"It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning."
-- Calvin, Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes)

308 to 309, 1122.

Robert is reconsidering his decision to come to Regina in the first place. A bit late for that, Bob!

At Regina Trauma, Mikie is given something to help him sleep. Nurse: "I know you've got it hidden under your tongue; I used to work in the psych ward. Now swallow it. It does come in suppository form you know." Mikie decides to do whatever Nurse Mary Katherine says. (The nun reflex has kicked in.)

Will Delgado and his wife, Bunny, have to find a place to live on Up Port. They have a certain amount of money, Will has a job, and Bunny has some investment money and the income from Regina Trauma, not to mention lots of time and a flare for decorating. They find a place in Grandma Kirby's old neighborhood in Old Port, near the old guy on the porch with his shotgun (that would be Fritz), and the large polite man with the odd New York gangster accent (that would be Frank). The house is nothing much to look at from the outside, but it's huge. Bunny sends Will off to do his doctoring stuff and leave her to take care of decorating. Bunny thinks the place is perfect, and she points out that there's lots of space for the nanny's room and the nursery. This is news to Will, but he likes it.

Will heads in to Regina Trauma, where the female staff members frequently whisper behind his back. Well, he is the Dashing Dueling Daring Doctor, even if he is married. And oblivious. Will's in to see his old boss, Dr. Auschlander to find out if he's got a position on the surgical staff. Auschlander: "I can't exactly say no to the husband of the hospital's owner." Will: "You could say no. As some one with a financial interest in the hospital I'd have to consider the fact that you're too talented to fire, it wouldn't be good business." Auschlander: "Well, we don't have much call for neurosurgeons up here, we mostly do trauma. Although... we could always start a neurological team. Since you're here, as a matter of fact we do have an interesting case that I want you to look at. The coroner has declared the death as resulting from degenerative damage caused by past neurological procedures and scarring, but I think there's more to it than that. The deceased was a foreign noble, and I'm not convince there wasn't any foul play. Here's the file. Take a look at it and tell me what you think."

Will takes the file and the lab results and goes to work. At first pass it does look like degenerative damage to the brain, probably caused by significant surgical procedures. But there's something niggling at the back of Will's mind, and he just can't quite figure out what it is, so he goes over all the scans again. He discovers that there's almost like a wave pattern that starts about two or three vertebra below the neck and spreads up. He examines the area on the scans, and finds a small bruise. The wave pattern is not the distinctive marks of a neural whip, but it's something almost similar. The bruise was not examined very carefully, so Will goes to take a closer look at the body, and finds that it has been picked up by a Colonel Esterhazy. Will makes a call and gets Esterhazy's aid. Will: "I understand that he may be in mourning, but I need to speak to the Colonel about the death of Prince Askari." Aid: "Colonel Esterhazy is not available." Will leaves his pager number, and a request that he be called as soon as possible, as the matter is of some urgency.

Not willing to give up and wait around, Will continues, tracking it further. He finds that the Scalese Brothers' Mortuary picked up the body. Will calls up and asks for Mr. Scalese. He's asked if he wants Mr. Scalese Senior, or Junior, and ends up with the senior Scalese. Will: "Mr. Scalese? My name is Dr. Delgado. I'm on the staff of Regina Trauma." Scalese: "Eh, what was that?" Will speaks louder. Scalese: "I'm not deaf!" Will modulates his tone accordingly, and explains that he would like to further examine the body of one of his recent 'clients', the Lyrian Prince. Will: "I've tried to locate Colonel Esterhazy, but he isn't available. He doesn't happen to be there, does he?" Scalese: "No, but there are a bunch of their guys here. They left instructions that the body was not to be touched or anything." Will goes down to the funeral home, and the largest viewing room contains a casket, which is surrounded by ornately uniformed guards. Will waits a few moments, and a man who appears to be an officer shows up with another four guards. After the changing of the guard thing, Will approaches the officer about the "disposition of the remains." Lieutenant: "The body will lay in state until the funeral arrangements have been made, and then he will be laid to rest in the manner in which all the Lyrian nobles are. Is there anything else?" Will: "Do you know how I could get in touch with the colonel?" Lieutenant: "I believe he is attending the Autarch." Will: "And the Autarch is staying in - Wait a sec...Autarch...hospital! Never mind." Will is off back to the hospital.

Will shows back up, and is told that there is a lady from the Times there to see him. Will: "Yes?" Reporter: "I'm Barbara Atlers from the Times. As you are no doubt aware, I write a weekly personality column for the Times, and I'd like to profile you now that you're back." Will: "How about next Twoday?" Barbara: "I'd like to get something before then, for the Sunday supplement. How about dinner tonight?" Will: "Actually I'm tied up on a case." Barbara: "How about tomorrow?" Will: "That would be fine." Barbara: "Excellent. I'll pick you up at your house at 7:00." Will tries to make contact with the public information officer, and is told that it's normal for the newest staff member to take the post, "which would be you". Will: "I'm exempt due to my seniority - I was just on sabbatical on Rhylanor." Admin: "Well, Dr. Auschlander told me to bring this stuff down for you. He said the records show you managed to skip this when you first started. He said you were just the man for the job - you're photogenic as hell and you love the camera. He said something else about, uh never mind I wasn't supposed to say anything about that to you." Will accepts the inevitable, then researches the reporter, so he knows ahead of time what to say or not say to Barbara. And while he's at it, he asks around about the last PIO. Turns out Dr. Langtree left his position rather precipitously. In fact, he left planet. It's a bit of a mystery, but upon further investigation Will finds that the doctor was quite the ladies' man, and well, it's not really that mysterious. It involves several husbands, and on Regina that does could mean waking up inside your mailbox one morning. Ah.

Will goes to look for the Autarch's room, so he can find Colonel Esterhazy. It's not difficult, as it's the only room with one of those guards in leopard skins outside the door. Will inquires after Colonel Esterhazy, and is directed to the waiting room, where the Colonel and his men are playing some sort of card game. Will asks to speak with Esterhazy privately, and all the other men leave. Will: "You could have come to my office." Esterhazy looks confused - it's normal for the subordinates to leave. Will: "One of the doctors involved in the autopsy of the Prince asked me to check into the case. It is possible that the original diagnosis was incorrect, and I would like to reexamine the body." Esterhazy: "The Prince is dead sir. Have you no sense of decency? Will whatever you find bring him back to life? What difference will it make?" Will: "Aren't you attached to the Autarch down the hall? It might make a big difference if whoever killed the Prince goes after the Autarch next. But if you don't care, then I guess I'll just go down the hall and ask the Autarch himself." Will turns his back on Esterhazy and starts to walk off. Esterhazy grabs Will from behind, says "You have insulted me!" and slaps him. Esterhazy: "You should learn how to speak with one's betters." Will: "When you find one, let me know." It gets ugly - evidently Esterhazy needs to vent and Will has pushed the right buttons. They separate after a few tense moments, and Will leaves.

Will goes down the hall and tries to enter Mikie's room, but the guard won't let him. Will: "I'm Doctor Delgado. I'm on staff here, and I need to see the Autarch." Guard: "You're not on my list, doctor. You'll need to get permission from Colonel Esterhazy before I can let you in." Will calls security to get rid of these guys, but they're not very helpful. Security: "I'm sorry doctor, we can't do that. We have instructions from the Arch Duke to not bother them." Will tries to pull rank on the bodyguard at the door, but it doesn't work. And the security guards are feeling a bit over their heads. Will, running out of patience, pulls a gun. Bodyguard: "Shoot me if you will, I will not fail in my duty to protect the Autarch." The other guards pull their guns. Great - another shootout in Regina Trauma. Will puts away his gun, since he wouldn't actually use it and it's not working as intimidation. Esterhazy comes storming up at this point. Esterhazy: "What's all this then, Williams?" Williams: "Colonel, this man demanded to see the Autarch, and when I told him he was not on the list and I wouldn't let him pass, he pulled a pistol." Esterhazy: "So, in addition to being a coward, you are an assassin! Men, seize him!" Will tells the very nervous hospital security men to send for the police, and they leave to do that. Will's not just going to allow them to 'seize' him, so the brawl is on. Mikie is starting to come out of his latest drugged state, and hears muffled voices, a tussle, and the picture on the wall falls down.

