"Diffused knowledge immortalizes itself." -- James Mackintosh
224 - 1122.
At long last, it's time for the Frenzy-Regina grav-ball game, part of the Spinward Marches Championship to determine who goes on to play Deneb. Bets are made (by some), the pre-game show is finally going to come to an end (it's been going on for weeks), and the denizens of the 6th Period bar are at long last able to watch a live show.
First period: Regina scores 1 goal, Frenzy 0. Second period is a massive power struggle, no goals scored; Regina still up by 1. Third period: Frenzy comes back hard, scoring an unheard of 3 goals (they brought out the first-stringers). Fourth period: Krag Kiron emerges, and Regina scores 1; Regina 2, Frenzy 3. Fifth period: Regina scores 1, tying the game, in spite of Frenzy double-teaming Krag. Sixth (OT) period: 49% casualties on the Frenzy team, 66% casualties on the Regina team (the Regina players make up for their lack of technical ability with heart), and Nicolai is brought into the game; no scoring, so it's on to sudden-death OT: Frenzy wins by 1 goal. There is some dispute over the last play, and Krag's old reflexes return during an argument with a referee, and he grabs the ref and tosses him headfirst into one of the Frenzy players. Both benches clear, and the brawl is on!
Nicolai is in relatively good shape, not having played much, so he dives in. The crowd goes off, yelling for the referee to be killed, and then the fight breaks out between the locals and the Frenzy boosters, so Corina has the gravs turned off in the seats. On the field, the gravs are already off, so that doesn't effect the fighting. Corina has the oxygen turned down, gradually, as the officials move onto the field with their shock batons. Nicolai sees one of the Regina players, an Aslan, palm a shiv, so he throws a Frenzy player that way. The 'crowd confusing' settings have been turned on: gravs off, oxygen down, bright flashing lights. There are only a few shots fired in the crowd (some one managed to get a gun past security), so it's not too bad. Only 10 people are killed in the ensuing riot, and 94 injured seriously enough to require hospitalization (this does not include walking wounded). Only one grav-ball player is killed, one of the Frenzy players, who lost his helmet during the fight with Krag.
In the aftermath of the game, which is only slightly worse than winning a game as far as the behavior of the locals is concerned, police cars are overturned and set on fire, and anyone in a uniform is a potential target (or out of a uniform, for that matter). Ghaer (outside Corina's box in the stadium) has an ear ripped off (they can sew that back on), but he just pockets the ear for later, and decks the guy. Once the assailant is down, the other Marines join in for a little stomping and rifle-butting, after which Ghaer gets his ear attended to.
Some of the unhappy Regina fans are grumbling about Nicolai having 'thrown' the game, what with him being Solomani and all. Not that Nicolai gives a shit about what they think. Krag is in trouble, having fought the police until they were able to subdue him enough to take him into custody. Judge Bubba has him in custody Down Port for a 'cooling off period', before he is brought up on charges. Things will eventually get back to normal in the next 48 hours, in spite of the grumbling about the aliens Corina brought in to the team, and they need more humans, or more Solomani or something. This will be debated for some time in the bars and offices on Regina.
Corina fulfills her part of the bet, and delivers a copy of the D'Aubisson painting to Stern. The game is discussed, with much 'ribbing'. Stern: "The locals certainly seem to get into the game." Stern: "Now I have nothing to wager on." Corina: "There's always next year." Stern: "You could still get into the finals as a wildcard." Corina: "Well, we'll have to see." Stern: "I'll just go hang my art now." Corina leaves, and goes to see D'Aubisson, but he refuses payment for the extra painting, since she 'tickled his muse'.
