83 - 1122.
The Regina J'la society is having it's opening, and one of the high level Sengi players (the rik-aler who was playing the incredible game with Lord Kalarin when Joe Lee had his "experience") is there in full regalia - black with black and black, with blue piping. And some Jai, one of whom acts as translator. The Rik recognizes Joe from the park, so he realizes he is one of the people who takes the game seriously. He speaks about the basics of the game, and then goes off into the spirituality of J'la, and the way the patterns interact with the universe, and so on; this is what Joe Lee is really interested in. "Moving a stone on the Great Board has ripples that effects the universe", and that the Great Game is the key to understanding the universe. This confuses some of the people in the crowd, but many are present for the same reason as Joe Lee and they also strive to understand.
After the speech, Joe goes over to speak with the Sengi. Through the interpreter, he explains about witnessing the sixth-level game in the park, and recites from memory the moves that led up to the move that triggered the sort of "vision" - traveling through space, seeing glowing equations, and then images of people. The Rik doesn't understand what "mathematical equations" are until Joe writes some down on paper, at which point the Rik corrects a couple some of the symbols, which looks exactly right to Joe. Joe Lee wants to know if this sort of thing happens all the time? Nope. This is significant, as it indicates a sort of "connection" that is important, so they must go inform Lord Kalarin. Now. They go.
Arriving on the Sengi ship, Joe Lee is surprised to see that some lunatic has planted grass inside (that appears to be thriving), and they have adult wild boar there too. Okay. Lord Kalarin is entertaining another lord, and older man with "dead eyes". They aren't saying much, but their body posture keeps changing subtly.
After the Rik passes on the information to Lord Kalarin, his Jai asks if Joe Lee if he is a "holy man", and has studied the "disciplines of the mind", and other such questions. Joe Lee replies yes, and clarifies that he has studied individual combat. Ah, he's a warrior, then too (not a soldier). Then the translator says: "My master says that everything falls into place, and thanks you for your attentiveness. You may leave." Joe leaves, but asks the Jai who is escorting him out if he could later speak with the Rik about the Great Board, but the Jai cannot even speak of that which Joe has mentioned, just being a lowly Jai.
On the way out, a bunch of the Jai keep coming up to touch Joe, and murmur something he doesn't understand. Then several of the Sengi warriors do the same thing. This concerns Joe somewhat. Then after he starts to walk away, some one calls his name, sort of "Choe". Joe was expecting some sort of test, so he reaches for his sword. It's the Rik, who then motions one of his warriors, who charges Joe. Joe sees that the warrior has not drawn a blade so Joe does not either. Joe is particularly focused that day an so he gets in the first kick to the Sengi's chest - a good solid hit, but the guy only grunts (well, they are really big). Then the Sengi hits Joe. BIG Ow. Joe knows this is more than a sparring match now. But he's still standing, so he hits the Sengi again, in the mouth, which is more effective and the Sengi misses, as he's not used to fighting little guys. Again Joe hits first, breaking the Sengi's femur. He falls to the ground, but gets back up. Then the Rik motions over his other warriors, who bring the losing combatant to the Rik; words are exchanged, and obviously it's an embarrassment for the warrior.
A group of Jai come out of the ship, pick up Joe Lee, put him on a litter, and walk him to Regina Trauma. Joe lets them, since as far as he knows, this is normal behavior. The doctors check Joe out, and since his spleen has evidently been ruptured, there is a lot of running around, giving orders, and requesting the "machine that goes ping". Joe's in good hands, but he doesn't understand more about the Sengi.
JB (Theresa's father) comes in and rousts Mikie (who has been sleeping at JB's place, as their apartment is stilled sealed as a crime scene) after what seems like five minutes, but really is a couple of hours. He tells Mikie that there's some one there to see him. It's a Regina police officer, and a guy in plainclothes, a detective. Mikie is given a summons to testify before the senate commission on corruption, the day after tomorrow, at the senate chambers on Up Port. Then they leave.
The Tri-D is on, and the senate has announced hearings, and among other notables, the Director of Regina Security has been subpoenaed to answer all sorts of charges, such as misappropriation of funds, and anything else they can think to charge him with. Several police officers have been arrested for accepting bribes, including the desk sergeant at the Regina holding facility. As this is the one person Nicolai successfully bribed in his life, there is a knock on Christi's door, and several police officers have shown up to arrest Nicolai. They inconveniently draw him out of bed to do so. Not being an idiot, Nicolai does not resist arrest, and shuts up.
