Everyone returns safely from their respective visits and/or missions. Night passes without incident.
151 - 122.
There remain only four more adult Imperial citizens to acquire, from Kerchev. Treal makes sure he keeps a weapon with him at all times, now that he's reputed to be an AP. Mr. Shaw will be staying in camp to do admin stuff, while the dangerous mercenaries (Treal and Hunter) back up Marcus on his trip to see Kerchev; Kiffin and Mr. Torgwen will be going to see Kerchev's man Mikhail about supplies.
En route, Hunter catches sight of a man in green, leaning up against a tree and watching the party as it arrives on Kerchev's estate. Hunter's glad he's wearing body armor. Marcus and his people are escorted up to see the Baron Vladimir Kerchev, while the stewards go to speak with Mikhail.
Marcus is shown right in to see the Baron - no delays or games (so far). There are three bronzed (from working in the sun) people in chains in the room, seated in chairs, and holding some sort of woven bags over their laps. Kerchev is seated at his desk, and he has tea served to Marcus, and beer to the 'hired help' (Hunter and Treal). Kerchev tells Marcus that "These are the citizens you were asking for. The fourth is somewhat problematic... he is not what you asked for. You might want to reconsider. I will hand him over on the condition he will not return." This 'problem man' is named Thomas Kincaid. Treal asks what the problem is with this man? Kerchev responds "Things walk near him." Treal asks if he's a thief, and the answer is "A thief, an opportunist, and a liar; you would be better off without him." Marcus asks for him anyway, and Kincaid is brought out, in manacles. Kerchev then announces "I believe that concludes our business." Short and sweet, at least so far.
Marcus and his group are preparing to depart, when Kerchev offers Marcus the opportunity to "ride back like a gentleman" - on horseback. Marcus agrees, and they discuss horses. Treal tells Hunter he has "a bad feeling about this", especially since Kerchev is rumored to be socking away money to get off planet, and APs are valuable... They'll be very cautious, and that includes not removing Kincaid's manacles, even though he offers to "cut them in on something. Simple, in and out, we can clear $50K each, easy." Hunter says he's "listening". Kincaid says he has been keeping track of the "screws" and knows where they can lay their hands on a lot of Borloi oil. Hunter leads him on, asking where they'd be able to get rid of the stuff, etc. Hunter says "What's that over there?!", and when Kincaid turns, Hunter buttstrokes him, then explains to Kincaid about drugs being a bad thing. Kincaid tries to take a different tack, but Treal suggests they just "freeze him" (low passage). The vehicle is stopped, and Hunter ties a rope to the bumper of the Humvee, then to Kincaid's manacles, and they run some of the wind out of him. He's still a bit mouthy, until Hunter goes on about how Kincaid should not annoy Treal, especially since Treal hacked up Gustafson's "muscle"; Kincaid sneaks a look at the back of Treal's neck, checking for an AP tattoo.
They stop at the farm, where Kiffin and Mr. Torgwen are, Kincaid takes a look at Kiffin and tells Hunter "there's an AP I wouldn't mind getting real close too." Hunter tells him if he plays his cards right and can come up with some useful information, maybe Hunter can arrange for Kincaid to spend some time with "the camp recreation". Kincaid is more than willing to go along with that. Hunter goes over to where Kiffin is, and chats with her for a few minutes, just pleasantries, and "what's for dinner" kind of stuff, but Kincaid can't hear them. When he heads back to the Humvee, Hunter gives Kincaid a thumbs up, and tells him "she'll meet you in the kitchen later, but it will have to be quick, since she's working. Oh, and just so you know, she's a bit playful - she likes to play hard to get." Oh, this bodes badly for some one. (Treal thinks Hunter should warn Kiffin, but Hunter figures she should be able to teach Kincaid a lesson.)
Marcus catches up with the vehicle when they're stopped at the farm. Treal still thinks the only way to prevent Kincaid from being a problem is to freeze him.
Back at the camp, Shaw is at the hospital working on inputting data on the people they have run through the auto-doc. He takes Caroline's printout, and goes to see Dr. Oboto, who is with a small group of children, and Dr. Wentworth. Dr. Oboto looks at it and Shaw explains that he believes it indicates "Arthbright syndrome." (You can only get this if you are female, have traveled as an adolescent or preadolescent, and been exposed to deep space radiation; or if some one has made it look like you have Arthbright syndrome...) Dr. Oboto wants to have the other children checked, and perhaps alert the teachers. Shaw tells him not to "cause a panic". Dr. Oboto has no intention of causing a panic, thank you, but he needs to at the very least tell Caroline's mother (Alice); Shaw offers to speak with her, but Oboto will do it.
