"Opportunities multiply as they are seized."-- Sun Tzu

285 - 1122.

Just as Ghaer has slipped into the water and started downstream, he sees the miller. Jurgensen is alone on the bank, motioning Ghaer towards him. Ghaer decides to go that way, cautiously. As Ghaer goes up the bank, the miller makes the shushing sign (finger to his lips), then motions for Ghaer to follow him as he goes up. Ghaer empties the water out of his rifle and follows up the hill towards the road. Jurgensen slows to a crawl as he nears the front of the mill, and looks around the corner of the mill, in the direction of the front door.

Ghaer takes a look around the corner of the mill and sees three men in uniform, one an officer, gathered by a jeep with its headlights on, who are not looking in Ghaer's direction. The miller motions Ghaer to cross the road, which he does try to do. Unfortunately, the officer sees motion out of the corner of his eye, yells "There's one!", and they pursue Ghaer into the woods. Ghaer tosses a rock off to one side, and one of the men goes that way.

The man who went off to one side calls out "He's not over here!" Ghaer is listening, and hears the pursuers speaking on their radios. Ghaer doesn't want to lead the bad guys to the rest of his party, so he tries to evade and lure them off in the wrong direction at the same time. And it works pretty well. He encounters two more of Garson's men, who are seated around a tree, smoking. Their sergeant would not be pleased. Ghaer doesn't disturb their smoke break, although he has to resist the urge to leap out and yell "All right - drop and give me fifty!!" in his best sergeant's voice.

Ghaer sneaks around the nicotine addicts, avoiding any noisy confrontations. He moves ever so quietly through the woods, no doubt with the help of his hyper-fur. He can see four or five civilians out in front of the mill - when he saw them earlier they had buckets in hand, but the fire at the mill has been at least mostly put out now. There are several more jeeps headed this way from the village. Ghaer decides he needs a clever plan for the group, not realizing that the group had left behind the Vargr as a distraction. Well, not really.

As Ghaer carefully continues on, he comes across one of the soldiers escorting what appears to be a prisoner in dark clothing. At least the second man stumbles a few times, but keeps his hands behind his back (which would indicate that they are tied). Ghaer watches for a few moments to verify that the man is a prisoner (rather than someone out for some kinky fun), and then is compelled by his Lassie genes to rescue the unfortunate. Ghaer hides, allowing the two men to pass by, hoping to pop up and quietly whack the guard in the back with the butt of his rifle. Ghaer hits the man in the arm, but not hard enough to disarm him. The guard turns and tells Ghaer "Drop the gun, fuzzy, or I'll shoot!" Ghaer does not drop the rifle, but fortunately the guard's shot misses. Ghaer then hits the guard solidly in the head with a well-placed butt stroke. The guard goes down, unconscious, Ghaer grabs the fallen man's SMG and extra magazine, cuts the prisoner's bonds, and then leads the way to the river with the former prisoner, who is apparently a priest.

In the dash across the road towards the river, Ghaer and his companion are spotted and fired on, by a machinegunner. Ghaer isn't hit, but the priest goes down, having been hit in the leg. Ghaer fires in the general direction of the shooter, at making him go for cover, as the firing stops. The priest went down on the river side of the road, and of course Ghaer has to go back for him, even as other jeeps converge on the area, brought by the sound of gunshots.

Ghaer and the priest are captured, and placed in the back of a truck, where Ghaer gets to formally meet Allen Hancock, the village priest, as he is being medicked. The truck takes the prisoners to the village, where the villagers are being held in a square surrounded by concertina wire in the center of the village. Ghaer and the priest are taken into the garrison, where a brig has been set up. There are ten other prisoners there already. Ghaer and the priest will be put into leg irons, handcuffs and belly chains, once they are inside the cell. And then he gets to meet his new friends and cellmates.

