Mr. Pritchard, the engineer, is unhappy about the work the Pikhans have been doing. Nothing is "to spec", none of the fittings are standard, the pipe is continuous except for the joints (which are butted, epoxied, flanged, screwed, and everything else you can think of), etc. The one thing he has to admit is that the plumbing is definitely hell for stout. The waste disposal system now dehydrates, grinds, sterilizes, etc., etc., and then it's sprayed as a fine mist over the park during night cycle as fertilizer (signs will have to go up to clear the park during this). One of the old unused reactors has been set up with fish inside it, and there's evidently some sort of Pikhan bug growing project going on too. But Pritchard does agree that the work is apparently solid. The Navy will need everything in the area they build onto up to military spec, but Corina points out that until the Archduke frees up some cash for that, the Pikhans have been doing the absolutely necessary things first. The Navy might not like it, but this is "the frontier" where things are judged on whether they work, not whether they are to "mil spec". The Pikhans are currently off planet dealing with a catastrophic earthquake on another planet in the sector.
Corina has a meeting with Black to discuss the planetary situation, since Ramirez' death. Black believes that Ramirez was "in bed" with several megacorps, and is currently interrogating other members of the junta to find out the details.
Corina: "May I ask you some personal questions?"
Black: "You may ask."
Corina believes that since they are "partners", they should understand each other better, and also this prevents other people from trying to use 'secrets' against them.
Corina: "Do you enjoy torturing people?"
Black: "Is there a point to this question? This is irrelevant. I never discuss my personal life with anyone. Ever. No offense, your Grace. Is there anything else?"
Corina: "In the aftermath of Ramirez' death, we need to decide what type of government we want. Do we want to hold new elections, or whatever."
Black: "Whatever type of government you want, just let me know. However, I have a feeling that there will be a call for the Duchess to intercede directly. I suspect that even now, a spontaneous gathering is taking place on the planet. "
Corina will still need some people to take care of the day to day business, and Black just happens to have a list of appropriate people. The Regina tax code will need to be adjusted, as the old tax code was large enough to cause grievous bodily harm if dropped from a height of more than one story. A flat tax is suggested, as people have been complaining about the overly complex tax code for some years.
Black leaves Corina with a large briefcase of papers that need to be reviewed and signed, and since they include a lot of actually important things like authorization for pay, etc., Corina will have to take care of them soon. But Black suggests she get some sleep first, as she "looks tired", and Black has already made arrangements for her transport down onto the planet tomorrow.
1176 - 1122.
Nicolai has altered his personal schedule to allow for trolling for the slasher in Old Port. He's looking forward to being attacked, or at least to find him/her. Or be on scene at the wrong place at the wrong time and getting blamed for the murders.
He goes to the Laughing Cadaver, and gets a cup of tea from Bernard, the day bartender. It's interesting tea, Nicolai has never tasted anything like it. But as he leaves the Cadaver, he's very relaxed. So relaxed. Maybe he'll just have a bit of a rest... No, wait, water. He goes back into the Cadaver, to the restroom, and splashes water over his face and neck. Fortunately, he doesn't feel it when he falls forward unconscious, hitting the sink on the way down to the floor (which is best experienced while unconscious).
Some time later, Nicolai wakes up in a cold antiseptic room ( a great blessing after the Cadaver lavatory floor), restrained (extremely well) into a type of examination chair, stripped down to his skivvies. He doesn't think he's been "tampered with" physically, at least not that he can tell. Nicolai remains calm, and tests the restraints just to make sure. From somewhere in the room, where Nicolai can't see, he hears several female voices: "He's the one." "He's smaller than I thought." Nicolai doesn't recognize the voices, and they appear to be accentless.
The females are discussing Nicolai's "potential for our bioweapons division". He has "no partner, a "strained relationship at best" with the Solomani consul, and he shouldn't be missed. "Excellent." He's to be taken care of, and should arrive at the lab intact. Nicolai is considering going back to sleep, but a high tech IV setup makes certain he does.
Ghaer is adjusting to his new position on Corina's staff. Ghaer's new lieutenant has learned how to delegate, so Ghaer has plenty of work to do. Isn't it nice how everyone makes sure he doesn't get bored?
Jack passes on a little tidbit to Corina, from the "old boy net" - he understands some company (Ling Standard) security people have snatched up a local Solomani. Jack doesn't know who though. Corina is going to go see her uncle Xavier, but her social secretary, Susan, informs her that her calendar is booked for weeks. Corina illuminates the secretary as to Corina's normal schedule, and the harmless-looking little secretary bursts into tears. Corina calms her down, and reassures her. But no appointments between 10:00 a.m. and noon daily, as she is at the Foundation from 10:00 to 11:00, and then with her family for lunch each day.
