"Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate. "-- Thomas Jones

308, 1122.

The medic informs Mikie that he shouldn't move, and absolutely should not attempt to remove the sword. The penetrating object is immobilized, and the patient is prepared for transport to Regina Trauma.

Robert, meanwhile, follows Simon's seconds as they carry his body out of the park and to a car. One of the seconds leans in and speaks to Felix Esterhazy. Robert gets the license plate number and writes it down as they drive off. He then goes back to the park and approaches Carl Esterhazy. (Confused yet?) Robert: "Excuse me sir, I just saw your brother." Carl: "How wonderful for you. If you'll excuse me, I have duties." Robert: "Here's the license plate from the car he just left in." He hands the number to Carl. Carl: "Thank you, Mr..?" Robert: "Shelzie. Robert Shelzie." Carl: "I am in your debt." He goes back over to Mikie.

Ghaer, in the meantime, has been working on the Plank of Knowledge. While cleaning it off, some of the glue has hardened and the book underneath it has become smooth and shiny and shows no sign of having ever not been in one piece. It apparently has started to 'self heal'. Fortunately, this is by no means the strangest thing Ghaer's seen, so what the heck. It's only after former Book of Knowledge has been out of it's box and in the sunshine that the runes on the far side reappear and the last little cracks disappear. So now the Book of Knowledge is back in one piece, 3 metres by 350 cm. Very thin, but rigid - it does not bend or flex at all. And it's covered on both sides with runes in about 10 point type, so staring at it is going to give Ghaer a headache and this is the Book of Knowledge that Ghaer is supposed to study. Not to mention trying to figure out how to store the damn thing. He's going to have to talk to Joe Lee.

Will and Bunny Delgado have returned to Regina, where Will has gone back to work at Regina Trauma. Not hard getting his job back, since his wife owns the hospital. Bunny may not be as sharp as she once was, but she's still able to function and she is a nice person.

Ghaer sets out with the Plank to the Park, once he ties an orange flag on each end. "Sorry!" is heard repeatedly. Joe Lee hears him coming. Joe is by the newly arrived Irklan sacred rock and the Pikhan workers. Joe Lee: "Ghaer." Ghaer: "Uh, hi." Joe Lee: "I see you've had some success with the Book." Ghaer: "Sort of the Plaque of Knowledge now. I was wondering if I could borrow the Ball of Wisdom, and see if maybe it would have some sort of synergistic effect." The Ball of Wisdom becomes a bit dimmer, and the Book becomes brighter as Joe Lee brings the Ball close to the Book, and the happy feeling from the Ball goes away. Joe Lee puts the Ball back into his pocket and it feels better after a few moments. And then two big guys in black show up. Sengi <to Ghaer>: "You will come with us." Joe points out that the plank is the Book of Knowledge, and help is needed to carry it. One of the jai dies very quickly as he reaches out to touch the plank as instructed. Oops. By the time Ghaer and Joe Lee notice the jai hitting the ground, the Sengi is already re-sheathing his blade. Ghaer is escorted off.

The Pikhans have been working on affixing the Irklan rock. Currently it's being glued to a multi-ton flint steel base that's molded to the contours of the bottom of the rock (plus or minus a thousandth of an inch). The Pikhans use a cyano-acetate glue to adhere the rock to the base. The base is glued, welded, and bolted to the deck plate of level 2. And they're not done yet! They're going to run a retaining band, sort of a formfitting skirt, around the rock just below the gravel level, and run long rods of triphase boron alloy down three levels into the main load bearing cross members of the station, where they will be bolted, welded, and glued. They are a little concerned about weathering, so they want to affix a ten millimeter coating of synthetic diamond to the top to prevent weathering, but Joe Lee explains that it should be left natural, and bare. The Pikhans argue about this, and when Joe Lee tells them it's used for religious ceremonies, the Pikhans ask "What are religious ceremonies? What are they for?" Joe Lee: "It's like mathematics. Like the theory of mathematics." Pikhan: "Oh, okay." The Pikhans go back to work swinging one of the three level bolts into place. They've already run off the police asking about permits, because they didn't have hard hats. Cop: "And what if I don't want to leave?" Pikhan: "You've got nothing to protect your head if that bolt falls. Not saying that it will of course, but it could." The cops aren't sure that they're being threatened, but it is Regina, and the Pikhans are union members, so they must be mobbed up.

