"If we say the darkness shall cover us, in the darkness as in the light our obligations are yet with us."-- Daniel Webster

310 - 311, 1122

When the security people and the Starport Police go tearing by, Doctor Will Delgado figures something's up at Regina Trauma (even more so than usual). Word has gotten out to the rest of the hospital staff that three orderlies have been shot, execution-style, in the secure psych ward - the one no one's supposed to have weapons in. Will is told by a nurse that the orderlies have "head trauma", so off Will goes in his guise of super neurosurgeon.

The ward is in a state of utter confusion. The cops haven't opened the exterior door, as "he might still be in there. We'll wait for the robot." Will: "You have the guns, cover me. I'm going in." But... Will goes in, as he can see the downed orderlies through the window. He checks the men and finds they've been killed with the precision of a neurosurgeon. Well, almost. They are all three definitely dead, although still warm. Will hears the clicking of hard soled shoes going down the hall; sounds like dress shoes or boots. Interesting, as the staff wears soft soled shoes. Will grabs a gurney from where the cops are still waiting for the robot, and starts sending bodies off to have their organs harvested, if they're organ donors, of course.

The other dead orderly, further inside, is the one whose spine was ripped out (not perfectly evenly, and it includes several muscle groups, but the end result is the same). Will does not send this body anywhere - it's not in terribly good shape. And it looks like some one literally inserted their hand inside the man and ripped a chunk of his spine out. Yech.

One of the security guards warns Will before he goes back in. Guard: "Be careful - he has to still be in there." Will: "Who?" Guard: "The killer. He hasn't exited the building yet." Will: "He's got to be an AP or robot. A normal human couldn't have done that kind of damage." Will goes to check on Mikie, in his new room. The door handle is bent on the inside, like taffy, but Mikie is inside, sleeping peacefully. He has restraints on, but they're not attached to anything - they've been cut by something very sharp. Will isn't worried about the restraints, just the patient, and he's apparently fine. His readouts looks very good, as a matter of fact - no sign of the earlier patterns of depression or anything. Will figures they've probably just drugged the hell out of him, which would explain his peaceful, happy sleep.

Will calls the cops in to search the place. They go through the entire wing, finding many interesting inmates. They find no sign of a tall, well-dressed man, with or without a blonde female. The cops are confused, as there are no signs of the man, but they refuse to accept Will's statement that the security tapes could have been tampered with, accusing him of having watched too many Dick Salamander movies. Will: "Okay, explain how he dematerialized and went through the wall then?" Cop: "Well, we found a partial footprint..." Will: "There you go." Cop: "We need to find out what kind of weapon was used. You're a head doctor, right? You can do it." Will: "No, they're dead, so now you want the pathologist. He has two degrees." They agree to go through the pathologist, and not bother the neurosurgeon.

Dr. Auschlander requests Will to act as liaison between the police and the pathologist, Dr. Cecil Mason, who doesn't do well with live people. Also, since Will's taken a turn in trauma, perhaps he can take a look? Dr. Mason is having a few problems - he can't find any exit wounds, but he can't find any projectiles, either. All three men were shot in the brain, and one of them shows damage and an indentation that an expended bullet would make (pretty much), but there's no bullet. Will suggests that they take a swab of one injury, and a plaster cast of one of the other ones, as the projectile may have dissolved (like tranq). Mason: "I thought of that, but I couldn't find traces of any residue." One of the casts reveals what appears to be a 5mm round. This will be given to the police, in lieu of a bullet. The other strange thing is the lack of powder residue, even though there is pitting around the injuries, which would indicate they'd been shot from very close range. Mason: "I've never seen anything like it in my career. On Regina. It's like some one shot these men then removed all unnatural elements from the bodies. I was hoping you'd seen something on Rhylanor that might explain this." Will: "I don't think so. They have practically no murders on Rhylanor, period. Do you have a copy of 'Inside SolSec'?" Mason: "Where is this going? We have three dead orderlies." Will: "One of the men had his spine ripped out by either an AP or a robot, and the witnesses saw what at least appeared to be a man. The only people I know of who could make a robot with a skin job are the Solomani."

At this point, Regina's own Detective James Weseli arrives on the scene. And he's very interested in the good doctor's theories. Will: "There was an attempt on this patient once before in the hospital, by a man who signed his name as Paul Verlak, who was able to get clearance to work in the hospital, and substituted the patient's medication for a substance called Amygdanol, which I turned over to several IBI agents who turned out to not be IBI agents at all." James: "Amygdanol?" Will: "Yes. I have a sample." James: "What the heck is Amygdanol?" Will: "I think it's some kind of psychomemetric, and has something to do with fear. It's not in any of the pharmacology catalogs, so I'm just guessing since the root word has to do with fear." James: "Great. It seemed straightforward, but now I've got four bodies, one of whom was 'deboned', so to speak, by some one who's as strong as Krag Kiron." Will: "No, stronger. Either an AP or a robot. And you can't tell me that the Solomani haven't been involved in odd things like robots running amok, and explosions, because I've lived here on Regina for years." James: "No, no, I'm not saying they couldn't have been involved. I'm just thinking out loud. But how did they manage to disappear?" Will fills James in on the stuff with Verlak, pointing out that he was able to plant his cover information on the hospital's computer system, so why couldn't he have tampered with the security cameras as well? James: "I gotta tell, you Doc, I'm impressed. If you ever decide to give up this life of luxury..." Will: "Have you tried that coffee yet?" James: "No." Will: "Try it and then tell me about luxury." James tries the coffee, which is actually very good. Dr. Mason looks over and says "Sumatran. Freshly ground this morning." Ah! Will has some coffee, but declines the offer of a Bismarck, which the pathologist made himself. Um.