Corina asks if Jack has set up her security detail yet, but the answer is no. But she has all the marines, etc. that come with the position, so she can always use them. And Ghaer is part of that group, should she want him, which she does.
Corina goes to Ling Standard, to see Xavier. He's set up in her old office, and is having a continental breakfast sort of thing, while doing some work. He greets Corina effusively, and orders up some more breakfast for Corina. Corina then says "I hear you've snatched a Solomani - which one is it?" Xavier feigns ignorance, but Corina wants to cut the crap. Finally, Xavier tells her not to worry, that they haven't touched anyone connected with the Consulate, as the family has a long-standing association with the Solomani government, and the new Ambassador (Blaelok). Xavier isn't familiar with all the details, as the orders came directly from Ming-Na Ling, but he sends his assistant, Conrad, off to try to find out who security picked up (even though they don't necessarily want to share info). Then they settle down to discuss the planetary situation, etc. Corina advises Xavier to consider any contracts with the old junta to be null and void. No matter. Xavier knows that Corina "will take care of the interests of the family". She points out that the interests of the family do not necessarily coincide with Xavier's corporate interests. Fair enough.
Conrad is able to identify Nicolai as the snatchee, but security isn't saying where he is. The head of security, Sheila Ockerman, is sent for, and arrives promptly. She's tall (6'), blonde, and has that healthy outdoorsy look. Corina asks what is "in store for Mr. Volkov - is he to be delivered on planet or off?" Sheila doesn't want to say anything, "nothing is going on Ma'am, just regular company business." Corina doesn't want to get Sheila in hot water with Ming-Na, but if she is warned that if she's not forthcoming, she just may well end up in hot water. Sheila is sent off.
Xavier wants Corina to have her "odious little man" (Black) pick up Sheila and find out what Ming-Na is up to. Corina asks if Xavier wants her back in pieces?? Xavier believes people like that should just be able to use some kind of "truth serum" or something. How joyfully naive of him. Corina refuses.
Mikie is working day shift at Discarding Sabot. One of the Weseli's is in the bar, trying to pass fake "free drink" coupons. This is Sal's bar. Sal does not give out free drinks. Mikie is willing to take the coupon, but he has to "get Sal to come out and initial it". Never mind. The Weseli digs the change out of his pockets, and pays for his drink, and then wants to buy the next drink (or three) with information about Nicolai's abduction from the Cadaver, by two big guys who put him into a van was new, and white, but down along the edge it had a blue stripe, like it had been painted white. And it was a particular shade of blue - Ling Standard blue.
Xavier and Corina are interrupted by Conrad, who suggests they need to turn on the tri-dee. All the stations are carrying a report on an accident between a Nasrika ship and a Ling Standard ore carrier, that is reputed to be the result of deliberate shouldering on the part of the Nasrika ship. And on top of that, the Nasrika ship is refusing to respond to the distress calls from the crew of the ore carrier; Imperial ships are en route to the scene, but the Ling ship is in bad shape. The Nasrika press office has stated that they are unable to respond to the distress calls because all the crew was needed to handle the damage done to the Nasrika ship by the intentional actions of the captain of the Ling Standard vessel. Corina makes a call to have the crews detained for questioning. There are only three survivors of a crew of 200 from the ore carrier. This is apparently not the first time an incident like this has occurred between these companies' ships. Corina excuses herself, stating that it looks like Xavier will be busy for a while.
A while later, a greying Martel with exquisite long fur comes in to see Corina. His name is Gibel Vlishniklik, and he's the Nasrika rep. He's there to protest the detention of the captain of the Far Adventure. He expects to "see some evenhandedness, yes?" Corina explains that both crews have been detained, something the Martel was not aware of. The Martel questions the fairness of the investigation, due to Corina's connection with the Ling family. Corina advises him that this might not be the best tact to take if his company wishes to continue business in this sector. Corina accepts his "protest brief" (thump!), and the Martel leaves.
Corina calls in the appropriate authorities, and gets a briefing. No one was in a position to actually witness anything, and the Naval Captain explains that he has several secretaries, sixteen cooks, one administrative assistant, and four lawyers, but no accident reconstruction people. Corina asks for one of his lawyers, who is sent over.
The Lieutenant JG (a very young female human) is asked where she graduated in her class (52nd), and is given the Martel's brief of protest. This is not exactly up her alley, but she will get right on it. "Good grief, look at how small the type on this is!" She leaves, and Corina tries to find some one locally to do the crash investigation.