After he is processed, Nicolai is entitled to call his lawyer; once he's in the too small bright orange jumpsuit, that is. And of course, they stamp a bar code on his hand. Nicolai calls the Solomani consulate, and calls Veronica Lu. She's oh so thrilled to hear from him, but is curious to know why he's been arrested. Nicolai explains that he's been arrested for bribing some one, and Veronica first asks if he did it, and then starts musing on the image of him "behind bars, with all those sweating men..." Nicolai then points that he can't look for their "missing person", LaBland, while he's locked up. Veronica will see what she can do, but Nicolai "will owe" her. Ewww.
Nicolai is put into the holding cell, with a bunch of the aforementioned "sweating men". Nicolai does not cause any problems, and he's big enough so that no one gets stupid with him.
Steiner gets invited to meet Collingwood, as she is the local military liaison for the Sengi. Collingwood does not make the "you speak excellent Galanglic" comment, and he's obviously been fairly well briefed. Well, that's a change (he is a friend of Paolo Astridi, so one wonders just what Paolo may have said about Steiner...). He's keen on having Steiner available for her local knowledge. They discuss Collingwood's plans to "clean up" Regina, removing the "troublemakers", especially that spy - Black. Steiner is not impressed, but Collingwood is determined to get rid of Black, as he "can't abide with those spy chappies". Okay....
Collingwood mentions that he had found out that Black was using the Foundation for Social Assistance to move or hide some of his ill-gotten gains. So he has arranged for the Foundation's assets to be frozen pending an audit by the Imperial Revenue Service. Steiner points out that the people who were receiving aid from the Foundation will not be big fans, but Collingwood doesn't think anyone was actually getting any money, and besides, it's just the "little people", and they "don't really count", etc. Okay, now Steiner has his number.
Now that Collingwood knows that Steiner is "the right sort", he gets all friendly like (he apparently likes the "cut of her jib"). They have some fine Terran bourbon, Collingwood has a pipe, and offers Steiner a cigar, which she declines (she doesn't smoke). Idle chit chat of a military nature ensues for a while, with Collingwood expressing admiration for the Sengi troops, who he has seen in combat, and a bit of envy for Steiner being in a position to actually lead them into battle; Steiner invites him to join them on one of their training missions, and offers to help make it something "official". Collingwood occasionally glances at Steiner in an "interesting" way, provoking speculation about exactly what his friend Astridi may have told him about Steiner. Collingwood invites Steiner to a little fete he's having tomorrow night, and Steiner accepts. Collingwood asks if she "will be bringing an escort?" No, not in the way he means - she will have her basic 'entourage' with her, as it would be unseemly for a rik to go about unattended, but she will not be bringing a "date". When she leaves, Collingwood asks one of his people to escort her home, although Collingwood remarks that he doubts Steiner will have any problems considering her escorts, and she probably wouldn't have any trouble if she were on her own. Quite correct, on both counts, but a nice gesture. If it weren't for the fact that Steiner has spent most of her life as one of the "little people" Collingwood is so dismissive about.
JB is concerned about Theresa, and wants Mikie to just "give them what they want". Mikie tells him that he's doing that, and he will do anything to get Theresa out. Mikie calls Rawlings' number, finds out he's not in yet, but will be, so he goes there to wait for him.
Eventually Rawlings appears, and he and two of his buddies go into one of the interrogation - oops, make that "interview" room. Mikie gives them the tapes, which they listen to. Rawlings is happy, and quite pleased with himself about finally being able to "get Black". Now that Mikie has given them what they wanted, he wants Theresa released, and Rawlings makes the call. Theresa will be out in an hour, and Mikie will be given a lift to the holding facility to pick her up. Rawlings also wants Mikie to come in tomorrow morning to work with an of the special prosecutors, to "go over his testimony". "To make sure I say what you want me to", is Mikie's response. They just want the "truth", really. Right.