This done, Joe Lee takes off after Ghaer and the Sengi. Ghaer is taken to the Japanese Garden, to the rock garden, and is told to wait. The Plank of Knowledge is taken into a tent. Joe Lee tries to follow it in, but he is prevented from doing so.

Back at the Italian Garden, Mikie is being loaded into the ambulance to be taken to see the docs, and Robert goes to the docks to where Simon's ship is. He sees the body being loaded onto the ship, Felix gets out of the car and goes into the ship. As he gets out of the car, Robert sees by the light of a cigarette (or whatever) that there is another figure in the back of the car, smoking something. Robert can't see the figure well enough to identify him (or her, for that matter), and a 'smoking man' doesn't mean anything to the non-Regina native any way.

Robert goes to a phone booth and calls the only person he knows with a fixed place of employment: Estelle. Robert: "I need you to get me in touch with Hunter." Estelle gives Robert her father's cell phone number, although Hunter doesn't always have it turned on. Robert calls and gets voicemail. Robert: "Hunter. I gave Mr. Griffin's Colonel Esterhazy the plate number off the car Simon was in. I'm in the docking area outside Simon's ship. If you can, contact Mr. Griffin's Colonel Esterhazy, and tell him that Simon's Colonel Esterhazy is here too." Thank God he left that as a message so Hunter can play it back the twenty or thirty times it will take to figure it out.

Robert hears a sound behind him, and suddenly there's a man in a suit (short hair, well-muscled), and he's aiming a big gun at Robert. The man has a star shaped scar on his neck, a tattoo on the back of his neck, a really gnarly looking scar on his cheek, and his hands look like he regularly crushes babies. Without moving his hands in any way that might be misconstrued, Robert looks at the man and says "You know, there are doctors on Rhylanor who could take care of all those scars." Thug: "Let's go, funny man." He shoves Robert towards the ship, then into the airlock. Thug: "I found this guy poking around outside, boss." He's not looking at Esterhazy, he's looking at a shadowy area off to one side. A very tall figure in a cloak steps out, rasping "Well, let's see who he is." He has an ugly wet cough, that probably involves blood, and is very thin. The cloak conceals everything, even up to the sex. Esterhazy: "Who sent you?" Robert: "I was reconsidering the pilot offer." Esterhazy strides forward, and using a riding crop, very quickly lays open both of Robert's cheeks, sending blood cascading down his face. Esterhazy: "You lie! Who sent you?" Robert grabs his face and falls to the ground. Esterhazy: "Bruno, pick him up." The cloaked figure tells Esterhazy to "deal with this". Esterhazy takes off his eyepatch and something artificial extrudes and starts to extend towards Robert, who is being held by Bruno. Report to me when you know everything he knows." The cloaked figure leaves. The tentacle thingie is opening up sort of like a flower, if a flower were metallic and had toothy things. Robert panics and starts to thrash, kicking Esterhazy in the hand. Bruno: "You bastard!" Bruno removes one hand to hit him as Robert pivots to try to put Bruno between him and the icky tentacle thing, and then Robert darts towards the bridge. There's a scream from Bruno as the tentacle makes contact, and then Esterhazy yanks it back, taking a few bits of Bruno with it.

