"…when all else fails, duck. It's not practical, but it can be momentarily comforting."
UNIT Procedures Manual, Zen Division

261 - 1122.

To make matters worse for Mikie, news will get out that he's a widower. Young, attractive, a widower, and a king (or something) – the perfect catch. Expletive. And the staff also brings the news that ‘Simon the Pretender’ has heard of "King Michael" (argh) and is on his way to deal with him, since Simon considers himself the true heir to the throne; in fact, Simon may even be on Regina already.

Ghaer reacquaints himself with Regina, and takes his zip-lock bag full of gems and coins off to get them valued. He is able to earn $120,000. Which helps Ghaer's finances tremendously.

Speaking of money, Treal is able to get $80,000 for everything except the one Lyrian coin the auction house is so interested in. Unfortunately, he finds out that the $200,000 bid he left for the sword of Tupelov was not enough. Treal's father's friend will be crushed, but Treal is there when the two men come to take possession of the sword, and he sees them go off into a corner and remove the map from the handle, gleefully. Treal offers to buy the sword from them, but they just give it to him for free. Treal returns with the sword to his dad's place, hoping to find him there. All he finds is a note: "Sorry I missed you. Something's come up." Apparently, Falcon doesn't have a life, just an itinerary. Treal takes enough money out of the $200,000 to pay for his expenses on the trip. He then ships the sword and the remaining money to his Dad's friend.

Geoff and his monkey – um, Ezbeki have arrived on Regina. Ezbeki keeps throwing out suggestions like joining Satan's Slammers, or buying a bar they can both run. Geoff: "The problem with running a bar is that you have to have repeat business." Ezbeki: "Well, we can put heroin in the drinks." Geoff just glares at him. Ezbeki: "What are you saying - I couldn't work in a bar? I'll have you know that I have many recipes, secret recipes." Geoff: "What kind of recipes?" Ezbeki: "I can't tell you, they're secret!" Geoff: "You can at least tell me what they're recipes for. Drinks?" Ezbeki: "Yeah, drinks. Old family recipes. And they're good."

Mr. Lawry, at the auction house, is willing to accept the provenance of the Lyrian coin, having been confronted with all the coverage in the news. So, this means the coin can be put up for auction, and may net Treal some real money.

Robert Shelzie, recently of His Majesty's Imperial Navy (after four straight years of siege duty, thank you!), arrives on Regina. He looks rather natty, and the skycaps are more than willing to carry his bag, call a cab, or recommend a hotel. "What would sir like? Something nice? Something very nice? Or something extremely nice?" Robert: "Oh, I think something extremely nice for the first few days." Skycap: "Very good sir, then may I recommend the Ambassadore?" A cab is called and as it pulls off, Robert looks back and sees the man who helped him take off his uniform jacket and hat, hang them up, and leave with Robert's bag. Welcome to Regina. He hopes the guy has fun with his clothes and book tapes, but there are a couple of things in the bag he'd rather not lose, so he hits the emergency button The cab stops, the doors all pop open, and the alarm goes off (mixed with the recorded call for assistance).

Mikie, not being allowed to mingle with the commoners, lest he be mobbed (an improvement over being mobbed by the loyal Lyrians, but no one is asking), is stuck in the hotel. The tri-dee is right out, since it has too much crap on it about the Lyrians and the new 'autarch', and things like "Who is this new king with the checkered past?". Fortunately, the Ambassadore has a gym, so Mikie's back in the beating inanimate objects phase, whenever possible. Although walking the griffins is interesting, since they are very attracted to gold and jewelry, and will all gather around any jewelry shop window. But then there's the press yelling questions and all... Damn.

Ghaer is able to see what happens on the street when Robert, looking all newly arrived and a bit too clean shaven attempts to fight his way upstream on the companionways in pursuit of the hustler (although Ghaer doesn't see the cause), and then get into a very short fight as he jostles people. A large local takes exception to being bumped, and he kicks Robert, very hard, right into the family jewels. Robert falls over, suddenly not concerned about the duffel bag, and Ghaer's Lassie gene kicks in so he runs over to save him from being trampled or rolled. Treal doesn't have that gene, and he's from Regina so he has the "none of my business" genes. On the other hand, he is intrigued by the man in a business suit carrying an Imperial Navy duffel bag, dumping clothing and other items (like book tapes) out of it as he goes. Treal follows him, but needs to run to catch up, and the guy he's following notices, and cuts around a corner. Treal rounds the corner and is clotheslined by some stranger, who takes exception to Treal just flipping over and landing on his feet. He starts to follow Treal, until he gets tired of running, stops to hack for a few seconds, then lights up a new cigarette.