The children have been discussing memories of home, etc. Caroline stands up and describes a memory of her (usually absent) father: "He always wore Silver Peregrine. Even the letters I got smelled of Silver Peregrine." Shaw remembers that this is a cologne (for a couple of hundred bucks an ounce) that you can get only on Cogri, and only from Rodolfo's Quay.
Oboto asks Shaw to arrange the scheduling for running all the refugees through the auto-doc to check for Arthbright syndrome, as it needs to be treated as soon as possible or it could cause developmental problems. Shaw comments that Caroline's symptoms indicate they've caught her very early on in the process. Oboto wonders if Shaw has done diagnostic work? No, but he has had "some experience" in this area. Shaw asks if "this syndrome cannot be treated here?" Dr. Oboto responds "No, Regina at least, Rhylanor preferably."
Once everyone is back in camp safe and sound, but Kincaid is eager to "visit" with the little blonde, and is sent off to the kitchen. Hunter decides maybe he should warn Kiffin, so he calls the kitchen, tells her they've "lost" one of the guys they brought in earlier, "he's some kind of sex offender, and he was looking at you earlier, so better watch your back." Kiffin gets a description, and thanks him, tentatively, and rings off. Then she hears noise from the dining area. It's Kincaid, who looks up from picking the locks on his manacles with a meat thermometer (okay, so he gets bonus points for ingenuity) and says "Hi honey, I'll be right with you. You can wear these if you want." "Umm, no thank you?" Kiffin and Kincaid now have one of those amusing conversations brought on by one person having a completely different idea as to what is going on. Kincaid asks if anyone on board the ship is about his size, as he wants to get some real clothing, preferably not the size worn by "Carlos the Half-Giant" (that would be Treal). Kiffin suggests Hunter and Dr. Shaw are fairly average sized, so Kincaid goes to Hunter's cabin, goes in despite Kiffin's protests, and then complains that "Mr. Psychopath" has nothing but military clothing. He moves on to Shaw's room, and as he's trying to pick the lock, he keeps chatting with the very confused Kiffin: "Honey, I've got to tell you, you've got one of the best packages I've ever seen, you just need to market it..." At this point Treal shows up, tells Kincaid "you've lost your manacles, buddy", and slams him into the wall. Kincaid protests that he "didn't know it was your night! ", and that Hunter must be having a good laugh. Treal wants to freeze him, but Kincaid objects.
Treal brings Kincaid to Marcus, and fills him in on Kincaid's escapades (talking about how to break in to the barons' estates to rob them, breaking into several staterooms, harassing the steward, etc.). And since they promised to make sure he didn't cause any more trouble, the only sure way to make sure of that is to freeze him. Kincaid throws himself onto his knees in front of Marcus, going on about how his horrible experiences have changed him, etc.: "I'm not what I was before the war, it's what I had to become." And on, and on... Treal drags him up on to his feet, and suggests that maybe they could hand him over to the Imperial Navy personnel on planet, to have his fingerprints and DNA checked. Kincaid is all for this, but Treal points out that Kincaid has managed, in a matter of minutes, to escape his manacles and break into two staterooms, and he had no tools. Good point.
Hunter and Terry set up pads and are taking pot shots at 'technicals', just for kicks, so Kincaid is left with the gunners, who put him into a starfish vacc suit, then into a weapons bay in engineering. The gravs are turned off, and the room is depressurized. They watch through the door hatch as he gradually makes his way over to the wall, then to a pipe... Hmm, he's good. And entertaining. But the pipe he's working on is a high-pressure sewage pipe, not an oxygen pipe. Oh-oh.
Marcus and Treal head over to the Naval outpost, and find the officers. There is a disagreement going on about some of the data collected, and whether or not the highest priority is to get the absolutely perfectly correct data, or to get it in a timely manner. They sound more like human Martels. All four Naval officers are wearing the insignia of the Quartermaster division. And they're far too busy with important matters to be bothered with Marcus' "civilian problem". Treal tries speaking with a Marine officer, but when he explains that the local barons may become upset if Kincaid causes problems, the officer goes off, and starts planning the defense of Roarke's Drift . [Look it up. - the Scribe] Sigh. Marcus is appalled by the stupidity and blindness of people who are graduates of the Imperial Naval Academy (they are all wearing Academy rings). Treal points out that they're just paperwork jockey's. It's still embarrassing.
