"Revolutions never go backward" -- Wendell Phillips

224 to 231 - 1122.

Away from Ghaer and Shaw, Treal has been relaxing and healing (finally), and enjoying a relaxing trip. Mikie has spent the trip mostly in his room, or in the gym beating on things. Sleep hasn't been terribly attractive, what with the waking up screaming and all. He hasn't been really sleeping, more like lying in bed and worrying about falling asleep and having nightmares. As a way to pass the time, he tries to catch Shaw without his psi-shield on. No luck so far, but no matter. Since the hijackers aren't interfering with any of his activities, or the direction the ship is going, Mikie won't particularly care.

231 - 1122.

By the bridge door, Shaw is calmly watching the Pikhan work on the door, when he hears some one clear their throat behind him. He turns, and sees a group of about twenty of the chic radical freedom fighters standing behind him. Shaw tries to leave, but he's motioned against the wall, as is the Pikhan. They are carefully frisked, by people who appear to know what they're doing. The Pikhan offers to "back your plan". Oh, that's helpful.

Shaw and the Pikhan are taken into a small storage room, for 'questioning'. Jorge the Hijacker: "You, what is your name? You are ISA agent, aren't you?" Shaw: "No, my name is Carl Shaw." Jorge: "You are a general, yah?" Shaw: "No." Jorge: "What are these then?" <indicating Shaw's collar tabs> Shaw: "They're decoration. Jewelry." Jorge: "Take his belt, his shoelaces, his coat. This one bears watching. He is probably ISA agent, sent to spy on us." Other hijacker: "But Jorge, that would mean they knew of our plans!" Jorge: "Of course - spies are everywhere." Jorge takes Shaw's ID papers, announces, "I will take these documents to Prince Escari". Shaw and the Pikhan are lashed back to back to a beam (with an entire roll of duct tape), while the Pihkan grimaces with the knowledge that this will be painful later. One of the men takes off Shaw's collar tabs, puts them on himself, and says "Look at me. I am Colonel of spies." Shaw stares at him to make him nervous, which works, as the man comes over and butts him in the stomach. The other guard comes over, sends the nervous man to the far side of the room, and apologizes to Shaw, offering him a dopestick. Shaw: "No thank you. But this is really uncomfortable, and it's cutting off the circulation to my arms and legs." Guard: "I have my orders. I'm sorry."

Mikie hears something in the air vents. He can sense people up there, so he decides to take a look. There isn't a way to do this in his room, so he goes to the gym. There are a bunch of the para-military guys in there, with some of the crew. Mikie ignores them, and goes to the heavy bag; he can't see anything in the vents.

Back in the crew section, ten of the hijackers have come back to keep and eye on the crew, and they call everyone by name, off a list. They round everyone up, as the prince has ordered the crew and passengers taken to the grand ballroom so he can address them. How thrilling. He calls himself the 'Crown Prince Escari', and steps up onto the railing, a small, wiry, intense looking individual of about 5'4" tall, and somewhere between 25 and 30 years old. He's wearing very nicely styled pseudo-military gear, trés chic. He looks down for a few moments, then raises his head and smiles.

Prince: "Good evening my friends. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I wish to assure you that we mean you no harm. We have no quarrel with the passengers here. The requirements of the moment have compelled us to take this ship, to regain our rightful place, and restore the Lyrian Empire. I wish to give you my personal guarantee that none of you will be harmed; providing, of course, that you do nothing foolish. Should you have any problems with my men, please just let me know. Remain calm, do nothing, and you will have a wonderful story to tell your grandchildren. Now, are there any questions?" Rex: "Captain, I just want to know if we're getting hazard pay for this?" The captain glares at him. Prince: "No other questions?" Apparently not. One of the 'freedom fighters' approaches the Prince. "Your highness, I have found no sign of the Grand Duke Leto and his party." (That would be the men from engineering...) Prince: "Well, they must be somewhere, keep looking."

The crowd is dispersed. No sign of Shaw, but now Mikie knows Ghaer is on board. The Prince murmurs something to one of his men, and they start to separate any one who looks 'dangerous' (i.e., the large males) from the departing passengers. This includes Will, and all the Vargrs. Will tries to leave, but is prevented from doing so, as he's been pulled out along with the other 'possible heros'. And the Vargrs. Everyone knows Vargrs are dangerous. Will decides to close on the man with the gun, and goes for him. Mikie is just about to leave, being small and harmless looking, when the Prince says "Wait. That one." <indicating Mikie> Mikie feels a tentative psionic touch, and his shield snaps up. Prince: "Bring him. But treat him gently." Not gently, Treal is hit up the side of the head with Igor's rifle, but he presses on. Now he has the attention of everyone else in the group, and several of them come over to help their compatriot. Treal is hit in the hand, and then the kidney (that's going to hurt, more, later). Treal is still in the fight, but losing effectiveness quickly. Then he decides to evade. As he's running, the Prince raises a hand, and a chair falls over in front of Treal, tripping him up rather handily. Treal decides to stop fighting at this point, so he doesn't get injured further. The Prince orders Treal tied up, which he is, then he's taken to the same room as Shaw, put up against the same beam as Shaw and the formerly furry one, and very politely duct taped up with a new roll. (Great - they've been put into the duct tape storage room.) Treal is offered food, which he declines (although this new guard is very knowledgable about what the kitchen contains), but he does request medical attention or Regen® or something. The guard will check with the Prince.