Treal's target leads him farther into the older, narrower parts of Up Port, then goes over to a police box and chats up the cop. Treal runs past him, into an alley, and waits, catching his breath. When the man leaves the cop, heading the other direction with a smug look on his face and his hands in his pockets, Treal follows.

Robert eventually looks up at the big Vargr, who has been preventing people from stepping on him, and says "Thank you, sir." Ghaer: "Welcome to Regina."

Treal comes up quickly behind the man he's following, and inserts his cutlass between his legs, like using a police baton, causing the hustler to fall forward right quick, onto his face, knocking himself out cold. Treal looks through the man's belongings, finds his credential case – oops, he's a cop. (Well, so much for a raise in pay eliminating the need for alternate forms of fundraising for Regina P.D.) Treal takes the wallet/credentials, and leaves, planning on turning them in to a nearby police station.

As he's leaving, Treal hears someone say "Get his shoes!" Treal turns and yells: "Hey, cut that out!" and draws his cutlass. One of the guys then draws a really big gun. Treal draws a grenade. Treal: "I said leave him alone." Scavenger: "Or you'll what? Blow him up? Go ahead, I dare you. I double dare you!" Treal charges with the cutlass, using it as a bashing weapon, as a really big bullet whizzes by, ruffling his hair. It doesn't hit anyone down range, and a stray bullet is nothing new on Up Port. Treal charges past to the side, and thumps the guy in the back, really hard, putting an end to the altercation. The other scavenger has already left, being bright enough to recognize when he's not welcome.

Back by the slidewalks. Ghaer: "Well, Robert, I think we'd better get you to Regina Trauma. If nothing else you'll know where it is for next time. By the way, any relation to a Doctor Shelzie?" Robert: "Oh, Uncle Adam. Yes." Just as they are about to head for Regina Trauma, the shadows of two big, big guys fall over them. They're dressed in black, and have funny accents. Sengi: "Ghaer Raller. You will come with us." Robert takes exception to this. Robert: "Now see here, leave him alone." Suddenly Robert finds himself sitting down again, but this Sengi has evidently been on Regina for a while, so he's more lenient and he's not really trying to hurt him. What's really annoying is that the bastard didn't even look at Robert. After the two big guys take to Vargr off, Robert goes to find Regina Trauma, since Ghaer said there was a police kiosk there.

Robert arrives at Regina Trauma, and locates the police kiosk. Robert: "Excuse me, I would like to report a theft." He's handed a form to fill out and put into the slot. He fills out the form and hands it back. The cop takes it, looks at it, and then puts it in a slot. Robert: "Is that it?" Cop: "I assume you're turning this in for insurance purposes?" Robert: "No, I want my things back." Cop <after a few blinks>: "We will look into it." Robert: "Very well. I'd also like to report a kidnapping. My friend was abducted." Cop: "Ah, and what makes you think it's a kidnapping?" Robert: "They carried him off against his will." Cop: "What makes you think it was against his will?" Robert: "His feet weren't touching the ground." Cop: "Was he yelling for help? Did they know his name?" Robert: "Well, they did know his name..." The cop looks at the report, makes sure that Robert can be contacted at the Ambassadore, and promises that it will be "looked into". Really.