Mikie leaves, and meets Theresa. She's incredibly happy to see him, and complains bitterly about the horrible "jail underwear", which she swears is "just like burlap", and "you know I can't stand anything but silk against my skin." She's okay, bless her. As their apartment is still sealed up, they will be staying with Theresa's father, after buying some important little things like underwear and toiletries. JB rustles them up some food (thank God Theresa didn't inherit her negative cooking skills from her father), and they can at least try to relax for the moment.
Nicolai is arraigned, and a public defender shows up to act as his attorney. The PD drops files, doesn't exactly know who the heck Nicolai is, and generally does everything possible to not engender confidence. Then a handsome, well-dressed attorney named Goldstein shows up and dismisses the PD. That's Goldstein as in "Verblishnik, Uraehu, Wong & Goldstein". The judge is a no-nonsense type who doesn't buy the prosecutor's concerns about Nicolai being a flight risk since he's a Solomani citizen, and in spite of his demands, set's the bail at $100 credits, since Nicolai owns a home on Regina, and has been "sparking a local girl". Nicolai is released on the minimal bail, and the lawyer gives Nicolai his card, with the directions to call if the police harass him.
Nicolai hears that Theresa has been released, so he phones Mikie to make sure Theresa's okay, and to tell Mikie about being arrested for bribery. Again, Nicolai is asked if he did it (Mikie knows Nicolai doesn't have streetwise, so the thought of him bribing anyone is rather entertaining)? Nicolai explains that he only gave the police officer money when he asked for it. Ah, that makes sense then. When Nicolai describes the judge at his arraignment, Mikie recognizes him. He's known as "Judge Bubba", and he's a pretty good guy. God help you if you're in front of him and you're really a bad guy, because he will throw the book at you, but a regular stiff who has gotten into some trouble, the judge will treat fairly. Mikie goes over what will probably happen next, as Nicolai is not used to the legal processes, and he explains that their may never actually be any trial, and Nicolai may get off with a fine. Nicolai asks about LaBland, as Mikie had promised to help find him. Mikie explains that he doesn't know where LaBland is right now, but he hopes to soon (both of which are true, since Black has promised that LaBland will show up shortly). Right now he has other problems what with the subpoena and all. Nicolai decides to go to the senate hearing tomorrow, to view the circus.
William Delgado is surprised to find his father, Falcon, has been rounded up as part of Collingwood's little clean up project. Falcon is a bureaucrat, and as part of the old regime, so to speak, he's going to have to testify before the senate. Falcon is concerned mostly about his boss, Jim, who will be retiring soon. Since Falcon has been offered immunity in exchange for his testimony, William advises him to include anything he thinks they could possibly charge him with so that it's included under the immunity agreement. And if he's worried about Jim, Falcon should talk voluminously about all the really corrupt people he knows, so they won't have time to ever get around to Jim.
Mikie takes a walk to the church, and is given a lift by Black. Black gives him a transcript of the recordings he is going to use, that show a vastly different version of the events involving LaBland especially. Mikie tells Black what he knows about what the IBI guys, and Collingwood's people want to pin on Black. And he tells Black about Blaelok's plant in Regina Security, about his command code phrase, and that Blaelok does not remember that Mikie knows this, as Blaelok has some missing memories due to the Solomani "messing" with him. He does not know what "modifications" the Solomani might have made to the "mole", but Black has ways of finding out things like that. Mikie arranges to meet Black tomorrow, at the church, after the IBI crap.
84 - 1122.
Joe Lee goes to check out of hospital, and finds that not only has his medical bill been paid, but some people are waiting for him outside. It's a passel of Jai, and they have all of the stuff from Joe Lee's apartment. All of it. Including the kitchen. Oh. And none of the Jai speak terribly good Galanglic, so they just keep saying "We go, yes?" , until Joe finally goes with them. He's taken to the ship, which then leaves! Um, and the ship would be going....? "Home" according to the Rik. "Home" being Birabates. Looks like Joe Lee will get the chance to see the Great Board after all. If he passes the "tests" that await him when he's introduced to the Kaesthra as the "Oracle" of the prophecies (hey, that means they won't be annoying Mikie any more, cool!). Ah, tested you will be, yes....
