153 to 160 - 1122.
En route to Regina: the children, some parents, Jennifer, the mercs, Dr. Oboto. Marcus, the stewards (other than Kiffin), and most of the others have remained on Dinom. The three kids Hunter has taken on are awestruck at the high tech stuff, and have a lovely time riding the elevator up and down, among other things. Treal makes sure Kincaid knows he's being watched. All the time. Shaw hangs out in the medical area, making sure he has a duplicate set of the real DNA record for Caroline; he provides this copy to Alice Smith, just in case she ever has to prove who Caroline really is. Kiffin is very popular with the kids, as she can bake; the young men on the ship like her too, and she always remembers what they like to eat or drink. Hunter's men are happy with the job, as it's a simple in, shoot up a few abo's, and then out again, and no one was killed or even badly injured.
Kincaid has a bad trip. Treal makes Kincaid his hobby, all the females think Kincaid's a sex offender, and then he joins a play a "friendly game of cards" with Treal, Shaw, Hunter, and a few other mercs. Shaw and Hunter are definitely not gamblers, but Treal and Kincaid appear to be dueling with cards instead of guns (safer that way). Everyone else really is playing a friendly game, and enjoying snackie-bits (Kiffin enjoys cooking, and Hunter enjoys eating, so they're happy). Treal and Kincaid both end up with an extra $250 credits. Jennifer hates to lose, and she was a tad looped, and after the game she decides to "commiserate" with Hunter. (nudge-nudge) After Jennifer leaves, Hunter finds Cora sleeping in the hallway, near his door; she's allowed to sleep near Hunter, as long as there's "no whimpering or anything". Hunter wasn't really expecting this when he "acquired" the kids...
The majority of the children have a bit of a hard time readjusting to being around tech, inside, and having food readily available. Treal tells Kiffin that she should be careful about what kind of food the kids "steal" to stash (so that the crew isn't finding rotten food all over the place), which makes sense. She makes sure there is food out and available for "snacking" all over the ship, all the time. Hunter finds a beer and some food where he sleeps, and thinks it's from Terry or Jennifer (more likely from Cora). Treal and Kiffin rotate the kids, some playing in the hold with Treal (the kids love him, and Caroline is opening up to him), some in the kitchen helping Kiffin make cookies, etc.
Shaw tries to get Alice to open up about Caroline. He manages to find out that Alice found Caroline on Lysen, but the details of how she was found, and under what circumstances, is obviously not something she is willing to discuss.
After Jennifer sobers up and gets past the hangover stage, Treal gives her a few pointers on what she did wrong during the game. He figures that she deserves something for her money.
For the most part, it's a dull trip, except for the excitement coming out of the kitchen, what with the kids and all the new people on board. Cooking a turkey is suggested, but Kiffin can't provide one; this may be a good thing, as Hunter suggests that "the only way to properly cook is turkey is to deep fry it". (??)
160 to 162 - 1122.
Arrival in the Regina system is uneventful. While maneuvering in, news from the College of Nobles filters in. The big news is the death of Baron Hohenstauffen on Jewell. Apparently some one landed a ship on him (whether it was an accident or an on purpose remains to be seen). How interesting.
Alice is very worried about Caroline, and tells Shaw this. The Baron's death means that Caroline will inherit the title, and whoever 'controls' Caroline, will control a lot of power and money. Shaw points out Well, first we have to get her to her father." "Her father?!? Her father?? Who's her father?" Alice says she doesn't know anything about Caroline's father. The only thing Caroline has said is that she remembers the cologne her father used to wear. Shaw shows Alice the old snapshot, and suggests that perhaps they could see if it could jog Caroline's memory. Alice is very concerned about this man who says he's Caroline's father.
Shaw and Alice track down Caroline, who is in the play area with Treal. Caroline is just about to head to the kitchen with a couple of younger kids. The "wilder" bunch of kids, including Peter and Paul (Hunter's other "adoptees") show up to play with Treal. The boys are chattering about all the different firearms Hunter has told them about, and want to know if they can "shoot something on Regina"? Treal points out that "things you shoot at on Regina tend to shoot back", but the boys are referring to targets, not people - they just want to shoot guns. Maybe that can be arranged.
Caroline drops the other children off with Kiffin, then Shaw and Alice take her off to speak with her in private. Shaw gets her talking about her past a bit, and she's surprised to remember that along with the memory of her father's cologne, she remembers having seen pictures of her father. Shaw shows her the snapshot of the infant and two adults, and the female causes a strong reaction in Caroline, and she starts to get upset. She's calmed down a bit, then Shaw asks her about her father again, and seeing pictures. Caroline says that after his letters stopped coming, she tried to find out more. Shaw asks if she has any of the letters, and Caroline says that she lost them, and then stops, getting upset again. Shaw tries to find out more, but Caroline starts to exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress, so the questioning is ended.
