Just a little tidying up, before the main feature.

290, 1122.

<Temporal backtracking to Menorb, to fill in a few details.> When the car arrives to pick up the merry band at the inn, there's a young, dark haired female with the driver. The latter expresses relief that the group wasn't "slaughtered by the Irklan". The dark haired female looks at Hunter and asks "Are you Berkeley Hunter?" Hunter: "Well, you don't look like you're planning on shooting me, so, yeah." Female: "You look like your photograph, even if it is old." She shows Hunter a picture of him in uniform, taken around twenty years ago, maybe more. Female: "My name is Estelle Diego. You're my dad." Hunter: "Well that's funny because we don't have the same last name!" Estelle: "My mom said you were a good guy." Hunter isn't sure how he feels about this, and feints an attack at her, and then pulls back. She responds by getting into a combat stance. Estelle: "Come on, you want to fight? Let's fight!" Robert starts to move between them just as the fight dissipates. Mikie doesn't bother - he knows Hunter. Hunter: "She's got to be my daughter. How's your mother? Remind me about her." Estelle: "She's fine. Her name is Samantha. <pause> She's a prostitute, okay? She never told you she was pregnant." Hunter: "So Sammy's got a kid, huh? I remember her now. We used to call her Pepita. She had the nicest... uh, never mind. You from around here?" Estelle: "No, I came looking for you. Angela told me you were here." Hunter: "And you're here because...?" Estelle: "Because I wanted to see what you're like. " Hunter: "I'm glad you came." Estelle: "Let's head back to the starport, and we can talk on the way."

Paul Lee came out to say good-bye to the group, and he informed Hunter that he would be taking the stone to Regina. Hunter: "What?!" Paul Lee: "Michael was right - the Zhodani would come here for it." Hunter: "So you're bringing it to Regina? I live on Regina. They'll send in spies. Last time it was Solomani spies, mysterious explosions in the park, and fish ponds. Who knows what the Zho's will do! <pause> Of course, after what happened last time they showed up on Regina, they might not be too anxious to come back."

Paul Lee has brought some lovely parting gifts. (Not condolence gifts, since the party won the fight.) Hunter is presented with a sword, although he's not sure what to do with it. And he's given his ETool back. He wasn't aware his ETool was missing. Robert is given a small wooden box that contains a pair of incredibly well made and fitted leather gloves. They'll be great flying gloves, and natural leather. Mikie is given a necklace with one of the pink crystals on it, like on the big rock. When he puts it on (must humor the natives), he feels a bit calmer, and the gryphon cocks his head and looks oddly at Mikie. Mikie then gets a complete movie projection version of the fragmented vision he had earlier about the attack on the shrine, only it continues past then to where the party arrives at the shrine, then he sees the rock being lifted onto a wagon, and then being placed in Aguilon Park. There is a feeling of completion, so it appears that Mikie has satisfied the requisites of the latest quest. To Ghaer, Paul gives a scroll, along with a box for transporting the Plank, make that Book of Knowledge. Paul Lee thanks the group, and expresses his gratitude.

They get into the car, and head off. Hunter gets to bond with Estelle on the drive back, and the trip back on the ship. This is pretty cool - Hunter gets a kid, and he skipped all the messy baby and adolescent stuff. So it's war stories and catching up for Hunter and his new little girl. Hunter offers to pay for her ticket back to Regina, but Estelle can pay her own way, thank you! Hunter pays for the difference between the standard rate and the premium rate being charged.

305, 1122.

Ghaer, Mikie, Hunter, and Estelle arrive on Regina, after a pretty boring trip. Since Estelle doesn't have a place to live on Regina, Hunter will have her crash at his place, and maybe Angela can give her a job in her 'house', as a receptionist or something. After all, she is his daughter - "You should have a good job". Estelle: "I can hold a job. I've been to college. " Hunter: "What did you study?" Estelle: "Political science." Hunter: "Well, I guess you're qualified to be a receptionist. Big call for political scientists, is there?" Estelle: "I might go into politics. I have ideas to offer." Hunter: "Hey, that brings up a thought. We've missed the Regina elections, but there'll be another election in five years or so." Estelle: "I intend to work my way up any way." And now Estelle can take part in the wedding - she thinks Angela is cool, and Angela likes Estelle. And no one, including Hunter, really knows what Angela sees in him. Besides his lack of complications.

306, 1122.

Robert and the rock, separately, arrive on Regina. Joe Lee asks Irving for some help, and the end result is the rock being affixed with some kind of super adhesive to the deck plating. That puppy isn't going anywhere, unless some one finally follows through on the threat of dragging the Up Port into the sun.