Shaw comes back to the ship, to find some one has been tampering with his stateroom door. Kiffin explains about the strange man who tried to break in, that he escaped from Hunter who said he was "a sex offender", and they've taken him away, but she doesn't know to where. Shaw finds out where the man is being kept, and goes to check him out. The gunners are still watching him. Shaw suggests they try cranking the gravs up instead of down, which they do. When the engineers have to go in to check out the pipe Kincaid has been messing with, Shaw volunteers to watch the prisoner for them. He questions him briefly, to see if he has any usefule information, or if maybe there's something more to him than meets the eye. Kincaid is his usual sleazy con-artist self (he appears to believe he's being charming), which just serves to irritate Shaw, who informs Kincaid that "Personally, I think I could do our team a whole lot of good by putting you out of our misery." Kincaid protests that it's not his fault - Hunter told him Kiffin was the "camp recreation" (Hunter's response would be: "She is! Good food is the only thing we have to look forward to around here!"). Irritating and whiny. Shaw decides to tranq Kincaid, and pops him into the auto-doc to see if he's "hiding" anything interesting. The answer is yes, and no. No explosives or weapons, but there are six small "occlusions" in his intestinal tract. Shaw has the auto-doc remove the items, clean and sanitize them, and then discovers he has six small gemstones. Kincaid was evidently saving them for later; he's in for a surprise.
A landing craft has arrived. It's identifying itself as being from the Frontier Cruiser Fenris. And the Scout Service has sent ships too. Busy place, all of a sudden.
Marcus is summoned by a junior Naval officer. Afterwards, he calls a meeting. Shaw is checking on Kincaid at this time, and Dr. Oboto wants to know why there is a man in the auto-doc when they have children to run through it, and why is he restrained? Shaw explains about the prisoner, and the fact that he was just making sure he was not injured or infected, and he'll be out directly.
At the meeting, everyone hears that the 10th Naval District is ahead of schedule for reoccupation of this area, and they request that the group stay on planet for at least a couple of days to assist with processing the paperwork and people. The starport will be reactivated, the captain speaks with the officers who have been doing the survey, and because of regulations, she will not have them killed.
Shaw has a conversation with Alice, about Caroline. He explains that She's not your natural daughter, is she? No, I found Caroline on one of the outer worlds. Her school group had been... Caroline... needed help." Obviously not a subject Alice is willing or able to discuss.
Marcus wants to speak with Shaw, in private. "The young woman known as Caroline bears a striking resemblance to a lost cousin of mine from Jewell. Is there any way she could be the cousin?" Shaw says it's possible, why? Marcus says "Look. My uncle is an abysmal jerk. He was not raised to run the family. And my father made some mistakes. It would be best for my family if this were Caroline, and I'd like to make sure she is." Shaw: "Why is this so important?" Marcus: "If she were my cousin, a regent could be appointed, and funds could be put into place to support her; it would bring stability to the family." Shaw asks "How sure do you want it to be?" Marcus: "I don't know how this is done, but as sure as possible." Shaw: "I can make it as sure as you can afford." (And Hunter thought he was mercenary!) Marcus doesn't want to set things up so ironclad that if the real Caroline show up she'll have no recourse (Shaw doesn't bother to tell Marcus that she is the real Caroline.). Also, Marcus is concerned about taking the child away from her family. Shaw suggests that he could take the adopted mother along as a nanny. Marcus likes the idea of having some one who is only concerned with the safety of the child, and it will look good to the College of Peers too.
Marcus makes Shaw an offer: "As soon as Caroline is accepted by the College of Peers or their representative, you will be paid one million credits." Shaw ponders this, and accepts with one minor variance - he wants one quarter of that up front, to cover expenses. Not a problem. And Marcus gives Shaw some information that might help in "restoring" Caroline's memories. And it's probably best that the "discovery" be made once they are in jump. And that will be in approximately four days.
Shaw goes through the information in the file, and takes a closer look at a snapshot of Caroline as a baby, being held by her father. It's not a great shot, and it's about twelve years old, but it could be McCafferty. Shaw ages the photo, and the result looks exactly like McCafferty. So either he's some one who has been made to look like McCafferty would, or it really is him.
Hunter is informed that his services will no longer be needed for exterior security now that the Navy and Scouts have arrived; this has made the locals very quiet. Marcus wants to add a number of people under Hunter's contract clause about protecting anyone "designated" by Marcus (the kids they are taking off, etc.).