Robert runs forward and finds there's some sort of chitinous sort of secreted stuff in the hall, and it looks really weird and alien. The material is sort of pinkish, purple and blotchy; hard, but covered with a gelatinous secretion. Eww!! Robert runs the other way, and then tries to find a vac suit so he can escape out the airlock. But there are no vac suits. Or tools. And parts of the ship look more like movie props. Not good. Robert can't go back to the airlock he came in, or the cargo bay, because that's where Esterhazy is. And Robert doesn't want to go into the icky part of the ship, but the airlock is opening, so he has no choice. It's off down into the secreted part of the ship. He finds his way into the cockpit where there are many tendrils and several humans - naked, the skin white and translucent. It looks like something has grown around and into the 'crew'. Robert goes closer, to try to identify the controls on the console, and the nearest 'body' opens her eyes and grabs onto him. He draws his gun as he feels another pair of hands grab his legs. Robert fires blindly into the female, hitting her in the leg - this makes the tendril sort of recoil and turn a darker red. Robert then fires into the second body until he runs out of ammo. He 'sense' a sort of growl or purr, the temperature goes up in the room, and the door behind him is sphinctering closed. The second 'person' lets go, but Robert can see other 'people' sort of peeling off of the walls and coming for him. Robert has managed to access some of the controls, so he tries to undock. He has to secure the bridge door, which works, although when the iris closes, the pinkish stuff starts to bleed, then he overrides the controls and starts the ship moving. There is something muffled coming out of the commo unit, but Robert doesn't have time for that and sets the ship on autopilot. The twelve zombies are trying to stop Robert as he fights his way into the environmental controls and sets the cockpit to "freeze".

A system's defense boat moves into position, and ends up firing a shot across the bow of the ship. Suddenly, Robert notices that the ship is being controlled from elsewhere, and the ship's missile rack is activated. Robert is trying to fight his way into the pilot's console when the system's defense boat, not taking kindly to being fired upon, fires on the ship and hits. The ship Robert's in is hit in the powerplant, has several structural cracks, and is leaking coolant. It's getting warmer, and when Robert rips his way into the now active engineering console, he finds out that the reactor is going critical. As Robert frantically tries to find a way out, he does locate a familiar looking bag - it's an EPLS ball. He tries to take the main computer off line, but that's going to take more time than he has. He seals himself into the ball, and tries to get out of the hatch on the bridge, but it won't open. He opens the iris hatch and there's definitely no atmosphere in the rest of the ship. Robert tries to maneuver the EPLS ball so he doesn't get sucked right out, but then he sees the zipper being messed with from the outside. It's like soft hands are trying to grab the ball, and Robert is not able to roll loose. He reloads his gun, gets the emergency patch kit out, and makes sure the zipper stays shut. He keeps telling himself that as long as he's inside and it's outside, he'll be okay. Then a small section of the zipper opens and a substance sort of the consistency of epoxy starts dripping in, followed by a small tendril. Robert slashes the tendril and shuts the zipper, and the 'hands' outside are really banging on the ball - now it's like a rugby scrum.

Then Robert hears the really bad alarm. The alarm he's only eve heard in training. That would be the alarm that means the reactor containment field is failing. The tendrils suddenly squirm away. There's a huge explosion, and that's the last thing Robert remembers. His last thought is "at least I took it with me". He hopes.

Meanwhile, back at Regina Trauma. Fortunately it's a pretty straight forward wound. They like it when people just stab each other, it's more cosmetic than anything from the point of view of the surgeon. Mikie wakes up a while later, feeling better (physically). Mr. Black is in the room. Black: "Ah, Michael. Back among the living. How are you feeling?" Mikie: "I've been worse." Black: "Well, you should be very pleased. You handled that quite masterfully. Both potential rivals out of the way. I'm impressed. The coroner is reporting the Prince's death as the long term results of surgery. When you have the chance you must tell me how you did it." Mikie: I didn't do it. And you probably already know that." Black: "Don't play games, Mikie." Mikie: "I. Didn't. Do. It." Black: "Very well, if you say you didn't you didn't." Mikie: "Look, I'm not sure exactly what happened. Something...passed between me and Simon. Maybe it was meant for him or me and missed, maybe whoever fired it really did want to kill Askari. But I sure as shit didn't do it. He's the last person I'd want dead." Black: "Well, you should rest. We'll talk later." A nurse comes in and gives Mikie a paper cup with some pills, which he takes. As the drugs start to take effect, Mikie can still hear the voices in his room, although he's not sure exactly who everyone is. Voice: "Do you think he knows?" Black: "Of course I don't think he knows. If I thought that, he'd be dead. Watch him. Make sure he knows what side he's on." Voice: "Yes sir." Mikie is hearing this in a sort of dream like state, and it's getting harder to identify the voices. Voice: "What about Verlak?" Voice: "I don't want him distracted by peripheral issues. Tell him to wait." Mikie isn't sure who the hell the last two speakers were. Then everything goes blissfully black and quiet.

