Guilt by association.
(Rock, hard place, frying pan, fire, etc., etc.)

82 - 1122.

There are more people on the starport mall, now that the Imperium is back, and Regina is "safer" now. To some people's point of view, at any rate. Word is also on the street about the new safe clinic - no questions asked, and good medical care (courtesy of Anders, with backup security from Reid). There's a lot of graffiti being scrubbed off the walls: "Corina lives!" "She is with us." "The time to act is now!" And "red shirts" are still a presence, albeit not as organized.

Many pictures show up of the Solomani ambassador - Veronica Lu. Many photo ops, etc. She will be expecting to speak with Mr. LaBland, but for some reason he's not available... Theresa is watching the news, and all the reports on Ambassador Lu; Theresa is taking fashion notes. Mikie sees Blaelok in the crowd of Solomani welcoming her, and he seems to have perfected the idiot grin. Nicolai has shown up for this event, being a good little Solomani and all.

Dragon decides to go to MilTech, and buy "a sack" of grenades. She wants the kind with the cartoon instructions. She runs into Nicolai, who is in the store purchasing a four-barrel boarding gun, with the standard breaching rounds. As a backup for his SURF gun, as it is very slightly more discriminate with regard to targets. Nicolai is somewhat concerned about running into one of the robots. Especially George, the "dangerous one". Then he changes his mind when he sees it, deciding to go with his demo gun instead.

Kelly offers to show Dragon the sales demo on grenades, when she asks for directions on them. It's a multimedia display, with interactive features, and the whole nine yards. Nicolai watches, just out of general interest, and asks if Dragon "has ever used grenades before?" The answer is yes, she has. It's a cool demo, and Dragon is impressed by the standard polyvalent - with fragmentation sleeve. Nicolai then asks if Dragon is planning on using them for anything specific, like "robot-hunting"? Dragon just states that "if another robot tries to run me over in a crosswalk, I'm going to be ready." Nicolai suggests one of the boarding guns as another alternative for the grenades. She decides to get both: a boarding gun and a case of grenade, and some ammo for the gun. Nicolai picks up some spare squash-heads for his demo gun - they only have two, and Kelly suggests Nicolai put in a special order so they have them available for him; he does so.

One of the other salespeople tells Kelly to change to channel six - thousands of people chanting "Corina! Corina!" outside of Regina Security. Evidently they have been convinced by a Tattler article that Corina, or her body, is being kept inside Regina Security. Mr. Black's name is being yelled, along with "traitor", and "murderer". No one inside the building can shoot out the windows at the crowd, since the big grey building has no windows. There's always a drawback - they need to get firing ports installed.

Nicolai and Dragon walk out the door, and are almost run over by several Starport police, who are heading for the riot at Regina Security. Theresa is channel surfing, and when Mikie makes her stop, they get the news on the riot, etc. Great. A general strike has also been called by dock workers, Regina Starport Authority, where some of the workers have locked themselves into the control center, and have refused to help - normally, they would be shutting bulkhead doors, and the like, but evidently they are part of Corina's little cult. Police are shutting down levels 1, 2, and 3, and are advising the inhabitants to remain in their homes. Nicolai offers Dragon an escort home, but she wants to go watch, as it looks interesting.

The news people report that the new Governor, Collingwood, and a group of marines are heading for the Starport Authority offices. The guards outside of Regina Security have gone inside, to jeers from the crowds. Some of the shipbuilders have shown up to help the mob. Several APCs, and Collingwood's car (an open, military car) pull up. An officer stands up in the car, to try to tell the crowd to disperse, and things are thrown at him. Collingwood tries to calm the mob down, and reason with it. He promises a full investigation of Corina's accusations, and her 'disappearance'. Several people in combat armor have come out of Regina Security, and are setting up a VRF gauss gun. Dragon decides to leave now. Collingwood asks them to take the weapon back in, but the mob starts yelling "It's a trap!", and a gunshot rings out. Collingwood yells "Who fired that shot???" And then the gauss gun fires into the crowd, and then stops as the crowd surges over it. The marines are standing fast, then are ordered to form up into a dragon's teeth formation, with bayonets fixed. The Regina police have shown up and are firing tear gas.