Inside the cell are five villagers (including the mayor's daughter), five members of the Irklan - Rising Dream, Shadow Lotus, Golden Song, Leaping Dragon, and Arnie Goldman. You just know that Arnie is going to be the dangerous one. (At 6'2", he's a big boy.) [Arnie's real clan name is 'Harmonious Jade', even though he never uses it.] Introductions are made all around. Arnie: "You're not from around here, are you?" Ghaer: "Yeah. Never take the package tour." Ghaer figures the cell is probably bugged.

While Ghaer is bonding with his new pals, his old ones are in their spot observing the village.

Hunter: "We can't do anything during the day, and night will hide our numbers." Hunter's plan is to go in quietly, rescue the children, kill the guards, and draft a new constitution. He's also contemplating sending Mikie in to check out the village since Mikie's the harmless looking one. There are a few people in the village who haven't been rounded up, but there's no way to tell if those are just people who live in the village and work at the estate. Hunter: "If they've cleaned out the village, one of those homes might be empty. It would be a better place to watch from, but it's still a good idea to wait until nightfall before moving in." Hunter takes out his netting and uses the native flora to weave his gillie suit into a lump that blends in perfectly with the wheat chaff in the field. Now Hunter feels better about moving closer. At least close enough to get a better look at the village.

They don't have to get close at all to see the helicopter that's patrolling over the village square and to Garson's estate and back. Hunter: "That's going to be a lot less effective at night." Hunter helps the others get camouflaged and after resting and eating, they quietly move closer to the village.

Back in the gaol, as it's beginning to get dark outside, Ghaer and all the other prisoners are chained up into a long line up with Ghaer in front, followed by the priest, then alternating villagers and Irklans so that no two Irklans are beside each other. The group is very carefully guarded as they are moved out to the square. They are chained between the two poles at one end of the square, near the platform. After they are chained to the poles, a guard goes along the line checking to make sure that each prisoner is securely fastened to the main chain. The priest explains to Ghaer what the various buildings they can see are in the village. The villagers in the pen are not restrained, just behind wire. Some of the women have constructed a bit of a privacy curtain for themselves out of clothing, and the villagers are free to move around behind the wire.

Ghaer tries to surreptitiously try to work on the hasp, but the priest sidles over and discretely shows Ghaer the keychain hidden in his hands. Ghaer: "Are you a Jesuit?" Father Hancock just smiles. Ghaer stops working on the hasp to avoid calling attention to them.

Hunter decides to head for the end of town where the church, parsonage, and town hall are. The church has a high peaked roof, but no bell tower, unfortunately. They go to the back of the church. Hunter <to Mikie>: "Hey can you use your powerful psionic abilities to manipulate the lock?" Mikie makes an obscene gesture in Hunter's direction. Hunter: "Hang on a second." Hunter takes out his ETool and knocks on the door. No one answers, luckily. Robert and Paul look at Hunter. Hunter: "What? I was going to use the flat side!" Robert: "Oh yeah, that's what you said about the soldier!" Mikie scans the building and there is no one inside; then he tries the back door before picking the lock. (Always check to see if it's locked first; it's less embarrassing that way.) The door is open, so they go inside and dump the camo.

Hunter goes up into the loft to take a look at the guard placements in the square. There are a lot of guards, well-placed around the area. A look at the prisoners chained between the posts reveals the location of the missing Ghaer. Predictable, really. The guard on the platform and the four at the intersection have rifles (ACR), but the most casualty-producing weapon would probably be the LMG in the helicopter.

Hunter comes back down to discuss the situation with the others. Hunter: "First, we're going to need twelve more people. But we just have us, so that won't work. Mikie and Paul are going to go in and free the prisoners who are chained together. Bob, you're going to create a distraction. Mikie, you and Paul are going to stealth into a position where you can get to the prisoners when it all goes to hell, which it will. I'll be in a supporting position." Robert: "Is that helicopter moving on a regular schedule to refuel?" Not entirely sure, but apparently about every half hour. The plan is for Robert to go into the square, and angrily motion the guards towards him to get them as bunched up as possible. Preferably while the helicopter is off refueling.