At MilTech, Ghaer has shown up to meet Robert, and pick up the order he called in: vac suits for him and Robert, extra batteries and air, and laser pistols. Two more punches on Ghaer's card, and he gets into the raffle for the CSU! Robert purchases the best in the ear hearing protection they have in stock. Ghaer suggests some external as well as the internal ones Robert is buying, and some shooting glasses, but Robert's a zoomie - he doesn't use the range that often, just when he has to. Robert: "So, how well do you know my uncle?" Ghaer: "He's patched me up a couple of times. Which is why I find it so strange that he'd send non-family members here to take you back to Happy Valley Sanitarium." Robert: "What?" Ghaer: "There are three people, including a medical tech with tranquilizers, waiting for me to deliver you to them at the Ambassadore." Ghaer tells Robert about all the paperwork he saw, and how good it looks. Robert wants to go there right now, and deal with these horrible people who dare to besmirch the Shelzie family name. Ghaer: "There are more pressing matters." Robert: "No, if that gets into my permanent file, I'm screwed." Ghaer: "Well, Regina isn't the place with the high tech forgery stuff." Robert: "If they made it, they can put it into the files." Ghaer: "It may already be there. But it's those buggy things you saw that bothers me." Robert: "You have no idea how much this torque's me off. And if word of this should get back to my uncle, it would torque him off too." Robert is really concerned about the Shelzie family's reputation, and wants to get the files destroyed ASAP. Robert: "As soon as we're done with this run, we're going after those guys. I'm half tempted to put off the run and just go to the Ambassadore." Ghaer: "No, we need to get out there before some one else shows up for salvage." Ghaer gives Robert a brief familiarization on the laser weapons. Ghaer: "What did they use as physical evidence against you in your hearing?" Robert: "They said I had some kind of illegal halluginegenic in my system, and the lieutenant commander mentioned something about a strip of human flesh, but that was before he turned me over to the civilian authorities." Ghaer: "He didn't want to deal with this mess." Robert: "I don't blame him - I don't want to deal with this mess."

Ghaer and Robert pick up the ship's boat he'd reserved, get the extra insurance, and do the preflight. The boat is no hell, but it's set up to be used by the average Joe. It's a rental, for heaven's sake. As they move out, Robert tries to override some of the safety features, which becomes a necessity when the vehicle automatically veers away from the navigation hazard beacon. Robert: "This is pointless if we can't get close enough. Screw it." He takes the ship back. Ghaer: "They may still be alive out there." Robert: "I know that the Count and Bruno are alive, they filed charges." Ghaer: "The Count and Bruno?" Robert describes Bruno, who Ghaer recognizes as muscle for hire, and Count Barada, who he assumes was the man in the cloak. Ghaer and Robert go to the library to investigate further. The Count served in the Navy, and is from Glisten, and his family owns a few paltry acres. In downtown. Ghaer looks the Count up in other sources. He has holdings in SternMetal, SuSAG, extensive holdings in Arkadian space (pharmaceutical companies). He has a medical discharge from the Navy, and supposedly suffered extensive radiation burns that were beyond treatment even on Rhylanor, and has been permanently disfigured. The Count donates a lot of money to medical causes, and the amount is reported to have been a billion credits last year alone. The Count goes to great lengths to avoid publicity, and it would not be a good idea to be a paparazzi caught on his property. (Not that any charges have been filed.) And Ghaer warns Robert that he may be hearing from the insurance company about the third of a gigacredit they have to pay up.

Robert doesn't like Regina. It's crap. It's all crap. He's got Lyrian nobles trying to kill him, the evil Felix Esterhazy who has some kind of tentacle thing shooting out from his eye, the evil Carl Esterhazy working for the evil SolSec psionic, and the list goes on. They are able to get a list of the small craft that docked shortly after the explosion, and it's a short list - just two crafts. Both of the ships are under 100 tons, so they have no names, but they do have registry numbers. One of the ships came in and docked, then an hour later came in and docked. Without leaving. It looks like some one has altered the records. Robert: "This sort of thing happens all the time here, doesn't it?" Ghaer: "Why do you think Major Case Squad is based here? Why do you think they film the Dick Salamander movies here? You can't get this kind of verisimilitude anywhere else." Robert: "And the best thing is, it's all true!" They decide to go check out the dock that the craft docked at repeatedly. Just in case. Robert: "Look, I really don't want to get involved in your problems on Regina, but it looks like I already have." Ghaer: "What's your plan for when we get to the dock?" Robert: "I don't know. I'm making it up as I go."

Meanwhile, back to the brawl at the hospital: "Get his legs!" "Club him you idiot!" "Try not to hurt him!" Mikie finally gives up his feigned indifference to the commotion in the hallway and carefully takes his IV pole to the door. It's a long way. In the hall, Will is managing to get his licks in, even though he's outnumbered rather seriously. Then he gets his head slammed against the door, and things go dark for a second. A person in scrubs - Will - is slammed through the door into Mikie's room for a brief moment. Mikie opens the door as Will ends up under a pile of Lyrians. Mikie: "Esterhazy?" Esterhazy: "Pardon the disturbance, Dread Sovereign. We have captured an assassin disguised as a doctor." Then the Starport Authority Police show up, along with a Naval officer in whites. Mikie: "What the hell's going on?" Esterhazy: "This person tried to get into your room. Your guard refused as he was not on the list, he pulled a weapon." The cops have the Lyrians get up off Will. Will: "I'm Doctor Delgado. I'm on staff here. I tried to get into a patient's room, they prevented me from doing so." Esterhazy: "That's not entirely correct. This man attempted to force his way into the Autarch's room at gunpoint." A shouting match ensues, with everyone blaming everyone else, especially Will and Esterhazy. Will: "Besides, he's not God! Get him out of here!" Naval officer: "I'm sure we can all come to an amicable solution. There's no need for anyone to go to jail." Will blows up again over that one. Will: "If the Regina Police want to be treated in this hospital for trauma in the future, ever, you had better respond to the hospital's request for assistance!" Naval Officer: "Doctor, there's no reason to be overly dramatic. There are larger issues." Will drags the Naval officer into the supply closet. Naval Officer: "You have to understand that there's a member of a foreign government..." Will: "You aren't from around here! You want to talk about foreign government? There's a coverup going on here. I'm trying to investigate the murder of their Prince, and I'm being prevented from doing so." Officer: "We do have a foreign royal staying here, doctor." Will: "He is not foreign. He is from Regina. I know him." Officer: "Regardless if he's from Regina, he is a foreign royal." Will: "That doesn't give his security staff the right to interfere with hospital staff." Officer: "I'm just here to try to smooth things over." Things are not going to be smoothed over.

Will and the officer rejoin the unhappy bunch in the hall. Cop <to Will>: "So you want to press charges for assault, is that right?" Will: "Yes." Cop: "All right. Round 'em up boys." The guards look at Esterhazy, who nods. The police begin rounding up the guards that have been thumping on Will, but not Esterhazy. Will: "Wait a moment. I want that man <Esterhazy> removed from the premises immediately also. He's trespassing, because he doesn't have permission to stay on this private property any longer. I want him out of here." Esterhazy: "I will not leave while my Autarch is here. You will have to kill me first. And I think that the members of the Lyrian public who are gathered outside would take a dim view of your assault on one of their people." Mikie: "Colonel Esterhazy." Esterhazy: "Yes, Dread Sovereign?" Mikie: "It's not very bright to threaten the police department here." Esterhazy: "It was not a threat." Mikie: "Yes it was. You will go with these people." Esterhazy: "I can't obey, Dread Sovereign. Even though you are my autarch, I cannot obey an order that would put you in danger." Eventually, Mikie asks the lone gryphon that's been in the room to pull in the rest of the group. Gryphon: "No need to, they're already here." The area is suddenly filled with gryphons dropping out of the ceiling. Neat trick. Esterhazy agrees to leave the hospital if the gryphons are there to eat any assassin who might show up.

Mikie <to Will>: "Did you want to see me?" Will: "Yes, I need to speak with you." Mikie: "Sure, as long as I can sit down." Will: "Absolutely. Let's get you back into bed." Will makes sure Mikie is all hooked back in to the monitors, etc. Mikie: "What was all that about?" Will: "The altercation with Colonel Esterhazy began when I asked Colonel Esterhazy to examine the Prince's body. Dr. Auschlander was concerned about the autopsy results, and asked me to check into it. I went over the files on the Prince, and I believe some one murdered him, and it has something to do with the bruise to his shoulder. It was never examined properly. So I want permission to examine the body myself. If he was murdered, whoever did it may come after you next. And from the reaction of your bodyguards, I'm not sure they're not involved." Mikie: "It's more likely they're just behaving like idiots, but you never know. Look, if you want my permission to examine the body, I'll give it, but you need to know you'll be putting yourself at risk." Will: "You know some one killed him and you don't care?" Mikie: "I know some one killed him" A nurse comes in at that moment to tell Will that there's an emergency phone call for him. Mikie: "You can take it here." Will picks up the phone. Male voice: "Dr. Delgado?" Will: "Yes." Male: "You're awfully curious. If I were you, I'd worry about the whereabouts of your wife." <click> Will hangs up the phone. Will: "You were right. They've just threatened my wife." Mikie: "Take it seriously." Will: "Then again, you're from Regina. It's none of our business, right? Only in your case it is." Mikie: "I never said it wasn't my business. It is. But if you're going to make it your business you have to think about what it's going to cost you. You need to decide what you're willing to lose over it." Will: "As long as you're aware that whoever did it to him may do it to you, then I've fulfilled my obligation to you as a patient." Mikie: "Oh, I'm aware, believe me." Will: "You want me to let them all back in? The overenthusiastic bodyguards?" Mikie: "Fuck no." He quickly double checks to make sure there aren't any nurses in the room. (He got into trouble before for swearing, and he's not eager for a repeat.) Will: "Michael? Do you have a gun? Do you want one?" Mikie: "I don't have a gun, but I'm not much good with one. Thanks for the offer, but no." Will posts 2 hospital security people at the door.