The night before getting into port, Hunter sets up guard rotations, and then sets his alarm so that he can check every couple of hours. After the second time he gets up, a small voice asks if he's sick? It's Cora, and she's obviously frightened. She's worried because her mother "used to get up all the time." Hunter can see that she's upset, but he's only used to children on a theoretical level, and isn't sure what to do. He tells her that he doesn't have anything to do with that stuff, and that as long as she doesn't "whimper or anything", she can sleep in his room. She's happier after that.
162 - 1122.
Alice looks like hell in the morning. Shaw asks her what's wrong, and is told that Caroline had a very bad night. Alice didn't have a good night either, and she shows Shaw a magazine with a picture of a couple in it - it's Sir Harold McCafferty, with his trophy wife, at a social event on Capital. She wants to know if this is the man to whom Shaw intends to give Caroline. Shaw looks at the picture, and the man looks exactly like the man in the snapshot. Exactly. Even though the photo was taken twelve years ago (Anagathon??). And the McCafferty who hired Shaw looks like an older version of both of the pictures. Damn. Not that Shaw really cares, but he doesn't like it.
Shaw decides to mess with Kincaid, just for kicks. Shaw goes over to the lounge area, and starts playing with one of the gems. Kincaid immediately goes over to take a look, and asks to see it. Shaw declines, even though Kincaid offers to help determine if it's real or not. Yeah, right. Shaw plays with it a while, making comments about how nice it is, and that he's going to have to "ask the corporal if her knows where I can find some more", leaving Kincaid to leap to his own conclusions.
Caroline has been bonding with Treal, and actually talking to him. When Treal asks her if she's all right (after the bad night), she asks him: "Your dad wanted you didn't he? He didn't say you were a mistake?" Treal answers: "No, he would never say that. Anyone who says that doesn't deserve to have a child. If you were my child I'd want you." Caroline starts to cry. Treal picks her up and asks if she's remembered something about her father? Apparently after his letters stopped coming, Caroline went looking through her mother's stuff and found a letter from her father "saying that his marriage had been a mistake and he was glad to have put it behind him, and he didn't mention me at all." Treal explains that sometimes people marry the wrong people, and then separate, but that doesn't mean anything is wrong with her. Besides, you can't choose your family members, so you have to be very careful when you choose your friends. Treal gives her his phone number, and his father's, in case she ever needs any help.
Treal gets Caroline talking a bit more, and she brings up something that happened to her before Alice found her: "...We were there, and Mr. Jefferies was hurt, and..." She starts to get shocky, something Treal has seen before, so he reassures her that she's safe, and it's okay to remember these things. Hunter shows up at this point, decides that Treal has a good way with the small creatures, and assigns him to speak with Cora, keep her amused, or whatever. Hunter tells Cora he wants her to help keep an eye on Treal, and Caroline too. Cora takes this on very seriously, and even tells Hunter that she's got her "stuff" ready to go. Her stuff is in a paper bag, what little there is of it (wore neo-denim, a new pair of socks "from the nice lady in the kitchen", and a small knife). Hunter fixes her up with a small pack, gives her a suit knife, and small flashlight.
Hunter calls the Sisters of the Holy Cross, about some war orphans he picked up. He's willing to help with their upkeep, but he doesn't really think he's suitable to be raising the kids and all. The sister ask for Hunter's guild number, which he gives them, so they can look up his file, check out what kind of rep he has. Hunter gives the sister what information he has about Cora, Peter, and Paul. Hunter's not a religious kind of guy, but he respects the "penguins" - they have uniforms, and an organization. Hunter's idea of raising a child is to send money and get a picture and letter once a month, so this should work out. Yes, the Sisters do have room for the children. Hunter makes all the arrangements, including having some one meet the ship when it docks.
Terry is somewhat concerned about making the "delivery" Hunter told her about. Hunter isn't too concerned about the "pantywaist nobles, they're all needle-dicks any way". Terry thinks for a second, then says "Mostly..." In that vein, Hunter thanks Terry for the beer, but it wasn't from her. Hunter says "Must have been that Jennifer chick then." Terry then informs Hunter that Jennifer has been hitting on "everything in pants". Hunter was "saving himself" for Terry. Uh-huh.
