Things can only get better. Right?

87 - 1122.

William Delgado had stocked up on medical supplies before going down to Regina proper with Viktor Androchev. Will is obviously a quick learner. The trip down, in a well-marked Navy cutter, was uneventful. Besides Black, they are met by an honor guard, and directed to General Ramirez, who Black introduces to Viktor. Ramirez is a fairly large, fit man who is telegenic as hell.

Viktor says all the right greeting things, and doesn't even try to out crush his hand when they shake. Black tags along as they go to meet the other members of the "Ruling Council", but it's obviously Ramirez who is in charge. They all load up into cars, and go driving off; Viktor in Ramirez' car.

As they drive by a building with a really big mural of Corina on one side, Ramirez sort of nods his head at it, in a respectful fashion. Rooms have been arranged for Viktor and his people, so they can go to freshen up before having a light lunch and drinks. Viktor gives Ramirez the box of Vegan cigars he brought.

Viktor considers sending a note to Black, but he doesn't want to commit anything to paper, at least at this point. The party gets ready, then attends the buffet luncheon. Fairly informal. They basically want Viktor's assurance that the Imperium will not be interfering in the planetary business of Regina, and in return, the new government will continue to be good Imperial citizens. Of course, they do want the "criminals" handed over to them, but Viktor, while sounding really accommodating, manages to not actually commit himself to anything. Viktor's statement that the Imperium recognizes that them as the legitimate government is met with much happiness. Black does wander in and joins the group, in a casually discreet fashion.

There are a few rifle cracks, and Viktor goes over to look out of the window. They are executing some rather ordinary people, who are "troublemakers, who have acted against the new government". Black is the only other person besides Viktor and Will who are watching the executions. Black is not terribly concerned, nor impressed. He does comment that it's "kind of a waste of resources - those are people who could have been turned, and made use of." Viktor is not evidently concerned about it either, and Black is after all, "just a private citizen". Black does make a little comment about Viktor's friend (Will) "having interesting paramours?" Viktor feigns ignorance. Black says it was just something he "heard". Uh-huh.

Viktor inquires as to Black's plans, and gets the story about how Black was so moved by Corina that he can't help but carry on with her ideals. Viktor says that he looks forward to having an opportunity to speak with Black "about old times", but leaves it at that. Black casually comments about the current events, including the "manhunt for the psionic cop-killer". Right

Viktor speaks with Will briefly, and asks what type of Regen he brought. Just the regular kind, why? Viktor is resistant to regular Regen, so Will is going to have to get some Regen B sent down. General Ramirez comes over to chat with Will, as he knows Will's father, Falcon. The General thinks Falcon was "ill-used" at the senate hearings. And "You're welcome." (For the dead senators, no doubt.) Ramirez gestures to some of the attractive serving girls, and asks if Will sees any "mares" he fancies? Ramirez also comments that he has heard Will is quite the "rider". [Does everyone know?] Will jokes that he has "fallen off a lot of mounts in his time," which causes much laughter and back slapping.

While Will is chatting with Ramirez, Viktor is still speaking with Black. Black is "wondering" about Viktor's boss, Collingwood. The man seems a bit "unstable". Viktor's response is that Collingwood is under a considerable amount of stress in his current position. Black leaves shortly thereafter.

Once the actual business is taken care of Viktor and Will make their excuses and leave the now becoming rather raucous and earthy party. They are escorted to their quarters, warned to not leave due to the curfew, and are later locked in.

Ghaer has agreed to meet Veronica Liu at the Tea House. He arrives to find Veronica there, with a mincing little guy with a laptop, and Blaelok, who is sort of staring off into space. Ghaer is invited to join Liu, and the little scribe guy leans nervously away from Ghaer. Ghaer tries to not startle the herbivore too much.