"A lucky chance, that oft decides the fate Of mighty monarchs." -- Summer, James Thomson

Corina has had the pleasure of putting up and entertaining the Arch Duke for several weeks now. Expensive. Astridi has told her he "was on Regina for some fly fishing, and since this Lyrian thing came up, I thought I'd take a look into it, see what sort of arrangement can be reached. It could give us some leverage with the Federation of Arden. Keep them turned inward, that kind of thing. Make a nice buffer zone between us and the Zhodani. If we were to make the right sort of arrangement, it could become our client state, not the Zhodani's. So, it's time to have a chat with this Autarch of theirs, take the measure of the man." Corina: "Can I watch? I'd like the opportunity to observe your diplomatic prowess at work." Corina finds this prospect rather entertaining. And Astridi does have a lot of experience in this area. Astridi: "I understand that he's off on some sort of hush-hush diplomatic thing. That will give you time to arrange a little soirée, for oh, say five hundred people or so. Just a small gathering." Corina: "I'll get my people working on the guest list right now." Astridi: "I'm anxious to see what your menu will be." Corina: "I'm sure it won't be up to your standards." Astridi: "You'll do your best. The company, if nothing else, will be worthwhile."

There's some discussion about the recent elections on Regina, which is still in the ballot-counting stage, as there will have to be a run-off for one seat, due to a tie, that includes Behrel. Astridi thinks this voting thing is a bit eccentric. Corina: "It's no more obtuse than election by lottery, which is another tradition on Regina. I like the idea of having people take part in the government who have never been out of a neo-denim jumpsuit in their lives." The Department of Fish and Wildlife (since they have experience with gathering and tabulating statistical data) was the agency drafted to manage and tabulate votes; and potentially dart a sampling of the electorate as they exit the booths, so that they can be fitted with radio collars.

Randi Kyle has been 'lotteried' into a senate seat, and no doubt will use it to further her own agendas, obtuse though they might be. At least she has administrative skills, so she'll actually be useful. (Is that allowed?) Joe Lee was a write in candidate, and won. This should be interesting. Being a senator doesn't have to be a full time job, although it pays well enough ($100,000 credits a year, for five years, and it includes an apartment), so Joe Lee can still be the gardener. JR's bid for a senate seat was unsuccessful, but he's garnered some good publicity for his bordellos.

The ship docks, and there is some sort of delay. A ship's crewman comes back and asks to unload Mr. Griffin first. That way he'll take the circus with him. There are uniformed guards (all resplendent like), women and children with candles, and the rest of the gryphons, in formation. The gryphon that was travelling with Mikie goes to take up his position with the group, all striking the 'gryphon rampant' pose. The band strikes up, and Mikie goes to grab the nearest Lyrian to make them stop. As Mikie reaches out, a gloved hand takes his, and guides his to a chair in a box. Chair? Box? And who is the vaguely familiar guy in Lyrian livery? Lyrian: "For your safety and comfort." Mikie: "Not. And stop that damned music." Lyrian: "You must ride in the box, or the people will be disappointed, and you cannot just stroll up to meet the Arch Duke. You represent the Lyrian people. And if you gain the favor of the Arch Duke, perhaps the Imperium will see fit to help us regain our homeland." But hey, no pressure. Chamberlain: "Dread sovereign?" The chamberlain tries to fasten the 'cloak of office' (with gryphons on it, of course) about Mikie's shoulders, but it stops at the attempt. Mikie: "No. No. I don't know what 'no' is in Lyrian - look it up for me, will you?" Chamberlain: "But dread sovereign -" Mikie: "No. And stop that damned music." The chamberlain reluctantly acquiesces, and the music stops except for the cadence drum beat. So the circus is, in fact, back in town, even the cannon being pulled by the white naugas. Colonel Esterhazy reports that "the Archbishop has arrived. All has been prepared." Mikie: "The Archbishop? For what?" Esterhazy: "You can't see the Arch Duke while you are still just the Autarch presumptive - it must be made official by the Archbishop." Mikie: "And just when is that supposed to happen?" Esterhazy: "It is in preparation. You'll have time to rest and recuperate from your trip. The Arch Duke is anxious to see you. He is so anxious, in fact, that he has left for a week long fly-fishing trip on planet."

The Lyrians have been busy while their unwilling autarch was away, and have taken over the former site of the Solomani Consulate. This is not a good omen. It's amazing how much rococo design crap these people were able to obtain in such short time. The austere expanses of the Solomani Consulate have been replaced by cherubim and seraphim on the ceiling, gryphons all over the place, etc.