At about 7:00 p.m., the electrical lights are turned on, and it gets painfully bright in the village square. In addition to the normal street lights, there are large spotlights on top of the commissary, the town hall, the store, and the barracks. It's really flipping bright. Hunter <looking out the window>: "You know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking I don't know Ghaer all that well." Fortunately, Hunter doesn't say this in a serious way, so no fight breaks out. This time.

At this point, everyone except Robert notices that in addition to the standard search lights on the buildings, is another, shorter post (say about 3.5' in height). Hunter looks at these and thinks "Those look just like machine-gun mounts." Fortunately, there are no mounted machine-guns. Yet.

Leaping Dragon is the closest Irklan to Ghaer, with Arnie at the other end. Ghaer whispers to Leaping about the machine-gun mounts, and suggests that it's time to set the prisoners free. Father Hancock passes Ghaer the keys. Hunter: "Time to go." Robert was going to borrow a pair of BDUs from Hunter, but there's no time for that now, as the helicopter has left to refuel, and Hunter doesn't want to wait for the machine-guns to show up. Ghaer uses the keys and then tells the others to not drop the chains so it looks like they're still chained. Another jeep has shown up in the square, bearing just one man.

Hunter: "Paul, Mikie, time to move into position. Bob - it looks like you'll have time to change while they move." Paul and Mikie are to sneak as closely as possible to the posts. Robert will then make his grand entrance while Hunter covers from the church. As Hunter is scoping things out, and Paul and Mikie are stealthing closer, Hunter spots the machine-gun crews starting to set up, and decides he'll just have to get one of those for himself. Hunter <giving Robert a shove towards the door>: "No more time - you're on buddy!"

Robert strides out the front door of the church. The first guard he sees, Robert turns to and says "You there! Come with me!", without breaking stride, and heads for the officer on the platform. In the meantime, another jeep pulls up and the driver emerges and heads for the platform. Robert looks that way, hoping he won't see some one who looks really familiar. Nope. Whew! It's some one in a black ghi. Robert looks at the officer's name tag and says "You, Anderson! I want to inspect the prisoners." Anderson: "Yes sir." Anderson doesn't follow, but Robert tells him to "get your ass down here", so Anderson does. Robert walks along the line of prisoners. Halfway down, he asks Anderson "Is everything ready?" Anderson: "Yes sir." Robert: "Show me." Anderson leads the way to the commissary, and Robert makes sure the first guard he picked up is still following. Anderson leads the way up to the roof of the commissary. Robert: "Have you found the other off-worlders yet?" Anderson: "No, not yet." Robert: "I am terribly disappointed." Anderson: "How do you know they're off-worlders?" Robert: "Well, you have one of them already." Anderson: "Which one?" Robert: "The furry one!" Anderson: "So we're looking for fuzzies?" At this point they have reached the roof, where a machinegunner is setting up.

Hunter, meanwhile, is headed for the town hall, intending to get on the roof. He scales the side of the building, very quietly. Robert: "And the disposal area?" Quizzical looks. Robert: "You're not just going to leave the bodies in the square, are you?" Anderson: "That's not in my contract, sir." They'll murder people, but they won't clean up. Robert: "Well, never mind. Let's go back down." They go back down the stairs to the main floor of the commissary, then out into the square. He approaches one of the other guards to ask if the "furry one has been interrogated yet?" Guard: "No sir." Anderson: "Excuse me sir, if we pull too many guards off position, they <referring to the prisoners in the pen> might make a break for it." Robert: "Who signs your paycheques?" Anderson, although thinking "Great another idiot civilian", goes along. They go over to where Ghaer is chained up, and Robert demands: "You! What is your name?" Ghaer, almost positive that it's Robert, responds with "You'll never get away with this, Garson!" Robert: "It looks to me like I already have. And where are the rest of your compatriots?" Ghaer: "A hundred and fifty of them are probably massing outside your doors at this moment." Robert: "Oh, please. If my defenses could detect your little band, then surely they wouldn't miss a hundred and fifty."