Robert is not impressed with the police on Regina. As he's standing in the hallway, pondering his next move, a small, oily looking man approaches him. Weseli: "Today is your lucky day. If you want to find some one on Regina, I'm your man. I'm sort of like a, tour guide. Electronic map to Up Port?" He opens his coat to reveal some of the same maps as those being sold nearby. They are priced higher in the kiosk. Robert declines. "You're looking for a friend? New to Regina?" It's a female voice. Some one has taken a handkerchief and stretched it over the frame of a six foot tall redhead. Robert has been on siege for a long time... And he was in the Navy, so he knows most the social diseases can be easily cured. Robert: "What's your name?" Female: "Bambi." Robert: "Where can I meet you in two hours?" Bambi gives him a card, and marks him into her Daytimer. Robert then turns his attention back to the Weasel. Robert: "My friend was last seen in the company of two rather... barbaric-looking people." Weseli: "Well, that narrows it down. What's your friend's name?" Robert: "Um, <trying first to say it like the Sengi did> Ghaer Raller. Ghaer Raller?" Weseli: "Ah, right. Never heard of him. I'll be right back." Off he goes, at a run, so Robert goes in search of some other source of information, and finds some one who looks quite a lot like the first guy, but he has a bad memory, until money is flashed. Weseli 2: "Yeah, yeah, I saw this guy. Orange and black Vargr, big guys in black. They went by here." Robert: "Where were they going?" Weseli 2: "Well, maybe they were headed for Green 8. Or maybe they were headed for Grey 3. Or maybe they were headed for level 2." More money is flashed and disappears. Weseli 2: "If I were you, I'd look in the park, that's where those big guys hang out." Robert gets directions and heads for the park to help his only friend on Regina.

Speaking of Aguilon Park, Joe Lee looks up from his attempts to bring proper disorder to the Japanese Garden, as a group of Sengi, including a couple of riks, heads over to the rock garden. Joe goes over to watch them play J'la, as they set up looking like they're waiting for some one. In a few minutes a Var-Sengi Lord arrives, his jai orbiting around him. Robert is arriving at the same time, and sees a bunch of the big guys in black, and they're evidently going to be performing some sort of play or opera, judging from the costumes and all.

Ghaer is brought before the Var-Sengi, and he knows not to look directly at him. Rik: "You have ventured out. You have taken with you the Book of Knowledge. Tell us now, what is the Great Secret? My Lord requires a vision." Somewhere across the park, there's a high-pitched scream. Mikie wishes they'd shut up, then he realizes it's him. (Oh great, the vision order works at a distance! So much for not having to deal with the Oracle gig any more.) The griffins freak, adding an odd sort of keening note. Robert is thrilled at the level of special effects for the opera.

Ghaer meanwhile tells the Sengi that he can't tell them any ‘Great secret, because he doesn't have visions, and he's currently in the process of ‘remaking’ the Book of Knowledge. Sengi: "What do you mean the Book of Knowledge is being remade? Show us." Ghaer hands them the bag of the pieces of the Book of Knowledge. They speak to each other in Sengi for a few minutes. Rik: "What does this mean?" Ghaer: "It means that when the two artifacts were passed, one was dropped." One of the riks announces "I must tell the Kaesthra," and leaves. Oh-oh. Evidently "something" is up, and it's probably not good.

Since there appears to be a lull in the proceedings, Robert approaches Ghaer. Robert: "Ah, Mr. Raller. I found you. I really don't understand the play, but..." Ghaer: "Oh, that's all right. It's called J'la, <indicating the rock garden> and it's very difficult to understand." Robert: "No, I mean the opera." Ghaer is about to try to explain when two people in combat armor, one of whom is wearing caped combat armor, comes up from behind. Caped jerk: "Oy! Are you Ghaer Raller?" The guy in the cape pokes Ghaer. Ghaer: "Sorry, I'm straight." Caped man: "Hey, what's that supposed to mean? You watch yourself, or I'll thrash you!" The second man tells Ghaer "Dog, bow your head before the Autarch Simon." Robert: "Mr. Raller Perhaps I should have picked up a gun first." Ghaer: "We need to find the Autarch. And the source of that scream." Robert: "Autarch? What is an autarch?" Ghaer: "It's the name for the king or ruler of the Lyrian Empire." Robert: "Ah, a petty noble." Ghaer: "Actually the Lyrian Empire had..." Simon: "Hey, don't you turn your back on me you filthy cur!" Ghaer places his hands in his pockets (where he keeps his snub pistols), very slowly. Robert: "Excuse me, sir. What is it you require of my friend Mr. Raller?" Simon: "I'm looking for your mate, that guy what's calling himself the autarch." (Not true - everybody else keeps calling him autarch.) Ghaer hears a brief click and a hiss of gas off to the side. Everyone is very still. From the left "My Lord, now is not the time. We seek the pretender." Simon: "Just tell me where I can find Michael Griffin." Ghaer: "Well, if you know anything about him, you'd know that he hangs out with those big guys in black over there. He'll show up eventually. But I wouldn't bother them if I were you."