The shipbuilders have brought cutting torches with them, and are trying to force their way into Regina Security, as the marines advance. Collingwood sends some of his marines after the ringleaders with the bullhorns, right behind one of the local police in the electrified riot armor (bzzzap!!). The marines are unarmed, so the rioters can't get a hold of the weapons, but they are extremely big marines. The tear gas is so thick it's like snow in the area, and the crowd seems to be losing momentum. The marines pound their way through the crowd, grabbing the guys with bullhorns, and people start trying to flee the area. Some dive into the duck pond in Aguilon Park, startling the ducks. There are gunshots inside the Security building. The crowd is being split up into more controllable groups, and the marines are separating off the ringleaders. The Starport Authority personnel have surrendered to the police.

Collingwood goes on the air later to announce that he will investigate the grievances of the "workers", and the actions of Regina Security. Aside from the people who have been identified as having been directly responsible for assaults, the rest of the people involved will be placed on bench probation (they will not be prosecuted if they are not involved in anything else). No mention is made of the Starport Authority people.

Nicolai gets to the Solomani consulate during the mess, where they are sitting out on the balconies, drinking lemonade, and watching the locals. Veronica is charming as ever. She does inquire as to whether or not Nicolai has any idea where Mr. LaBland is, as he seems to be a bit missing. Nicolai doesn't know where he is, but he does know he was feeling threatened by something or some one.

Back at the apartment, the terminal chimes, and Mikie discovers he's been chosen for jury duty. No, no, no. Must be some sort of a mistake. Really. Please.

Veronica wants to "ferret out" the high level SolSec agent she believes is in the consulate. And she wants Nicolai's help with this. He's been here quite a while, so he "knows people". She'll be ever so grateful if he assists her... turning on those pheromones on high for a minute. Yow! Nicolai tells her that there's an entertaining local saying, that if you want to find out something, you should "shake a weasel". Then he explains that it refers to a member of the Weseli family, and she asks him to "shake his weasel". Um. There's some discussion about SolSec being part of the Solomani government picture, but whoever is in the consulate is showing "dangerously independent" thinking. Nicolai will look into it for her.

Black is being plastered all over the newsfaxes and tridee. He has become the most talked about man on Regina, and it bothers some people that they know practically nothing about Black. The Minister of Security is asked about Black, and apparently even he either doesn't know, or doesn't want to share.

Nicolai decides to contact Dragon, but realizes he doesn't know where she is. He puts an ad on the job board for her to meet him at the Bread and Bean, where he goes to wait.

Two cops show up at Mikie and Theresa's, pound on the door, and ask Mikie to come with them. He does. But the police car does not go to the police station, but the ducal estate, where the police turn Mikie over to a couple of marines. He's taken to the library, and told to sit down, not say anything, and wait, which he does. After a few minutes, he's taken into a room with a long table, and a number of officers, including Collingwood. One officer asks questions about Black, and Mikie's knowledge of Black's "activities", like misappropriation of funds, and the like. And they show him a copy of the "Black Book" (the torture manual). Mikie had never seen the book before (ewww), but no, he has no idea if Black had anything to do with the book; no, he has never seen Black or his people torture anyone; no, he does not have any knowledge of Black or his people "misappropriating government funds". They let him go after a while, and he's dropped off at home.