Hunter has made it up over the lip of the building and onto the roof, knife in hand, where he has an encounter with one of Garson's men, who was manning the machine-gun on the roof. Hunter takes the man down with a textbook knife thrust up and under the ribs, puncturing the man's heart. There's a gurgle of blood and a brief spasm, and then Hunter is left as the new light machinegunner, after checking to make certain the man is quite dead. Hunter takes the spare pistol magazines off the body, then checks out the LMG. He's not too thrilled to find that the man has linked together all of the ammo. He ends up with several bandito-esque bandoliers, but oh well. The gun itself has had some serious use, but it's definitely operable. And the light machine-gun can be carried.

Robert is really getting into his part and, not getting the response he wanted from the Vargr, he unholsters his weapon and starts brandishing it at Ghaer. Hunter, looking down, mutters "What the hell is he doing?", and the priest, not knowing what's up and fearing for Ghaer's life, lunges for Robert and grabs his gun hand. Ghaer goes for the nearest guard. Hunter fires on the unsuspecting machinegunner on the commissary roof, then pulls the gun off the pintle mount so he can move with it. Paul is in place over near the front of the parsonage, to the rear of the platform, and close to where the man in the black ghi is. Mikie is in front of the inn, behind a watering trough [hey, that's where they hide in all the westerns].

All hell is breaking lose. Robert isn't happy at being attacked by the priest, and less about all the gunfire. And the prisoners are making a break for it. Robert is trying to disengage from the priest, and hits Father Hancock in the head with his hand. (Never hit the bones with your hand; that's what rocks and sticks are for.) Father Hancock then lifts Robert up off the ground by his gun arm and slams him into the ground. The now free Irklan are taking on other guards, and Mikie sees Paul go for the man with the black ghi. Ghaer grabs a former guard's ACR off the ground in the melee, and fires at the machinegunner on top of the store, hitting him in the (oh my). All the males in the vicinity have a one second penalty for sympathetic cringing.

That leaves one unscathed machinegunner on top of the barracks, besides Hunter, and firing shifts down towards him. This time it's a longer shot, but it doesn't help the target. The gryphon bounds over the wire and then takes out a guard who was about to fire into the crowd . Robert is still trying to pull away from the priest, while hanging on to his gun. Or trying to. Robert pulls free and backpedals away. Ghaer yells "We need Garson alive!" in the hope of not having to explain Robert's untimely demise. Paul is involved with his friend in black. Mikie moves for the guard nearest him, who fortunately hadn't been aiming his direction. That guard hits the ground right quick after being hit in the neck with the edge of Mikie's hand.

The villagers are fleeing the premises. This leaves two armed guards to fire on the good guys, as Hunter moves downstairs. Mikie heads for the garrison, in search of the children (who are not in the square). One man is trying to flee down an alley, and the other falls over when Ghaer shoots him in the foot. Paul and the man in black are going at it rather seriously, and seem to be evenly matched until Paul's opponent sees the way the tide is turning and makes a dash for the nearest jeep. Ghaer takes a shot at him, but only makes him run faster.

The priest tells Ghaer "We have to get the children out of the garrison." Ghaer: "Right. <indicating Robert> Don't hurt him, he's mine." Robert <to the priest>: "Robert Shelzie. <extends hand> Pilot." Now they've confused the priest.

The garrison's barracks is a two story building surrounded by an electrical fence that has a sign saying "Danger! High voltage!" Hunter has gone up onto the commissary to get another box of ammo and second LMG. Mikie goes over to the gate in the fence and uses his "tool's" (misspent youth) to spoof the lock and open the door. No problem. Then he goes through to the front of the building, where there's another door. The gryphon tells Mikie that "There's another door up here." On the roof. "Do you want me to open it?" Mikie: "Wait a minute." Ghaer and Robert catch up with Mikie. Ghaer <to Robert>: "You might want to chamber a round." Robert already has. And he picked up a radio.