Corina has Ghaer transferred to her personal security staff, and tells him his first duty is to report to the Bread and Bean every morning at 8:00 a.m., to acquire coffee, decaf, for Corina. Decaf? She explains all the disasters that are going on, and Ghaer agrees that she probably doesn't need more caffeine, no. Ghaer is to take care of coordinating the Ducal military security with Black, and he is told by Corina what Black is up to - questioning the ex-junta members; Corina suggests that Black should be in a good mood. Ghaer arranges to speak with Black, to make sure no toes are stepped on.
Oh, and by the way... Corina brings Ghaer up to date on what she knows about Nicolai's abduction. She's not sure why Nicolai was grabbed, but since Ming-Na and Blaelok have had all sorts of interesting dealings, he may have been grabbed by Ling Standard at Blaelok's behest. Maybe. If Ghaer can do something about this, it would be good, but Corina won't interfere directly. Xavier is paranoid about Ming-Na, but Corina describes Xavier as "a mile wide and an inch deep", so it doesn't take much in the way of plotting to confuse him. There may be a plot, or not. Or there may be several.
Ghaer goes to the big grey building with no windows, and is escorted in to see Black, who really is in a good mood (which never bodes well for some one). Ghaer wants to offer his assistance in any way, in regard to the security of the Duchess. Tea and cookies are brought in, and it's very pleasant, except for the brief moment when the guy in the corner transcribing takes off his headphones for a break, allowing the screaming to be heard. After a bit of social interaction, Ghaer is able to leave. Thankfully.
Nicolai wakes up in a low berth, or so he believes. He's alone, restrained, and cannot move. After a while, it starts to get very cold, and the air appears a bit stale. Nicolai starts to lower his breathing rate, etc., and will go into survival mode if necessary. He feels the box get picked up and moved, like by a forklift or whatever, taken through a doorway, then set down. Then it gets really dark.
He decides to try to get free of the restraints, and does finally manage to get a foot free. In the process, the low berth he's in gets knocked off onto it's top. He is able to get the other foot free, but he can't get the berth tipped over. He bites his lip, draws blood, and spits it onto the inspection port, hoping some one will see it, and open up the box to check on him, so that he can escape.
Eventually, some one does come in, tips the berth over, and opens it to check on Nicolai. He triggers, and attacks the nearest of the two men (one in a blue uniform, one in white). He almost kills the medic (in white), and the guy in blue is drawing his gun, and calling for help. Nicolai is trying to get something useful from the lab coat of the medic, while the guy in blue shoots the medic (okay, now he's dead) in an attempt to shoot Nicolai. Nicolai rocks the berth forward onto it's top, with the doctor between him and the floor. He pulls out one of the ring bolts of an arm restraint, and looks for a pocket knife in the doctor's pants. He finds a Swiss Army knife, and uses the saw blade to cut through the restraints. He's just finishing up when the low berth is lifted up. Nicolai takes off as soon as it is lifted, and runs towards the twelve armed men firing at him, avoiding the loader.
Nicolai attempts to avoid the loader, not get shot, and get to the hatch. This only partially works. The head of the Ling Standard detail informs Nicolai that he doesn't want to have to damage him, but he's not risking his men. Nicolai tries to play the "you'll get in trouble if you damage the merchandise" card, but apparently this is not that much of a concern after all. He runs for the cargo bay door, is shot once in the leg (hey, some one who can aim!), but he makes it to the door, which won't open because there's vacuum on the other side. Nicolai has the door to one side, and the security guys in a semicircle around him, with the loader off to one side.
Nicolai untriggers, and pretends to pass out. The others close in, to get him rescued into a box (or berth, or whatever), and Nicolai goes for them. One at time, naturally. Much fighting, shooting, etc. Then Nicolai gets into a life and death struggle with the pantomime horse. Er, that is, with the loader operator, amid scattered cargo of unknown types. Nicolai is on top of the loader, and is hitting the operator, when the operator jumps up, and the ship's security camera reaches down and scrapes Nicolai off.
Mikie goes to the Cadaver to see what he can find out. He is able to confirm that Nicolai was picked up by some corporate types. Mikie speaks to an old guy, who didn't see a white van, but he was almost run over by a blue van that was painted white. This happened over by the commercial docking bays. Mikie heads that way, after giving the old man a few creds.
There are twenty ships in dock, and all but one have people moving stuff on and or off. The last one just has one guy at the entrance, smoking a dope stick. Jeeze, talk about subtle. Mikie's phone vibrates as he's watching, and it's Theresa; she's had a bad day, and wants to talk. Ghaer keeps trying to call Mikie, but he's getting a busy signal. Theresa eventually gets off the phone, which Mikie sets to voicemail mode in case Theresa (or some one else) calls back at an inconvenient time.