Ten minutes later, there's another pounding on the door (perhaps a revolving door should be installed?). This time it's the local police, with a warrant to search the apartment, and they've brought crowbars. Mikie gets Theresa to leave, to go see her father. She'll leave, but she will get a lawyer. Naturally, they find something - a large amount of money in the wall, and of course, they money is on their little list of missing money. Mikie is arrested and processed, and interrogated. They don't want him, of course, they want the "big fish", and a lot of threats are made about Torment, and his poor new bride having to find comfort elsewhere, while Mikie is busy being "comfort" for other, less pleasant people. The usual. Besides the money in the wall of the apartment, they found a Vermeer painting (Blaelok!) in Mikie's old apartment, and the painting was stolen - from the Duke of Rhylanor; "an unpleasant, powerful, humorless guy with a lot of ships under his command" is Rawlings' description. Evidently it was to be a present for his wife. Mikie's thought is "I didn't know Viper liked Vermeer..." On top of that, there is a numbered account at the Banque de Généve, with a lot of money in it, and the signature card bears both Black's and Mikie's signatures. At least it looks like their signatures.

Dragon helps Nicolai find and "shake" a Weseli. And he has some interesting information about Mr. LaBland having been picked up by a couple of guys in a car with no hub caps. Regina Security. Ah ha.

83 - 1122.

They come back late at night, to wake up Mikie before he's had much sleep. And again it's the "we don't want you, we want the big fish..." "Black". The same crap about Torment, and everything, and then the IBI guy, Rawlings, starts on about how Theresa must have been in on it, and what's going to happen to her on Torment, and so on, and getting right in Mikie's face. And yes, he does eventually lose patience and hit the guy, hard, in the ribs (doing some satisfying damage). He then disengages, and covers so the other IBI guys don't do too much damage. They aren't the experts Mikie has been beaten up by in the past, and they stop after a few minutes, so they don't give Mikie any excuse to get off. Then they decide that they've been taking the wrong track, and decide that Theresa must have been behind everything, so they'll let Mikie go and pick up Theresa. Bastards!

Nicolai is en route to update Veronica when he sees Theresa and her father. A police car stops by them, they push her father out of the way, and take Theresa off in handcuffs. Damn, damn, damn.

Nicolai gets to deliver his news to Ambassador Lu while she's in her bubble bath. Blaelok is merrily fetching her more hot water, etc., all shiny and happy. Okay... She's very interested in the news about Regina Security, but wants proof or a witness. Nicolai says he'll see what he can do, and tries to control his small brain when she gets up out of the bathtub and into (eventually) a robe. He leaves and goes over to Mikie's apartment, and is a bit confused when he sees all the police tape over the door.

Mikie agrees to help the IBI guys, but he doesn't know what to give them. They decide that they will keep Theresa in custody for 24 hours, and let Mikie try to come up with something that will be helpful. Mikie threatens the IBI guy (Rawlings), if anything happens to Theresa, and Rawlings tells him that he's not in any position to make threats, and things could happen to Theresa even at the jail, it's a dangerous place, so Mikie better be nice and polite, and hope Rawlings makes sure nothing happens. "Is that clear?" "Yes sir." "Good boy. Now I'd better hear from you within 24 hours, or there'll be a shuttle leaving for Torment." Mikie asks for a contact number, Rawlings takes out his card, deliberately drops it, and knees Mikie in the face when he bends down to pick it up. "Now we're even." Mikie is taken out and dropped off near home, where Nicolai finds him and asks if he's all right (what with the blackening eye, and having obviously had a bloody nose). Nicolai wants to know if Mikie will tell him what's going on, or if he would prefer Nicolai to just muddle around in the dark as usual? Mikie gives him the Reader's Digest condensed version. Nicolai tells him that he saw them pick up Theresa, and Mikie should probably call her father. Mikie has answered Nicolai's questions about LaBland, and Nicolai wants Mikie to speak with Lu about it. Nicolai will go to the jail, and check on Theresa, and Mikie will go to see her father. They agree to meet at the Bread and Bean in two hours.