The Vargrs are all taken to a common area near engineering, under guard. Jorge is in charge, and it's gone right to his head, resulting in much posturing. Rex <sotto voce, to Ghaer>: "Not much meat on him. Barely enough for all of us." Jorge is the posturing sort, who likes to strut around and announce how smart and superior he is to all the Vargrs. If they get out of line, he'll "shoot them down like dogs". He eventually sits down and lights up a hideous smelling cigarette, after stuffing the tobacco back in. He'll be easy to find with that smell.

Mikie is taken in to a dining room, where the Prince is sitting. He's being served by some of his men, who may be dressed like revolutionaries but behave like waiters. Mikie is seated. Prince: "Yes, please join me. Mr. Griffin, I believe?" Mikie: "Yes." Prince: "Some wine?" Mikie: "No thank you." Prince: "Ah, you don't drink. Good...I see you have the gift." Mikie: "So I've been told." Prince: "Telepath?" Mikie: "Yes." Prince: "Ah, so you had a difficult upbringing no doubt. Different, not accorded the respect you deserved. I understand only too well. I have need for people like you, people with special talents. I now have the wherewithal, the men, and soon I will have the funds. We cannot fail. Little do they know that when we land on Tremous Dex we will pick up thousands of my men. That is why we needed a vessel of this size. Still, I have only a couple of adepts. The Federation employs some Zhodani mercenaries, and I'd like to even the odds, as it were. I could use some one with your abilities. And it's a chance to right an ancient wrong." Mikie: "What wrong is that?" Prince: "The so-called Federation of Arden. It destroyed what was left of our culture, our literature. I'm willing to forgive the Imperium, even though they did bomb several non-military planets. No, it is Arden and their allies - the Zhodani, who I blame. But soon that will be over."

The Prince is very pleasant, very polite. He talks about himself, his trials, how much he has in common with Mikie. Yeah, right. Mikie lets the Prince talk about his life growing up in the lower class, and only finding out later that he was actually Lyrian nobility, which is why he had been treated so badly. He's obviously been reading books about the old days - a perfect society and all. The meal is very good, and the Prince comments "Oscar is a wonderful chef, is he not?" It's definitely not the same person who has been cooking on the trip so far.

Back in the storage room, the guards have gone off to fetch themselves some food, since "where are they going to go?" Treal gets a visit from an older gentleman, who checks Treal out, and basically 'vets' him. Literally, since the man is apparently used to taking care of racehorses. But he is able to help Treal. During this, the Pikhan is able to flip something metallic out of the doctor's coat. It lands on the floor, about a foot away from Shaw, who slouches down to try to reach it. Doctor: "That's not good for your back, there." He makes sure Shaw and the Pikhan are okay, tells them he'll have the guards loosen their bindings every couple of hours, and replace the duct tape with something less irritating. As the doctor turns to leave, he skates on the scalpel on the floor, sending the scalpel flying across the room, both feet fly up, and the doctor hits the floor hard, with the back of his head. He's at the very least, very unconscious. Between Shaw, Will, and the Pikhan (his tail, really), they are able to get the doctor pulled over, to try to get a pair of scissors over to where Shaw can reach them with his hands. It's slow going, and just as they slide over to the beam, the guards come back. Treal manages to cover the scissors with his leg, and tells the guards that the doctor "tripped on something that fell out of his pocket." One of the guards looks at the marks on the doctor made by Shaw's grab boot, and says "It was some kind of animal!" Shaw: "It went into the vent." The guards argue over who has to stay with the prisoners and who gets to go tell the Grand Duke, eventually flipping a coin. The remaining guard tries to make the doctor comfortable, but he's still unconscious. Treal: "Maybe you should get the ship's doctor." Guard: "Good idea." The guard does leave his food in a corner to distract the "rat" if it comes back. He leaves, and Treal is able to cut the tape, and they all get loose. They check the doctor, but all he's got are animal drugs, so that's not terribly useful. They're about to leave, and Treal suggests they free the Vargrs. Pikhan: "The Vargrs? Do you know anything about the Vargrs on this ship?" Treal: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Pikhan: "These Vargrs are new to civilization." There is apparently some concern about freeing the 'carnivores', but the Pikhan will go along with the humans.