Joe tries to makes a phone call, but he's told he has to stay in his room to await the Rik, who doesn't require him right now, but could at any moment. Joe is finally able to arrange for a Jai to act as a messenger for him, to send money to his landlord (to pay for the moving modifications). He manages finally to get to the bridge to "phone" Mikie. He tells Mikie that he needs him to call his boss at the Parks Department, because he's with the Sengi and needs a leave of absence. He asks about Mikie being called the Oracle, and what that meant. Mikie explains about the visions, and Joe asks if he ever saw glowing mathematical equations, and Mikie says no, but "you mean the Barlow stuff". Barlow? Mikie has to then explain what a Barlow is, and what they look like. Oddly enough, that's exactly what the Sengi's pilot looks like... (although the fact that he has short fur and an odd sort of tattoo indicates he's one of the Barlow 'protectors'). Mikie is sorry Joe's stuck with the Oracle gig, but "better you than me, bud." He wishes Joe good luck though.
The bridge closes after Joe Lee leaves, and then there is a very weird sort of taffy-pulling feeling. And then the bridge reopens, and the ship is not near Regina any more. Instead, there are many stars, and a planet with several moons. Welcome to Birabates!
Mikie is coached by a seemingly well-intentioned special prosecutor, but is never left alone with the man; Rawlings and one or more of his men are present at all times. They go over it, over and over again. Eventually, Mikie is allowed to leave.
He goes to St. Andrew's, and speaks with Black in the confessional. He tells him about the conversation at the IBI office. He asks Black to take care of Theresa and her father, and Black says that they will be in a safe place during the hearing, out of danger, but close enough so that Mikie will be able to join them after the hearings, as he will no doubt want to "lay low" for a while. Yeah, if he lives that long. They part company, having agreed that Mikie will not bring up the Solomani involvement, as it would just complicate matters.
The little party of Collingwood's goes off as planned, with nothing out of the ordinary happening there. Collingwood does have a fair bit to drink, and he dances with Steiner and makes a comment about her being a "striking woman"; Steiner indicates the scar on her face, and comments that she's trying not to get "struck" anymore, but thanks him for the compliment. (This is interesting - is Collingwood in fact 'hitting on' Steiner??)
85 - 1122.
Falcon Delgado is one of the first people to testify, and what the senate really wants from him is more of a sort of "expert testimony" about corruption in the government in general, rather than information about specific corrupt people. Big relief. Falcon does manage to make certain that anything that he could be charged with criminally later he brings up himself, and he also mentions by name several people who could potentially incriminate him in their testimony. He's quite popular, and the senate and spectators are entertained by his stories.
After lunch, it's Mikie's turn to testify, and things do not go terribly well. He tells them the truth about LaBland, and tells them the tapes are fakes, and that Rawlings threatened him and his wife if Mikie didn't testify against Black. Mikie tells them about LaBland being panic stricken and going on about people in the Solomani consulate being "after him", and that Mikie called Regina Security because he didn't know who else could deal with whatever LaBland was so scared of. He's asked if he wants to add anything or change in his testimony, but he's not sure what it is they want. They do not appear to be interested in anything the IBI guys did. On the other hand, they are interested in Mikie's criminal history, and he does admit to having been a pickpocket, but no, he's never been convicted of a felony.
Mikie is asked to stay in the chambers, and Rawlings comes up to testify. Naturally, according to Rawlings, his behavior was nothing if not exemplary, and the only thing Mikie was "threatened" with was prosecution for whatever crimes he and his wife had actually committed, nothing else. And no one ever told or coerced Mikie into lying, gosh no. Then Rawlings plays a tape recording of the conversation between Mikie and Black in St. Andrew's church. Or at least they play the sections that are incriminating, while conveniently not playing anything that would be good for Mikie or Black. (Mikie had not checked to make sure he wasn't bugged, but since he was working on about two hours sleep, that's not surprising; pity Black didn't think of it.)