Corina meets with Ghaer, and after giving him the lengthy unpleasant update on what has been going on while he was gone (Theresa's death, the Blakes' death, etc., up to the point where Theresa's body was stolen from the funeral parlor - she doesn't know about the blond man yet), lets Ghaer know that she's willing to put in a request to Grey to allow Ghaer to be reassigned to her permanently so she can accept his resignation, since that is what Ghaer wants,. And after the incident with Grey and his doppelganger, he can't exactly make comments about Corina needing 'watching'. In the meantime, she'll have him assigned directly to her by the local Marine commander. Ghaer: "I would like some time off; I have a friend who needs help." Corina: "If it's Michael you're talking about, Black has been giving him as much help as Regina Security is able to provide. If you mean personal help, he's either at a loss and doesn't know what kind of help he needs, or he's refused help." Ghaer: "I know."
Ghaer: "So where was Nicolai during all this?" Corina: "He was working for Regina Security. In the end, Mr. Volkov was instrumental in determining that the Solomani had planted a suitcase nuke in fuel storage racks for the reactor, and with the help of someone from Regina Security he was able to find and dispose of the bomb." Ghaer: "Why were the Solomani so determined to cause this much damage?" Corina: "It had to do with Blaelok's death, which is evidently the source of Mikie's problems too." Corina gives Ghaer the sordid details of what happened with Section 9, Viper, Grey, et al. The frightening thing is that this does not strike Ghaer as outrageous. The description of the mechanical 'brain bugs' is a bit bizarre though. Corina tells Ghaer about the hunt challenge between Stewart Pondoro Granger and Peter Corbett-Bell. Some other hunters have asked to join in, too.
Ghaer goes home and finds Khirrll unconscious in his bathroom, after taking a handful of pills and several shots of Varlick's Blood. She didn't do a very good job, since she evidently had taken the pills and booze, felt sick, then went to the bathroom and threw up all over and passed out. Ghaer calls Regina Trauma, and has her taken in. He takes her suicide note with him, so he has something to read while he waits. The note goes on about her terrible mistake, how she's a pariah among the other Vargrs, etc. It was evidently a serious attempt, not just a ploy for attention. Ghaer decides he will get her a ticket to Rhylanor, so she can get a fresh start once she is able to leave.
Shaw is allowing the computer to run the comparison of the asteroid belt coordinates in the Marches, to see if it can find it. He's not about to go out amongst the rioting rabble, so he'll just stay at home and wait. Eventually, the results show three possible locations, due to drift, etc., since he doesn't know exactly how old the map is. He calls Treal to let him know. Treal: "Are you interested in coming along to look for this?" Shaw: "I don't know, maybe. I just wanted to let you know about the possible locations. Do you want them now, or in person?" Treal: "In person." They arrange to meet at Ubi Foods.
Irving, in Discarding Sabot, doesn't want to let Mikie leave, as he seems "off". Mikie would like to leave, but Irving is concerned, and keeps trying to cheer Mikie up, with things like "the important thing is to not let it get you down", and "you've got to get back on the horse"; amazingly enough, Mikie does not attempt to throttle Irving. Mikie eventually convinces him that he has to leave, after declining the offer of a 'plush animal'. As Mikie leaves, Irving decides to call everyone he knows who knows Mikie, to ask them to help look after him.
Corina calls Black to get an update on what's going on with the investigation. Black tells her that they know that the man in question is blond, and gives her as much of a description as they have. Corina: "Does your security system have the ability to look for a specific individual by description?" Black: "That's classified." Corina glares at him. Black: "Actually, we do have limited ability for that, but the computer system isn't really capable of that." Corina suggests that they try to have the man tracked by scent, but he hasn't left a trail of clothing in his wake. Corina: "How about trying to track Theresa's body? Don't we have any search and rescue dogs on planet that are trained to locate cadavers?" Black: "I'm sure there are, but it will be bit of a challenge on Up Port." It will be attempted though, what the hell.
Treal and Shaw meet in Ubi Foods. Shaw gives him the information on the possible sites he found, two of which are in the old Lyrian sections of space. Most of the area that used to be Lyrian space is now the Federation of Arden, which was built on the remains of the Lyrian 'empire'. It's about six jumps from Regina to the nearest one. The third possible location is an asteroid belt in the Lanth subsector, so that's probably not it.