Shaw wants to go to his stateroom for "equipment", even though there's a large risk of being seen by the security cameras. Shaw insists, so the Pikhan suggests that maybe they can get to the stateroom through some of the crews' area. The Pikhan is told to lead (since he knows the way), he goes around a corner, a voice says "You there!", and the Pikhan runs back. Treal grabs the man as he runs around the corner, whipping him into the wall. Then Shaw hits him, hard. They pull the man into a side room, duct tape him to the floor (turnabout being fair trade, Treal has picked up some duct tape of his own), Treal takes the pistol, Shaw takes the bootlaces (to replace his), and the man's clothing. The clothing is a bit long, and a bit tight, but it's do-able. Shaw is looking for something to darken his skin with (as the 'freedom fighters' have somewhat more swarthy complexions), when the Pikhan returns and announces that "Dick Salamander used a burnt cork to do that." He takes out a bottle of wine, and offers it to Shaw, who turns him down. The Pikhan did see the only other hijacker in the area, and he's just walking a circuit and whistling to himself as he plays with his nightstick. Treal decides to not leave well enough alone, and when the man comes by and taps on the door of the room Treal is in, Treal shoves the door open, knocking the man off balance, but not actually hurting him. Treal barrels out of the door at the man, trying to take him down. Not too difficult, although Treal isn't able to do any real damage. The man he's wrestling reacts like a street cop who has been taken down, and starts fighting for his life. Fortunately Shaw steps up and kicks the bad guy in the side of the head, very hard. Now they've got the two guards and the doctor, all unconscious. They decide to duct tape the bodies to the same places Treal, Shaw, and the Pikhan were attached to originally, and cover their heads up (okay, so that will only pass a very cursory inspection - they're trying). Shaw takes the second man's pistol, and more ammo. Treal takes the nightstick; he won't try any of the fancy twirling, since he doesn't want to hurt himself. Now maybe they can get away from the damn storeroom!

After the lovely meal, the Prince tells Mikie that "you don't have to give me an answer right now. You can think about it. But please, join me for dinner. I'd like you to meet some of my comrades. I realize you must view most of my men as buffoons, but they are very loyal, and they have the fire of true believers." Mikie is permitted to leave, with a servant who is told "he is my guest. Escort him to his room, or anywhere else he would like to go". Mikie heads back to his room, thinking (although shielded) about what a crock all this is. 'Glorious return of the Lyrian Empire.' Yeah, right!

The Pikhan opens up a vent grate, just a little bigger than he is. He stands back and gestures. Shaw: "I thought we were going to the cargo bay?" Pikhan: "Right. We'll go through here." Shaw: "You can go through here." Pikhan: "Oh. I'll be right back." He darts into the vent. Shaw and Treal decide to find a stateroom to hide in, but they don't have keys. Shaw listens. One room has voices, one female, whining about "What are we going to do??" And a male voice telling her: "Calm down. No one has killed us yet. Although I'm beginning to wish..." Another room has the sound of snoring. Since Shaw doesn't know how to pick the locks, he decides that the room with the bickering old couple will have to do. He knocks, they go in there, and wait for the Pikhan. He comes back with a big saw, intending to cut a bigger hole, but it's pointed out that this will make a lot of noise. They go out into the hall to discuss their next move.

Mikie's door didn't latch all the way when he went back to his stateroom, and he hears whispering outside, one of the voices very high pitched. He can sense two humans with the Pikhan, so he attempts to identify the humans. One is Treal, the other is a bit different. The second man appears to have some kind of personality issues. How interesting. Mikie looks deeper, and finds something very similar to the psionic booby trap Blaelok had. Okay, stay away from that. Taking a look around other areas, Mikie sees images of people, people he knows - Blaelok, Nathan Andrews, Pamela, Black, Damian White, several ISA agents, a couple of Weselis. Mikie leans against the wall, around the corner from the three, and says: "Treal." Treal recognizes Mikie's voice, who then comes around the corner. Shaw immediately starts thinking about his pocket knife, really hard.

Treal tells Mikie what's up, and their clever plan to release the Vargrs as a distraction. Mikie: "A distraction for what?" Shaw: "To get into my stateroom." Mikie: "Where's your stateroom?" Shaw tells him. Mikie offers to go get whatever he wants, but Shaw tells him he can't, because Watson is in the room, and Shaw doesn't know any "don't eat this person, he's from me" commands for Watson. Fine. Mikie can get himself past the guards, but not Shaw. The rest of the group decide to go after the Vargrs. The Pikhan takes a room service tray, to give the impression he's delivering food to the guards. Shaw pretends to be 'escorting' the Pikhan, who has hidden his flaregun under the tray. They get into the first area, but the Pikhan drops the flaregun by mistake, and it goes off, ricocheting around the room. Shaw takes out one of the guards, and the Pikhan latches on to the other one's leg with his teeth, and holds on.

In the far room, Jorge is still pacing and lecturing on his vast experience and expertise. At this point, the other guard in the room with him will probably welcome anyone who can make this guy shut up. Jorge hears the commotion in the outer room, draws his gun, and goes to open the door just as Shaw pulls it open from his side. Simultaneously, Shaw kicks Jorge in the family jewels, and Jorge shoots Shaw right in the heart. Both men fall to the ground, clutching the appropriate areas. Treal dashes past Jorge and Shaw into the inner room.

Ghaer, who had taken the comfy chair in the conference room and was able to nap during most of Jorge's tirade, casts about for something to use as an improvised weapon. The second guard in the inner room is just waking up and starting to get up when Treal bursts in and shoots him deader than hell. The Vargrs then pile onto the dead guard (they don't realize he's dead, or possibly don't care), tearing him up. Treal removes the guard's pistol from it's lanyard, and gives it to Ghaer. Mikie steps inside, over Shaw.

Mikie checks Jorge, who's very unconscious. Mikie searches him, and finds a backup body pistol in an ankle holster, and several speed loaders for his main gun, which get tossed out onto the floor. And he's wearing body armor. Mikie figures the body armor would fit Shaw, just about perfectly, or maybe Ghaer, so he removes it.