Ghaer and Robert check out the first boat, and everything seems pretty normal, down to the inspector and his checklist. They go to the site of the second one, and find out that it's a pinache for a 4,000 ton yacht. Turns out it's d'Aubisson's yacht. Definitely not the bad guys'.

Will takes his findings in to see Dr. Auschlander. Will: "If something happens to me or Caroline, make sure that this gets to the police." Auschlander: "Do you think they'd really do something like that?" Will: "They've already threatened to harm Caroline. And Michael Griffin knows the Prince was killed. I don't' think there's really any need to go any farther with the tests." Auschlander: "Then we should notify the police." Will: "Give me 48 hours."

Ghaer tries to find one of the freelance hackers on campus who can help take a look at the doctored log files. He finds one, but he's a bit on edge. Hacker: "Hey man, I've already had a visit from the cops. They came down real hard on me. I don't want to lose my scholarship. So unless your life's at stake, and you're willing to pay my tuition..." Ghaer decides to try to locate the Captain, although he's expensive, and Robert decides to try the old Navy boy network. Robert looks up one of his old Academy buddies, Lt. Com. Harve Jenkins. Bonding goes on, and a favor is asked for. In exchange for a bottle of 'the good stuff', Robert asks "I need some help here." Harve: "I'm telling you, you've got to stay away from those married women!" Robert: "No, no, nothing like that. It's like this." Robert explains what they're looking for, but not why. Robert: "So, if you've got some pictures I can take a look at, I'd appreciate it." Harve: "No pictures. We've got sensor ops readings. Hey Chief? Roll back the sensor logs for 24 hours for me." Robert can look at the logs, but can't take them. He locates a pinache, a very nice one, and gets the registration numbers. Harve: "Hey Bobby. Remember that blonde chick we went through the Academy with? The one who was sort of sweet on you? She's over on the Bixby." (A destroyer escort, in system.) Robert: "And?" Harve: "Well, I don't know - she really liked you..." Robert: "I'll have to make sure I send her a message. What's she do on the Bixby?" Harve: "It's her ship, she's the commander." Harve notices Robert is looking like he still hasn't placed her. Harve: "You know, the short one, with the buck teeth? You got real drunk and she said something about having your babies? What did we used to call her? Squat-monkey! Hey, but I hear she could suck the chrome off a trailer hitch." Navy buddy humor. How cute. Robert writes down the registration numbers and then leaves. He decides to give Theresa McMasters ('Squat-monkey') a call. After all, they did go to the Academy together, and he hasn't seen her in twelve years. He gets through with no problem, and they end up making a date for dinner at the Savoy. By the time Robert calls to make the reservation, Theresa already has.

Auschlander is concerned that they should call either the police or the coroner, but either one could cause problems. Will: "Well, I am a bit worried about Caroline's safety." Auschlander: "I can't ask you to risk yourself, or particularly your wife. I have no family to risk." Will: "Look, the Arch Duke is involved with this some how." Auschlander: "The Arch Duke? Is he really involved?" Will: "Let me put it this way, when I was involved in a brawl in an attempt to get permission to examine the body, the Arch Duke's Naval aide showed up with the police." Auschlander: "And if the Arch Duke is directly involved, and the aide is his man?" Will: 'Then he knows that I know. Oh, and by the way, I have a duel coming up." Auschlander: "You're on a staff position, and an adult, so I'm not going to give you any advice. God knows it didn't work last time." Will: "Could you have a trauma team standing by?" Auschlander: "The trauma team always is." Will: "Yeah, but could you make sure it's one of the good ones? You know, the awake ones." Auschlander: "I'd trust any one of my people. You don't get special treatment just because you work here." The phone rings. Auschlander <answering>: "It's for you." Will: "Hello?" <click> Will drags Auschlander out of the room. Nothing happens. Will: "Sorry. I thought your office was going to blow up. Whoever they are, they know I'm with you." Auschlander: "What?" Will: "There was no one on the line. It may just have been the switchboard making a mistake, I suppose." Auschlander: "At the rate we're going, you and I are both going to be reading Free Thoughts and believing it." Will checks his gun, then goes outside to look for Esterhazy, who is in fact outside, with a large body of armed men.

Will: "I'm not sure it's a bright of you to try to kill the person who's trying to help you and your Autarch, but what the hell - if you want to duel, let's go." Esterhazy: "These things must be properly arranged." Will: "Excuse me, because I'm trying to do the right thing by your Autarch, some one has threatened me and my wife, so I might not be alive for you to kill tomorrow." Esterhazy: "Very well. Do you have seconds?" Will: "No." Esterhazy: "Bridges! Thomlinson!" "Sir!" They are lent to Will as his seconds. They head for the park. Esterhazy: "Swords? Pistols are so...unpleasant. And I understand from your past that you are not unfamiliar." Will: "My past? I have no experience with a sword, and it's my understanding that the injured party chooses the weapon, and that would be you." Esterhazy: "Then my being left handed won't put you at a significant disadvantage." Will: "No, I'm not used to dueling with anyone, so it won't make any difference to me." Will has arranged for one of the paramedics to take his break at the park, and gives him $100 credits. Will understands the "golden hour" rule of trauma very well.

Once at the park, Will borrows the paramedic's cell phone and calls the reporter, Barbara. Will: "You want your story, it's tonight. I might not be alive tomorrow night. The Italian Garden. Tonight." Barbara: "When?" Will: "Now." One of Esterhazy's seconds comes over and speaks to one of Will's seconds (formally, as if they don't know each other). Second: "The Colonel inquires if your principal would care to join him in a pre-duel brandy?" Bridges: "I will inquire of my principal. <to Will> The Colonel inquires if you would care to join him in a pre-duel brandy?" Will accepts (after deciding that alcohol would not complicate a stomach wound), and two snifters of brandy are brought out on a tray. Will is given first choice of swords, which he leaves to his seconds - they select foils. The seconds also give him advice on Esterhazy - "he's obviously at a disadvantage on the side his eye is missing, so try to use that, but don't let the fact that he has only one arm fool you - he is very strong."

As they are drinking, the reporter's car screeches to a halt. She's walking up practically drooling. Not only a duel, but all the proper etiquette is being observed, and it's just like on the tri-dee. The combatants take the field, with Esterhazy apologizing for the odd hour. There isn't even any blood left over from yesterday's duel. (Well, the gryphons do need their walks...). Will does fairly well during the first exchange, considering. But on the second exchange, Esterhazy slashes him through the tips of the nose and down the cheek. He immediately disengages, as this is just to first blood, but Will has already committed to his strike. Esterhazy blocks and parries, although not as controlled as he would have liked. Esterhazy, who is embarrassed at having missed the cut for a cheek scar, says: "I'm so sorry. I'm sure they can reattach that. Jameson! Phillips! Quickly men, find this man's nose!" Now that's something you don't hear very often except on Regina.

The hand paramedic rushes up. Esterhazy: "By way of apology." A box of Vegan cigars is placed onto Will's gurney. This is a "nothing" injury. It's just the tip of his nose, and the work of an hour to fix up, including the slice on his cheek. A bit of Regen™ and the nose tip will grow back just fine. On his way out of surgery, Will's cigar box is handed back to him. It appears to be a bit light. Will: "Okay, who took the cigars?" One of the paramedics 'found' one. Will ends up giving one to each of the paramedics and the trauma team. Paramedic: "Hey, these look real!" Will: "Of course they're real." Paramedic: "I don't know whether to smoke it or frame it." It's evening now any way, and Will is asked by Esterhazy if he would like to join him for dinner at the Savoy. A busy night at the Savoy.