Mikie is escorted out of the senate chambers and is arrested for perjury. After he's been handcuffed, a man in a lab coat comes up with an auto-injector. Mikie wants to know what that's for, and there's something of a struggle when he finds out it's psi-suppress. (What Mikie does not know, is that Mr. White, who had already contacted Collingwood in order to offer his "assistance", has sent a note to Collingwood: "Are you aware that your star witness is a known psionic and has used his abilities to influence the actions of others? How reliable is any of his testimony going to be if the Senate is not protected from psionic influence?") Since he's already in cuffs and in custody, there's not much Mikie can do, so he's injected with suppress. [Note: from Mikie's point of view, as a telepath, being hit with psi-suppress is an incredibly unpleasant experience. It feels like the blood is slowly freezing in your veins, and then part of your brain sort of "dies". This is followed by becoming very ill, and then unconscious. Once you wake up, it takes hours for the effects to gradually wear off, during which time you feel sick, weak, and sort of deadened psionically. Not an experience Mikie had wanted to repeat.] As he's unconscious, Mikie doesn't see the video screen, so he couldn't notice Collingwood pat Mr. White in acknowledgment on his way past him. If this is part of some kind of personal problem White has with Mikie over some slight (real or imagined), or just part of White's grand plan remains to be seen.
And now for the main event - the testimony of Mercer Black. One of the senators thanks Black for taking time out of his busy schedule... Force of habit. Black sits down, looking calm, collected, and very nicely dressed, and informs the senate that "in the interest of time, I would like to read from a prepared statement, and then I will answer any questions." Black states that some of the charges against him are true, but he acted under the orders of his superiors at those times. With regard to Corina, Black states that while they had professional differences, their relationship was actually quite cordial, and he felt no animosity towards her. If everything people are saying about Black being a "ruthless spymaster" are true, then he certainly would not have botched up the fire at her apartment - if Black had wanted to kill Corina, he would have done a proper job of it. Then the bombshell is dropped. Black states that he learned that a new governor was being sent to Regina some time before Collingwood's arrival, and that Collingwood contacted Black and arranged to meet with him off planet. According to Black, Collingwood wanted Corina "out of the picture", and Black was to take care of it. Black did not think this was a good idea, and did not want to do it, but Collingwood ordered him to, as he wanted to make sure that Corina's relationship to the late Duke Norris could not be used to fight his appointment as duke. Black agreed to set the fire that would kill Corina and destroy the genetic evidence, but he did so in such a way as to ensure that Corina would most likely survive, and deliberately left self-incriminating evidence to warn her. Collingwood is sputtering mad during this, and when the senators read the note that has been passed around (and caused much muttering), he really goes ballistic: "By my hand, and for the good of Regina, the bearer has done what has been done," and it's signed John Fitzpatrick Collingwood. They ask Collingwood if it's his signature (well, it certainly looks like his signature), but Collingwood just rips up the paper claiming it's all a fabrication. Then a recording is played - it's Collingwood, making the comments about the "little people" and how they "don't really matter", etc. (the comments he made to Steiner). Oh, this is too good.
Steiner is on the floor of her hotel room, laughing hysterically after this. She'd been watching the proceedings with popcorn and beer, and has decided she needs to get a copy of this for herself. And one to send to Paolo, so he can see what his "buddy" has been up to. Steiner does wonder if Collingwood is going to think she had something to do with the "little people" taping, which she didn't.
Viktor has also been watching the proceedings, and he's none too happy with what has been going on, especially when the red-shirted Corinistas start booing Collingwood. And it gets worse when Black goes on to speak about how he had come to admire Corina and her ideals, actually getting a bit teary-eyed (damn he's good!) when he talks about her having been so concerned about what happened to Regina that she felt she had no choice but to die. Black didn't want the duel, and tried to get out of it (true, and obvious from tri-d tapes and live witnesses), but couldn't. He regrets what happened, but he can only guess that at the end, Corina wanted her death to come "at the hands of a friend". The Corinistas are stunned into silence, then start chanting "Corina, Corina..." Viktor decides to get a Marine unit ready to get Collingwood out of there, and sure enough, as Collingwood exits the chambers, after stating "It's not over, Black!" , he calls Viktor and asks for "backup and transportation". Collingwood gets out intact, but vegetable-spattered and embarrassed. No one gets stupid, and the Marines get the satisfaction of using a well-timed threat display against the crowd before trotting off.
Back inside, Black is asked about Mr. LaBland's whereabouts. Black informs the senate that according to the news, Mr. LaBland was found early this morning on level 2, involved in some sort of "drugs and sex" orgy. There are really unpleasant photos of LaBland and his underage "companions". Oh. Ick. Well, so much for Black's having killed LaBland. On the other hand, LaBland's career is definitely on the critical list once Lu gets ahold of him.