Shaw contacts MacGregor, and tells him that he better get ready, but there's only room for one person. Damn. MacGregor won't leave his people, so Shaw suggests MacGregor could perhaps make an arrangement with the captain of the Fenris. MacGregor is not pleased to here which ship is in, as he knows the captain: "She has no sense of humor. I don't know why I married her..." TMI!* (*Too Much Information).
Hunter and Treal get several invitations to go for walks and chats. Seems that Treal has developed quite a rep as a duelist, and a bunch of the locals would like to duel. Just to first blood of course - for sport, not over any issues. Hunter can act as second...
Shaw unforges Caroline's data, and Oboto is concerned that the machine has been giving inconsistent results. Must need to be recalibrated. Shaw suggests it might have been damaged on landing, and he should have thought to recalibrate it himself before. Oh well, no harm done, they just need to run some of the tests again.
The Naval officers are snubbing the mercs, not that Hunter cares. He's not in the service any more, so he can taunt them if he wants too. When he's not doing that, he's keeping an eye on the kids. Cora keeps asking to go home to her "sick" mother, and Hunter decides to become her new best friend. After a while what she tells him about her mother's "illness", and it all sounds rather familiar to Hunter - it's the kind of "illness" a drug addict gets when they run out of "medicine".
The four officious twits from the Navy have been put in charge of the paperwork, and they've managed to find three "undocumented locals" who must be "returned", especially since they're minor children. One of them is Cora. Hunter tries cajoling the head idiot, then bribery, then threats. Eventually, the twit tries to have Hunter arrested, but none of the Marines really like the guy. Hunter agrees there may have been a misunderstanding, especially when the Navy guy tried to convince him to take some property off planet without going through customs. Things get ugly, and the Marines decide to bump it up to the Captain.
In a private meeting, Hunter plays it straight with the Captain, who is not the sort of woman who likes games. Hunter tells her "I'm just trying to get these kids off this shit hole and to somewhere decent, and I don't need some officious twit screwing things up because he gets his jollies messing up the lives of eight and ten year olds. I'll do whatever I have to, and don't tell me you haven't done the same in your career." The Captain looks at Hunter's papers (the transfer of indentured servants he got for the kids), does a bit of checking, and decides to go along with this. She passes the documents on to one of her officers, telling her that they need Imperial ID papers for the children. These miraculously appear a little while later, after which Hunter thanks the Captain, and gets a lift back to the planet.
Upon returning to the camp, Hunter is met by Shaw, who has some news: "We seem to have caught a break with Caroline - Marcus wants her returned to her rightful family too." But just who does that mean? Point taken. Hunter checks names and descriptions of their "employer", just to make sure. Yup, they were hired by the same man, evidently. Hunter is still not thrilled that the guy went behind his back and hired Shaw, but he's willing to take the man's money. Actually, Hunter is pretty much willing to take anybody's money.
Kincaid has regained consciousness, and is not thrilled. He has reality spelled out to him by Shaw and Hunter, as to just what will happen to him should he get even a bit out of hand. Shaw and Hunter make sure all the females on the ship find out that Kincaid is a "sex criminal"; it's going to be a long, lonely trip for Mr. Kincaid. Or a very short one if he screws up.
Hunter has promised to take Cora to see her mother, so he's going to take her to the main city in Gustafson's territory. Shaw goes along to drive, and Kiffin goes along to get a few last minute supplies, and in case a female hand is needed. Cora gives directions to a rather unpleasant part of town. Shaw stays with the car, as Hunter and Kiffin go with Cora.
They get to the home, and Cora remarks that "the light isn't on". Hunter gives Kiffin a shotgun, shows her how to use it, then goes to check things out. He makes it to the top of the stairs before a man steps out and makes a series of inappropriate offers and suggestions to Kiffin about herself and Cora. He doesn't take the hint until Kiffin shows him the shotgun. He apologizes for the misunderstanding, and very carefully leaves. Kiffin makes sure her back is to the wall, and keeps Cora close by.
Hunter finds his way into the darkened apartment, which is mostly empty, reeks of Borloi, and an unmistakable smell to some one who is used to dead bodies. Hunter has found Cora's mother. Evidently her throat was slit a couple of days ago, and the place was ransacked - she was probably killed for a few credits worth of Borloi. Hunter takes a look around, and manages to find a very small prayer booklet, which he will give to Cora when she's older. He doesn't take the little string dolls, as he doesn't want to encourage too many memories.