Ghaer goes out to help the Pikhan, as does Treal, who is continuing to struggle with the second guard in the outer room. Ghaer takes the plant from the conference room, and goes to toss it onto the bad guy, but the pot falls off, and that just pisses the guy off. Oh-oh. The Vargrs, having trampled Jorge, now move into this room, and attack the man with the Pikhan problem. Treal pulls the Pikhan off the soon to be deceased man, just in time. The group decide to leave, the Vargrs (in the middle of a major bloodlust) are directed off down the other corridor. Rex is brought along, as he's been wounded (he's been patched up), Treal picks up Shaw (with his major chest hole), and they all head for the infirmary, leaving behind the sound of the Vargrs being shot up down the other corridor.

They make it to the infirmary, roll the drunk doctor off the examining table onto the floor (he doesn't even wake up), and put Shaw on it. Ghaer takes a look, and there is a bullet lodged in Shaw's heart. Fortunately, there isn't a lot of bleeding, as the injury has apparently clotted up. Ghaer does what he can, mostly patching him up. Treal breaks into the locked drug cabinet, and does find one dose of Regen™ 1, which is given to Shaw. A start, but not good enough. It's decided to leave the infirmary, and try to get to Shaw's stateroom, for more medical equipment and drugs.

They head down the corridor, towards Shaw's room, going the same direction the Vargrs went earlier. Sure enough, down the hallway is a room full of wounded Vargrs (all shot in the leg), and a bunch of armed para-military guys in berets. There is a definite leader, with a swagger stick (and one arm) - an obvious target, but Treal doesn't want to start anything unless Ghaer has a chance to hit all of them with his SMG. However the bad guys are spread too widely in the room. Not. Hmm. The Pikhan does have some 'cherry bombs', that he made himself, to look like the flares he found. Only he didn't make them to be like the flares, just look like them. When Ghaer asks him what he used, they get a list of "powdered magnesium, potassium permanganate, nitro methane, hexane, some white powder I found in a stateroom that I don't know what it is, uranium oxide dust..." Yeah, that would go boom.

The freedom fighters gather up all the wounded Vargrs, to take them "forward". This allows the group, following them at a discreet distance, to get to Shaw's room. Shaw's key doesn't work, so Mikie has to work on the lock. He doesn't have his lockpicks on him, but he does know how to get past that. Mikie <to Treal>: "Hit that." <indicating the lock cover> Treal knocks the cover off, and Mikie hotwires it open. They go in, Shaw first to let Watson know it's okay. Shaw goes directly over to Watson, takes an earpiece out of Watson's compartment and slips it on. He then medics Treal, Rex, and the Pikhan. Treal discusses options with regard to contacting the guys in engineering, but that won't be easy. There is a secondary engineering, at a lower level, but still connected to main engineering, that can be reached going through one of the holds - it's packed with stuff, so they may be able to sneak through without being seen.

Shaw goes into the bathroom to get changed, and to secretly put on his Darn Eggsterminator®. There are some ladders they can use to bypass the elevators. Shaw goes to the little room refrigerator, to his shaving kit (it's where he keeps the Purple). Pikhan: "You shouldn't keep your shaving kit in the refrigerator. The shaving cream won't work properly." Shaw: "I use gel." Pikhan: "I wrote a monograph on shaving cream." Shaw: "I'll keep that in mind." They go to the access panel, which the Pikhan takes off. Mikie: "We have to put the panel cover back on after we go through." Pikhan: "Well, that's going to be a problem, isn't it. The bolts are on the other side." Mikie: "It needs to be closed." Pikhan: "Then some one will have to stay behind." Treal suggests that by replacing the plugs that cover the bolts, taking the bolts with them, and using duct tape, they can make it look like the cover is on. This they do; fortunately they don't have to worry about the security camera in that section, as it has a problem with hydraulic fluid leaking into it's protective bubble, as the Pikhan explains.

Down through the darkened cargo area. Lots and lots of olive drab cargo containers. Some of them are open, and were obviously used to hide the freedom fighters that are on board now. Treal counts the seats, and in theory, there could be 200 of those guys on board. Great - a reinforced company. Treal opens one of the big boxes, and finds an armored car (not the Brinks kind). Bitchin'. Another container holds box after box of assault rifles, and ammo in preloaded magazines. Now the Marines (Treal and Ghaer) feel better. There are also cases of grenades, ram grenades, machine guns, etc. Enough to equip a 2,000 to 4,000 man army, for several weeks of a full scale war. Shaw: "This is enough to equip a few thousand men for a few weeks, to make a lot of noise, and attract attention." On further discussion, it's decided that no, this is enough for a real coup. The container of plastic explosives really gets Ghaer's adrenaline going. Various party members equip themselves from the stockpile with proper weapons.

Watson detects heat source, moving, with an ultra-violet flashlight. He's moving straight for the group, walking very quietly. Shaw and Watson hide off to one side, Treal chimneys up between the crates and hides above, the others hide off amongst the containers. The man walks down the aisle, unlocks a container, opens it, turns on a small flashlight, and fondles a rifle briefly. Then he puts it back, and Treal drops, trying to take the man out. It doesn't work, as the unknown man moves very quickly, takes Treal down with one blow, drops his flashlight, and disappears.