Ghaer, in pursuit of Mikie, gets a call from Irving. (This is after checking his phone messages, and the hand calligraphed note from Joe Lee.) Ghaer sees Mikie leaving D.S. as Irving calls. Ghaer: "Michael. I need help. Joe Lee has asked me to go down to Bruno's but I have no idea where it is." Mikie: "I don't know exactly where it is, I can give you the name of the nearest town, and a direction, but that's about it." (Asking someone with absolutely no wilderness survival skills where something is in the 'woods', is not terribly useful.) He gives Ghaer as much information as he can. Ghaer: "I wasn't planning on walking, I was planning on flying. Besides, it will give whoever's after us a chance to put his feet up. I can ask Mr. Black to assign you, through Corina, this just makes it easier. Besides, I need to make sure it's really Joe Lee." Mikie: "If he's at Bruno's place, it's Joe Lee." Ghaer: "That does make sense. Oh, Khirrl's in the hospital; suicide attempt." Mikie: "Just an attempt? I'll call." Mikie leaves.
Shaw, who has agreed to go along with Treal in search of the location, has taken on the task of looking for passage to the area. There is a ship from the Federation of Arden that will be going there, and they're eager to get money from passengers, having been stuck on Regina during the quarantine. There are also a couple of private ships, with longer legs, that would be able to get them there faster, but some of them are a bit 'suspect'. Shaw contacts Treal and gives him the info. Treal can't afford to charter a ship, and may not be able to pay for high passage on the Arden ship, since it's not a regular route, so they want $25,000 for high passage. They might be able to get a better deal if they wait until the last moment. Treal doesn't know about Mikie yet, but Shaw will try for three tickets, just in case.
Ghaer makes a deal with a sergeant he knows, involving the distribution of bourbon in exchange for information. He is able to get detailed aerial shots of the area of Bruno's residence, with any identifying marks as to where the pictures came from blacked out. But now he can find Bruno's place. Ghaer arranges to hitch a ride down to the planet.
Shaw checks out the Arden liner, which has pretty nice accommodations. It's an older ship, but that's okay - they can travel in old world comfort. [Toward the rotating blades?] Shaw picks up Watson, since he doesn't get much chance to get off planet (Walkies!!), then arranges with the auction house to have some one place bids for him on the sword if it comes up before he gets back.
Mikie goes to speak with Black, and gives him the information that Treal had about the location of the 'treasure'. That's only slightly interesting to Black, but Mikie does remind him that the Therian control baton was part of the collection as well. Black: "True. That could indicate the presence of ancient artifacts, which are not the sort of thing that we want the casual fortune hunter to start mucking around with, now do we? Which is why you are going to go along. If there are any artifacts, take possession of them, and bring them back here for safekeeping." Mikie: "Were you able to get the control baton?" Black: "Um, no. That's somewhat of an embarrassment, really - some one beat me to it. Some one who knew what they were looking for. They used some sort of incredibly sharp instrument to cut into the safe." Mikie: "Could it have been one of the Sengi swords? They're really interested in those things." Black: "Well, you'd be in a better position to tell, now wouldn't you? Aren't you the Oracle?" Mikie: "Not any more - it's Joe Lee now." Black: "My, they are fickle." Mikie: "They already have one ship, and I don't think it would be a good idea for them to have two." Black: "Interesting. That's something for you to look into when you get back."
Treal gets a chance to meet his new sister-in-law Bunny, and speak with his brother Will, the Dashing Dueling Doctor himself. Treal asks Will to place his bids for him on the jewelry with "opals", and gives him the information. Will can take care of this.