Hunter tells Cora that he has business to attend to when they dock, but he has some people who will take care of her, and that he'll come to see her when he's done. She'll be staying with the "penguins". Cora understands about nuns. Hunter tells her that he wants her to "check out the place, see how you like it, and keep an eye on Peter and Paul too. They act tough, but we know better." Cora will do her best.
Shaw finds Hunter, asks if he knows a place to keep the girl while they make contact with her father? Hunter isn't "running a fucking daycare", but he asks Terry (and informs Shaw that Terry has been cut in on the deal). Since Shaw tells them it will be Caroline, Alice, and two other adopted kids of Alice's, Terry suggests if it's that big a group why not just the Green Tree Inn? She's being sarcastic.
"Landing", so to speak. Actually, "docking" with Regina Up.
Several representatives of the Sisters of the Holy Cross show up to see about Hunter's kids. One of them recognizes Treal as a Delgado, and inquires after his father Falcon. Treal is very polite of course. Meanwhile, Hunter sends one of the mercs off to buy "a stuffed animal and a couple of trucks". Fortunately, the merc is able to find a big stuffed Rottweiler that growls, and two toy tanks that shoot holographic ammo, etc. After they're done playing with the tanks, Hunter takes the dog and the tanks to the kids. Cora hugs the dog happily, and the boys really like the tanks. The sisters leave with the children, after Hunter promises to be by later, after he's finished his work.
Shaw and Hunter have to hustle a bit to prevent Caroline from being photographed with the other kids by the reporters, by lying to her that Alice is upset and wants to see her in sickbay, then tell Alice the same thing about Caroline. Fortunately, the photogs mostly ignore the mercs. Shaw et al wait for the kids and the reporters to leave. Hunter tries to chat up Alice while they wait. She was expecting some kind of legal fight, and she wasn't "expecting the baron to get his head crushed". Hunter, not having read the article, assumes that some one had the baron killed. He may be right about the cause, just not the method.
Hunter makes a comment about Alice probably just suffering from "separation anxiety", and Alice gets upset, because Shaw told her that she'd be taking care of Caroline, and then the kids get upset, and Hunter wants Terry to take the kids into the other room, but Alice says "You're not taking them anywhere!" loudly enough for Kiffin to hear. She goes in to the medical bay, sees everyone in the middle of the rather tense moment with the kids backed into a corner looking frightened, and asks what's wrong. Alice tells Kiffin that they are trying to "take her children". Kiffin tries to takes the children into the other room, but Shaw and Hunter won't let her. She leaves, calls the Captain, who comes down. He and Hunter get into it, and Hunter isn't about to back down, so it's getting more tense, not less.
Kiffin tries to call Starport Authority, but gets put on hold, so she calls the Jasmine Club and tells Mr. Sykes what's going on, and that she doesn't know what to do. Sykes tells her that "Mr. Langers will be there in just a moment." (Mr. Langers is Mr. Sykes partner, and runs the club when Mr. Sykes is not there.)
Shaw calls McCafferty, tells him about Alice's concerns, and McCafferty assures him that is not a problem, they will all stay together. They arrange for a pickup, and Alice is informed that she will be staying with Caroline, so there's no problem. Really.
McCafferty's man, William Brown shows up. Hunter goes out to speak with him, and sees another man arrive. The second man doesn't really look threatening, although he does have a visible scar, but something about him makes the hair stand up on the back of Hunter's neck, so he asks the new arrival who he is? He introduces himself as "Karl Langers", and when Hunter tries to get him away from the ship, he explains that he is there to see some one on the ship. Hunter wants to know who. Langers points out Kiffin, who's in the doorway. Langers goes to Kiffin, and gets her side of the story. She's obviously upset, and confused as to what to do next. Langers will look into the matter, if Kiffin wants. Yes, she does.
Brown has arrived in a rather small vehicle, and there's not enough room for everyone. The decision is for Alice, Shaw, and the kids to go in the car with Brown, and Hunter and Terry will follow in an auto cab. They leave, Langers and Kiffin follow in his car. The vehicles go a bit further, then Terry yells "Out!" and dives out. Hunter, his instincts honed from years of people trying to kill him, dives out of the vehicle immediately before a truck hits the cab broadside and pushes it into an alley. Shaw has been keeping an eye on the cab in the mirror, and sees this. Brown stops the car, says something to the effect of "Wow. Your ex-partner did some damn good work. First thing that's gone right on this op so far." Shaw's intention is to shoot Brown, but he finds that he can't move. At all. He keeps trying, but aside from dangerously raising his blood pressure, all he is able to do after several long minutes is move his fingers slightly. Brown tells Alice that Shaw "must have had a stroke".