Mikie goes to Blake's apartment to see Theresa's dad. JB is really upset about Theresa, and doesn't know what the hell is going on. Mikie gives him a general idea - that they are trying to use Theresa as leverage against Mikie. JB doesn't understand exactly what Mikie means, but is outraged at the thought of the IBI and the locals doing something like this, and he wants to know what he can do to help. Mikie tells him to make calls to any one he might know in the government or whatever, so that people know what is going on. JB will do so, and he convinces Mikie to get some sleep.

Nicolai goes to the jail, and asks if he can see Theresa. With some coaching from the cop at the front desk, Nicolai is able to pass over the requisite bribe to enable him to see his "sister". Theresa has not been harmed, but she's angry, confused, and extremely unhappy about having been strip searched and locked up with cell mates who are not exactly "the nicest kind of people". The important thing is that she's all right for now, and Nicolai passes on the message that Mikie is doing everything he can to get her out, and he loves her. Nicolai is only allowed a few minutes, but it's something.

After an hour and a half, Mikie is woken up. JB has made all the calls he could, although he doesn't know what will come of it, and it is the middle of the night. Mikie tells him to stay put, in case some one calls back, and then he goes to meet Nicolai. They meet at the Bread and Bean, but it's really crowded. Mikie tells Nicolai he wants to talk to Lu now, but Nicolai doesn't think she'll be available. Mikie also wants to see Blaelok (about the Vermeer, among other things), and when Nicolai has no other ideas, Mikie calls the consulate number and Blaelok answers (see - told you he never sleeps). He's acting all sort of "official" like, so Mikie identifies himself, and tells him he has information for the Ambassador, but doesn't want to disturb her this early, so he would like to give the information to Blaelok. In person. They agree to meet, at the Tea House.

Blaelok shows up at the private booth, and places a high tech little gadget in the middle of the table so they can speak freely. Mikie brings up the Vermeer, Blaelok can't imagine where that could have gotten to, Mikie is not in the mood, and Blaelok admits that he figured Mikie would not roll over on Black without some "motivation". Mikie was just the best candidate, and it's "nothing personal". Bull. Mikie tells Blaelok that "it's very personal - they've got Theresa". Blaelok apologizes for that, he hadn't considered the "shining men in blue" (read IBI) would stoop to those levels, and he really is sorry. He asked for the name of the agent in charge, and Mikie gave him Rawlings' name. Blaelok will "take care of Mr. Rawlings". Right. They go back and forth for a while, but the bottom line is that Blaelok wants Black taken down, or at least forced off Regina, and they needed a corroborating witness for the evidence they've manufactured - tapes of Black ordering Mikie to hand over LaBland, videotape, etc. Mikie is not convince that Black won't survive this, and is concerned about cover should this not go the way the Solomani want. They have made sure Black threatens Mikie on the tapes, so he'll look good, and by a strange coincidence, Blaelok just happens to have this proof with him, and gives it to Mikie. Recordings and other physical evidence can be manufactured, so they need some one who can sit in the witness stand and make the people believe him, and Mikie is just the man for the job. Blaelok is the first to admit that Mikie can look all clean cut and innocent, but he himself cannot. Mikie agrees that Blaelok could walk into the court as a juror and wind up convicted of something. Mikie doesn't have much of a choice, so he agrees to help Blaelok, who leaves, with his little device.