In spite of a bit of awkwardness, the nubile young females sent in to draw a bath are sent off so that Mikie can speak with Crown Prince Askari, who, as it turns out has news. Prince: "I have heard from Simon. He has come up with a quick way to settle the issue, and has suggested a duel." Mikie: "Fine. Bring him on." The Prince is obviously surprised. Prince: "I admire your courage. Very well, I will make the arrangements." Mikie asks about choice of weapons and all that, since he has no clue. Prince: "It's traditionally either sword or pistols. Nothing like fisticuffs or street brawling. I have taken the liberty of acquiring a copy of the Lyrian Code Duello for you to peruse." Mikie takes the book, and then suggests the Prince speak with one of the Sengi jai at the park, as they have experience making sure the duel isn't interrupted, if he wants. Prince: "Are you sure you don't want a bath and a massage? You seem a bit tense." Mikie: "No. Thank you." Prince: "Did you have a choice of date, sir? I've checked your schedule, and you have Threeday morning free." It's currently Oneday. Mikie: "Fine." The prince goes off to deal with details, and Esterhazy comes in. Esterhazy: "I thought you might want to familiarize yourself with the Lyrian dueling smallsword and pistols. I have brought both." Beautiful workmanship on the sword - cast, swept guard, with gryphons. The pistols are also ornate, and gryphon-shaped. No sights on the pistols, and no rifling, so there's always an element of chance. Esterhazy: "Do you require seconds?" Mikie: "Seconds?" Esterhazy doesn't understand that Mikie has no clue, but he eventually figures that out. Esterhazy: "A second. An...aide, so to speak." Mikie: "What do I need a second for?" Esterhazy: "To make sure that the duel is fought fairly, to provide assistance, to carry your body from the field if you should fail. Any member of the Guard de Corps would consider it an honor to be chosen, myself included." Mikie: "Go for it." Esterhazy: "There are traditionally two seconds, sire. Did you have some one in mind?" Mikie: "Not really." He'll think about it.

Robert has managed to get in to Regina days ahead of schedule (due to his magnificent piloting, no doubt - just ask him), and decides to search out Hunter's daughter Estelle. He eventually finds out she's working at Angela's place, in reception. Robert shows up and chats with Estelle, who tries to send him off with one of the girls, but Robert explains that he knows very few people on Regina, and he'd like to have a drink with her later. As friends. She agrees, and Robert asks her to go to Discarding Sabot with him, as his tourist guide says it has a really good sound system. Estelle will be finished by eight, and will meet Robert there.

This gives Robert a chance to look for an apartment. He meets up with a real estate agent, and she shows him a place on level 2. The rent is $26,000 credits a month. Without utilities. He'd need to provide first and last month rent, and damage deposit. And it's a bargain - normally it would be $40,000 creds a month, but there's this man-shaped stain on the carpet… The realtor assures Robert that, while he hasn't been found, the previous occupant isn't likely to show up to cause any problems.

Robert isn't too keen on the place after seeing the stain, and more importantly, the rent is a bit too rich for his blood. The realtor tells him she does have a place on level 3, in a good neighborhood. It's $10,000 a month. That's more like it. Robert is shown the apartment, which is very nice, and quite large. He pays the requisite moneys and goes off to find furniture. Cool, zoomie furniture - leather, sleek lines, and a big entertainment center. And while he's off shopping, he goes off to look at the job boards. He'd make about 7800 credits a month going guild plus, which wouldn't cover his living expenses. Hmmm. Time to get creative. He may have to find some place cheaper after his six month lease comes up, or do some speculating with his cargo space. Or arrange for 'special' cargo.

"Excuse me sir." It's a vaguely familiar looking person - tall, aristocratic, missing an arm, and one eye. Wearing some kind of uniform. Robert: "Yes, can I help you?" Man: "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Colonel Esterhazy. I understand that you are an associate of Michael Griffin?" Robert: "Well, I know him. I went with him to that planet, with Ghaer." Esterhazy: "You understand that Mr. Griffin is a known ISA agent?" Robert: "I heard it was SolSec." Esterhazy: "Well, you know how that crew is, no honor. he's probably playing both sides." Robert: "Look, I'd rather just not have anything to do with this." Esterhazy: "I understand. I believe you are a pilot, among other skills?" Robert: "Yes I am." Esterhazy: "I represent the rightful Lyrian monarch, and he wishes to speak with you on a matter of mutual interest. As a token of his esteem, just for listening to his proposal..." A fat envelope is given to Robert. There's a bout $10K in nice, crisp, Imperial notes. Robert: "So what am I flying?" Esterhazy: "That will come in due time. Have I piqued your interest? Are you willing to listen to our proposal?" Robert: "Sure." Robert is escorted to a car, which then takes him to the Ambassadore, and then he is taken up to the top floor.