Langers pulls up beside Hunter and Terry and offers a lift. Hunter accepts, since he's mad as hell and wants to kill somebody. They drive up to the car as Alice is trying to launch herself at Brown over the back seat at him, and Hunter sees a gun in Brown's hand so he shoots him (without really even caring who it is - he has a gun). They pull up, Hunter leaps out, is surprised to see that it's not Shaw he killed, checks Brown (he's alive, but not for long), then looks into the car to see Shaw looking like he's having a stroke or heart attack. Hunter tries to get everyone into the car, but it's difficult with Shaw, since he's sort of all seized up. Langers comes over, looks at Shaw, tells him "This will hurt", then manipulates his neck very quickly. After screaming in pain ("This will hurt" was evidently the understatement of the year), Shaw can in fact move now.
Hunter asks Shaw if he knows how to make contact with McCafferty, Shaw gives him the phone number, and Hunter makes the call. McCafferty answers with: "Goddamn it Crenshaw, if you've hurt my daughter I'll kill you!" Hunter informs McCafferty in no uncertain terms that he's not going to put up with any more crap, and he will personally take care of McCafferty if he tries anything like that again, and the price has gone up too. McCafferty is very anxious, and is concerned about his Mr. Brown having been "poisoned". Poisoned?? McCafferty tells Hunter that Brown's body was found, and he had been poisoned. Hunter tells McCafferty that the price is now $500,000 credits, and Hunter will call back later to arrange a time and place for the exchange.
They will need to go someplace to makes plans, and Shaw, who covertly signals his robotic dog Watson, to go to a specified location, suggests a warehouse he has. Since that is a location he set up before going on the trip to Dinom, it is not considered safe, so eventually the group goes some where that Langers suggests. After entering through a drive-in garage, the group finds themselves inside the Jasmine Club. (Although neither Hunter nor Shaw are terribly thrilled, and not convinced that the Club is secure. [It is.] Besides, who the hell is this Langers guy anyway?)
Kiffin takes Alice and the children off to get them fed, and give them a place to rest for now. Terry wants a shower, so she also goes with them, and gets a long shower, and a massage.
With the females and children off, Hunter and Shaw want to know how Langers got involved in all this? Langers tells them that "Kiffin called, and it was better than doing the accounts." Shaw asks: "And Kiffin told you what?" Langers: "She was concerned that something was 'wrong', and my partner informs me that she has the ability to notice even more than she's aware of, especially since her accident." Shaw and Hunter exchange a glance of "oh, 'since her accident'???" Shaw says "So since her accident you and your partner just look after Kiffin?" Langers: "My partner is rather fond of Miss Brevette, and I would hate to have to explain to him that something happened to her." Ah.
McCafferty is called, and Shaw speaks with him. A meeting is arranged for the exchange, at 1:00 a.m., in the Italian garden part of Aguilon Park. McCafferty will bring the money, and Shaw's "payment". After Terry gets done with her toilette, she and Hunter head out; Shaw is told that he won't know where they are, just that they will be covering him and listening in, and they are going ahead to set up early.
Shaw also leaves the Jasmine Club several hours before the meet. He goes to the warehouse he has rents on level 6, and meets Watson there. Shaw gets the robot and himself ready for the night's festivities.
In the hours before the meeting, a man Kiffin doesn't recognize arrives at the Club. She hears him tells Langers "You have something of mine, and I'm here to get it." The man doesn't sound very happy. Langers escorts the man into his office and shuts the door. A while later, Kiffin sees Langers leave his empty office.
163 - 1122.
Hunter and Terry are in their sniper hides, observing the area around the meet. Interesting people in the park tonight. Shortly before the scheduled meet, Terry tells Hunter that she thinks some one may be targeting him. Hunter heats up a rock nearby, and sure enough, some one "kills" it. Hmmm.
Show time! McCafferty shows up for the meeting, as does Shaw. McCafferty has two briefcases with him, and Shaw has a robotic dog named Watson hidden nearby, and evidently everyone has hidden backup, so it's sort of even. Shaw is given Hunter's money, then two standard-looking data disks. Shaw scans them briefly, and there is a lot of info, similar to what you would expect to get from a professional source. Lots of info on Xavier, some on Corina, etc. Shaw is basically making sure there is information on the disks. They will get Caroline for him, but it will take a few minutes. Hunter tells Shaw to ask "So what are your plans for the girl, especially since the Baron's death?" McCafferty only wants his daughter back, and to see her and her adopted family safe. Okay, like everyone believes this? Hunter calls the Jasmine Club, and tells Kiffin to bring Alice and the children; Mr. Langers sends George the doorman along with them, to make sure they're all right.