At the park, Ghaer waits patiently (like he can do anything else) in the anteroom of the tent as the Plank is taken into the back. A rik emerges from the other part of the tent after a few minutes, informs Joe Lee he is "not required", and takes Ghaer into the back. There are several riks inside, as well as a Var Sengi. The Plank is propped up vertically, as the Var traces the runes down and up, then over, then... The riks don't seem to have a clue what's going on either. A rik eventually approaches the Var and does a very subtle version of clearing his throat. The Var, not being concerned with lowly creatures, ignores Ghaer for another half an hour, then speaks through one of the riks. Rik: "This object. This is the Book remade?" Ghaer: "Yes, the Book remade, with the help of the stone that is being placed nearby." Rik: "My master states that you are to be given whatever you require. You are to be rewarded. What do you want?" Ghaer: "The ability to read the writing." Rik <interpreting>: "My master says there is no one of an appropriate rank to teach you. This language is very difficult and is only known to the Lords. Do you ask that my Lord teach you?" Ghaer: "I am sure that his ability to teach would be great, but his duties require him to be elsewhere and I understand duty." Rik: "Something else then?" Ghaer: "What I want for the most part I must acquire myself - wisdom, knowledge. There is something though. There's a friend of mine whom I have not been able to help. He who you once and may again consider the Oracle - Michael Griffin." Rik: "We know of the Oracle. My master says that the Oracle in his heart is already dead. He waits for his body to follow." Ghaer: "Then whatever the Var wishes, I will accept." The Var is apparently not interested, being engrossed in the Plank. Rik: "The Lord will call upon you as he requires you." Ghaer thanks the rik, asks that his thanks be passed on to the Lord. As Ghaer leaves, he hears a sort of crump behind him (a noise that doesn't exist in nature), then a bright flash behind him that casts very start shadows. Oh-oh. Ghaer slowly turns around and there is no tent. It's just gone. There's a sort of wavering in the air, the Plank of Knowledge is there, sort of seems to wave in the breeze, and then it stops and the waviness is gone. No Sengi though. No Sengi. No Var Sengi. No jai. Nothing. The Plank is now stuck in the ground and is not moving. Ghaer tries to shift it, but it feels like it's set in stone. The park just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Robert is cold. So, he's not dead, or if he is, he's not in hell. He is in an international orange paper jumpsuit, in a ship's brig. Hmmm. It's too big to be on board the system's defense boat. A man's voice says: "Oh well, look who's awake." It's a petty officer, shore patrol type. Robert: "I guess I am awake." The officer goes over and uses a comm device. Officer: "Yes sir. Aye sir...Aye sir. <he disconnects, then calls out> Larry, Matt - come on and give me a hand with the prisoner." Robert is escorted to a room. Petty officer: "Stand at attention scum! You're in the presence of an officer." There is a Lt. Commander behind the desk. Lt. Commander: "All right Mr...?" Robert: "Shelzie, Robert Shelzie, sir." Lt. Commander: "I assume you know why you're here?" Robert: "No sir. Not exactly." Lt. Commander: "How about hijacking a ship and firing on an Imperial vessel. Ring a bell?" Robert: "Hijacking a ship, sir?" Lt. Commander: "A 500 ton ship, the Empress Olek." Robert: "I was on a 500 ton ship, sir. I was taken on board against my will by a man named Bruno." Lt. Commander: "I see. You can of course, substantiate this?" Robert: "I don't know. I'm not sure I remember everything sir." Lt. Commander: "That would account for the presence of hallucinogenic in your bloodstream. Illegal hallucinogenics. You're being charged with operating a starship while under the influence and several other charges. A complaint has been filed against you for assault as well, by a Bruno Smith and the owner of the vessel, a Count Barada." Robert: "I don't know a Count Barada, sir." Lt. Commander: "Well, the Count certainly knows you. He's charging that you assaulted him and stole his ship. The ship certainly fired upon the system defense boat." Robert: "I did not fire on the defense boat." Lt. Commander: "So you're suggesting that the Count and this Bruno person are lying?" Robert: "I'm not suggesting anyone's lying sir, just that the facts aren't always what they appear to be." Lt. Commander: "Let's check the Count's alibi then, shall we? He claims he was with... ah, here it is. He was with Admiral Paolo Astridi." Robert: "I'm not saying he wasn't, sir. I was taken aboard the ship and locked in a room. I attempted to escape, and at that point the explosion occurred. I saw Bruno, and another person I can't identify." Lt. Commander: "Let me have you explain this to me. The ship was already in space, and you're postulating that this cloaked man and Bruno were operating the ship?" Robert: "No sir. It's a 500 ton ship. It requires more than two people to operate. I don't know who was in control of the ship, just that it wasn't me." Lt. Commander: "And why were you in the EPLS ball, if you didn't know what was going on?" Robert: "The powerplant was in trouble, and I couldn't find any other way off the ship after I escaped." Lt. Commander: "How were you able to determine that the powerplant was in trouble?" Robert: "The alarm, sir." Lt. Commander: "And how did you hear the alarm? Those alarms normally only sound on the bridge or in engineering on a civilian vessel. Were you in either of those two places?" Robert: "No sir." Lt. Commander: "And yet you heard the alarm?" Robert: "I guess I was near enough to the bridge or engineering when the alarm went off." Lt. Commander: "You were carrying a sidearm in your EPLS ball, and it had been discharged recently." Robert: "That was how I escaped, sir. By firing at the door." Lt. Commander: "Ah. They locked you into your room with your firearm. I see. There was a strip of what appears to be human flesh inside the EPLS ball. Do you have any idea how it got there?" Robert: "No sir." Lt. Commander: "I see. Chief, I believe this falls under the jurisdiction of the civilian authority, and is not a Navy matter. Escort this man back to his cell, then turn him over to the Starport Authority." In other words, 'I do not want to deal with this, take the annoying crazy man away'.