Shaw gets as much information on the locations they are going to as he can on Regina. Tremous Dex has a higher tech level than Regina, TL12 versus TL10. And the law level is only 1 on planet (no poison gas, body pistols, explosive devices, or weapons undetectable by normal means, but that's about it). It has a trace atmosphere, so it's domes and underground habitation. It has tens of thousands of inhabitants, and used to have more of an atmosphere and population before a series of major battles took place there. Repeatedly. There is still some breathable atmosphere in some low-lying valley areas though, and a 'light' vac-suit is fine for the rest of the planet, since it does have some atmosphere. The planet is basically 'owned' by an Arden corporation, involved in mining. Most of the population is concentrated in and around the main city, and Regina Up Port actually has a higher population than Tremous Dex does currently. Shaw then goes to get some Memwipe (expensive), and enough garlic to last him the entire trip there and back (he's going to eat a clove of garlic every day, for some arcane, semi-mystical reason).
Ghaer has no trouble finding Joe Lee, with the help of a compass and the photos. It's pretty easy to tell when he gets there, due to the manicured lawn and well-trimmed trees. Speaking of trees, that's what Joe Lee is up to right now, pruning them. Ghaer: "Permission to enter?" Joe Lee: "Of course. Hello Ghaer." Ghaer: "I see we've both changed." Joe Lee: "I see you've become more Barlow like." Ghaer: "Externally, at any rate." Joe Lee: "Perhaps internally, as well." Ghaer: "I've been thinking about them a lot lately. About the ones who created their own hell." Joe Lee: "Their own hell?" Ghaer: "The ones who took the Krell into another universe, but had to go with them to do it." Joe Lee: "I went to the Great Board. I looked into the Great Board, and it looked into me. The Kaesthra told me that he thought I was unprepared for what I saw, and he sent me to get Wisdom from you, and he gave me the Knowledge you seek." He gives Ghaer the Book of Knowledge. Ghaer: "I don't know what I have to offer, except for the fact that Wisdom is a journey. Here, this may help." He hands Joe Lee the Ball of Wisdom, and Joe Lee feels better just holding it. Like having his favorite shoe to chew on. Or something like that. Ghaer goes to take the Book of Knowledge, but it slips out of his hands, hits the ground, and shatters into a million pieces. (Well, it is about a million years old.) Joe Lee: "You could always put it back together. Perhaps Knowledge is something you must build yourself." As they are picking up the pieces, Joe says: "I am the Oracle now." Ghaer: "That's good. Michael's been very badly hurt." Joe Lee: "I know. I asked him to come here." Ghaer: "He won't. There's too much pain." Ghaer: "If nothing else, I have luck. Currently it's bad, but at least it's luck." Joe Lee: "At least it's better than Michael's." Ghaer sighs heavily, then takes the remains of the book (carefully wrapped back up) with him. Along the way, he muses on the mess - Theresa's death, her family's death, the creatures that remind him too much of the Krell, Sontag, Blaelok, the Solomani, etc. He feels compelled to do something about the Solomani
Back at Regina Security. Black: "Since you already know people in the group, I'm sure you won't have any trouble getting invited along." Mikie: "Treal already asked me." Black: "There you go. And it wouldn't hurt to get you off planet for a while. You can draw whatever you need from inventory." Mikie: "Before I go, was Brigitte able to find the toolbox from Blevelt's hotel room?" Black: "You know, I'd forgotten about that. Let's go ask her." Sure enough, Brigitte had the toolbox safely locked away in her safe, and the papers are still in it. Mikie removes the papers and gives them to Black, explaining that they are a printout of what was on the dry erase board in Blevelt's room, although Mikie has not a clue as to what it all means. Black: "We'll have to have our boffins take a look at it. Well done Michael, well done." Mikie: "One other thing - do you know where my father is?" Black: "It looks like he's flown the coop. He said something to one of the staff at the Neurological Institute to the effect that he couldn't allow himself to be forced to participate in 'that sort of activity'. He didn't specify what activity." Mikie: "Do you know when that happened?" Black tells him, and it was before Morgan was gloating about having Mikie and his father, so that might mean Morgan was just yanking his chain. Hopefully. Mikie asks Black to try to find out what happened to his father while he's gone. Black will look into it. Oh, and he'll also make sure that three rooms are available on the liner.