There's a soft knock on the door. Mikie: "Yes." It's the Naval aide again. Aide: "Your highness? Are you receiving visitors?" Mikie: "Yes." Aide: "Could you possibly pull back your friends?" He nods at the gryphons. Mikie sends all away except the one who had gone to Menorb with him. Mikie <to the gryphon>: "I know you can leave me alone for a while, you did it on Menorb." Oh-oh, busted! Mikie: "Wait outside, and if an assassin shows up you can eat him." The gryphon reluctantly leaves the room. A Naval admiral saunters in, hands in his pockets, looking very relaxed. That's Paolo for you. Astridi: "Autarch? I hope you don't mind my dropping by this late?" Mikie: "It's fine." Astridi sits down on a chair, leans back and crosses his legs. He offers Mikie a cigar, which is declined. Astridi: "Mind if I do?" Mikie: "No." Astridi takes a cigar out of his case holds it for a beat or two before remembering there's no one there to light it, and lights it himself. Astridi: "Well, I wasn't planning on meeting you under these circumstances, but they tell me there's been a bit of excitement, and I didn't want to wait too long to meet. They tell me you're seeking the ancient throne of the Lyrian Empire." Mikie: "You've been misinformed." Astridi <continuing>: "Owing to the traditional alliance and friendships of our peoples...I'm sorry, did you say something?" Mikie: "Yes, I said you've been misinformed." Astridi: "Really? It's Michael, isn't it? Please call me Paolo. After all, we're practically cousins." Mikie: "I'm not seeking anything." Astridi: "Of course, it's for your people." Mikie: "No, I don't want the position at all. Period." Astridi: "Really. All right, let's get down to brass tacks. What do you want?" Mikie: "Your help in finding a replacement." He directs Astridi to a packet of papers in the nightstand. Mikie: "That's all the information I've been able to get about other people in the right 'line'. Maybe that'll help." Astridi: "Are you sure? It's quite an opportunity. It's your chance to shine. Surely you don't want to be remembered as a petty criminal?" (Yes, Astridi does his research.) Mikie: "At the rate I'm going there won't be anyone left to remember me at all." Astridi: "Well your rivals do have a tendency to find themselves late. As in the late, dead. Simon the Pretender, Prince Askari. You have quite a history don't you? This Blaelok fellow, Nathan Andrews. Everyone who stands in your way ends up dead. If you don't want the power, what do you want? The power behind the throne? The eminence gris?" Mikie: "No. I have something personal I need to take care of and I can't do it while I'm stuck with the Lyrians. I want out. I want them off my back. If you can find a way to get me free that gives you what you want, I'll go along with whatever you need me to do." Astridi: "I see. If I could find someone of the correct, lineage, shall we say, you would back up their claim?" Mikie: "In a heartbeat." Astridi: "I think we can find some one suitable." He stands. Astridi: "Well! This has been interesting, but you need your rest. I will be in touch." Astridi says goodnight, and leaves Mikie a bottle of brandy. Astridi: "I know you don't drink yourself, but it's very good. I'm sure you can find some one who'll enjoy it". He strolls out. A nurse comes in. Nurse: "Was that him? Was that the Arch Duke?" Mikie: "Yeah." Nurse: "That was him! Oh my God, he's so manly. Oh, here are your sleeping pills." Mikie takes them after asking the nurse to please lock up the bottle of brandy somewhere secure, which she does.

Ghaer has been in search of the elusive Captain Midnight. He eventually gets directions to a public terminal. He waits at it for a few seconds, and answers when it rings. Ghaer: "Hello?" <click> "Were you followed?" says a voice from the terminal next to Ghaer. Captain: "Don't look this way." Ghaer: "No, I don't believe I was followed." Captain: "What do you need?" Ghaer: "Something came aboard the station..," he gives him the details, "I'd like to know from where. Whatever it is could be biological. Think Arkadian without the constraints." Captain: "They have constraints?" Ghaer: "Think brain-box without the constraints." Captain: "I see." After a few seconds. Captain: "Well, I don't see anything like that, but here's where the database was tampered with." Captain Midnight is able to find, for a mere $500 credits (Ghaer's a repeat customer), information on the ship in question. Captain: "It'll be printing out on your terminal in a minute." He leaves, and Ghaer's terminal turns itself on and prints out the info. It's a private pinache, registered to a private yacht, the Intrepid Voyager, which is registered to Count Barada. It's officially on port, and docked right next to d'Aubisson's ship (the Dangling Participle). The Intrepid is a 2,500 ton yacht. (As opposed to d'Aubisson's 4,000 tonner. Hey, he entertains a lot.) Ghaer calls the private detective at the Ambassadore and tells him "he's a bit suspicious. I'll get him there as soon as I can. Gotta go!" And he hangs up.

Will and Bunny join Esterhazy at the Savoy Grill for dinner. Bunny and Esterhazy hit it off like gangbusters, and soon they're fast friends. Bunny even understands about the duel. Esterhazy: "You must tell your husband to join me. I found a lovely little salle here on Up Port. He's quick, and not without talent. I think with a bit of practice I could make an adequate swordsman out of him. Besides, it's excellent exercise." Will certainly can attest to the fact that Esterhazy is in good shape. Bunny and Esterhazy discuss the wine selection at length, with Esterhazy finally deferring to Bunny's judgment. Esterhazy: "You did not tell me your wife was such an accomplished sommelieuse!" Will: "She has many talents." Esterhazy: "Indeed. If I were you I would count myself the most fortunate man on Regina." Will: "I'd expand that to include Mora and Rhylanor, perhaps the whole Spinward Marches."

Robert has been seated at his table, and there are a couple of groups of Naval officers at the Savoy. He sees a female in whites - blonde, short, not exactly what anyone would call attractive. And she seems to be headed his way. Oh God. Maybe I could just slip out the back? But no, to his credit Robert stays there and takes it like a man. The blonde's talking to some one else he can't see clearly but she takes a thin briefcase, and walks past Robert's table and out the door. Whew! Robert looks back to see the female the blonde had been speaking with, now in plain view. She's a tall thin, raven haired beauty, and she heads his way with a smile. Theresa: "Bob! It's been such a long time." She's got this kind of contralto voice, and long shiny hair. Theresa: "Wow, I can't believe it, you've hardly changed at all." Robert: "I don't know what to say. you've...got yourself a ship. I'm impressed." They sit down, and Theresa puts Robert out of his misery. Theresa: "Oh that was my first husband. Kept the body job, got rid of the husband." Navy life chat ensues. She's been married a few times, but "nothing to speak of". Theresa: "At least in the old days I knew they were after the real me and not the package. You know I always thought of you and Harve as older brothers. You always treated me okay." Robert: "And you got me through astrogation. I never would have made it if it wasn't for you." They have a wonderful time reminiscing and enjoying dinner. Theresa: "There was that one time...You had a bit to drink, and I had a bit to drink... it was close. I've wondered what would have happened if we'd gotten hooked up back then. <pause> Well, maybe it's for the best." The talk shifts to Theresa's command, and current duties. Theresa: "That Admiral Grey sure is a ball buster. He can't be getting any." Robert: "I thought he was." Theresa: "You can't tell. Not that I've ever gotten that close to him. At this rate, going into action against the enemy would be a relief." The people at the Delgado table are having a good time, and the people at Robert's table are too.

Will is considering Esterhazy's offer of working out at the salle with him; maybe it's not such a bad idea. Esterhazy: "It does, of course, depend on whether or not I am still on Regina. Once the Autarch is healed, it depends on his wishes. It is the nature of duty - one goes where one is needed. Were you in the service, Mr. Delgado?" Will: "Yes, the Navy." Esterhazy: "Ah, the Navy. Then you understand." Bunny goes off to the Ladies' room. Will: "Remember my original request?" Esterhazy: "Only the Autarch or the Archbishop can give that permission." Will: "Well, it's unnecessary. The Autarch told me I was right." Esterhazy: "How was it done? The coroner believed it was, well, the Prince had things done." Will: "No, it wasn't that." Esterhazy: "Was it something that anyone could obtain?" Will: "No. I've never seen anything like it. Not even on Rhylanor." The conversation switches back to a more acceptable subject matter as Bunny returns.

Robert and Theresa have a very good time. A lot of memories, a bit of the salt and pepper fleet action on the table, but mostly stories of Academy days and the like. A very pleasant evening is had by all. As Will, Bunny, and Esterhazy are leaving, they pass Robert's table and Esterhazy nods at Robert. Will thinks he's nodding in his direction, and glares at Robert (they don't know each other).