As Shaw waits in the car, he gets a steady stream of offers for Borloi, and other goods and services that he does not desire. One man is screaming like a lunatic, to distract Shaw from the two guys trying to see if they can steal something off the back. Shaw doesn't quite run them over, just pushes them out of the way. The screaming guy keeps pounding on the car and the window, screaming for Shaw to "get the f**k out of the car!" Shaw uses the car to sort of keep him at bay.
Hunter comes back out to the street where Kiffin and Cora are. Hunter catches Kiffin's eye and shakes his head. Hunter takes the shotgun back, and suggests they go back to the car before Shaw gets into more trouble. Kiffin picks up Cora, and they leave. There's a small riot breaking out around the vehicle. Hunter fires off the shotgun into the air, which takes care of all but two men. One is the original screamer, and there's another man yelling encouragement and banging on the car. Shaw shoots the original loony with his Darne Eggsterminator (ewww!), and Hunter takes out the other guy in a less lethal manner with his ASP baton.
While this is going on, some one tries to grab Cora out of Kiffin's arms. Hunter looks back in time to see Kiffin very quickly use an elbow strike to the man's throat. He drops. Kiffin's arm feels a bit funny, but other than that she's okay. Hunter fires a shot at the man on the ground, just in case it's needed (it's not - he's very dead), sets Cora into the car, and then boosts Kiffin into the back (not that she needs a boost, but Hunter enjoys it).
They head for the better part of town, to get the supplies Kiffin was set after, and some clothing for Cora and the other kids. Cora directs them to the large market. Shaw stays in the vehicle, reloading the Eggsterminator (which is a pain in the ass). They get some clothing, and are at one of the booths when a couple of the local guardsmen decide that taking the attractive young female downtown for a little strip searching would be fun. They ask to see Kiffin's papers, and then tell her that she needs to come with them to make sure the papers are legit. Hunter asks if anything is wrong, and when he's informed it's none of his business, Hunter disagrees, since they are speaking to his wife. Hunter suggests that perhaps a fine is owed? The younger guardsman figures out that this is a good opportunity to get some Imperial credits, but the older one can't change gears that fast. Hunter takes out a grenade, just to make sure things don't get out of hand, and he asks the "little woman" to pay the fine, which Kiffin does. They take the money, Kiffin takes her papers back, and the guardsmen leave. Hunter watches, and sees that the two men cut down an alley, so he decides that he'll have to go get Kiffin's money back.
While Kiffin does the rest of the shopping, and picks up a caramel apple for Cora. Hunter has some fun in the alley, and Shaw joins in the "fun". Boys will be boys. Before they leave, Shaw uses up some soon to be expired mem-wipe. Then it's back to Kiffin and Cora, and on to a pub as Hunter is thirsty. Besides, the last thing on Kiffin's list is beer.
Kiffin finds a table and bench in the corner, where Cora has a ginger beer and then goes to sleep. Hunter pays for some entertainment with the bar girls, and they go upstairs. He's paid for entertainment for Shaw as well, but he declines except for conversation and company downstairs (after a rather unpleasant incident involving a local girl, a social disease, and a long trip back to Regina with no antibiotics, he tends to shun local women when he's not at home). Kiffin has some tea, arranges for the beer, and politely declines passes.
The guards from earlier are helped into bar, but they can't remember anything for about the last twelve hours or so; it's speculated that they have either been drinking on duty, or have sustained head injuries. A shop girl comes into the bar, and warns Kiffin that Gustafson's men are looking for Shaw and Hunter. When Hunter comes back downstairs, Kiffin passes on the intel, and the group leaves. A little way out of town, they meet two horseman on the road, who try to wave the vehicle over. Not. Shots are exchanged, Hunter is wounded in the left hand, then the left forearm. Ouch! Shaw calls Terry back at the camp to warn her, and arrange for cover. They get away, and manage to return to the camp, where Hunter is medicked.
Hunter takes some after seeing the doctor to speak with Cora. He explains to her about her mother's death, and when Cora blames herself for not coming back with her mother's "medicine", Hunter makes sure she knows that was not the cause of her mother's death, and that some one killed her to rob her. This is something Cora can understand, given her background.
152 to 153 - 1122.
Shaw makes arrangements with the Navy people to get resupplied with fuel and compressed air, and everyone hustles to get things ready. On day 153, the party leaves for Regina. While en route, Shaw explains privately to Alice about Caroline's family history, that she really is the missing cousin, and why he has not told Marcus (sort of giving them an out later, if necessary).