Mikie tells the gryphon to "open the door, and make noise". The gryphon's response is "Noise? You want me to make noise? I can make a lot of noise!" There's a huge roar, the sound of rending metal, and the door comes flying off the roof. During this, Mikie picks the lock, only gets slightly winged by the door, then gets out of the way of the Irklan as they go charging in. Ghaer follows and stops the Irklan from killing the mercs who have thrown up their hands and are yelling "Repatriation!" Paul has to physically restrain Leaping Dragon, who does not willingly leave his foes alive. Ghaer and Hunter lock up the five mercs, and take their boots. One of them requests that they "not take the playing cards". Ghaer: "What sort of monsters do you take us for?" Hunter asks the mercs if they'd prefer to be left in the barracks, or set loose, but the mercs would like to have the iron bars between them and the Irklan. Just in case.

Ghaer: "Michael, you might want to call off your gryphon before he breaks a claw or something." The gryphon has been up on the roof, strutting around resplendently, and ripping off an antenna every once in a while and tossing it off the roof. Mikie tells him it's okay to come down, but before he does, the gryphon tells Mikie he can hear a helicopter coming. Ghaer shuts off all the lights in the square, as they are controlled from the barracks. Ghaer: "Now the helicopter will be the only thing with lights." Better target that way.

Father Hancock: "I have an idea. If he can double for Garson... One of the Janissaries headed back for the estate. They might think we have Garson. Even if he's there, we might be able to bluff." If nothing else it will delay things. Ghaer questions Hancock about Garson. The priest tells them he's a boring dinner host, is a bit of a geek, likes computers, and fancies himself a cook. Hunter: "Mikie! Mikie fancies himself a cook, but he pulls it off." And Garson likes to fish. Hunter: "I've fished." After some discussion, it's decided to press the advantage, and while the bad guys are still off-balance, head for the estate. The good guys head for the estate, use Robert to try to talk his way into the front door, while the gryphon drops a rope over the back wall for a sneaky rear entrance by the others.

There is some discussion with the priest about Garson's clones, and whether or not any of the clones are currently out of the 'tank'. The priest doesn't think so, but he looks at Robert strangely, and asks: "Are you a clone?" Robert: "No." Father Hancock: "Are you sure?" Robert: "Yeah. I know who my mother and father are!" Mikie <wanting to change the subject>: "Just what exactly are we supposed to do in there?" The Irklan feel it would be good if they could destroy any clone tanks or computer equipment, and take out the power generators. They want to kick ass and take names, so no one pulls this kind of crap on them again.

Ghaer will play the big bad merc holding the hostage, while Hunter covers the rear and takes out the guards on the rear towers, and the others go over the back wall with the gryphon. "Garson" will be 'forced' to drive the jeep. Hunter, now that the adrenaline has worn off, doesn't' want to go after the estate tonight as Garson will be expecting it. Ghaer: "But why would he expect it?" Hunter: "Well, I would." Mikie: "Which means that no one else would be crazy enough." Hunter agrees, once some one mentions "sniping the guard tower". Hunter loves sniping. It's done from a distance.

Ghaer musses himself up, trying to look more ferocious and all, then off to the fray. Hunter can provide the climbing rope for the back group. An hour passes, to get everyone into position, and watches are synchronized. Hunter checks his Pichron watch, then has the priest bless his LMG. Robert takes out his religious medal and says a brief prayer to God that He not allow him to die in company of these icky non-Navy people. Mikie can tell the gryphon when to drop the rope. There are two guards in the front, and one in the tower on the front side.

Ghaer, Robert, and the priest head for the front gate, where the priest will act as spokesman and mediator. The guard trains the spotlight on the jeep and it's driver. The guard on the tower yells down to the front door guards, who then proceed to argue with each other, very animatedly. Then one of the guards asks "What do you want?" Ghaer: "You've got the fake one, I've got the real one. I want the fake one to bring out the money, and you get the real one." There is some discussion, then the guard tells Ghaer he has to "get my officer", and goes running off inside.

