ling (not too surprising, after all), so no one will be expecting him back. He's a still uncertain about what Corina has in mind for him (he keeps talking about setting up her new security and all) until she kisses him. [And this took how long to finally happen???] Jack is shocked into inaction for a few moments, but then he does respond. He has something he wants to give Corina, and he removes a chain from around his neck to give to her - it has a woman's wedding band on it (his late wife's). Corina accepts it, and asks "Does this mean that we're going steady?" Jack then tries to lift Corina up, kick the door closed, and carry her to the bed, all with one arm, and not really good balance, so it gets rather comical before they actually get to the bed, but they eventually do.

After a lovely meal, Collingwood and Viktor retire to the balcony for cigars and brandy. Collingwood takes the opportunity to "get a bit more comfortable", and removes the compact .45 from it's concealment holster in his waistband. (Looks like the boy is going to fit in just fine on Regina.) Now it's time for a conversation about Viktor's little sister. It's pretty much a given what her fate is going to be, and Viktor understands that. What Collingwood can do is make sure Viktor has the opportunity to speak with her face to face. No one actually says "to say good-bye before she's executed", but it's sort of hanging in the air. Collingwood says his goodnights, and suggests Viktor and Katerina "not rush off". He speaks with the waiter on the way out, and a bottle of champagne is delivered. The bill has also been taken care of, and the Androchev's take the champagne back to Clairidges, to practice making a sibling for Vasilli.

Jack and Corina discuss their future plans. Corina tells Jack that once she's declared dead (and her uncle is in fact working on that) he will get 10 megacredits from her will, so they will have money, although Corina does not necessarily want anything like her old lifestyle any more. Jack also received 1 megacredit as severance pay, sort of, from Ling (uncle Ling took a look at Jack's record, and decided this was some one the company needed to take care of), plus $40,000 a year in retirement benefits. Corina wants to change her name to something other than what's on the id, since that name is known to whoever 'helped' her, and she thinks that gee, if she got married, she'd have to change her name! And does Jack happen to know anyone who'd be willing to marry her? For purely security reasons, of course! Jack tells her he's loved her from the moment he first saw her, and they get the ship's captain to marry them en route. Very romantic.

Corina Ling-Raleigh is officially declared dead. Most of her "Red Shirts" will eventually find something new to do with their lives (especially since a large number of their leaders ended up shot in the head at the park earlier), and some will be absorbed into the Macenites. But some will, of course, remain loyal, and keep their vigils.

Black will recover from his injuries, but not from his ill humor, as once more he's been deprived of "closure" - no body. No real death. You can't win if some one has made off with the other team. And the occasional appearance of "Corina lives!" graffiti does not help. Christine fortunately does not hold any grudges towards the Sengi, as she really does not remember being hit (too fast). Blaelok will be very disappointed when no one shoots Black in the back of the head during Puccini, although he keeps looking towards Black's box, where Black is enjoying the opera (and where Christine is sitting bored - she hates opera).

Corina and Jack have their future ahead of them. Perhaps they will get their own ship, Corina can pilot, and Jack can be her first mate. Trips to Regina may not be part of their regular route, however, but they don't need to decide yet. They have time. And a new life to start on Jenghe, once they recover from being lei'd by giant frogs.