Joe Lee has been given the opportunity to try his hand at J'la in the rock garden, and after he makes the first move (after a lot of concentration), the Var-Sengi makes his. All of a sudden Joe Lee's fish is surrounded by ten elephants, a giraffe, five doves, and the Rockettes. Damn. Joe will need lots more work on his game.

Ghaer <to Robert>: "Wait here a moment. I will play Dante to your Virgil." Joe Lee expresses concern for the mood of the Sengi, and asks if anything is wrong? Rik: "There are...events coming." Robert: "Did I pick a bad time to come to Regina?" Rik: "What does it mean? The Book of Knowledge is broken, the <unpronounceable Sengi word> have looked at the signs, and they say they cannot read the signs." Joe Lee: "What is the worst the portents could read?" Rik: "A warrior's death? That is what all warriors look for one day." Joe Lee: "If that's the worst thing you can think of you don't have much of an imagination. Give me your hand." Joe Lee puts the Ball of Wisdom into the rik's hand, and folds his hand closed over it. After a few minutes, Joe Lee extends his hand and takes the Ball back. The rik appears much calmer, and food is brought over in shifts, then later there will be the singing of songs, and then there are offers of a companion with whom to bundle. Well, Joe Lee is not a member of any celibate order, and he's not an aesthetic, so... The offer of a Jai female is replaced by that of a Sengi female, as the Rik does not wish to offend Joe Lee by offering him some one below his station, and besides, the Rik hasn't been able to keep up with his 'duties' as much as he should. Very interesting noises from the tents in the park that night!

Robert has been sent off to MilTech by Ghaer, to acquire a gun, and armor. Salesman: "Impact Armor is nice if you're on Rhylanor, but they don't throw rocks on Regina, they throw grenades." He takes a look at Robert's expression and says "You're new here, aren't you?" Robert: "Well, my friend recommended a specific model..." He relays Ghaer's suggestion. Salesman: "Your friend has good taste." The sale is interrupted briefly when a man comes running in, wanting to buy a gun - "That one over there is fine. And a magazine. Make sure it's loaded." Salesman: "Very good sir. Shall I wrap it for you?" Customer: "No, I'll just take it." He runs out the door, and gunshots are heard. A few moments later, a new man comes in, asking about the resale value of the gun just purchased. Well, it is used, now…

Robert, with his new purchases, makes it to the Ambassadore with no further adventures. He inquires about renting a suite. Desk attendant: "I think we can find something for you sir." Robert: "Also, I would like to speak with the concierge." Robert explains about his bag being stolen. Concierge: "Ah, sir requires a kit." Robert: "Yes, that would be helpful, but I was wondering if you would know some way of 'lighting a fire' so to speak, under the police?" Concierge: "Of course sir, I understand." Robert describes what he's missing. The concierge will look into it. The room is lovely, and has a wonderful bucket of ice under the champagne bucket, which Robert puts into his lap. After a few minutes, he rings down to ask about getting a massage, and Helga is sent up.

A few lifetimes later, Robert is all boneless, and Helga has left him all warm and comfy and happy. After a while, there is some angry shouting outside in the hall. Sounds like some one dressing down a servant, in a vaguely familiar accent. Robert calls down to the desk to complain about the shouting in the hall, and the sound dampers are turned up in his room, so it's no longer a problem. Eventually the environmental sound of the brook and little waterfall mean a trip to the bathroom, but that's the extent of the unpleasantness for Robert.

On the other hand, when Mikie comes to, with a screaming headache, having had water thrown onto him, the room is full of griffins who look like they're hung over or have been beaten or something. Mikie doesn't remember exactly what happened, at least not yet. A bunch of the servants seem disoriented, and the Prince is stanching a nosebleed, which is a pity considering what he was wearing. Prince: "Your majesty, are you all right?" Mikie: "Yeah, I guess." The griffins are pacing around like caged lions, thinking What the fuck was that!! I don't know but it was bad! Well if they're going to choose that autarch, they should relaize that he come with baggage. Lots of it.