There are a couple of guards in uniforms at the door. Esterhazy: "My master awaits within." Robert enters with Esterhazy. A 'gentleman' rises from the chair, in a more elaborate uniform. Robert is introduced as "the pilot, highness." Simon: "Thank you Felix." (Felix Esterhazy?) Felix leaves, and Robert is given a proposition. Simon: "I hear you're quite the pilot. I'm lookin' for some one to pilot my personal yacht. It's a 500 ton custom built job. I don't use it much myself, but when I'm not using it, I wouldn't want it to sit around gathering cobwebs. Pay's not much, about 20K a month, but the benefits are good, if you get my drift?" Robert <trying not to drool>: "I do." Simon: "There are sometimes some odd jobs, but that's handled separately. bonus pay, and all that, you understand?" Robert: "Of course." Simon: "I've got a special job in mind right now, as a matter of fact." Robert: "We're not doing any kind of piracy are we?" Simon: "Piracy? No. This is about making something right. Tipping the scales the right way. I'll pay you $100,000 for it." Robert: "Where do you want me to fly?" Simon: "The ship will come later. I understand that you know the pretender, Michael Griffin. I need you to get close to him." Robert: "Look, I want to stay as far away from him as possible. He's evil." Simon: "Are you sure?" He lays an aluminum case on the table, opening it to reveal a lot of money. Robert: "I'm sure." He hands Simon back the $10,000 credits Felix gave him earlier. Simon: "I'm sorry you feel this way. You understand I can't have word getting out about our conversation?" Robert: "What conversation?" Simon: "Felix? Take our boy here and put him back where you found him. <to Robert> You're a smart boy, don't disappoint me."

Robert soon finds himself in the back seat of a car, with Felix in the front with the driver. Robert looks around and sees that there are no handles on the inside of the back seat. And the privacy partition is coming up. All this somewhat concerns Robert, who has figured out that things are a bit rougher in Regina than he originally thought, so he jams his 12mm into the space above the partition. Unfortunately, the partition jams his automatic into the soft padding of the roof, making it impossible to use. There's a sudden turn as the driver swerves repeatedly to throw Robert off balance. Robert lays down on the seat, lengthwise, and braces himself. When he does this, the privacy shield lowers a couple of inches, dropping the gun. Robert picks up the gun and tries shooting out the side window. Now he's deaf, and the bullet is suspended in the glass. Damn. Robert fires into the back of the seat, but Esterhazy just turns and smiles. Armored. Robert is starting to get really nauseous. He is able to pull down the back seat to gain entrance into the trunk, and he fires into the lock of the trunk. Then the car reverses, very quickly, towards a support pillar. Robert rolls back into the car, just as it slams into the pillar. He is able to extricate himself from the trunk after all this, but he's not in good shape.

Robert flees, Quasimodo-like and limping, onto the crowded slidewalks. He feels a thump on his shoulder, but fortunately he is wearing armor, so he doesn't take full damage as he slowly flees his pursuers. He goes into the crowd, bumping into several people who help propel him along the way. Robert heads for Regina Trauma, only when he gets there, Felix and the driver are in front of the building (where else would a wounded man go?), and the driver has a rifle or something in the car with him. So Robert continues on, heading for the bordello where Estelle is working. Of course, if he brings bad people to this place, and something happens to Estelle, Hunter will kill him...

The bouncer stops Robert on the way in. Bouncer: "You've had a bit much, buddy." Robert: "It's not alcohol." Bouncer: "That's not my concern, sir. You'll have to leave." Robert: "I need to see Estelle. Estelle!" Estelle comes out. Estelle <to the bouncer>: "What's the problem, Sam? <sees Robert> Ouch! What happened, were you in a fight?" Robert: "I wasn't." Estelle takes him into the back. Robert: "I think I've been shot." Estelle: "I don't see any blood." Robert: "Check my shoulder." Estelle finds a dent about the size of her thumb in his armor, and he's going to have one hell of a bruise. But he can't go to Regina Trauma, and neither he nor Estelle have been on Regina long enough to know about the 'discreet' places. Hunter isn't there, but Estelle gets Angela. Robert says hello. Angela: "What kind of trouble are you bringing to my door? Never mind, I don't want to know." Robert: "I'm sorry. I didn't know where to go." Angela: "Who's looking for you? The police?" Robert: "It's some of those Lyrians." Angela: "Sounds political. You can stay here tonight, but tomorrow you're out of here. I'll see about getting you some medical help."