Treal is helped, and the area is checked out. They find a small bag of the little metal cargo tags, to make it look like the containers have not been opened. Very interesting. Treal wakes up. Treal: "Who was that truck that hit me?" No one knows, but he probably wasn't with the main group. They reseal the containers they opened, using the strange man's tags, and go the rest of the way to the engineering section. The Pikhan, whose name is "James Franklin Watts - you can call me Jim", keys the pad on the hatch after calling and identifying himself. Mikie: "Jim, make sure that they know you have friends with you." The pikhan escorts the party into the lower engineering section and meets the somewhat "stubborn" contingent of the engineering section. It's mostly Pikhan engineers, but also some Martels.

The Pikhans begin demonstrating some of the ideas they have cooked up for taking on the hijackers: "Here's where the circular saws deploy...the flamethrowers...and the mini-gun. It's not rifled, but we don't have the rifling machine working yet." Ghaer: "And the collateral damage? The passengers?" The Pikhans have worked out the odds, and the casualties amongst the passengers and crew are acceptable (maybe not as far as the passengers are concerned, but no one's asking them). Max Plank explains that he has also concocted a rather deadly nerve gas. It's lethal in about three or four minutes, and the victims would be rendered helpless in a few seconds once it is inhaled. The idea is to get a bunch of the hijackers into a room, seal it up, and gas them.

One of the Pikhans looks at Mikie, and asks "don't I know you?" His name is Nicholas Cadillac Gauge. Mikie doesn't know him by name, so apparently not. Of course Gauge might be a Free Thoughts devotee, but that's irrelevant right now.

Discussing the design of the ship, the group determines that there are too many backups and safeties to cut off life support, or gravity, at least from here. The backups for the gravs are in the belly of the ship, and the engineers can only increase or decrease the gravs within 20%. Shaw: "That could be enough." Pikhan: "But that would effect us too." Shaw: "But at least we'd be expecting it." It's something to keep in mind for later maybe, although it would help if the percentage could be increased, or the effect localized.

Pikhan: "What we're really looking for is intel. How many are there?" Ghaer: "About 200, maybe more." Pikhan: "Hmm. And they have psionics too. We haven't come up with any way to neutralize that; these ones don't wear turbans, so we don't know which ones they are. They aren't any threat near the engines though." No kidding; Mikie is getting a headache from the psionic white noise being generated by the massive drives, but he doesn't say anything. Shaw suggests that "we might be able to make use of their willingness to negotiate, maybe send a negotiator." The Pikhans aren't really into negotiating, since it doesn't involve building anything. But it right now the bad guys outnumber the good guys by a considerable margin. Treal: "Look, we don't have to kill two hundred of them." Shaw: "We don't have to kill any of them." Treal: "If we get the Crown Prince, we don't need anybody else. The coup is over." Ghaer: "Yeah, but if we grab the Prince, we have to deal with unhappy fanatics." The concern is that if something happens to the Prince, or things start to look really bad, they may just blow the ship up. The scoreboard is as follows:162 passengers and125 crew - mostly captive, 200 or so 'freedom fighters', and the 'resistance', which currently consists of Treal, Shaw, Ghaer, Mikie (maybe), 14 Pikhans, 3 Martels, a remote control engineering robot, and Watson. Not great odds.

Ghaer: "Mike, are you all right? You don't look that great." Mikie: "Headache." Pikhan: "You just need some food." They have stew, nut bread (with butter), and cold Pikhan beer, and they're just sure that eating will at least help temporarily. Mikie asks if they can tell if there are people in the cargo area, and the answer is yes, and yes there are. Damn. Shaw: "I don't know if we have the ability to do this, but can we change the nature of the fire suppression foam so that it congeals?" Pikhan: "Phil, can you work on that?" Phil will see what he can come up with.

The mention of food has reminded Mikie that it's getting close to dinner time. The phone rings in Engineering, which apparently isn't unusual, as the hijackers have been calling to try to convince the Pikhans and Martels to give up. The phone is answered, and it's for Mikie. Prince: "Mr. Griffin, I was just wondering if you were planning on joining me for dinner?" Mikie: "I was planning on it." Prince: "Excellent. I'll send one of my people down to escort you up." Mikie: "Give me a clear area around the hatch, before you do that." Prince: "Ah, our little furry friends are still resisting. I can guarantee their safety." Mikie: "Your men are in the cargo area." Prince: "Not a problem, I can clear the area. I still have six days to make your friends see reason. Why don't you invite your friends to come to dinner? Col. Shaw, isn't it? Ghaer Raller, Treal Delgado - is he related to Will Delgado, by any chance?" Mikie: "I'll ask." <thinking>: Shit. He's very well-informed. Prince: "Well, I won't keep you, I know you need time to get ready." The Prince politely waits until Mikie hangs up before disconnecting. Mikie: "You've been invited to dinner with the Prince. <to Treal> And he asked about your brother." Treal: "What?!?" Ghaer: "I'd kind of like to get back to my quarters, because I've got the Book of Knowledge there, in a really abridged version.... <Mikie looks at him quizzically> Well, you'd think something that old and important would be better made!" Ghaer decides to go with Mikie to dinner, after some discussion.