Shaw and McCafferty are waiting together in the park, and pass the time trying to have a polite conversation about nothing in particular. In theory. Shaw 'casually' asks McCafferty what kind of cologne he wears, and McCafferty replies that "it depends on the occasion". Shaw can also tell that McCafferty is not wearing any cologne currently; this does not bode well. Hunter can hear all this, and he's starting to worry. McCafferty says: "The roses in spring are especially beautiful." Hunter suddenly can no longer hear Shaw, but he can see his lips moving. Damn. McCafferty is trying to find out where the mercs are, but Shaw really doesn't know (he just knows they're out there). Hunter tells Shaw that unless he says something, he is going to start shooting. McCafferty has Shaw says something, but it's obvious Shaw is not in control. Hunter shoots McCafferty (or whoever he is) in the leg (Hunter would rather explain wounding some one to the authorities, rather than killing some one), taking him down. As soon as this happens, Shaw is able to move and speak again, and he presses Watson's call button. Watson runs over and keeps McCafferty down, then is called over to Shaw, who has been wounded in the exchange. McCafferty limps away, heading for the edge of the park. A limo pulls up, and some one reaches out for McCafferty. Terry shoots at the figure inside the limo, and he falls back into the car as McCafferty's head explodes. The limo tears off. Shaw hurriedly puts Hunter's cash and the data disks inside one of Watson's compartments, and sends him off. Shaw, Hunter, and Terry leave the park, separately, planning to regroup at the Grenadier's Club. Hunter has stashed his rifle in the park before leaving. The authorities have started to arrive, and clear the civilians out of the way. How handy.
Once Hunter is out of the park, he calls Kiffin and redirects Alice and the children to the Grenadier's Club, where everyone meets up. Shaw is bandaged up and given a non-bloody shirt. Mr. Langers has also shown up at the club, to help keep an eye on things. Hunter calls the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and speaks with one of the senior sisters. He explains that he has a woman and children who need to be kept safe for a while, so things can be sorted out. The sister believes she knows some one who can make certain the family is safe, and she will contact him. Hunter emphasizes that he hopes this is some one the sister knows well enough to trust, and she replies that it's "some one I have known for a long time - if anyone can keep them safe, he can". Good enough.
Some time later, several sisters, show up at the club (one of them is even a member). A little while after that, the man the sister is expecting shows up - Mercer Black. Shaw is surprised, but doesn't say anything, Hunter doesn't know who the guy is (but he keeps forgetting he's there), and Kiffin is very happy to see Mr. Black (she's sure he's a perfect choice to help) (scary thought). Black will see to it that Alice and the children are safe and well cared-for until the necessary arrangements are made for Caroline to claim her rightful place.
Shaw, Hunter, and Terry go to Shaw's warehouse to take care of the little payment issue. Shaw takes the money out of Watson (handy little guy, that Watson) and gives it to Hunter. As the money is being checked, some counterfeit bills are discovered (not unexpected on Regina), apparently some in the middle of every bundle. The cheap bastard! This means all the bundles need to be inspected. As Terry is checking out some of the money, she hears a faint "click" as she starts to pull the phony bills out of the pack. Her eyes get wide, she looks at Hunter, tells him she heard a "click". Hunter grabs the bundle, tossing it towards the wall as he takes Terry down to the ground. Medium sized BOOM!
Turns out the counterfeit bills have been soaked in some sort of explosive chemical. The money is carefully rendered safe. When it's all done, Terry and Hunter split $480,800 credits. Not too shabby. Hunter takes Terry to the Ambassadore, and gets a suite for them. They get cleaned up, get room service, and Hunter gets to demonstrate some of the neat stuff he's learned from Angela.
Later that day, after sex, sleep, and good-byes, Hunter goes home to Angela's place. She's at the computer, writing a romance novel, and is a bit irritated that Hunter interrupts her by dropping stuff onto the keyboard. Until she realizes he's dropping bundles of money! Hunter tells Angela that maybe know she has enough money to set up that bordello she's talked about. But for that amount of money Hunter expects an "exclusive contract" for Angela's services, and he takes out the diamond ring he's had for some time now and proposes. Angela, thank God, says yes. Should be quite the wedding, since Hunter will be inviting anyone he's ever met (and doesn't want to kill). The church (or whatever) will be an interesting sight, what with all the mercs and other military types on the groom's side, and all the working girls on the bride's side. That's assuming the starport survives the bachelor party...