Later, Robert gets a tour of Theresa's command. They end up in her quarters for cigars and brandy. Theresa: "You've got to try this brandy, it's a gift from the Arch Duke." They have glass of brandy, a uniform is loosened, and some time later Robert wakes up. He's draped across the small sofa, and he hears snoring coming from the bathroom. He goes to stand up and discovers he's been handcuffed to the table. He's wearing only his shirt (it won't come over the chain and cuff) and one sock, and the brandy bottle is empty. There's tapping at the door. "Captain?" Robert casts about desperately for a key, but to no avail. More tapping. "Captain? Are you all right, ma'am?" Robert: "The captain is indisposed" "Who's in there? Open this door!" There's the sound of several voices outside the door, arguing. "Not me! Not this Marine!" More muffled voices as Robert whispers "Theresa!" as loudly as he can, while looking around for something soft to throw at her to get her to wake up. He tosses her bra at her. A half hour later, Robert's cold, and Theresa finally wakes up. "Oh God." She comes out, completely in the buff, looks quizzically at the clothing, then suddenly sees Robert. She's embarrassed, throws her tunic on, and gathers up clothing and tosses a bunch of it at him. Then the knocking on the door starts back up. "Ma'am? Admiral Langston's shuttle has just docked." Oh shit! "Ma'am! Are you all right?" Theresa: "Yes. I'm fine. I'll be right there. Stall. <to Robert> You've got to get out of here!" Robert holds his wrist up, displaying the cuff. Theresa: "Damn! There's got to be a key around here somewhere!" Robert: "Go. Take care of the Admiral, and come back for me later. Or send the Sergeant in to get me loose after you've gone." Theresa does have to go, but a few minutes later a competent looking, female, Marine comes in, looks Robert up and down and says: Well now, what do we have here?" Robert: "Someone who needs the keys to these cuffs." She looks at him appraisingly. "And some people say there's no Santa Claus." Robert: "Not in the captain's cabin." Marine <smiling>: "Don't worry." She gets him unlocked, and escorted off discreetly, to the ship's boat. "Wait here." A pilot is found and Robert is taken back to the Up Port. If only he remembered the good time he apparently had.

Ghaer had gone to see Mikie, but when he arrives is told that Mikie is sleeping, and he can perhaps see him in the morning. He'll try again, and in the meantime he'll get some sleep. So, some hours later, he's on his way back to Regina Trauma, and he goes through the park. The Plinth of Knowledge is still there. And he still can't read the runes. There's an older man there too. Man: "Weird, huh?" Ghaer: "It's most different." Man: "What do you think it means? Who put it there?" Ghaer: "It might be one of those public art things and means nothing. Or it could be the sum of all knowledge. Can you read that?" Man: "Nope. You might ask that big fella over there. He was reading it a few minutes ago." Ghaer looks over and sees the missing Var Sengi lord sitting on the ground nearby, looking a tad, how shall we say... frazzled? He looks unharmed, but maybe a little bit singed around the edges. Ghaer goes over to him, and not looking directly at him asks "Are you all right? Do you require assistance?" The lord looks to the right and left, then gets up, grabs Ghaer by the shirt front and picks him up to eye level. He says something urgently in Sengi, sets Ghaer down, and strides off towards the Japanese Garden. "They're coming!"? "My God, it's too late!"? "I can't talk to you now, I really have to go to the bathroom!"? "Bad puppy!!"? What? Out of the corner of his eye, Ghaer sees some sort of distortion near the Plinth, then it's gone. Plinth's still there though. Ghaer hears shouting from the Japanese Garden, and a lot of frantic activity. Ghaer asks one of the jai for a translator, but they're all too busy. A game move of J'la, is left in mid-move. This has got to be bad. Ghaer is very frustrated. If they're so damned superior, why can't they learn to speak Galanglic!

Man: "Weird thing, those transdimensional portals. Same thing happened to me once. Well, got to go." Robert has run to the Japanese Garden, only to find that the opera company has packed up and left. There is a confused looking orange and black Vargr staring at the Plinth though. The older man with a beard ambles off. Robert: "Ghaer! I got the information!" Ghaer: "It docked with the Intrepid Voyager, which is a 2,500 ton private yacht registered to the Count Barada." He looks at Robert. Ghaer: "But it looks like you had more fun finding the information than I did. Unless it's a new way of indicating that you're a bachelor, you might want to tuck your shirt in." Oops, there's his shirt tail poking out of his fly. Robert tidies himself up.

Will has gotten up, and is about to go in to work when the reporter shows up, wanting to speak with him. Will: "You're early. Dinner isn't until seven." Barbara: "I wanted to ask you some questions. Will: "Haven't I done enough to give you a story?" Barbara: "You're not going to run out on me are you?" Will: "No. Seven o'clock." Barbara: "All right. Seven o'clock." Will decides to hire a bodyguard for Bunny, some one who can pass as a butler or personal assistant. Not a problem. It'll be some noble who's family has fallen on hard times.

Ghaer goes to Regina Trauma, to bring Mikie up to speed if he can. Robert will come into the hospital, but not into Mikie's room because he's not getting that close to the evil psionic. Mikie is asked if he wants to see the Vargr, which he does. Ghaer: "Hey Mike. Do you want to hear about the Var leaving planet with all the Sengi he could get his hands on, the Plinth of Knowledge, or the creatures that are docked with our station and may be connected with Simon and the evil Colonel Esterhazy?"

Will comes in, says hello to Ghaer, and checks Mikie's chart. He flips the top page up and sees someone has scrawled "Die Die Die!!" in large black letters, and drawn a figure with knives sticking out of it, bleeding. This is not standard notation. He takes the chart out to the nurses' station, to the charge nurse. Will: "There's an inappropriate entry on the autarch's chart. Where did this come from?" He shows it to the nurse. Nurse: "I don't know, doctor. It must have been the other doctor who was checking on his last night." Will: "What other doctor?" Nurse: "I don't know his name, but I've seen him here before. I think his first name is Paul." The chart entry is actually signed, by a 'Doctor Verlak'. There is, in fact, a Doctor Paul Verlak in the computer as a visiting physician, beginning a couple of days ago. Will thinks some one may have hacked into the computer system, so he looks for the paper trail, and it's all on the up and up. All perfectly in order. Will tracks it further, as he wants to know if it's one of their residents who has gone off his nut. Has he seen other patients? He directs them to check their charts, that kind of thing. The nurses were just going to take in the Autarch's medications, so Will takes a look. At first glance, it's all as it should be, but he looks at the auto-injector, and the fluid is the wrong color (it's yellow, not clear) for the broad band antibiotic it should be. Will takes it to the pharmacist, who peels off the extra label on top. "I don't know what this is." The label says Amygdanol, and the closest they can come is that it's something derived from the amygdala, an odd section of the brain that is mostly unknown, but is believed to control fear. The container is very high tech looking, very slick. Will: "Not from around here." Will contacts hospital security about the chart, the drug, and Mr. Verlak. He suggests they might talk to someone they know in the police. After making some inquiries, a couple of men in suits show up to speak with Will. They thank him, and take the Amygdanol. They identify themselves as IBI agents. Will: "By the way, the Arch Duke has an interest in this particular patient." Eyebrows are raised, and the IBI agents give Will a very nasty look. Will is thanked, and he watches as they leave. He sees one of the 'agents' drop his credentials into the flash disposal unit on the way out. Okay, not IBI agents, so who?

Will goes to his office to make a phone call to an expert. Will: "Honey, how would I get a message to the Arch Duke?" Bunny: "Oh, about what?" Will: "The Arch Duke is really interested in the Lyrians, and we have one of their people here, and we've had a bit of a security problem." Bunny: "Really? Tell me about it." Will: "It's kind of complicated." Bunny: "I've got time." Will: "I don't' want to go into details over the phone. We could meet for lunch?" A date is made.

After being repeatedly interrupted by nurses and interns, and dressing changes, Ghaer finally gets Mikie alone. Mikie: "I don't really care what the Sengi are doing, I don't know what a plinth is -" Ghaer: "It's kind of a big tile or slab with runes on it. It's standing upright in the park for everyone to read." Mikie: "And you're telling me this why?

At lunch, Will is explaining his concerns to a very attentive Bunny. Will: "…I go in to the hospital, and a doctor had scrawled obscenities on a patient's chart, and prescribed the wrong medication." Bunny: "Well, don't doctors make mistakes all the time? Oh! It wasn't you, was it? You're not in trouble?" Will: "No, it wasn't me." Bunny: "What kind of drug was it?" Will: "I don't know what was in the drug." Bunny: "It wasn't labeled? Darn. That might tell use who it was. You should have had a sample analyzed. Now, what would Commissioner Globber of Major Case Squad do?" Will: "Bunny, I need to get a message to the Arch Duke about this." Bunny: "Why?" Will: "There was a Naval aide who is supposedly on the Arch Duke's staff, and he was all in a dither about this Lyrian official, and I thought the Arch Duke might want to know about the security breach. Can you get a note to the aide?" Bunny: "Sure. What do you want the note to say?" Will: "Just about the problem with the chart and the drug, and the IBI agents. They might not have been IBI." Bunny: "Why do you say that?" Will: "One of them threw his credentials away on the way out." Bunny: "What did they want?" Will: "To talk to me." Bunny: "Is that it?" Will: "Yes." Bunny: "What happened with the drug?" Will: "They took it with them." Bunny, who's been reading lots of mysteries lately, goes into 'detective mode', questioning Will about the drug. Bunny: "Did it have any chops, or mystical symbols on it?" Will: "No, sorry. It had a computer label." Bunny: "What did it have printed on the label?" Will: "Amygdanol. We're not sure what that is though." Bunny: "Amygdanol? That's just like in the book I'm reading!" Will: "What book?" Bunny takes her new 'novel' out of her purse and shows it to Will. It's a book called "Inside SolSec". And it's not a novel at all, but an exposé of the real SolSec. Bunny: "It's very good. I don't know how these people think of this stuff. Some of it is really twisted." Will: "Can I borrow it?" Bunny: "I'm not done with it yet." Will: "Can you read it to me tonight?" Bunny: "Sure. I understand it's hard to find. the author recently died. He choked on a chicken bone, apparently. Funny thing is, he was supposed to be a vegetarian. I never did trust those vegetarians though - they're probably secretly sneaking meat when no one's looking."