The Pikhans are awaiting directions from Shaw and Treal, as they are the military experts. Shaw: "We need to figure out a way to take the bridge." Treal: "Well, they certainly won't expect that!" Ghaer: "We need to find a way to take out four hundred people." Treal: "Two hundred." Ghaer: "We don't know how many people they may have planted among the passengers, or how many might be affected by Stockholm Syndrome." Mikie: "If you're coming to dinner, we have to leave." They go, leaving Shaw and Treal to try to figure out how to use the engineering staff to do something about life support.

Mikie and Ghaer go into the cargo area, where they are met by a set of liveried servants, and the one-armed man with the swagger stick. Mikie: "I'll need to stop at my stateroom first." He indicates the condition of his clothing. Ah. They have allotted time for that. Ghaer will also take advantage of the opportunity. Fortunately, Mikie's headache fades as he gets farther away from the drives.

Shaw asks the Pikhans if they have a medkit, and of course they do. A huge toolbox of medical supplies (well, you just never know when the earth might crack below you, ripping your legs clean off). Shaw gives Treal RegenII™ , so he gets a half hour nap. Right after he nods off, one of the Pikhans says "I wonder if - It shouldn't make any difference, I guess. I mean Regen™'s Regen™, right?" Evidently Treal has been given Pikhan Regen™. Um. They'll have to wait and see. It was marked like regular Regen™, in high impact containers.

Mikie and Ghaer shower and change (separately), and are escorted to the main dining room. It's resplendent in people in brocade and braid. There are a number of passengers among the group, as well as the 'officers'. The Prince enters last, with everyone standing. The passengers have evidently been persuaded that the Prince is a lovely man, and the Arden Federation is being run by horrible, ill-bred people. Could be the work of the Prince's psionics, or just stupid, easily swayed people.

The Prince is very charming. Prince: "Fruit, Mr. Griffin?" He tosses an orange to Mikie, psionically. Mikie calmly peels it. The Prince does a number of telekinetic parlor tricks during dinner. The Prince makes sure introductions are made, especially Ghaer, since he's crew and hadn't met the passengers. Prince: "Mr. Raller has been setting up a little resistance unit in the secondary engineering section. Apparently they have an armored vehicle, and even nerve gas. <smiles> One hears things. I'm hoping that they'll see reason. But this is not that type of evening. Come, let us have some music." The obligatory string quartet strikes up

Meanwhile back in engineering - Pikhan: "What are these two little wire things in your legs? They're emitting RF radio waves." Ah - wired for sound, so to speak. They also examine and x-ray Shaw's chest wound: the bullet is lodged in a fairly benign part of the heart muscle, which is why he's still alive. The Pikhans remove the small wires from Shaw's leg using an electro-magnet. The bullet is left alone for now. Pikhan: "Did you know you have something in your brain?" Shaw: "I know. Leave it alone." [A little souvenir from Blaelok.]

Treal wakes up feeling great! He's all bright-eyed and bushy tailed, and is much happier. Since he doesn't have any obvious ill effects, no one is going to worry him by mentioning the Regen™ issue.

Dinner is wonderful. Eventually, the Crown Prince is tired, so he leaves the guests to enjoy themselves, and invites Ghaer and Mikie to join him for brandy and cigars. Mikie: "I'm willing to go have a conversation if you want, but I don't smoke or drink." Prince: "Some one in my position needn't really be concerned about that." Mikie: "It's not a health issue."

Shaw, in the meantime, is in engineering with a bunch of Pikhans who have gone right off. They're making Dick Salamander-esque equipment like there's no tomorrow. Cigarette cases that fire darts, .. One of the Pikhan's is apparently a bit of a roboticist. He comes up with a remote controlled cockroach, that can be controlled by a tiny little joystick in the watch. Cool!! They have also constructed a lobster looking robot with some unusual features.

At the post dinner "party" The Prince announces: "We have a bit of an impasse, and neither one of us is in a position to make any progress. What can I do to bring you around to my way of thinking?" Mikie: "What makes you think I've chosen 'sides'?" Prince: "I didn't say you did. But I want to tell you that we wish no quarrel with you, no harm to the passengers. I assure you that our intention is to off load all the passengers once we reach Tremous Dex. My officers have strict orders." Ghaer is concerned about third party's agendas, etc. The Prince is adamant that all his mention are absolutely loyal to the 'cause', and to him. Prince: "You realize of course, that I could probably force you to do my bidding, but I won't. Your friend here <speaking to Ghaer but referring to Mikie> has certain psionic abilities, but nothing that I couldn't suppress if I had to. <to Mikie> But you're a man who feels he has lost everything, so is very dangerous. I'm sorry for your loss. I too have lost loved ones." Mikie stands up, and announces he's "done playing." Prince: "I am not playing. I assure you I'm deadly serious." The Prince goes out of his way to convince them that he is a reasonable man. Prince: "I can see that you are both competent and honorable individuals. Why not join me? My cause is just." Mikie: "It's not my cause. Thank you for dinner, it was very good, but I'll be going now." Prince: "You're welcome - I'll tell my chef you enjoyed it, that is a high complement from some one with your culinary experience." Maybe he doesn't realize how annoying that is.