Ghaer decides to hitchhike part of the way back to Down Port, and he's picked up by an odd vehicle on four short tracks instead of tires, made out of some sort of spongeform material that appears to flow. The vehicle sort of looks like it's floating along the road. The vehicle stops, a tentacled hand comes out and waves, and an oddly accented voice says "Come in." Ghaer does, although it's a tad crowded with all the Vegans. Every time Ghaer asks a simple question, there is much conversation in Vegan, followed by a monosyllabic answer. Ghaer is asked if his "vehicle mechanical difficulty is having?" Ghaer explains that no, he merely let the vehicle go when he was dropped off. Vegan: "Yes, but tenseness is forthcoming off you." Ghaer: "I'm sorry if I'm making you nervous." Vegan: "No, no. Your...meat is tenseness being. We are masseuses." Ghaer, not being an idiot, is more than willing to go along with this plan. He is awoken, after having the Vegans massage him for three hours straight. He has never been so relaxed in his life. He didn't know you could get that relaxed. The Vegans drop Ghaer off at the shuttle bay, wave good-bye, and say (loudly): "We much enjoyed your meat." This causes some raised eyebrows amongst the other people waiting for the shuttle, but Ghaer doesn't care, what with being supremely relaxed, and boneless.
Treal and Shaw are able to get passage on the Arden ship, thanks to Mr. Black (not that they know this). They try to get a reservation for Mikie, but find out that he already has one. Mikie, when he shows up, will discover that Black has booked him the best room on the ship, right beside the gym; Black knows what he's doing all right.
Ghaer gets back Up Port, and Irving tracks him down. Irving is really upset, as a Weseli told him that Mikie has "gone off. Really. He's fleeing the planet. On some kind of foreign ship." Ghaer checks, and finds the listing for the Arden liner. Ghaer writes two notes: one is to Khirrll with the ticket to Rhylanor and some "start up money", telling her that "where I'm going, you can't go", etc.; one is to Corina - it's his resignation, with a Post-it note telling her to "date this for whenever you need to, in case this goes badly". (That should be comforting.) Ghaer is not able to get a room, but he does sign on with the crew. He manages to get on pretty well with the other Vargrs, ending up as the main Vargr's (Rex) second. The engineers, some sort of rodent race (Martels? Pikhans?), lock themselves in the engine room, away from the carnivores. Rex recommends leaving them alone, as he "can't afford to lose any more people".
Mikie puts together some personal stuff, including the sleeping pills, a variety of edged weapons, and one of the black crystal psionic foci from his safety deposit box in the Banque de Genève. Then he goes to the liner.
224 to 231 - 1122.
Shaw spends time on the trip examining the bright flashy ball thing that the crazy man used to distract Watson. He can't figure out how to get into it without breaking it though. It doesn't have any screws or anything obvious, just a depression to press that turns it on. After several hours, he decides to stop messing with it. But this is really annoying. After careful examination, he did find some microscopic lettering, too small to be read by the naked eye. He has Watson come over and look at it, and use the remote viewer. It reads: "Ne Plus Ultra Enterprises". There is nothing about the company in the shipboard computer, but it may be a small, planetary company any way. The ball is small enough to fit into Watson's secret compartment, so Shaw puts it there.
When Shaw takes Watson for walks, and plays fetch with him, he notices the security cameras observing Watson, all over the ship. Shaw just treats Watson like a dog whenever they're out in public. And Shaw eats a clove of garlic a day, for his own personal little reason.