Will returns to Regina Trauma, and sees Robert hanging outside the Autarch's room. Will: "Excuse me, can I help you?" Robert: "What? Oh, no, I'm just waiting for Mr. Raller." Robert has spent the time sending a note and flowers to his previous date. "Dear Theresa, Thank you for your company and the brandy. You are always the best of companions. My only regret is that it took 12 years to discover this. Yours faithfully, Robert". Will checks the room and Ghaer is still there. Mikie: "I don't know why you want to tell me all this. I don't care what the Sengi are doing, and the whatever of Knowledge is your business." Will: "Hi Ghaer, how are you doing?" Ghaer: "Okay, and you?" Will: "The patient here is giving me grief. <to Mikie> Last night a doctor came into your room and made notations on your chart. The name signed on the chart was Paul Verlak. <Will notes the change in the blood pressure reading > He wasn't one of our doctors, and the drug he prescribed wasn't the broad band antibiotic the label said it was. It was Amygdanol, which as near as I can figure is a drug that's used by SolSec, and has something to do with fear. I think it's some sort of psychomemetric, but it's not in any of the books. When I tried to make inquiries about it, two IBI agents showed up and confiscated it. Anyway, the nurses and staff have been notified, and if this 'Doctor Verlak' shows back up again, they'll contact security. By the way Ghaer, there's a man outside who says he's with you?" Ghaer: "That would be Robert Shelzie. He's convinced Michael is some sort of SolSec agent, so he won't come in. What do you know about the drug this Verlak person slipped in?" Will: "I'm still working on that, but Bunny won't let me borrow the book, so I won't know more until tonight." <??> Ghaer: "How is Bunny?" Will: "Oh, she's just fine."

An elegantly dressed naval officer comes in. "Am I interrupting anything?" Mikie: "Not really." Will <to Mikie>: "Do you know this man?" Mikie: "Yes, I recognize him." Aid: "Your highness, I have a package for you." He leaves one of those high security envelopes with Mikie. (Who is not going to open it while he has company.) Mikie <to Will>: "If your security people see Verlak, tell them not to get close to him." Will: "Why not? Because he's a master assassin or something?" Mikie: "It would be fatal." Will: "So you just want him to be let loose?" Mikie: "Have them call Regina Security." Will wants a number to call at Regina Security so he can pass it on to the security people. Mikie gives Will one of the direct numbers, and intends to call and let them (Regina Security) know.

Will and Ghaer leave Mikie to rest. As they leave the room, they're approached by a small looking person in old-fashioned clothing approaches Ghaer. "Excuse me, you are Mr. Ghaer Raller?" Ghaer: "Yes." Will has gone over to the nearby nurses' station. Man: "I understand that you have been making inquiries about my employer, Count Barada. The Count would like to speak with you directly on a matter of grave importance. Will you come with me please?" Ghaer is willing to go along with this for now. Man <to Will>: "Excuse me, doctor? May I ask you to join us, <to Robert> and you too, sir? I have just realized my error in judgment. The Count values his privacy, and I will need you to accompany me." Will: "No, I'm not going to go with you." The small man pulls back his coat to reveal the splintergun in his other hand. Man: "You will excuse me, doctor, but these are desperate times, and I am a desperate man." There is a bizarre stand off for a few minutes, with Will demanding that the man shoot him there if he's going to, since there's no better place than in the hospital. Man: "Very well then. You've called my bluff." Will asks the charge nurse if some one has left the door to the psych ward unlocked. The man sags visibly. Man: 'The splintergun wasn't even loaded, but as I say, I'm desperate. Some one has been misusing my lord's name and reputation for their own purposes." Robert: "As a matter of fact, I do want to go with you."

Once he's alone, Mikie opens the security envelope. It contains some very interesting information. According to the documents enclosed, Mikie's mother was married before she married Joseph Trygaer (Mikie's father). What!?? She apparently eloped with some one (some sort of foofy noble) when she was very young, against her family's wishes. Since she was sixteen (underage), the marriage was annulled. In the envelope are two birth certificates, and two adoption certificates. Twin boys, both adopted by the same old, good family. The family was perfect, and it was all handled very discreetly. The Esterhazy family. Oh my God.

There is also a file from a psychiatric institution. One of the twins had some 'problems' - the second, younger twin: Felix. He followed his brother into Imperial service, there was some sort of problem and he was discharged. Seems Felix had some major issues trying to live up to his older brother Carl. After his discharge, Felix was committed for a time, and with good reason. Carl's injuries were sustained during his military service, but Felix' were self-inflicted. He put out his own eye, and cut his arm off to match his brother's injuries. The reason Felix is missing the opposite arm as his brother is that he's right handed, so it was easier for his to cut off his left arm. The leg was lost due to complications from a blood clot and infection, and Felix elected to not have either the leg or any of the other bits regrown. He left the institution on his own, without permission as he had been committed by his (adoptive) parents. There are some doctor's notes, and they indicate that Felix is not terribly stable. The last notes state that Felix believed himself "destined for some greater cause", that "they were coming" for him, and that he was going to "be part of a great plan". Oh boy.

Mikie asks the alpha gryphon about this succession thing. Mikie: "Does it go by birth order?" Gryphon: "Yes, if the eldest is worthy." Mikie: "That's all I needed to know."

Giles Van Ort, as the small man has introduced himself, takes Ghaer and Robert outside to a large limo with darkened windows. Giles opens the back door, and Robert looks inside to make sure it's unoccupied. Or has been made to look so. (Welcome to Regina, Robert.) Ghaer gets right in, so Robert follows. Giles gets into the front, and Robert is relieved to see that the driver's head is not part of a pulsating mass. They go up to level 1 and to the Intrepid Voyager. The room into which they are shown has hundreds of old, real books, and very nice art. A cloaked figure comes in and hoarsely whispers "Leave us." Van Ort leaves.

Count: "Ghaer Raller. You have a reputation." Ghaer: "Sometimes deserved, sometimes not." Count: "My people tell me you have the skills to be of use to me. Fate forces us to choose allies we would not normally select. I apologize for involving you, but I see that you have already been involved. And Lt. Commander Shelzie?" Robert: "Yes?" Count: "A man with an excellent military record." Robert: "I'm glad somebody knows that." Count: "The SEH is not awarded for correctly filling out the paperwork. <pause> There is someone who is using my name and my image for evil ends, and I am powerless to stop them." Robert: "That would be the man who is working with Felix Esterhazy." Count: "I do not know that name. But he is a one eyed man." Robert: "I've met both of them." Count: "No doubt you are wondering why I need to seek your help. We have an ancient rule in my family; primogenitor. You know this term?" Ghaer: "It means 'first born'. The estate or title is passed on to the eldest legitimate male heir." Count: "Precisely - the eldest male heir." The Count pushes back the cowl to reveal tawny skin, blond hair, blue eyes, and no signs of scars. And he's a female.

Count: "I suppose you would rightly call me Countess Barada. My father had no sons, and he did not want to have his fortune split up between less deserving relations. I agreed to this fiction, a fiction that has bee maintained at no small cost. but it is this fiction that has made me powerless to act." Ghaer: "If you say anything, the secret is out, the holdings and personnel are split up, you lose everything." Count: "My enemies have some on in my household. They know my secret, and have been using it against me. I foolishly acquiesced at first…" Ghaer: "And now they've upped the ante." Count: "You understand." Robert: "Absolutely. Your family is at stake. I understand this."

Ghaer: "Do you know who these people are?" Count: "He first approached me about a year ago. I have only dealt with him." Robert: "Which arm is he missing? Think carefully." Count: "His left arm." Robert: "And he approached you a year ago." Count: "Yes. He laid out everything that I had worked so hard to protect. If I didn't do as he asked, he would reveal my secret and destroy me."