After Mikie leaves... Ghaer decides to continue his conversation with the Prince, since they're both on this floating bomb. Prince: "Are you sure you won't have that cigar and brandy?" Ghaer: "I'm trying to cut down; I've gained a bit of weight." Prince: "I could try to to find some 'light' brandy for you?" Ghaer: "That would be a crime. I'll just have a small drink." The Prince lights Ghaer's cigar psionically, and Ghaer warns him about expending that kind of energy unnecessarily. Prince: "I have to expend energy, or it becomes unbearable. I have a unique condition. One might say I'm on 'overdrive'. The doctors tell me I may have ten years." Ghaer: "Has any one been able to tell you why?" Prince: "It's the result of a 'procedure'. I have an obligation to my people." Oh yeah, he's got that weird light in his eyes all right.

Shaw wants to send the little cockroach exploring. Amazingly enough, the bug is designed to use the metal of the ship for conduction, although they can't control it behind a certain amount of metal. Shaw wants to send it out into the cargo bay they were in, to look around. Pikhan: "No problem. That should only take five minutes." There are cockroach-sized openings to use. The bug goes out, and relays back images of the dozen or so guards, and the 105mm field gun that's mounted there, aimed at the door to engineering. Oh. The men are also very well armed. Not unexpected, but not exactly comforting either.

Pikhan: "Excuse me, Colonel Shaw?" They have him move slightly, so they can set up the console that will become the auxiliary bridge. Auxiliary Bridge??!!?? The Pikhans have arranged a method of separating the engineering section from the rest of the ship. The powerplant and drive section will be separated through the use of explosive bolts. Shaw is a bit skeptical. Pikhan: "It will either work, or we'll be blown into tiny bits, but quick. While being exposed to space." The odds of success are 60-40, which they think are good. They don't have a pilot, though. And with the modifications they've made, using scrounged materials, means that they'll need some one human-size to operate the devices. Shaw: "How will you navigate?" Pikhan: "Well, we won't be using Waldo's <the engineering 'bot> computer." Shaw: "Why not?" Pikhan: "We disassembled him." Shaw: "Why?" Pikhan: "We needed a computer for the console. Now what we need is jolly good computer hacker to jack into the system." Shaw: "I don't think I'm that good. But, since we'll be here for six days, I'll give it a shot." They set up the console for him to start experimenting. And they're concerned that they need uniforms. Yea gods.

After a while, Shaw is offered dinner. It's a lobster on a bed of greens. A good-sized lobster, and Shaw does wonder where the heck they got it, but figures he might not want to know. As he moves towards it to start eating, the lobster moves. Shaw is a bit startled, since the thing is the bright red color you only get from cooking it. What the hell?? The Pikhans think this is really funny, but eventually confess to having made a lobster shaped robot, since Shaw thought they needed one bigger than the cockroach. The lobster has special cutting tools, diamond tipped claws, a laser cutter, fiber optic feelers. They may send the lobster robot to cut into the section of controls that would allow them to take over life support systems.

Mikie returns to his room, gets changed, and goes to the gym to beat on things. There are several Lyrians there, practicing some sort of unfamiliar martial art. Mikie stays there, trying to get below boiling point, and ignoring the Lyrians. Eventually, he returns to his room.

Back in the comfy room. Prince: "Please Mr. Raller, talk to your friend. I can see you're a reasonable man, and can appreciate my position. <pause> Your friend is troubled. Is there anything we can do? I know how difficult it is to lose loved ones." Ghaer: "He didn't lose them, they were taken away. By something more evil and more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Prince: "Ah. I remember when the police came and took away my parents. If you were a citizen of the Arden Federation, you would understand what this means." Ghaer: "Are you familiar with the Solomani?" Prince: "Yes, much to my regret." Ghaer: "Do you know how much they fear Solomani Security?" Prince: "One hears things." Ghaer: "Imagine what Solomani Security fears. Good night sir." Ghaer leaves, gets some things from his room, then goes back down to engineering. Ghaer is greeted by the one armed man: "Please sir, if you could be so kind as to secure yourself in engineering? Hostilities will resume in, say, five minutes?" How civilized. Ghaer walks past the men and the field gun, to engineering. Shaw asks that Ghaer be scanned, just in case. The only interesting thing that shows up on the scan is a perfectly round blur around almost all of Ghaer (just his ears and feet stick out). The Pikhans can't read anything within that sphere. Ghaer now knows that the protective gold sphere has evidently stayed with him, as opposed to transferring with the Ball of Wisdom, as he expected.

A few hours later, there is a gentle tapping on Mikie's door. It's one of the Prince's servants, back in camo. He's carrying a silver tray, on which there are some sheets of paper with handwritten notes. "His Highness thought you might wish this." Okay.... Mikie takes the letter, and the servant leaves. It's written on extremely nice paper, with the Lyrian seals, etc. This type of paper would indicate that it comes from someplace worth robbing (old habits die hard). The note reads:
"Mr. Griffin. I have made certain inquiries among the passengers. The gentleman your friend Mr. Raller informed us of, we now have in custody - a Mr. Wiggins, who is travelling as a businessman, and was able to provide us with very interesting information. We have not been able to determine for which agency he is currently working, but he has quite a collection of knowledge. His rather precarious situation has been explained to him. <apparently the Prince exploded an orange in front of him, implying this could work on non-fruit> Should you desire it, Mr. Wiggins will be placed at your disposal.
"The gentleman in whom you are interested, (caucasian male, approximately 6' in height, pale blue eyes, white blond hair) is named Paul Verlak. He has been employed, alternately, by the ISA, SolSec, Sorag, and countless other agencies. Two years ago he was adjudicated as 'criminally insane'; he was jailed for doing things to the deceased that I would not mention on these pages. A soulless killer, an untalented torturer, and a psychopath who fears nothing. I hope that this helps you in your quest to slay your own demons. Sincerely, Charles Francis Escari." That does provide Mikie with information he didn't have before, and a few more horrible images to add to the collection.