Robert is transported onto the station, where he has to spend another $10,000 credits to get a halfway decent lawyer. Robert: "I want my credentials and rating intact when this is done. I want that to be clear from the start." Lawyer: "Fine. Why don't you tell me what happened in your own words. The whole story." Robert: "If I tell you the whole story, you're going to want to lock me away somewhere." Then he proceeds to tell the poor bastard the whole story. Lawyer: "Ha, let's see. How shall we handle this?...Let me go talk to the prosecutor. I'll see what I can do." The lawyer comes back after a while. Lawyer: "Okay. Here's what we've got to work with. We stipulate that you were under the influence of a mind-altering drug, probably not of your own choice, since your background doesn't show any drug use. They're willing to stipulate to malicious mischief. You'll serve 100 hours of community service, plus cost of damage done." Robert: "What's that going to come to?" Lawyer: "We're going to have to get a final figure, but it's probably going to come to around $100,000." Robert: "And where am going to get $100,000 credits?" Lawyer: "I can probably get the judge to set it up on payments." Robert does some quick mental math, and decides that he can afford (barely) to pay half ($50,000 credits) up front. Lawyer <after a quick consult with the judge>: "Considering your lifestyle, and the fact that you're a pilot with rating, the judge is willing to accept half now, and $60,000 spread over twelve months - $5,000 credits a month, plus the aforementioned 100 hours community service. And the judge says you better not get into any other trouble on Regina during that twelve month period." Robert: "I didn't intend to get into this trouble to begin with!" Lawyer: 'If you want to explain it to the judge, I'll try to arrange a meeting, but I wouldn't advise it. He's being lenient. Then there's the matter of the Count's ship. It's not an act of piracy, so it will come down to property damage, and that will be a civil matter. I'm willing to act as your counsel should a claim be filed against you. I do know the Count has filed a claim for the ship, which was heavily insured. That must have been quite the ship." The lawyer figures the ship was deliberately over insured, so it's doubtful the Count will be coming after Robert - why should he when he can easily get more money from the insurance company, without the fuss. So Robert just has to worry about the Count having him killed.