About ten minutes later, the 'medical help' arrives - it's Hunter (who does have medical skill, just a rather, um, brusque bedside manner). Hunter: "Oh, it's Bob! So who beat the crap out of you?" Robert: "Two men and a large car." Hunter tosses a med kit on the bed and proceeds to poke and probe the zoomie, with a glib "This is going to hurt you a lot more than it will hurt me." There are a number of gasps of extreme pain, but Robert does try to stay quiet. Hunter: "Oh come on, you big baby." After a large glass of bourbon, and whatever Hunter shot into his ass, Robert is out very quickly, and will feel much better once he wakes up.

307, 1122.

Esterhazy has been covering for Mikie during the couple of days before the duel, as Mikie wants to be left the hell alone. Outside in the hall, Mikie has heard a series of excuses from Esterhazy, including "The Autarch cannot see you, he is meditating", "The Autarch cannot see you, he is in a conference", and a lot of variations on that theme. This morning it's "The Autarch cannot see you, Mr. Hunter...", followed by Mikie telling Esterhazy to let Hunter in.

Hunter: "Hey squirt, how the fuck are you? <to Esterhazy> That's okay, Fritz, off you go." Esterhazy is not happy about leaving the Autarch with this scum. Esterhazy: "I shall be directly outside. If you need me, just call." He reluctantly leaves Mikie with the sort of person who should not be around the autarch. Of course Mikie is the sort of person who should not be around the autarch. The gryphons don't have a very high opinion of Hunter, but they keep it to themselves.

Hunter: "So, guess who just dropped into my place for a visit? Bob the zoomie. Hey, what the hell are these?" Hunter, having flopped into the biggest chair in the room, has found a box of cigars, but they're Vegan, and way too smooth for his taste. Mikie calls Esterhazy in, so Hunter can borrow some less upper class smokes. Esterhazy is a bit upset when Hunter exchanges the Vegan cigars for Esterhazy's, because the Vegan ones are "for the Autarch!" Hunter: "Hell-oh! The Autarch doesn't smoke. It's bad for him, it'll stunt his growth." Esterhazy leaves, confused. Hunter <lighting up>: "Ah, that's more like it. Reminds me of Ghaer when we had that mill fire. Right! Bob shows up at Angela's, beat the crap up. I shot him full of neo-morph and Regen™. So he's talking in his sleep, and going on about 'autarch', and 'Esterhazy', and 'backstabbing', and 'traitor', and 'Simon'. Any how, sounds to me like your Colonel Esterhazy has made a deal." Mikie: "It doesn't sound like him, but I can check. Besides, why should he make a deal with Simon? It's not like I wanted this damned job to begin with. The Lyrians are the ones I can't convince to go away." Hunter: "Can't you order them to jump off a cliff or fall on their swords or something?" Mikie <gesturing at the gryphons>: "And these!" Hunter: "Hell, if you're worried about your cats, we'll just take them to the pound and have them gassed or whatever." Gryphon: "I heard that." Hunter <leaning over towards one of the gryphons>: "They'll have no clue what's up. They're just big, dumb animals, isn't that right? You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you kitty?" Mikie: "Ah, Hunter? They do." Hunter: "I know people talk to their pets, but it's not like they actually understand." Gryphon: "He's too stupid to be allowed to live. What if he breeds?" Mikie: "Too late. <to Hunter> Look, Simon has asked for a duel." Hunter: "And you told him to fuck off, I assume. It sounds like he's trying to get your pilot to get close and poison you or something." Mikie: "But Bob's not my pilot." Hunter: "I don't know, maybe they thought since you've been on an op with him he'd bonded with you. For all we know they're out trying to bribe any one on Up Port who knows you to help them." Mikie: "That'll keep the Weseli's in creds for a while." Hunter: "Whoever this Simon guy is, he's dumber than a post." Mikie: "He's former Satan's Slammer." Hunter: "Whatever. Can't you go incognito. You know, where you step down. Not incognito. Terra-cotta?"