Around the back, Hunter takes out one rear guard, shooting him from a long way off, right in the family jewels. Hunter is shooting a bit low. Ouch. There's a slight ballistic crack, but no one twigs to what is going on. Out front, the officer has emerged from inside. Officer: "What do you want?" Ghaer: "I want the sleekest bitch money can buy, I want to get off this planet rich. I want 700 large." Officer: "Hell, if I had that kind of money, I'd leave planet! Look, you've got the man with the money - I don't have the cash." Ghaer: "Well then you'll have to get it if you want him back." Officer: "Okay, look, why don't you give me the combination to the safe, sir, and I'll go in a bring out all the money in it. <to the guard> Have you got a pen, Jenkins?" He borrows a pen, rolls up his sleeve, says "Okay, I'm ready", and waits. Robert, trying to stall, gives out the measurements of the woman he last dated, along with the day of the year the date was. Who knows? It might work. The officer writes it on his forearm and vanishes back into the house.

Hunter takes out the second tower guard, then puts away his rifle carefully before following the Irklan and Mikie over the back wall. Ghaer tells Father Hancock to get ready to floor it, which the priest agrees to, and preferably before the man comes back to tell them that the combination doesn't work. So, it's time to drive the jeep through the front wrought iron gate, with Robert steering, Father Hancock pressing on the gas pedal, and Ghaer firing on the guard in the front guard tower. The remaining guard up front dives out of the way of the jeep, but doesn't quite get out of the way of the falling wrought iron gate. Ghaer and Robert also get clipped by the gate too.

Then it's up through the front door of the estate, in the jeep. Hey, it's not their door. Or their jeep. There are screams as people scatter, and the jeep pins a man in a black jumpsuit between the hallway wall and the jeep's front bumper. Everyone jumps off the jeep, and splits up inside, firing.

Of the group that came over the back wall, the Irklan break off to find the generator and pour sand in it. Or set it on fire. Or something. There's apparently no back door to this place. Mikie looks for a window, and there's a big plate glass window in the library. There are three people inside the room - two in black ghis, and the real Garson.

Ghaer and Robert are in the entry hall (which branches right and left), as Robert is trying to clear his SMG from under the dashboard and chamber a round, since Ghaer wouldn't let him have a round chambered. Two men in black ghis come running out of a side room, one of whom throws something metallic at Ghaer, hitting him in the shoulder with a throwing star. How rude! Ghaer fires on the other man, hitting him and the lovely wood paneling. Father Hancock heads off to the right (he's been inside before, and knows where he's going, so Robert follows him (besides, Ghaer is firing an LMG down the other way).

Mikie points the window out to Hunter, and Hunter takes it out with the LMG. The Irklan have done with the power station, so they show up to help. Once the window goes, the Irklan leap in, swords out, and go for the men in black, who are defending themselves. Then Garson makes the mistake of pulling a pistol on Hunter, who shoots him in the arm, with the LMG. Garson is still up, but has dropped his weapon. Mikie goes in, amongst the Irklan lined up and taking turns going after the Janissaries (no ganging up now, it's not fair). Two of the Irklan have split off to go further into the house.

Robert has followed the priest into the house, and they end up in the technicians living quarters. Robert: "Why did we come here?" Father Hancock: "Because this is the way to the lab." They go into the living room, where there are five men, two women, none with visible weapons, in casual clothing and lab coats. Robert <grabbing a lab coat>: "Come on people, let's get going!" "Where? What's going on?" Robert: "To the lab, let's move!" "Where in the lab? The work area?" Robert: "No, not the work area. The storage area." "Which storage area?" Argh. Robert: "God, do I have to think of everything?" The priest is able to give Robert a hint, before heading off to do whatever he's up to. Robert gets the group going toward the lab, and a female in a lab coat appears (it's his assistant, Bambi) and asks Robert "What's happening? What's wrong?" Robert: "It's the mercenaries - they've turned on me!" Bambi: "We've got to get out of here." Robert: "I know. But we can't leave empty handed - the project must continue." Bambi: "I'll get the tapes." She leaves, and Robert ends up in a large lab with big vats filled with liquid, and all the traditional mad scientist lab stuff. Yes, it's the clone labs. Robert orders the lab techs to drain the clones.