Liu recommends the Stygian Bliss, which is what she and Blaelok are drinking, but Ghaer prefers to order some herbal tea (less of a dominant scent, just in case). Ghaer thanks Liu for trusting him enough to show up, and she says she likes to keep her "options open". She looks quite fetching, as always. Liu is curious as to why Ghaer, a Vargr, has approached them. Ghaer says he wanted to speak with her after having some unpleasant people mention her name.

As Ghaer is speaking with Liu, he sees Blaelok stir his tea, and very quickly pour a spoonful of his tea into Liu's cup. This is repeated several times. Not recommended with this type of tea, and Ghaer does warn Liu that Stygian Bliss is something one should be careful with the first time. Liu is not a first time drinker, and she is surprised that "such a delicate tea could be found in a place such as this."

Ghaer wants to make sure there are no more "misunderstandings" between them. If Liu wants information, Ghaer is perfectly willing to share what information he has. She's vaguely interested in Collingwood, but the local affairs don't concern her. What Liu is interested in is finding the SolSec agent. Ghaer tells her that before he was "cured", Blaelok was interested in finding an ex-patriot Solomani named Sontag. And Blaelok was also concerned about his "partners" in the Palladium Group. Liu eventually says that she does remember seeing some mention of the name Sontag in some communiqués. And she looks unhappily at the little scribe, because "you said you had him interrogated beforehand?" He did, but Blaelok "didn't know anything!" "Well he certainly doesn't know anything now." She eventually leaves, rather unsteadily, with her followers.

Mikie wakes up in his box, screaming, not knowing where he is briefly. A neighbor asks if he's "all right, Brother?" He's fine. The guy in the next box mumbles something to the effect of "boy, I've heard about personal demons...". Mikie gets up, and goes to the library to view the tapes of all the stuff he missed about Black, etc. And maybe come up with an idea of what the heck to do now.

Steiner is dining at the Savoy with Collingwood, who seems really relaxed and calm. How many personalities does this man have? They order drinks, and Steiner sees the waiter put ice in her drink from one side of the ice bucket, and from the opposite side of the bucket for Collingwood. Steiner returns the drinks, requesting the scotch neat, as it's too good to dilute. And Collingwood had ordered soda any way. No ice is consumed, and Collingwood has a very good time.

They go back to Steiner's quarters, and Tiger offers to pour their drinks. Good thing he's not a bartender, or the bar would go broke. He's very relaxed and comfortable, and remarks that this is the best he's felt since coming to Regina. Damn! Somebody's drugging him!! Just as Tiger is about to take his leave, Steiner starts to mention the familiar-looking waiter at the Savoy, and they are leaning fairly close to each other, and Collingwood pulls Steiner to him by her shoulders and kisses her. And the man knows how to kiss!! Steiner responds in kind, and five minutes later, they break off and he does leave. Whoa. Okay, a great kisser, and he really isn't responsible for his actions. Something needs to be done.

88 - 1122.

Viktor and company survive the night, and get a nice little well-orchestrated tour. Viktor is trying to find a discreet way to get a private meeting with Black, and goes so far as to send one of his underlings to find a bottle of Crème de Violette, but it's a specialty item. Just when Viktor is about to give up, Black appears in his room. Argh.

They discuss the little problem Viktor is having, one of which Black is already aware. Black offers to help Viktor get a hold of some substances that would produce a conveniently "natural" if sudden death. Viktor is screwed if he kills Black, screwed if he kills Collingwood, and is not keen on the "ritualistic suicide to preserve his honor" option. Oh well. Black will be available should Viktor decide to accept his help.

Meanwhile, in another part of space entirely....

"Monica" has been out buying supplies, and when she returns to the bar, it's empty. She calls out to Jack, but he doesn't answer. Then a man says "Hello Corina. Did you think you could get away so easily?" There is a whiffling noise behind her, and she feels the sting of anesthetic darts. She is not exactly conscious when she is loaded into some sort of tube, and she is aware enough to register the fact that Jack is snoring softly beside her...