Treal is presented with a sort of combination battledress and space loader. How cool. It is a bit big though, and can only move through the largest doors. Treal: "Well, that won't work." They'll work on the size thing. And maybe a few more modifications.

Mikie decides to go speak with Mr. Wiggins. Mikie finds one of the Lyrians, who passes him on to the one-armed man (he lost his arm in Imperial service, as it turns out). He takes Mikie to see Wiggins. He is in a comfortable room, and has been unharmed, although he's nervous (especially after having seen the Prince levitate and then blow up a piece of fruit; there was some implication that something of Mr. Wiggins' might be next). The guard takes Mikie to one side and tells him: "Other than your request for help, I've been instructed to not interrupt, no matter what I hear." The guard appears to be a tad nervous himself, over this. The guard leaves.

Wiggins is sweating, and has his chair backed up into a corner. Mikie: "Afraid some one's going to sneak up on you?" Wiggins <not looking up>: "Who are you? What do you want? I've told you people everything you wanted." Mikie: "I wasn't part of that group." Wiggins: "Well who are you? They let you in, so you must be with them. Are you the torturer?" Mikie: "No." Wiggins goes off on the "I'm just an innocent passenger,...." routine Mikie gives him a few minutes to wind down. Mikie: "Who are you?" Wiggins: "Cornielius Wiggins." Mikie: "Why are you on the ship?" Wiggins: "I'm a businessman." <thinking: Yeah, I'm in business, sort of. That's right.> Mikie: "What do you deal in?" Wiggins: "A little of everything." <That's right, keep it vague...> Mikie: "No, don't 'keep it vague', be specific." Now Wiggins looks directly at Mikie, with larger eyes. Wiggins: "You're a Goddamned teep!" He starts doing multiplication in his head. Mikie: "Yes I am, very good." Wiggins is not responding. Mikie pulls up a chair, and sits across from Wiggins, and works past the math to get what he wants.

Wiggins has been following Mikie because he's interested in Verlak, who he's been following since before Theresa died. Wiggins found out that Verlak was going to go after Theresa's body beforehand, so he's been shadowing Mikie waiting for Verlak to resurface. As for why, it turns out that Wiggins has been hired by some one who wants to get their hands on Mr. Verlak, and they want him alive. Mikie: "How were you going to deliver him?" Wiggins has tranquilizers and a low berth on board. Mikie: "Is Verlak on board?" Wiggins: "I don't know. Maybe. I was just following you." He doesn't know why Verlak is after Mikie, but it's not important. Wiggins does has information, unconfirmed, that Verlak was working around the Solomani who captured him, and 'did something' to him. Wiggins has a grudging admiration of Blaelok, his 'purity of purpose', although he never actually met Blaelok. Wiggins doesn't like physical violence, but he isn't above it. He's been involved in a number of kidnappings, but no murders or such. He almost never knows who his employer is, and prefers it that way, since he can't tell anyone what he doesn't know, and that way he can convince himself that he's just doing business, and whatever his employers do is there own affair, not his fault at all. Besides, it pays well, and Wiggins does has gambling debts - he just can't stay away from the tables. It's his vice. Wiggins has some sort of a packet in his room that he's trying to not think about, because he doesn't want Mikie to know about it. Too late. It's behind the air circulation vent, around the bend, in Wiggins' stateroom. Wiggins doesn't really think Verlak is on board the ship, but Wiggins had planned on following Mikie, since Verlak will show up eventually. Wiggins is a very careful man. The whole Lyrian thing was a bonus, since that way he would have information he could sell to the Federation, once the ship jumped into system in Tremous Dex. He has a transmitter, and has been busily gathering information on everyone he could.

Mikie backs off, and Wiggins slumps over, semi-conscious. Mikie goes to the bathroom, splashes some water on his face, goes to Wiggins' room, finds the file easily and takes it back to his own room. The file has lots of information and observations on Verlak, and it has pictures of Verlak, including some through the window of the taxidermy shop that show Verlak stabbing the taxidermist to death. Then the photos show Verlak walking out of the shop with a 'woman' over his shoulder. There are more pictures, of Verlak in an auto-cab, standing outside the broken window of Frills and Thrills with a leather bikini in the window. Then one of him looking directly at the camera, with a rather disturbing look in his eyes. (That's the last photo.) There are notes about Verlak scribbled all over the place, including "Sexual perversion?? Prostitute? !!!!" Little bits like that. Mikie takes the file back to Wiggins' room, and puts it back in the air vent, but on the opposite side. Then he goes back to the gym.