Mikie calls Esterhazy in. Esterhazy: "You called, dread sovereign." Mikie: "I called." Esterhazy: "How may I serve?" Mikie: "What are the odds that there's more than one Esterhazy wandering around up Port?" Esterhazy: "Slim, since my brother was on Jewell, last I heard." Mikie: "What would your brother's opinion of all this be?" Esterhazy: "I wouldn't know. I haven't spoken to him in years. Family disagreement." Mikie: "Have you been making side deals with Simon?" Esterhazy is not only extremely surprised by the question, he's outraged at the mere suggestion. And Mikie can tell he's not faking it. Mikie: "Calm down. I didn't think you had, but I had to ask. It looks like there's some one on Up Port who looks very much like you, calls himself Colonel Esterhazy, and is working with Simon." Esterhazy: "And this Hunter person knows him?" Hunter: "I didn't see him. It was pilot Bob. Who's in a very safe place. And if this is some kind of political bullshit, well, Mikie can come see him. Alone. I don't trust any of you lot as far as I can through you. Damned peacocks." Esterhazy: "Don't you have some where you need to be?" Hunter: "Yeah, I do." Hunter gets up to leave. Hunter <to Mikie>: "Tell your friend he needs to get the stick out of his ass. It's bad for his digestion." Esterhazy <to Hunter's retreating back>: "Well, what do you expect when you promote form the gutter. How may I be of service, Autarch?" Mikie: "First, if you guys were so concerned about promoting from the gutter, I wouldn't be in this position. Second, round up the Prince, and the guy with the big stick... the chamberlain." Esterhazy: "Yes, sire."

Robert is happily in his little dreamy dream, when he is awoken by some hideous noise. He opens his eyes just as Hunter is putting down the garbage can lid. Hunter: "I would have just thrown the can into the room, but I figured it would be wasted on you." A scantily clad young woman comes into the room, bearing a tray. Hunter: "This is Monique. She'll give you a hand. I'll come in and check on you when you're done with your chow." Robert eats, and enjoys the view. Robert: "I need to get some hearing protection. Never fire a large bore handgun in the back of a car." Monique: "Really?" After his meal, Monique gives him a sponge bath. This is absolutely nothing like any sponge bath Robert has ever received in a hospital. He's all relaxed when Hunter comes back in. Robert: "I really appreciate this. I know what a pain in the ass I've been." Hunter: "Well, it's not like I good just leave you on the street to bleed to death or something. What kind of man do you think I am?" Robert: "You didn't have to help me, I know. I just want you to know that I never intended to bring any trouble down on you." Hunter: "So, what's all this about this Esterhazy character? You were jabbering away about him, and Simon, and Mikie." Robert figures that since they've already tried to kill him, he's going to tell as many people as possible. Robert: "This Esterhazy person shows up, offers me a job, and takes me to the Ambassadore to meet his boss. We get to the hotel, and there's this Simon guy. You know I met him in the park with Ghaer, and he's still a jerk. Damned petty noble." Robert goes on about Simon's job offer, and the fact that they wanted him to "get close" to Mikie. Hunter: "I only know one person who got really close to Mikie, and she's dead. He's a private kind of guy." Robert: "I don't want to know anything about him." Hunter: "Don't be too hard on the guy. He's had some really rough life experiences." Robert: "I don't know who Michael is, or where he's from , but I don't deal with psionics. So Simon tells this Esterhazy guy, Felix, to take me back to the job boards, but I figured out that we weren't going to the job boards, and I tried to shoot out the window but it was bullet proof glass, and then they tried to gas me, so I got into the trunk and I was shooting the lock out when they rammed the back of the car into a pillar or something. I still managed to pry the trunk open though, and they shot me while I was getting away on the slidewalk. I made it to Regina Trauma, but they were already waiting for me, so I came here because I don't know many people on Regina and I didn't know where else to go." He's quite talkative once he gets going. Hunter: "Fuck, Bob, you're a regular Dick Salamander! That's right out of Return to Spider Island. I wish I could have been there." Robert: "No, in Spider Island it was a train car." Hunter: "One thing for sure, you need help." Robert: "You, and Ghaer, and Michael Griffin, and Joe Lee are the only people I know on this planet." Hunter: "Well, Ghaer has dropped out of sight, Mikie is about to become ruler of the universe, and I cost money." Robert: "For what? You don't look like the bodyguard type." Hunter: "You'd be surprised. I'll talk to Angela, make a couple of calls, figure out what to do. You rest tonight. I don't want you to pull out any of my stitches. Want I should send Monique in?" Robert: "No thanks." Hunter takes off.

After a few minutes, Estelle comes in. Estelle: "You look worse than yesterday." Robert: "I can imagine." Estelle: "All the colors are coming in. Purple, yellow, green. I'm not going to give you a mirror." Estelle had brought Robert some magazines, in case he was bored, but Robert suggests cards. He gets his ass kicked. But in a friendly way.