There is one refueling stop along the way, nothing exciting. Ghaer is able to find out where the passengers are, and who they are. Delgado? Interesting. There's a Ford Tessla on board, too, but Ghaer doesn't know him. Shaw is approached by a paunchy, middle-aged passenger. Man: "You're Shaw, eh?" Shaw: "Yes, I am." Man: "So, what brings you to Lyrian space? After the famed treasure? Oh, come on, you've got the look." Shaw: "I'm not really into that, no." Man: "We could form an alliance, the two of us. I have a chart, I got it from an old Scout." Shaw: "You know, I'm not a treasure hunter. I've spent most of my adult life in the military, and I'm just interested in some relaxation." Man: "If you're not willing to share information, fine." Shaw: "I don't have any information to share." Mr. Wiggins is a bit nonplused, but he is receptive to Shaw's offer to pass on any information he might get later.
231 - 1122.
Shortly after reentering jumpspace, the intercom crackles to life. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I have a special announcement." [Why is this never good?] A new voice comes on: "Members of the crew, passengers, there is no reason to be alarmed. This ship has been seized by the legitimate government of the Lyrian Empire." The loonies (sorry, brave freedom fighters) are heavily armed, have hidden explosive devices throughout the ship (or so they say), and are willing to die for their cause. "We are not interested in harming any foreigners. We only wish to make our demands known to the spineless lackeys of the so called Federation." Ghaer sees a number of armed men in paramilitary garb come back and demand to be let into engineering. A high-pitched voice tells them to "Go away." Freedom fighter: "Open the door, or you're going to regret it." Voice: "Bugger off." The hijackers are confused. They're supposed to take engineering, but their guns and forceful voices aren't working. They can't blow the doors, it's bulkhead. They could use a breaching charge, but the most that would do is blow a small hole in the door to peek through. Ghaer suggests they just post some one on the door, but they tell him to go find something to do and stay out of their way.
Shaw tests the Eggsterminator® with his new rigiplast gloves, but finds it's not a good mix, so he won't wear them for now. He does still continue to walk Watson, and has him record the ship's layout. The passengers don't see any of the hijackers in their sections.
Ghaer discusses the situation with Rex, who just wants to ignore them. They are not getting paid enough to get killed, and they can smell the old explosives being used by the bad guys. The hijackers bring in a duffle bag of explosives, setting it against the engineering bulkhead, which wouldn't do much to the wall except dent it, but it will reduce everyone in the room to goo. The first night after the takeover, the lights go out, Ghaer hears whining and scratching, and when the lights go on, the two Lyrian 'patriots' are missing. When the replacement guards arrive, they are a bit concerned about the missing men. Whining and scratching? The 'Giant Rat of Arden' or something?
Shaw is sitting with some of the other passengers, when he here's a bit of a thumping noise, looks up, and sees just a flash of something moving in the air vent. No one else noticed it. Shaw excuses himself, and asks one of the crew where that vent goes? Steward: "How would I know? It's the air vent." Shaw follows the vent as much as he can, and sees a length of grey hose being dragged through the vent. He goes down to the next vent, following them towards the bow, and sees the hose further down. He's eventually stopped by a crewman, who tells him that the area ahead is not for passengers.
In the back of the ship, the replacement guards figure the other guards were just slacking off. Ghaer notices, behind the new guards, a large hydraulic claw moving noiselessly towards the guards. Ghaer does nothing, just noting the claw, and the large cargo container moving above, too. The guard turns around suddenly, but not quickly enough to avoid being grabbed rather forcibly. His partner spins around, just before the cargo container squishes him like a bug. Ghaer doesn't know who the guys in engineering are, but they're mean! And he likes them.
Shaw whispers to the crewmember: "If I can hear the hose, so can they." Crew: "What are you talking about?" The scratching noise stops, then the environmental music comes up, loudly enough to cover the sound, as it heads for the bridge area. Shaw leaves the immediate area, but doesn't go far. After a couple of minutes he hears a "bing-bing" sound, followed by a faint hissing noise. Then "bing-bing... Warning. Minor hull breach. Please apply hull patch, and report to engineering at once." The steward rushes off to get his vac suit, and to warn engineering. A few second later, a Pikhan drops out of the air vent, and starts using a high pressure water cutter on the bridge door.