Right after his meeting with Black, Viktor decides they should leave immediately. Excuses are made, and they leave. Viktor goes to see his wife as soon as he gets Up Port, like a good boy. Katerina teases him about the awful "danger" he was in, and then tells him that she had some girl talk with Bunny. She is really upset about what happened, and is very concerned that word might get out, and her husband might find out about her and Will. Katerina managed to calm Bunny down, but...

Then an officer arrives, to deliver a message to Will. He slaps him across the face, "on behalf of my officer". Will is not keen on this, especially since he was just making sure the lady was not "in distress". That's one thing, but apparently some "signed" pictures were sent to Collingwood, "crowing over" the incident. Will did not send any damned pictures. Will tries to get out of something public, but it won't take place in public. The officer, who is acting as Collingwood's second, leaves, and Will is quite upset about the "pictures!" Viktor assures him that he didn't take any pictures, but he might know who did - the former director of Regina Security, who has no love lost for Collingwood. Viktor does not buy the "weepy Corina thing", and he doesn't think for a minute that Black has no power with Regina Security.

Viktor agrees to be Will's second. The governor has decided to have the duel in the formal garden tomorrow morning. Collingwood is not about to be talked out of the duel as "I will not be ridiculed for being cuckolded by this popinjay. People of his ilk are not to be tolerated." He's somewhat distressed about Viktor being the second for Will, but he'll give Viktor the benefit of the doubt.

Some of Collingwood's people speak with Viktor about the duel. They want to just take out Delgado themselves, so their general won't have to sully himself with the bastard. Viktor tries to discourage this, as it would be too public and potentially messy for everyone involved. A comment is made about maybe getting "him to do the right thing", and when Viktor asks "Collingwood?" Ooh. Viktor's loyalty is questioned, but not too seriously, yet.

Steiner decides to track down some help, and calls Viktor's staff. Her call is forwarded on to Viktor, once he arrives. Steiner asks to speak with Viktor, right away. He goes to her quarters. Steiner has had the room swept for electronics again, and it's as secure as possible, as she tells Viktor. She wants to discuss Collingwood with Viktor. Steiner tells Viktor that she believes Collingwood is being drugged, which is why he has been behaving erratically. Before he says anything, Viktor wants to know "how much of what is said here will get to Astridi?" Ouch, but a valid question. Steiner responds that she does not work for Astridi, but if it makes Viktor feel better, she gives him her word that nothing that is said between her and Viktor at this moment will leave the room without his knowledge and consent. Okay then.

Notes are compared. Viktor agrees that Collingwood has been behaving erratically, and he tells Steiner about the orders to kill Black, and any one who gets in the way, and that Viktor will then be set up as a cohort of Black's and killed himself. Nasty. Steiner wants to see if they can get Collingwood out from under the influence at least long enough for him to understand what is going on, and Viktor feels that Steiner will be the best person to do this. Viktor leaves, to go contact Ghaer.

Steiner goes to the Sengi ship, and calls Collingwood. She asks if he can come see her, about something urgent. He asks if there's a problem, and she says yes. He agrees to come to her ship, even though his staff won't like it. When he arrives, Steiner brings up his comments of the other night, about not having felt quite himself since he arrived on Regina. He chalks it up to stress, but she says she doesn't think so. Collingwood thinks it's a bit farfetched, but if Steiner is so sure, he's willing to let her help. She doesn't think the drug is being administered in aerosol form, or it would effect people around him.

Collingwood reluctantly agrees to give his own cooking and serving staff a few days off, and he will allow Steiner to provide substitute staff. It's not that his people are necessarily untrustworthy, but as Steiner tells him, with her staff, they aren't bribable, and the thought of doing something untoward literally wouldn't even cross their minds. Collingwood agrees on the condition he doesn't "have to dine alone". Steiner agrees to join him. He leaves to get back to work.