Ghaer shows up at the Ambassadore and asks to see Mikie. He is informed that "His Majesty is indisposed." Ghaer insists, so the servant will see, but doesn't encourage Ghaer. A valet enters Mikie's room. Valet: "Your majesty. The striped Vargr is here to see you. Shall I have him flogged, symbolically of course? Or shall I anticipate your wishes and send him in?" Mikie: "That would be brighter, yes." Ghaer is shown in. Ghaer: "I just had a meeting with a Var-Sengi lord. He wanted a vision. He was upset that I didn't have one." Mikie: "Well I had one, and I'm upset." Ghaer: "This is not good. I didn't have a vision, and the Book of Knowledge is broken, oh, and I ran into some one you should know about – Simon is here, and he's looking for you." There's a gentle tapping, and Black walks in. Black: "May I come in? Ah, Mr. Raller. I see you're all in one piece. I was afraid our barbaric friends were going to BBQ you. Perhaps you're too well marbled? <to Mikie> Well, I have some information for you. Guess who's <pointing down> next door?" Mikie: "Simon the Pretender." Black: "Or Simon de Griffin <pronounced with a French accent of course>, as he styles himself. In fact, his room is directly below us. I was wondering if you'd like me to arrange for him to come down with the ‘flu’, or something of that nature? I have some information on your rival. A former captain of Marines, he held the same rank in Satan's Slammers until recently when he became aware of his birthright. Apparently while he was with the Marines there were some accusations filed by another officer, and then the officer suffered an unfortunate accident. No charges were laid but... Our friend Simon has scored fairly high in the psionic aptitude tests although he hasn't had any formal training. And he appears to actually have the correct lineage to make his claim; fortunately, you have the griffins. The griffins are of course, infallible. They always choose the right one." Mikie glares at the griffins. Hey, you're it. It's not our fault. Black: "Apparently, the only way he could take your place would be if something were to, well, happen to you. As I indicated, I can arrange for Simon to 'catch the flu'." Mikie: "And what about Simon's friendly bodyguards? Black: "Tragic accident? Perhaps involving an airlock. Unless of course you'd rather handle matters yourself?" Mikie: "Doesn't matter to me. It's not like I want this job." Black: "Oh, but it suits you. Interestingly enough, I understand a relative of yours has jumped into system – Paolo Astridi. He's here to pay an official call on Corina, but he has heard about the appearance of the Lyrian Autarch, and will no doubt be paying you a call as well." Ghaer: "Is there a delegation from Birabetes on planet?" Black: "A delegation, no. At least nothing official. But it's hard to tell with that lot. Any how, I wanted to give you a head's up. One knows the Arch Duke's propensity for dropping in unannounced, and I wanted to give you the chance to prepare." Mikie: "For what? I don't know what the hell to do with him." Black: "He is your Arch Duke. Perhaps a treaty or something of that nature might be in order. It would certainly cement your position." Mikie: "I thought you said this position was temporary." Black: "It is. Sooner or later we all shuffle off this mortal coil. Think of it as a vacation! Your staff wants nothing more than to cater to your every whim and insulate you from all the everyday concerns. Sooner or later Michael, you're going to have to deal with your concerns." Mikie: "One of my concerns is Mr. Verlak." Black: "Oh, like a bad penny, I'm sure Mr. Verlak will be turning up. You're not the only one who has suffered this sort of loss, Michael. I myself remember the death of my parents. It effected me deeply. I would like to stay and chat, but there's work to be done. We never sleep you know. At least I seem to remember something like that being in our charter. Don't underestimate Simon. He comes off as more of a hick than he is in actuality. I must be off. With your permission, your highness? Or do you prefer your majesty? Your grace?" Mikie: "Please." Black bows, smiling, and leaves.

Ghaer: "Astridi's coming to town, the Sengi are here, there's some kind of bad thing coming because of the Book being shattered, and Simon wants to kill you. I don't think I've missed anything… What do we do?" Mikie: "You should probably leave." Ghaer: "Or? I have a question - do you want the Var to know you had a vision?" Mikie: "I don't know what I saw. I can't remember yet." Ghaer: "It might be important." Mikie: "If you want. Whatever. It doesn't matter." Ghaer: "Mike..." Mikie <shrugging>: "Ghaer, it doesn't matter. Go ahead and tell them. Why not."

Ghaer leaves, planning to go directly over to tell the Sengi that Mikie had their vision, and to not push him – he doesn't care if he lives or dies. On the way out, Ghaer stops to warn Esterhazy about Simon being there, and with heavily armed back-up – very heavily armed.