Brigitte has appeared again. And has to go through four guards before getting to Mikie, because they didn't learn anything from the last time she did that. Brigitte: "I understand there's supposed to be a duel tomorrow. That wasn't part of the plan. Can't you just order something?" Mikie: "I don't know. It's all too confusing right now." Brigitte: "All right. If you can't get out of it, I'll make arrangements." Mikie: "Apparently Simon has been throwing money around, trying to find some one who's 'close' to me." Brigitte: "Well that's the difference between the pretender and the true Autarch." Mikie: "Oh please, don't start." Brigitte: "Well, you should get some sleep. You've got a big day tomorrow, taking care of the pretender and all. Look, do you want me to deal with him? I can go in tonight, really quiet. We got some stuff out of the Solomani embassy that you wouldn't believe. Amazing. Not a trace. Heart attack." Mikie: "Then his people would just assume I did it. I'd rather finish it out in the open." Brigitte: "If that's what you want. But if you get yourself killed, I'll kick your ass. I signed for you. If you get killed, it comes out of my ass. Mr. Black was very explicit about that." Mikie: "I'll try not to get you into trouble." Brigitte: "So, how are the ladies in waiting around here?" Mikie: "I wouldn't know. You want one?" Brigitte <making an 'eww' face>: "No! But that colonel looks interesting, even if he is missing a pin." She smiles and leaves. No one attempts to stop her.

308, 1122.

Hunter <shaking Robert>: "C'mon. It's three o'clock in the morning. Time to get up!" Robert: "Noo...Three o'clock in the morning is time to sleep!" Hunter: "Time for a duel." Robert: "Who's crazy enough to have a duel at three o'clock in the morning?" Hunter: "Mikie, and that other guy, what's his name? Uh.... Simon. And it's not until six, really." Robert: "Look, I know you and Mikie are buds, but why should I care?" Hunter: "Hey, I thought you'd jump at the chance to find the guys that messed you up! Where's your spirit of adventure? Where are your fucking balls? You just going to curl up here and cry? Meet him head on. I brought your gat." Robert: "My what?" Hunter: "Your heater. Your rod." Robert <quizzically>: "My gun?" Hunter: "Yeah." He tosses it onto the bed and waits for Robert to get dressed.

They head out to the park, to the Italian Garden, early, to recon. They spot Esterhazy. Or one of them, any way. Robert wants to try to find out where Simon keeps his ship, in case he's planning on making a run for it. It's not hard to find, and it's guarded by a couple of men in slightly different Lyrian uniforms. How confusing. Robert goes to the appropriate office, gets a commercial pilot's license, and arranges for a shuttle rental, or at least a reservation, so he has access to a ship too.

At the park, Mikie arrives to find Simon seated near the buffet table his people have laid out. Simon: "So, you showed up after all? Didn't think you had the balls. Sit down, have something to eat." Mikie sits down, and has coffee. Simon: "Just coffee? Well, probably a good idea. Don't want to have too much in your stomach if you get one in the gut. What's it to be this morning? Pistols or swords?" Mikie: "Since I'm not good with either one, it doesn't matter. Swords." Simon: "Excellent choice. You might not think it to look at me, but I'm quite a fan of swords. Did a lot of fencing when I was a kid." Mikie: "I've done a lot of fencing too. Didn't involve swords, though." (Well, except that one time, but he didn't get much for it.)

Chamberlain: "Since this is a matter of succession, I assume that it will be a l'outrance ['to the death'], and no mercy will be given. So I will not ask if the parties can be reconciled." Simon goes off with his seconds and chats with them. One of them says something to him, and he shakes his head no.

Robert and Hunter have returned, and Robert goes off to where Col. Esterhazy is standing. Robert: "So, Felix, how's it going?" Esterhazy: "Do you have a point to make? My name is Carl." Robert: "Then I've just met your twin brother. He looks just like you. But he's missing the wrong arm." Carl's right arm is the one that's missing, unlike Felix. Carl: "You'll also notice that my brother has his arm amputated at the elbow, and my arm was amputated above the elbow. But I consider myself fortunate in that I have both legs." Robert: "Your brother's missing a leg, too?" Carl: "Yes, but he uses a prosthetic, so it's not surprising that you would miss that." Robert goes back over to Hunter, to tell him that there are, in fact, two Colonel Esterhazy's. Hunter: "We've got two Esterhazy's, both missing an arm and an eye?" Robert: "Yes, but according to that Esterhazy, Carl, his brother's also missing a leg. But he has an artificial one." Hunter: "Okay, so that one standing next to Mikie is missing his right arm, so he's Felix?" Robert: "No, that one's missing his right arm so he's Carl." Hunter is developing a headache. Robert goes over to the rosebushes, which is where he saw the other Esterhazy earlier. He goes further in, looking to pick a few roses, and maybe spot some one in hiding or something. He doesn't hear anything, but is suddenly rapped on the wrist with a bamboo rake handle. Robert: "Ow!" Joe Lee: "Not for picking. For looking and smelling." Robert apologizes and backs away from the roses.