Robert is released, eventually. He decides to look up Michael Griffin's party, and goes in search of the circus. He finds it outside Regina Trauma and goes in. He locates Colonel Esterhazy, who is smoking a cigar and being glared at. Robert: "Colonel Esterhazy." Esterhazy: "Mr. Shelzie isn't it?" Robert: "That's right. Forgive the impertinence, but could you remove your eyepatch?" Carl: "I assume this has some purpose other than your entertainment?" Robert: "Yes sir." Carl: "I don't think you'll find it pleasant." Robert: "I can assure you I've seen less pleasant things recently. Please." Carl sighs and raises his eyepatch, revealing a very nasty scar from a bullet wound. Carl lowers the eyepatch. Carl: "Satisfied?" Robert: "I'm sorry, but I had to check. Let's just say that your brother seems to have a few extra parts." Carl: "As I have already told you, I haven't had any contact with my brother for years. It's a family issue." Robert: "I don't blame you for not having contact with your brother. If you had had contact with your brother, I would be even more worried."

By the time the stories about the duel get to Ghaer, as he passes by the Park, it's gotten to the point of "...these two guys were shoving each other, and then these huge black eagle-bat like things swooped down, ripped one of them apart and ate him." Ghaer: "And you saw this yourself?" Slacker: "Well, yeah. Practically. I was right over here." Man in suit: "Allow me to interject. This gentleman is a bit confused. There was no ripping apart. The black creatures merely exsanguinated the combatants." Ghaer: "Both of them?" Man: "Yes. One of them was still alive, due to the efforts of our gallant emergency personnel." Ah, yeah. Ghaer goes past the site of the duel, where people have been laying flowers. Déja vu all over again.

At Regina Trauma, Mikie is awake, although the muscle relaxants and pain killers prevent him from moving or feeling much. The nurse has finally had it and has thrown everyone out of Mikie's room and banished all but one Lyrian guard to the family waiting room. She explained to them that if they kept bothering the patient they would be having a memorial service instead of a get well soon party. Of course the Lyrian Arch Bishop (can't hurt to have a blessing, or last rites, or whatever) and the Chamberlain want to see Mikie, and the Arch Duke sends flowers.

Meanwhile, back to the surrealistic conversation between Esterhazy, Carl and Shelzie, Robert, one each. Robert: "That's pretty much all I had to tell you, other than the fact that your brother made it out alive." Carl: "Out of what?" Robert: "The ship." Carl: "That would be the ship you were accused of hijacking?" Robert: "That would be the one, yes." Carl: "I saw you on the news. You look much better in person, I must say, although no one looks their best in an orange jumpsuit." Robert asks if Carl knows anything about a Count Barada, but he doesn't. Robert doesn't have anything else to do so he leaves.