Ghaer has, of course, ended up at the commercial loading bay too, not being able to locate Mikie. Ghaer has put on a pair of coveralls, and grabbed a clipboard, and heads out to check up on what Ling Standard ships are in port. He sees Mikie going into a bar with some one wearing Starport Authority coveralls.
Mikie buys the just off-duty worker a beer, and explains that a friend has gotten himself into some trouble, and Mikie needs to get into the cargo area in order to help him. Mikie sees Ghaer enter the bar at this point. Such a coincidence.
The SA guy is willing to help, but how does he know Mikie isn't going to steal cargo or something? Does he have some kind of ID.? Mikie takes out his wallet to look for the right kind of "ID.". The only thing that the Imperium's return has done is raised the cost of bribes. A few minutes later, Mikie has a badge for a half hour, which has been decorated with a felt tip pen, so it's mostly recognizable as a male human. Kind of. Mikie waits around the corner for 45 seconds before whistling the Ling-Ling theme as Ghaer comes around the corner. They head out together toward the ship in question, passing a man in a trenchcoat and hat, who pops out of a cargo container, and scuttles off. ???
As Ghaer and Mikie are heading for the guard, he puts his hand to his earpiece, draws a gun and a keycard, and heads in the airlock door. Ghaer goes in right after the man, and engages him, Mikie following afterwards, to cover his back. After an altercation in the corridor, ending with Ghaer and Mikie slightly injured, and the other guy dead, they are into the ship. They hear loud thumping from cargo bay 3, and head there.
Mikie gets the door open just as Nicolai is giving up on trying to get the loader to work. Mikie shuts the door behind him and whistles. Once he has Nicolai's attention, he asks if he's "done yet?" Nicolai states that he's only just getting started, but he agrees to leave. However, Ghaer is being fired on, and he dashes into the bay when Mikie opens the door. At this point, Ghaer and Nicolai realize that the white powder and pink liquid that have been spilled over the floor during the fracas are actually explosive components. This is explained to Mikie, who would also rather not blow up. They decide to try to make a run for it before everything blows, as there is no other way out.
Ghaer throws a rubber glove full of the explosive slurry (nitromethane) down the corridor, as a distraction. The three make a run for it, but the oxygen is being cut off by the halon to suppress the fire, and the airlock seems so far away... A few moments later, a female stumbles out of a door. Ghaer pulls her back into the room she was in, and the others follow. It's a medical room, the one that Nicolai woke up in earlier. Oxygen is inhaled, the female is strapped into the chair, and Mikie gets the keys from her coat pocket to open the cabinet that has Nicolai's stuff in it (he didn't want to leave without at least his knife and ring).
After Ghaer uses some of the found Regen 1 on Nicolai, and Mikie uses some burn foam on the security camera, it's time to leave, or at least try to. But Nicolai wants to take the female with him. Period. An argument ensues, because Nicolai is determined to not leave without the female, who he intends to question. Ghaer doesn't want to take the female, as that would be kidnapping, and besides, he already knows why Nicolai was grabbed and tells him: "because Ming-Na Ling wanted your ass. Maybe because Blaelok gave you to her, or maybe she was going to give you to him; who knows?" Mikie doesn't know who 'Ming-Na' is, but he isn't going to help Nicolai take the female with him to "interrogate". Ghaer manages to tranq Nicolai before it gets really ugly.
Oh good, this leaves Ghaer and Mikie trying to escape the ship while dragging Nicolai (the largest of the party). And then come the sounds of the ship disconnecting in preparation to leaving. This is bad, very bad. They find an escape pod, and pile in. Nicolai is still unconscious while being strapped in, so he misses the fun of banging into the side of either the ship or the station. He does come to for the spinning through space thing as the pod gets control. Nicolai is stone cold pissed, but he'll have to save his revenge for later, as there are more pressing concerns.
The escape pod makes it through the atmosphere, and onto Regina proper. Naturally, the pod "lands" in the trees. Fortunately, it's only 20 feet up, so all three manage to get out of the pod, with the emergency supplies; Nicolai takes the rifle from the emergency pack, but doesn't shoot anyone in the party. Yet. As the three stand in the woods, (Great - Mikie hates 'camping'!) a "shooting star" is seen approaching the area. Not that they're paranoid, but it's not inconceivable that the unhappy people from Ling Standard are looking for their escape pod.
No rest for the weary