Esterhazy takes Mikie off to the side. Carl: "Perhaps you might want to reconsider your choice of weapons. It's not too late. The sword is a weapon of skill, one that you do not possess. Your people need you. <before Mikie can respond> All right, you don't want the position, but do you really want Simon, the former Satan's Slammer to be autarch? I've heard things." Mikie: "If they're bad things, it's probably true. But no, I'm not changing weapons. I'd be lucky to hit anything even close to what I was aiming at with a pistol." Esterhazy goes over to the other Lyrians, so they can all look dejected together.

Simon: "C'mon Mikie, I haven't got all day." Mikie: "You got another kingdom to take over? Here I thought I was your only date. I'm crushed." Simon is waiting with his sword, and a space has been cleared. Simon: "What do you say we get to work?" Mikie: "Fine." Simon: "All right then."

Robert is not watching the duel. He's not trained to spot snipers, or whatever, but he's looking for anything that seems out of place. He doesn't have his sensor packet. Or a ship to fit it into for that matter. But at least he's trying to do something constructively paranoiac.

Simon is planning on fencing, but since Mikie does not fence, he's not about to try. As Simon thrusts, Mikie closes to get within arm's reach, and too close for the sword to be effective. At the same time, Simon hits Mikie, thrusting through his kidney (he has two), and Mikie breaks Simon's right wrist, hangs on, and doesn't let Simon put distance between them. Yells of "Finish him!", and "Kill him" come from the crowd, but who knows just exactly for whom they're yelling.

Robert has been watching a businessman, who is catching some rays about 700 metres away. He borrows Hunter's binocs to watch the man as he lays prone, sort of facing the direction of the duel. As Simon and Mikie struggle, a bug or something blurs past between them. Right, a bug. But whose bug? And who was it's intended target? Simon punches the hilt of the sword, still in Mikie. This feels really unpleasant, as Simon hits it at an oblique angle, slicing bits.

Robert sees the businessman get up and walk away, leaving his case behind. Another man comes up, looks around, then picks up the suitcase and starts to walk away with it. Another one of those damn luggage thieves, just like Robert encountered his first day on Regina! The thief gets a few metres away, and then the case bursts into flames. Along with the man. Robert decides he really doesn't want that kind of luggage, and continues looking around, ignoring the emergency personnel who arrive to put out the burning person.

Mikie has hit Simon in the head, but Simon's still conscious, although both of the 'duelists' are in bad shape. A quick check shows that Simon is not using chemical shield, but his natural shield goes up immediately (although not necessarily consciously). Mikie's next attack knocks Simon unconscious, but he's still breathing. Now cries of "Kill him! The usurper must die!" emerge from the Lyrians in the crowd. Mikie pulls the knife he was using out of Simon's leg, shields, and does the only thing he has the strength left to do - he slits Simon's throat. It gets very quiet.

Simon's seconds pick him up and carry him off to a waiting car. They leave without saying a word. Then people rush forward to Mikie. Others hang back, looking distastefully at the blood-soaked grass, which one of the gryphons is licking. (Okay, so the carnivores can be kind of disgusting.) Hunter: "Man, I didn't know Mikie had it in him. That was cold." Or at least that's how it looked. Robert: "Well, he's SolSec, what do you expect?" Hunter <not really listening to Bob>: "He just slit the guy's throat. And then sent his cat over to lick up the blood. The crowd's loving it though. Except for that guy over there." Robert looks in the direction Hunter is pointing and sees Prince Askari slumped over on a nearby bench, apparently asleep. Robert goes over there, Hunter behind him. Robert says "Are you all right?", and the Prince slumps over. Hunter ends up doing CPR on him, and when Mikie sees there's something going on, he's told that the Prince "has taken ill". The crowd parts, and Mikie can see what's happening. He reaches for the Prince, and feels him slipping away - he's still alive, but it feels like some one has scrambled him psionically. Shit. Mikie told him it would end badly, but did the Prince believe him? No.

The Prince is hauled off in an ambulance. Robert searches the area the 'shooter' was in, and finds nothing but a couple of square indentations. He takes pictures of them to show Hunter later. Not that this will necessarily mean anything to Hunter, but you never know.

The Prince will be declared dead later in the hospital. The life support machines can keep him breathing, but there is absolutely no brain activity, and the doctors have no clue what caused it. They do find a small bruise on his shoulder, but the examination is inconclusive. Poison? Or did he, as no doubt the popular folklore would have it, die of a broken heart after seeing such a barbaric fight? The supine businessman would have been in a direct line towards Simon and Mikie, and the Prince. Sounds like something right out of Free Thoughts; or the Tattler. The press will have a field day with the latest duel. Quite the tradition Corina has started.