As Robert is heading out of Regina Trauma, he runs into Ghaer as he's coming in. Robert: "Mr. Raller!" Ghaer: "Mr. Shelzie." Robert asks to speak with Ghaer about something important. He tells Ghaer exactly what happened to him. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is the fact that Ghaer reacts like this story is nothing unusual. Robert: "Now, I know I'm from Rhylanor, and things like this don't happen on Rhylanor. But are things like this normal here?!?" Ghaer: "No. It's far too late in the year for the organic vessels to show up." Robert doesn't find that funny at all. Ghaer: "It was a normal vessel?" Robert: "I believe it was a normal vessel, yes." Ghaer: "With an organic interface. And it apparently was able to take limited exposure to vacuum?" Robert: "Yes." Ghaer: "That's a bit disturbing." Robert: "Oh, you have no idea how disturbing this was." Ghaer: "And Esterhazy was being 'worn' by something." Robert: "Or he has some of those SolSec implants or modifications or something. SolSec's always doing stuff like that - they just can't leave the human body alone, everyone knows that." Ghaer makes a mental note that Robert has seen way too much Dick Salamander. Ghaer: "Who have you told about this?" Robert: "You and my lawyer. And I didn't tell my lawyer all the gory details." Ghaer <thinking out loud>: "This may have implications for Regina, and that means I may have to speak to my former employer." That would be Corina. Ghaer: "Do you have any physical residue?" Robert: "NO!! I didn't want any kind of residue at all!" Ghaer: "Well, that's probably for the best." The Navy has a warning issued for the area of the 'accident', due to danger from debris. Ghaer and Robert decide to take Robert's reserved shuttle out to check for evidence.

Having regained consciousness again, Mikie actually feels hungry when the nurse comes in and asks if he would like some lunch. An orderly sets a tray down on the bedside table. It smells really good, even through the cover. One of the nurses takes off the cover, and the tray has some stew, jell-o (naturally), and a really familiar looking silver religious medal (the St. Michael's medal Mikie had put with Theresa's body). Mikie picks up the medal and looks up just in time to see the blond orderly wave good-bye and dart off - Verlak! Mikie tries to bolt out of the bed, but can't in his current condition and the nurses block his way as well. The monitors show his blood pressure and pulse shooting up dramatically, which sets the nurses into a panic. It's not good for the patient to explode. A doctor is sent for, and the crash cart is brought up outside, just in case. (Never bring the crash cart into the room before it's needed, or the patient might panic.) The doctor wants "an EKG, and some tests, and get the machine that goes ping'. Mikie demands repeatedly to use the phone (which he can't reach without help). Nurse: "If I let you use the phone, do you promise to try to calm down?" Mikie: "Yes." Nurse: "All right. One call, no more than five minutes, and I stay in the room to make sure you don't get too upset." Mikie agrees to the conditions, and calls Black.

Mikie: "Verlak was just here." Black: "I'm sure you must be mistaken." Mikie: "I'm not mistaken. He left me a souvenir. You're welcome to come down and see if I'm hallucinating." Black: "There's no need to get hostile, Michael. I will have a couple of my best men check it out."

Down the hall, Robert and Ghaer continue to discuss Robert's encounter with the icky thing, and the fact that it was trying to get into his EPLS ball. Ghaer: "When did it stop?" Robert: "I think it was when the alarm went off." Ghaer: "That's a really unique alarm. Something that the humans would recognize. Which means that there's some kind of interaction with the humans' intellect on some level. And one of them extended a tentacle or pseudo-pod?" Robert: "Yeah. Mr. Griffin's Esterhazy's brother." Ghaer: "I take it he's the one who doesn't have an eyepatch." Robert: "No, no. Has an eyepatch, has a missing arm, the other one, and a missing leg, but he uses a prosthetic." Ghaer: "I'm beginning to think the Esterhazys did this to each other. So that's not Carl Esterhazy who was on the ship, right?" Robert: "Felix Esterhazy has this tentacle that shoots out of his eye and sucks your brain out. He got Bruno. It was ugly." Ghaer: "Felix is missing the opposite eye than Carl." Robert: "No. Carl Esterhazy is missing his right arm and his right eye. Felix Esterhazy is missing his left arm, his right eye, and an unspecified leg. Although I did notice him limping." Ghaer: "Right." It helps if you read a lot of Doctor Seuss. Ghaer: "Well, the only person I know who might be able to help is Michael, so we need to tell him." Robert: "Oh come on, he probably already knows about it." Ghaer <confused>: "Why would he?" Robert: "He's a SolSec psionic." Ghaer: "No, he was employed by a renegade SolSec agent for a while. It's sort of complicated." Robert: "Fine, you go deal with Mr. Griffin, and I'll go get the shuttle." Ghaer: "We don't know if there are any more waiting for you. And you probably need more ammo." Robert: "What I need is hearing protection." Ghaer: "I'll meet you at MilTech.