The Count (Countess, whatever) tells Ghaer and Robert some of the details of the blackmail. The demands were small at first, and gradually became larger. Esterhazy (and whoever he's acting for) have wanted money, equipment, and recently even small companies. The technology they've wanted has been scientific, primarily advanced medical tech. Ghaer: "We need a doctor." Robert: "The fewer the people who know, the better." Ghaer: "We don't have to tell them everything." Apparently, the Count has become more and more confined and controlled, allowing whoever is imitating her to take more and more of the few duties she has in public. Count: "I soon think I will become unnecessary." Not a pleasant thought, but true.

Ghaer: "And because they don't know what you look like, no one can say it's not you they're dealing with." Robert: "Of course, you could walk the streets and no one would know who you are - all you have to do is go out without the cloak, and you could escape." Count: "But that would leave my household abandoned. And besides, I told you they have some one in my household. If I were to leave, they would know." Ghaer: "Who among your people knows who you really are?" Count: "You've met Giles, I believe, and Arthur." Ghaer: Your driver?" Count: "Yes. the rest of my household is blissfully unaware. They have employment; that's all that matters. But please, you must be hungry. Allow me at least to feed you."

They go to a tasteful, yet restrained dining room. Ghaer: "No new staff?" Count: "No." Ghaer: "Who besides your father -" Count: "My late father." Ghaer: "And the two people we met, those are the only ones who have seen the real you." Count: "Yes. And the ship's crew." Robert: "Wait a minute., that's not what you said. You told us only two people in your household knew!" Count <puzzled>: "Yes, only two people." This is somewhat confusing until a very high tech robot comes in. Ah. Seems one of the family businesses involves the design and manufacture of robots. Count: "On my homeworld, I... well, the press was careful. Let's just say that I own the newspapers. I own the mills that make the paper. I own the forests that produce the wood...." Robert: "It's not bright to write the wrong thing about the person who owns the planet you live on. The two people who knew are old family retainers, who if they spilled, may not have known they did." Ghaer: "Did anyone of your staff have an illness about a year ago?" Count: "No. I had thought of that as well, but no." Robert: "I know how he did it. The tentacle. Remember I told you that he said 'Find out what he knows'?" Ghaer: "Yes, but where did Esterhazy get his appendage?" Robert: "That doesn't matter."

A discussion ensues, about what sort of holdings the Count has and where (Imperial, Zhodani, and Arkadian space), and what made the operation a target. The answer seems to be that it's a large corporation, but with only one head. And the Count was perfect - never seen, always does everything by proxy, etc.

Count: "I'm taking a great risk even having you here. I don't believe Esterhazy is acting alone." Robert: "Oh he isn't. They had a guy in a cloak just like yours." I think Esterhazy was taken over by 'Boss', and I believe 'Boss' was part of that ship." Ghaer: "That would explain why they're so eager to get you back." Robert: "Wait a minute. Bruno. He's just a hired thug, isn't he?" Ghaer: "Yes." Robert: "We could pick him up and squeeze him, I believe the term is. He was looking at the cloaked guy when he said 'boss', so he wasn't referring to Esterhazy. That means Bruno might know something useful." Ghaer: "It's possible. We might be able to find where they are." Robert: "By looking for a similar environment?" Ghaer: "Yes, by looking for an environment that's been set that way - hot and humid."

Ghaer gets all the info as possible from the Count (they've decided for security reasons they'll continue to refer to her in the masculine form), without accessing the computer, as the Count knows she's being watched. There's a pattern of funding and equipage that's been gradually increasing. They've acquired several small companies, mostly medical.

Ghaer: "We need a doctor. But the two doctors that come to mind, Cena and Anders, both come with intelligence connections." Robert: "That could be good." Ghaer: "But Cena would feel obligated to inform the Imperial authorities, and Anders comes with her own um, baggage." (Meaning her not that stable ex-spook husband, Reid Darcy.) Ghaer: "I do want to bring Michael up to speed on this though." Robert: "Well, now everybody will know!" Ghaer <confused>: "No.." Robert: "You just said you didn't want to bring in Cena or Anders because of intelligence connections. What's Mr. Griffin?" Ghaer: "Potentially a suicide if I'm not careful." Robert: "You don't want to bring Griffin in on this, that's one more person who'll know." Ghaer: "And I know many things about Mr. Griffin." Robert: "So you want to bring a suicidal psionic into this?" Ghaer: "I'm not saying I have to tell him everything." Robert: "No, but if you bring him into contact with either of us, he'll know." Ghaer: "Michael won't read me." Robert: "I'm glad you have such faith in him." Ghaer: "No, Michael won't read me." It would just give him headache, Ghaer thinks.

Ghaer: "Once we leave, we shouldn't come back here." Robert: "What about this guy who's trying to have me committed?" Ghaer: "He's probably working for the fake Count." Count: "You would be amazed at what some people will do for money." Robert: "Not really. so far this whole thing has been pretty amazing." Ghaer <to the Count>: "When did you first think about making contact with either myself or Mr. Shelzie?" Count: "I overheard Mr. Esterhazy talking about his brother, and both of your names came up. He said that you were both proving troublesome, and I thought that anyone who could upset him that much might be helpful against him."

Count: "What do we do now? What's our next step?" Robert: "How many people know we're here?" Count: "Arthur and Giles." Ghaer: "Where are they now?" Count: "On board the ship." Robert: "Who pilots your ship?" Count: "I do." Robert: "Who pilots Giles and Arthur around in the ship's boat? You can't always dock this ship wherever you go." Count: "The yacht, you mean? Arthur, besides being a driver, is qualified as a ship's boat pilot."

Ghaer has all the timelines, and dates of purchases, etc., so they put pen to paper and try to draw a map of the progress of the plot. There is nothing that points to a specific area, and the esoteric companies that have been purchased either involve scientific or medical stuff, or the company description is so odd that it doesn't tell them what the heck the company does.

Ghaer: "All right, we have a start. We need to run some of this stuff past Will. I'm concerned about you <Robert> right now, because there's a guy out there with signed commitment papers." Count: "I can hide him here for now. If nothing else, I would appreciate the company. It's been a very lonely existence. I've been so..."" Ghaer: "I need a description of Felix' tentacle - it's range, etc. Did it go for your face rather than center of mass?" Robert: "Yeah. It's a brain sucker, I told you. It came out from under his eyepatch and went for my head." Ghaer: "That's when you ran, I assume?" Robert: "Damn right!" Ghaer: "You're brighter than you look." Ghaer takes his leave to do research and get some much-needed sleep.

Robert will stay and do what he can on board the ship, and keep the Countess company. Robert tries to maintain concentration on the project, but the Countess is a bit distracting. She shows him the way she "travels" - a machine that allows her to see through the eyes of a robot across the room. Robert is rather disconcerted when he pulls the helmet off and has to adjust to going from the images being projected directly onto his retinas, but this is definitely something that could be exploited to their advantage. The robots are autonomous, and there are limitations due to signal loss, but you could conceivably use it on Up Port, at least for a distance. Robert seems some real possibilities here, including sending out a robot in the doomsday cloak, as the Count. Especially since Esterhazy left instructions that the Count not leave the ship. She has sent out a robot onto the UpPort, but she's trying to not draw Esterhazy's attention (unless she needs to do it deliberately), lest she lose the privilege. When she next sends the robot out, she's to pay attention to the dead zones, so they can try to fix them.

Robert: "You overheard us discussing Michael Griffin. How do you feel about that? It's probably not someone you want to get close to. I don't know if he's dangerous, but you never know." The Count doesn't seem too worried. And by the way, her real name is Ariana. Ariana: "May I ask you a personal question?" Robert: "Yes." Ariana: "Do you have someone out there? A wife, or girlfriend?" Robert: "No, not really." Ariana: "But you've had…" Robert: "I've had relationships, yes." <lengthy pause> Ariana: "Am I...desirable?" She seems more curious than anything else. Ariana: "I've read books." Robert: "You've never been with a...(man? woman?) partner, have you?" Ariana: "Not in the way you mean, no." Robert tells her that yes, she's desirable. And he completely understands that she's had to spend her whole life being something she's not. Robert: "Not that I've ever done something like that, but I can empathize." It's gets quiet, and she gets a bit flushed, says "I have to go", and rushes off.

Robert picks up a bottle and two glasses, and follows her. He doesn't have to go far to find an open door to a cabin. She's flushed, and asks him to "show me. Teach me." And we'll just be leaving it at that, thank you.

During the night, Robert wakes up with a feeling of someone having been standing over the bed and then leaving. Ariana stirs, tells him to "shush my love", and snuggles up.

310, 1122.