Viktor meets up with Ghaer at the University, and brings him up to speed (while taking a nice walk) on the mess Viktor is in with Collingwood and Black, as well as the impending disaster between Collingwood and Will Delgado. Ghaer is concerned about Collingwood, and he's also worried about Mikie, but he doesn't know how to help. He does agree to be at the duel the next morning, so Viktor has some backup, and besides, Ghaer has medical skill. Ghaer is put in charge of acquiring weapons for the duel, so he gets two single-shot revolvers in .32 cal, ammunition, and two sabers (so the combatants have a choice of weapons). Ghaer then takes the weapons home, and literally sleeps with them, so that there is no opportunity for anyone to tamper with the weapons.

Viktor has a chat with Will about the duel, and Bunny. Will is not sorry. Not a bit. He is more than willing to apologize to Bunny, but when Viktor suggests he put an end to the situation by apologizing to Collingwood, Will's response is that he's willing to tell Collingwood "I'm sorry you haven't taken care of your wife's needs." Viktor does not think this will be very helpful. Thank you. Will is unrepentant, and while he absolutely did not send the pictures to Collingwood (and was at first afraid that Viktor had), he figures it's all Collingwood's fault for neglecting his wife, so screw him - if he wants a duel, he'll get a duel. Lovely.

That evening, Steiner's jai are put in charge of dinner (service, cleaning, the whole shebang). She has told them there is a "poisoner" at work (a slow-acting poison, not one of the keel right over so we can just use food-tasters kind), so they have to make sure that the food, utensils, glasses, et al never leave their care. Then Steiner screws up by giving in to Tiger's suggestion to open a bottle of champagne he's "been saving". [Go to wall. Bang head repeatedly on wall. Repeat.] Big flipping mistake. The champagne, although apparently properly sealed, has been tampered with (when?). The night dissolves into rather X-rated behavior between Steiner and the Governor. [Note: Although neither Steiner nor Collingwood realize it, the drug in the champagne (the one that some one has been giving Collingwood for some time) is something called Impulse. It's a hard to find, exotic drug, designed to get rid of inhibitions; it was never actually marketed, due to the rather significant side effects of dementia and paranoia. No kidding. ]

89 - 1122.

At 5:30 in the morning, in the formal Italian garden area of Aguilon Park , Collingwood and his second, Will Delgado, Viktor, Ghaer, and Steiner (and her main Sengi) meet. There is a brief delay as a duel finishes ahead of them, and as the food is laid out. (Dueling and buffets are evidently de riguer.) It appears that since the unpleasantness between Corina and Black, the area of their duel has become very active for "affairs of honor". Sigh.

Will, although he has no dueling skills, insists on going through with the duel, and he allows Collingwood to choose the weapon type. Collingwood chooses pistols, and it is agreed to be "until one party can no longer continue" (this is requested by Collingwood's second). Ghaer and Viktor both notice that Steiner is apparently really bitchy; even for her. Hmmm. Shots ring out simultaneously, and both Collingwood and Will are wounded. Collingwood is willing to stop at this point, but Will gets back up. Collingwood remarks that Will "has a lot of spunk", to which Will (evidently in a suicidal mood this morning) responds "that's what Bunny said". Everyone cringes, and the duel continues.

Once more, shots ring out, again almost simultaneously. This time Will is shot in the forehead, and Collingwood in the heart. They both fall like rocks, and Ghaer moves in to help stabilize, and ambulances are sent for and arrive quickly. Steiner has to be dragged away from Collingwood, in near hysterics, as in her drug-addled state she has decided that Collingwood is the "love of her life". Egad. The Sengi take her back to the ship, and leave her completely alone in her room (no jai or anything); they are not sure what's going on, but they're going to give her as much space as she needs. When Ghaer arrives shortly after the ambulances take the two 'duelists' to Regina Trauma, he is denied access to Steiner, at least for the time being.

Both Collingwood and Will are going to survive. Collingwood's second in command, and his second on the dueling field will take care of as much of the work as necessary, but as soon as he's conscious, Collingwood will be at the very least using the phone in his hospital room to get things done. After all, it's not like he hasn't been shot before.

After all this time of assuming that Black was the "power behind the throne", it remains to be seen who is currently pulling the strings, and to what ends.