Black's parting words to the senate are that he intends to see to it that Corina's ideals and plans for Regina are not forgotten, and to this end he will be resigning as head of Regina Security to pick up where Corina left off. He then stands, takes a long look at each member of the senate committee, smiling slightly. Then he walks out of the chambers, one of the senators calling out to his back "Thank you for your testimony Mr. Black," in an attempt to gain some sort of control of the situation. A bit too late, as Black had control from the time he walked in, to the time he left - not waiting to be excused. And that pretty much ends the senate investigation, at least for the day, possibly permanently.
After leaving the chambers, Black goes to Aguilon Park, to the formal gardens, and places a small, tasteful bouquet of flowers at the site of the duel, amongst the flowers already piled there. He tries to hide the tears in his eyes as he does this, but the Corinistas in the area are watching him rather intently. He quietly greets some of the others in the park, making contact with his people... (The Academy will be sending Black his Oscar shortly.)
Viktor and Collingwood arrive back at the Ducal estates, Collingwood still in a rage. He wants to speak with Viktor, but not inside - "you never know who's listening around here". Collingwood is stone cold pissed about Black skating. He goes on about how Black is scum, and has to be dealt with, and since they've tried normal channels and it hasn't worked, something else will need to be done. Collingwood wants Black "taken care of", and since Viktor is "the right sort", he's the one for the job. Collingwood wants Viktor to get together an appropriate team of people, make a plan, and then get back to him. And Collingwood is not concerned about "ancillary damage"; in other words, it doesn't matter who else gets hurt or killed as long as the objective, Black, is dead too.
Viktor is none too thrilled at this point. Collingwood wants him to do something that goes against everything that Viktor believes in, but he's Viktor's superior. Collingwood makes pointed mention of Viktor's "brilliant career ahead of him", and how it would be "a shame" if he were to be reassigned to somewhere really unpleasant, way out on the fringe, now wouldn't it??? Carrot, stick, carrot, stick. Viktor understands the difference thank you, and he also understands just how very screwed he is right now. Collingwood leaves Viktor to his duties, and Viktor goes to see his wife, Katerina.
Instead of "Hi honey, I'm home", it's more of "Hi honey, we're fucked". Really and truly. Viktor explains what has transpired, and that he has no intention of following what is an illegal order, and violates Viktor's sense of honor. Katerina understands that Viktor needs to do what he feels is right, regardless of the consequences, but he must promise to be careful; she doesn't want Vasilli to grow up not knowing what an honorable man his father is. Viktor will be careful, but he's concerned that Vasilli may need to be told what an honorable man his father was.
After leaving his wife, Viktor contacts the JAG officer he dealt with during Katya's arrest and trial. Viktor tells the officer what has happened, and that he needs advice on how to handle Collingwood. The officer thinks Viktor's best chance is to let Collingwood believe he's getting what he wants, and to try to get Collingwood to incriminate himself on tape and in the presence of a second witness. That's the only way Viktor will be able to back up any action against Collingwood.
Mikie eventually regains consciousness in a cell in the holding facility, feeling like hell; serves him right for trying to tell the truth. One of the IBI guys, Bob, is in the cell with him, and says "I'm really sorry Mikie. It's nothing personal, but Rawlings is a real asshole, and there's nothing I can do." These are not comforting words, especially given the current setting. Not good. Not good at all. Bob doesn't think that Rawlings will take any actions against Theresa, as that was "just all talk - part of the game", so that's something. Mikie's real concern is for Theresa, and he hopes Black is keeping his promise to make sure she and her father are safe. As long as Theresa is safe, Mikie can deal with whatever else happens to him, no matter how bad it gets. And considering the fact that he's pissed off Rawlings, Collingwood, and Blaelok (who was in the audience at the hearings, and is no doubt also displeased that Mikie didn't do as he was told) things are likely to get very bad.
Steiner arranges for a copy of the taped senate proceedings, etc. to be sent to Astridi via naval courier. She includes a note: "Paolo - Thought you might find this interesting, although not necessarily as funny as I did. Looks like Tiger didn't understand that the power was in the man, not in the position. I have a feeling this will get even messier, very quickly. Consider this an advance warning from an ally. "
Of all the people involved, the target is the one in the best shape. For how long is anyone's guess.