Ghaer gets the worse of the fight with the remaining Janissary, although it does end up with Ghaer alive, although damaged, and the Janissary dead on the floor with Ghaer on his throat. Ghaer will stay at the corner and cover the hallway, since there is no way in hell he's going to carry the (not so) light machine-gun any where.

Mikie restrains Garson, and asks him what he was after, why he took over the temple? Garson: "I wanted the land." He's lying. Mikie: "Wrong answer." Garson: "Screw you." Mikie goes looking for the information, psionically. Garson does not find it a pleasant experience (he's screaming), but Mikie does get the answers he wants. And part of it is the rock with crystals on it that Mikie saw in his vision. Apparently it's in the shrine, has psionic properties, and the Zhodani are willing to do anything, up to and including landing troops to get it. They've been funding Garson's little takeover, and have promised to back his play to oust all the other big landowners to take their property as well. Mikie sends the gryphon out to fetch one of the Irklan. He describes the rock to Shadow Lotus, and yes, it's part of the shrine, it's in the rock garden and is one of the sacred artifacts. Shadow Lotus explains that part of one of their rituals involves pouring water on the rock and then drinking it, and some people get visions when they do this. In fact, when Mikie asks about the crystal rock, he starts to get images of the rock, the shrine, both with bodies on the lawn and before that - all sorts of images from various time frames (flashes of his earlier vision, along with memories from Shadow Lotus. Mikie explains about the rock and Garson and the Zhodanis. The Irklan will deal with that later. Mikie <indicating Garson>: "What do you want to do with him?" Shadow Lotus: "Kill him." Mikie backs off, leaving Garson to the Irklan (Mikie is not their assassin - they want the guy dead, they can do it). Leaping Dragon is only too happy to use his sword to separate Garson's head from the rest of him.

Bambi comes out of the electronics repair lab, after Robert waits and watches the tanks drain in the main cloning area. He takes the metal box containing the tapes from her. Bambi: "We should go now." Robert: "We can't go out the front." Bambi: "Should we go out the back and look for a vehicle?" Robert: "Good idea." Bambi: "What about the clone?" Robert: "Taken care of." Bambi: "Not these, the other one." She indicates another room. They go into the other room, to where there's a tank with a fully grown copy of Robert in it. This is really weirding Robert out. And Bambi can't handle killing the clone, so it's up to Robert. Bambi leaves. Robert, aware that the techs are watching nervously through the door, and that he doesn't know what the heck the password is for the computer, loudly mutters "Damned hackers!", shoves the terminal onto the floor, and fires on the computer and the clone tank with his SMG. Robert is extremely disturbed by the sight of "his" body falling to the floor and the blood, and he doesn't watch it twitch it's last gasp (this is going to result in later therapy bills, he's just sure).

Robert rejoins the techs headed the other way, behind Bambi. Mikie, looking for Ghaer and not wanting to stay in the bloody room, is leaving the library just as Bambi is trying to come in, so they end up bumping into each other, literally. Mikie: "You might want to go the other way." Bambi: "That way is the way out." Mikie: "Not any more." Bambi <to Robert>: "He says we can't go out this way. <and then to Mikie> Who are you?" Mikie: "Who are you?" Bambi: "I work here." Mikie: "Figures." Mikie looks over Bambi's shoulder to Robert (he definitely has the upset Navy guy look, so it's a good bet it's Robert), and asks "Are we done?" Robert: "Yes. Ghaer's up front. This is our way out." Mikie: "I don't think that's a good idea." Robert: "Really, that's our way out." Mikie shakes his head. Robert: "No, really. We don't need to go through the mercenaries this way." Mikie gets out of the way. Bambi sees Garson's body on the floor, looks at it, looks at Robert, looks at the body, looks at Robert, then goes with Robert out the back to the garage. The technicians, including Bambi, are instructed to leave in the ground car, and they pile in. Robert will take the tapes and another jeep.