Mikie sits there for a while, not really sure what to do next. He doesn't necessarily want to go see Lu, but Nicolai doesn't want him wandering around on his own, either. But he wouldn't be on his own, he'd have the IBI guys following him no doubt. Mikie decides he needs to clear his head before seeing Lu, so they make a stop on the way to the consulate (she could be an early riser), at the Catholic church. Nicolai isn't into this religion stuff, but he stays at the back, and gives Mikie a commo unit, just in case. Mikie takes some time to collect his thoughts, and then goes into the confessional, to get some advice, or a miracle or something. Well it's definitely an "or something", as the "priest" is smoking Sobrainies. Yup, it's Black. Mikie points out that Nicolai might think the confessional is on fire, so Black puts out the cigarette. Black wants Mikie's help, as he's found out that the Governor and his cronies are out to get him, and he wants help finding who it is they've managed to get to betray him. Amazingly enough, Mikie knows just exactly what's going on, and Black is quite pleased. Then Mikie has to explain that he's the one who is supposed to be the witness against Black. Mikie basically takes a huge risk, and tells Black exactly what is going on, including Blaelok, Lu's interest, and that the IBI has grabbed Theresa (which is Mikie's main concern). Black is extremely interested in all this, and when Mikie asks, tells him that yes, LaBland is "still breathing", and "the man is absolutely worthless". Well gee, Mikie could have told him that! Black will arrange for LaBland to reappear, although he'll need about 12 hours to make him "presentable". And Black will make sure nothing happens to Theresa while she is in custody; he has friends in the local police, so Mikie shouldn't worry. Black will see to it that contradictory evidence to what the Solomani provided appears, and with the physical evidence canceling itself out like that, it's a matter of Mikie's testimony, and Black recommends Mikie tell the truth - that Rawlings and his men threatened, beat, and intimidated him to get the testimony they wanted, even going so far as to threaten his wife. The trial will be carried live, so no one will be able to make what is said just "go away". Black may have to "take a vacation", but Regina is his home, and he'll be back; Cogri is lovely this time of year....

Nicolai is starting to get a bit concerned by the time Mikie emerges, looking pretty much as unhappy as when he went in. Then it's off to the Solomani consulate, where they find that Ms. Lu is not, in fact, and early riser, and never sees anyone before lunch. Mikie suggests some one bring the woman lunch then. Nicolai tells them that Lu will see him, and yes she will. Of course, she's still in bed, and wearing a diaphanous little number that almost shows everything. Nicolai tells her he has her witness, and he's willing to speak with her.

Nicolai calls Mikie in, and introductions are made. Veronica knows Mikie's name from somewhere, and asks if they've met. Mikie is sure they haven't, but she's trying to figure out why she knows the name, and she gets rather distressed when she figures it out - "Now I remember - the Palladium Section! Guards!!!" Mikie tells her her was Blaelok's flunky in the Palladium Group, and she doesn't need the guards. Nicolai backs him up on this, so she calms down. Then it's the grateful routine, and the pheromones all over the place. Mikie is not sure what the heck is going on, but boy is she attractive, and how could he be interested in her, like that, at a time like this?? Nicolai is trying to think of baseball, or something, anything.

Veronica is horrified when told that the authorities have been so barbaric as to go after Mikie's wife. Although she's a bit jealous, as she finds Mikie "rather attractive". Mikie thanks her for the compliment, as she is "and extremely attractive woman", but this is not really the time for this. Nicolai points out that helping Theresa might go a long way to proving her "gratitude" to the 'witness', and Lu will see what she can do, although she's not certain what. Mikie takes his leave, promising to contact the IBI later about LaBland. Nicolai tries to leave, but Veronica wants him to stay.

Mikie leaves. Veronica pats the bed beside her, and makes it abundantly clear that she wants Nicolai to hang around for a while. Nicolai is having a hard time (no pun intended) just saying no until Veronica makes a comment about wanting to know to what "other things" Nicolai's CRI training extends to, and this makes Nicolai think of "special needs", and twitch. He really, really has to attend to other matters, and Veronica let him go, but she'll make sure he finds out later "what he's missing".

Nicolai catches up with Mikie leaving the grounds. Mikie tells him he's going to go crash at his father-in-law's, and they part company. Nicolai goes to Christi's place, arriving about the same time she does after working the graveyard shift. They both collapse into sleep. Mikie tells JB, who's wearing a path in the carpet from pacing, that he's done some things to make sure Theresa stays safe, and then Mikie crashes.

Only the bad guys are sleeping well today. And maybe not all of them.