There's no reason that the Autarch can't be discharged as an outpatient. Unless he wants to stay? Tempting. But he returns, reluctantly, to the former Solomani Consulate. Since he's in a 'safe area', the gryphons and the Lyrians are willing to give Mikie some space. Mikie goes in search of a way out of the building, and his old skills come in handy. He finds a carefully hidden door - very carefully hidden, with some kind of high tech access pad. It's a gene recognition pad, he's read about them. he puts his hand on the pad, it goes <beep>, then an electronic voice says "Michael Griffin. Access granted." The door pops open, and Mikie goes down the stairs.

"Well, Michael, it's about time you got here." There's a man in a nicely tailored suit, sitting in a chair in the basement. Please let this be a hologram. Blaelok: "Please, join me. Sit down, relax." There's a flicker, and Mikie starts to breathe again. He sits down shakily. Blaelok: "Doubtless you've come here looking for answers. You'll see that my reach extends even beyond the grave. While I may be dead, I've made sure that you will live a living death, one from which there is no escape. I just thought you should hear that from my lips. There is no escape." The image disappears.

Mikie numbly looks around the room. There's a large coffin looking object. It's metallic, there's a viewport, and it's cold. Mikie gets up slowly, and takes a look, without touching the device. Through the frost he sees a familiar looking middle aged woman. So that's what happened to Claire! There's one of those odd chairs (how many of these fucking things did he have?!) that Blaelok used to make the 'backup tapes', and there's a tape in it now. The tape says "Harmony 6" Great, now he gets obtuse with the labels. It looks like the tape has been played all the way through, and the screen has been flashing "Program complete", for some time. Mikie flips the off switch and it powers down. There's a cabinet at the far end, which Mikie checks out. It opens up to reveal a whole bunch of the high tech backup/programming tapes, maybe several hundred of them. Tapes like "Blevelt Alt pers.", the Harmony series (6 is missing), a couple of other nonsensical words, then there's a section missing, and on the bottom shelf is a set of tapes labeled: MG1, MG2, MG3, MG4, MG5, MG5A, MG5B, MG6, MG6A, MG6B, MG7, MG8, along with a bunch of dated vid cubes. Mikie takes the last date (about a week before Blaelok's death in the park) and puts the vid into the machine. After a few moments of fiddling with the obscurely high tech machine, he finally gets it to work.

The tape shows Blaelok in a room with one of the chair things. Blaelok is blocking the view of the subject in the chair, and is speaking to some one off camera. Blaelok: "Good. How does everything look? Has he been fed the sequencing?" Voice: "Yes." Blaelok: "How does it look?" Voice: "Very good. I must say he's taking it rather well." Blaelok: "When you work from the original matrix and just nudge it a bit, it works much better." Voice: "And when does the action take place?" Blaelok: "It's triggered by certain stimuli. When the time is right, he will do what he's been programmed to do." Voice: "So, no direct commands are needed?" Blaelok: "No." Voice: "Impressive." Then there's a call for Blaelok and he steps moves away from the chair that Mikie is strapped into.

Voices from upstairs. "Highness?" Mikie shuts the machine off, and goes upstairs, closing the secret door behind him. He then answers his bedroom door. Esterhazy: "Forgive me your highness. I just wanted to make sure you were all right." Mikie: "Okay." Esterhazy: "Are you all right sir, you seem disturbed?" Mikie: "I'm just... tired." Esterhazy: "I will see that you're not disturbed." Mikie is left alone.

Mikie is sitting on the end of the bed, not feeling right, when one of the guards knocks and comes in. Guard: "Are you all right sir? We heard voices. There was shouting." The guard glances around. Guard: "Is there anyone else here?" Mikie: "Do you see anyone else?" Guard: "Are you all right sir... <he looks down at Mikie's hands> Sire, your hands are bleeding! I'll get the doctor!" He runs out the door. Mikie figures he may have broken something in the room so he looks around. Nothing seems broken, but there is a trail of blood leading to the bathroom. Oh-oh. At this point Mikie looks down and notices he's bleeding rather profusely. Not surprising since both his wrists have been laid open. He doesn't remember doing that. The doctor and Esterhazy come running in at this point. The doctor comes up to Mikie. Doctor: "Highness. My God." The doctor applies bandages and pressure to Mikie's wrists, and starts to work. Esterhazy: "What happened!?" Guard: "I don't know! He was in here for several hours. I heard voices, and the door was locked. I became concerned, so I came in and found him like this." Esterhazy: "Who else was here?" Guard: "I don't know, the voice was foreign sounding. The Autarch was alone when I came in." And the Autarch doesn't remember the last two hours, so he's not going to be much help here.

Robert wakes up, and this time remembers everything. (And he's not handcuffed.) Ariana is awake, and doesn't want him to leave yet. "Can't you stay a while longer?" Robert does want to check out things on the ship, so yes. He runs the security tape, and there's a dark shadow, in only two frames of the video, wafting through the stern hatch of engineering. the hatch is external, and is secured/sealed.

There are some Starport Police standing around the Plinth, and the coroner's van is there. The cops are looking down at the body - well, most of the body of one of the missing Sengi riks. Cop: "Yeah, but where's his legs?" Ghaer does not answer "they'll be popping out later".

Ghaer calls Robert on the ship. Robert: "We had a visitor." Ghaer: "Oh?" Robert: "Uninvited." Ghaer: "They're getting bolder. and we have a very weak card to play." Robert: "We have some ideas. Can you get back as soon as possible?" Ghaer: "Give me an hour."

Ghaer goes to the former Solomani Consulate and asks to see Michael. Guard: "The Autarch is indisposed. I will relay your message if you like." Ghaer writes down a short note: "Urgent I see you. Krell." He's turning to leave when Esterhazy comes out. Esterhazy: "Mr. Ghaer. Can you come with me? I have some concerns about the Autarch. Perhaps you can shed some light." Ghaer accompanies Esterhazy inside. Esterhazy: "I'm worried about the Autarch. He wanted to be alone, and locked himself in his quarters, for several hours. We became concerned, and…well, see for yourself." Ghaer is taken into the quarters, where Mikie is in bed. His wrists are heavily bandaged, he has scratches on his face (probably self-inflicted), and he's in medical restraints. They've given him a sedative, a very powerful anti-psychotic. Mikie's not sure why they have him restrained though. Everything is very sharply focused, and he's not feeling out of control; actually, he's not really feeling anything at all. It's sort of a "yes there are horrible things going on, but only very far away, in some other place like France or something so it doesn't really matter" kind of state.

Esterhazy's guard reports that he heard voices arguing - the Autarch's and that of another man, some one with an odd accent. Ghaer has Esterhazy pull up a news archive on the terminal, of Blaelok being interviewed when he was kicked off Regina. Ghaer: "Is that the voice you heard?" Guard: "No sir, but it was the same sort of accent." Esterhazy: "Who is this man?" Ghaer: "Someone with diplomatic immunity, so I couldn't kill him." Esterhazy: "You believe he got in here some how?" Ghaer: "No, this man's dead." Esterhazy: "And what am I to take from that? That the embassy is haunted?" Ghaer: "Sufficiently high enough technology is indistinguishable from magic." Esterhazy: "We've carefully searched the premises, and there's no sign of holoprojectors or anything of that nature." Guard: "Colonel, sir, I think you should have a look at this." Esterhazy steps out of the room for a moment, then calls for Ghaer. Esterhazy: "Mr. Raller? I think you might want to look at this. <to his man> How did you find this?" Guard: "The door was open, sir. I've never seen a door in this room before." A couple of the men are downstairs with flashlights. Ghaer tells Esterhazy to get them out of there. Esterhazy calls his men back up, quickly. Esterhazy: "What do you think is going on?" Ghaer: "The person who was the consul here was a terrorist, a poisoner, and a psychopath." (And those were his good qualities.) Esterhazy: "And you think he may be down there?" Ghaer: "No. Just a momento from him. If I'm not out in a couple of hours, I probably won't be coming back, so send in the cavalry." Esterhazy gives Ghaer a pistol, and Ghaer goes downstairs. He sees pretty much the same thing Mikie did (except for the message from Blaelok) - odd chair, a high tech low berth like thing (now open and empty [shit!]), and the cabinet, open, with many tapes. The Blevelt tape has a date on it, but it uses the ancient Solomani calendar, so Ghaer has to convert it. The date translates into local time as just before Blaelok died. There are a bunch of tapes missing, and one on the floor that looks like it's been dropped and stepped on. That tape is labeled "MG6B". Ghaer doesn't realize that the missing section contained the MG series of tapes.

There's a squeaking noise in the shadows, and when Ghaer takes a look he finds a swinging door that leads into the crawlspace of the Starport. There are bare footprints in the dust. Small, female sized human footprints, leading off away from the basement. Ghaer knows that Pamela was 6' tall, so the footprints wouldn't be hers, thank God, but whose? The basement is still and quiet, except for the faint breeze through the passage, and the soft squeaking of the door.