The Irklan, Hunter, and Mikie end up in the front, helping Ghaer into the back of another jeep. They all end up at the shrine, where they find the bodies of four of the black clad Janissaries, who have committed ritual suicide rather than be captured. Mikie asks what the Irklan want to do about the 'rock'? The Irklan don't really know what kind of threat the Zhodani are. Mikie tries to explain to them that the Zhodani are willing to send troops to back up a local play for it. When the group is filled in on what Garson was doing, Robert is really unhappy - first Solomani psionics, now Zhodani psionics! The last straw is when Ghaer takes out the pieces of the Book of Knowledge, and holds them near the rock, and they start forming up into not quite connected pages of the book. Robert goes off by himself to mutter.

Mikie asks Robert what the metal box contains, while Ghaer is busily pasting the pieces onto a piece of scroll paper. Robert tells him that it's Garson's "project" - or, actually, Garson's brain. On tape. Mikie has seen tapes like this before, and he suggests a bonfire. The Irklan can really get behind that idea. A bonfire is built. Eventually, Ghaer gets the scroll, which is seven inches wide and eight feet long, attached to a plank, and then gets himself a bath (to get all the blood off).

286 to 290, 1122.

Then it's to the inn to rest and recover for a few days, while awaiting pick up by the driver on day 290. Hunter doesn't want to just leave the crystal rock thing where it is, because he knows the Zhodani aren't going to let this go; they'll end up sending more mercs and maybe some of their own people to Menorb to take the thing if they have to. Who knows, they could even end up hiring Hunter, if they go the mercenary route. The Irklan don't have much concept of the scope of the Imperium or the Zhodani Empire - few of them have ever been off planet, so it's all rather vague concepts to them. Mikie wonders if the Sengi might not be able to help guard the rock. The gryphon certainly seems to be taken by it. He likes to perch on it when none of the pilgrims are there (he's discreet).

After much discussion, Paul comes up with what seems to be the perfect idea: take the rock to Regina, have it installed (it's about the size of a single bed, and weighs a thousand pounds) in Aguilon Park, in the Japanese Garden. Joe Lee can keep an eye on it (and be a local contact for Irklan pilgrims), the Sengi can keep an eye on it, hell, the damn gryphons can take up watch on it. And if Ghaer and Mikie ask him too, Irving won't mind making sure the rock is rather permanently anchored to the deck plate - which will make it nigh onto impossible for it to be casually removed.

290 to 291, 1122.

The driver does return, and takes the group uneventfully back to the starport. Mikie, who has Mr. Verlak weighing heavily on his mind, wants to get back to Regina as soon as possible; preferably in less than three weeks. A jump-4 ship is found, and for the only slightly inflated cost of $12,000 credits apiece for mid-passage (which Mikie will pay), Mikie, Ghaer, Hunter will take that ship back to Regina. That way the party can be back to Regina in two weeks, going from Menorb to Knorbes, refueling, then from Knorbes to Regina. Paul will organize the Irklan to transport the rock to the starport on Menorb, where they will load it on the slower Sengi ship for transport to Regina. Robert has decided he would rather travel with normal people, thank you, so he'll take a ship from Menorb to Boughene, then follow the X-boat route back to Regina at a more leisurely pace, probably by working passage.

305, 1122.

Ghaer, Hunter, Mikie, and the gryphon will arrive back on Regina. Ten days later, Paul Lee and the psionic rock will also arrive on Regina.