Robert leaves for MilTech. Ghaer tries to see Mikie, but the nurses are not allowing any visitors currently. Ghaer leaves Regina Trauma and heads towards MilTech. A nice looking middle aged gentleman in a well-cut suit approaches Ghaer en route. Man: "Mr. Raller? Mr. Ghaer Raller?" Ghaer: "Yes." Man: "You'll forgive me, but they did tell me you'd look like Ling-Ling. I believe that you may be of some assistance to me." He hands Ghaer his card: Peter Brockett. Discreet investigations. This card also reads, on the reverse: Adam Shelzie, CEO, Director, Shelzie Medical Institute. Brockett: "This is to serve as an introduction. I believe you are acquainted with both Adam and Robert Shelzie?" Ghaer: "That's correct." Brockett: "May I buy you a coffee? Have you had lunch?" Ghaer: "Coffee. I'm a bit pressed for time." Brockett: "I understand." They stop at the Bread and Bean, getting coffee and a table.

Brockett: "I've been sent to... Well, how to put this delicately... This may explain it better than I." He takes a file out of his briefcase. It's a Happy Valley Sanitarium file. Records of Robert Shelzie. Apparently in the course of his Naval career, he suffered a breakdown. He escaped the hospital, and while he is not considered a danger to others, he is not in any condition to be without supervision. There are copies of his Naval discharge papers, commitment papers, medical reports, etc. All the paperwork is completely genuine. Brockett: "I've been sent to discreetly see to Robert's return to his home. He's a very brave man who served his Imperium well and needs some time to put his life back together. The family has sent me and several of my associates to retrieve Robert and see him safely back into proper care. I'm hoping you will be able to assist in this." Ghaer: "We were supposed to meet. He told me some sort of fantastic story... My intention was to get him to return to a place he felt safe so I could get the entire story from him. I was thinking the Ambassadore, as his apartment is still somewhat empty." Brockett: "You could be of great service to us. We would like to see Robert returned to his family with the least amount of fuss. Of course that would be the best for Robert as well." Ghaer: "I assume you have some way of getting Robert's 'cooperation'?" Brockett: "Yes. My associates are trained medical personnel, and have some of Robert's medication with them. He's on..." He rattles off a number of psychomemetric drugs, although he mispronounces some of them - but he's not a doctor. Brockett: "We don't want to cause Robert any embarassment, and we certainly do not want his name in the paper. We would like him to be able to return to a normal life, after treatment, without the stigma attached to mental illness. The family of course values your discretion, and they have entrusted me to see to it that any expenses you may incur..." Ghaer: "Oh no, I'm a veteran myself, and I understand about this kind of thing." Brockett insists, so Ghaer suggests that any 'expense' money go to a local charity, Anders' clinic. He takes Brockett's number, and arranges to meet at the Ambassadore. Ghaer leaves, goes to a pay phone, and calls Anders. He tells here that some money should be coming her way, but it "could be hinky, let your darling husband know." Great, let's make Reid even more paranoid.

Mikie allows the doctors to set up the machines and run their tests, albeit begrudgingly. When a nurse comments about the Lyrian children in the group gathered outside singing songs as "sweet", Mikie mutters something about "shutting the fucking window". Nurse: "Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" Mikie is startled into interacting. Mikie: "What?" Nurse: "I don't know what you do at home, but you're in my wing now. When you are in my wing, you will mind your language." Mikie, who normally is very polite around women, has been very effectively put in his place. Mikie: "I'm sorry. It won't happen again." Nurse: "Thank you. Now Mr. Griffin, you have obviously been under a great deal of pressure, and you need some rest. We're not your enemy. The doctors just want to find the best way to help you. Try to get some sleep." She tucks Mikie in and leaves him alone in the room, with the medal clenched in his hand.

Robert is going to MilTech and is buying hearing protection. Now. While he still needs it.