Will <to James>: "There's one other thing. When the supposed IBI guys left, one of them dropped his ID into the garbage can. I'm pretty sure they were Regina Security." James: "Doc, you are the Man Who Notices Things! I'll go check out the garbage." Will: "I'm sure it's been emptied, but check with maintenance - they may have the badge still." James runs off, but Will calls for him at the security desk. Will: "Oh, and Michael Griffin knew something about this Verlak guy. He said if security ran into Verlak, to not go near him or they'd wind up dead, but to call Regina Security. He gave us a number." James: "That's really interesting, Doc. Thanks."

311, 122.

Mikie wakes up, and life some how seems brighter. He remembers perfectly what happened before he went to sleep - Theresa's alive, and the Blaeloks (Chris and Pammie) are protecting her. She's nearby and safe. Mikie still remembers what 'really' happened to Theresa, but it's a bit fuzzy, and it doesn't matter any way. (Amazing the lengths to which a person's mind will go to try to keep things together.) Things are a little stirred up among the staff, and the ward is a bit short staffed. One of the nurses points out that the patients need the care of the staff, regardless of whatever else is happening, so stop standing around bitching, and get to work.

Esterhazy comes in to see Mikie. Esterhazy looks like he's been dueling with King Kong. Mikie: "What happened to you?" Esterhazy: "What happened to me was a tall man picked me up by the neck and through me against the wall. Don't you remember?" Mikie: "No, not really." (That part is missing from memory, evidently.) Esterhazy: "Sire, I believe we should remove you from this place. It's obviously not secure, and you have your duties to consider. The Archbishop waits for word on when the anointing will take place. There is the matter of your coronation. And your escort <the gryphons> is growing restive." Mikie: "Oh yeah. They haven't eaten anyone have they?" Esterhazy: "No, sire. But as I said, we should get you out of here and back to the hotel." Mikie: "The hotel? Not the Consulate?" Esterhazy: "I am not comfortable with the security at the Consulate, your highness, especially since we have not been able to determine what happened to Mr. Raller there." Mikie: "You've misplaced Ghaer?" Esterhazy: "Something took him. Something the man who went after him described as something with many legs." Esterhazy says this in a way that indicates he believes the worst. Mikie: "Ghaer will be back. He'll be fine. He always is somehow." Esterhazy: "You do seem much more, relaxed, sir. If I may say so. We have not been able to locate your clothing, and since I do not believe that you wish to venture out in your current attire..." No, let's not go out in the hospital jammies.

After some fun with the Royal Tailor, who keeps giving weirder and weirder suggestions. Mikie finally sends him away, planning on sending Esterhazy out for proper clothes from OmniMart. Esterhazy: "The Chamberlain does have some clothing from your former life that he somehow acquired." Now we're talking! The clothing consists of several very nice suits, Rim styled, expensive looking. Well, Blaelok always was a snappy dresser. But evil. Mikie gets checked out with no problems and they set out for the Ambassadore. Outside of Regina Trauma the gryphons show up. They're acting rather cowed and scared around Mikie now, which of course confirms his 'Autarchness'. Good grief. (Actually, it confirms the fact that Mikie's not all right, but no one here seems to get that.)

Back to the Ambassadore. Esterhazy explains that while he has cleared everything he could from the Autarch's schedule, there are some people he really must see, if only for brief audiences. Esterhazy: "Noblesse oblige, your grace." Mikie: "I'll remind you of that later." Esterhazy: "I am at your disposal, of course. I apologize for any offense." Mikie: "No offense. You'll understand later." On to several audiences, made up primarily of people who want to bask in the light of the Autarch, and kiss his ring (which is on special cushion, thank God). Most of Mikie's mind is elsewhere, he just needs to follow the little scripts Esterhazy has given him, and not pay much attention.

During a break in the proceedings, Mikie asks the Chamberlain if they have something written down about this coronation or anointing ceremony (looking for a loophole, but not mentioning that part)? Chamberlain: "Of course, your grace" etc., etc. (he knows all forty-seven proper forms of address for the Autarch, and will use all of them if allowed to) "Does your Magnificence wish to peruse the Tomes of the Articles of Anointing and the Acts of Coronation?" Mikie: "I think so." Huge volumes of leather with metal bindings are brought in, with much pomp. Chamberlain: "Shall I send for your royal reader?" Mikie: "What?" Chamberlain: "To read to you for your knowledge or edification, oh Knower of All Things." Mikie: "Uh, okay." A splendid looking young man, very choirboy like, is sent for. He appears, in livery, to "recite from the ancient tomes". The Chamberlain is there, his two men (in charge of holding the large books), and the reader. Chamberlain: "Shall we begin at the beginning, your Majesty?" Mikie <no longer sure this was such a good idea>: "I guess." Nope, bad idea. There are pages and pages of preamble and history before the book even gets started. It makes the Bible seem like it was written by people going for the unadorned, condensed effect.

Female attendant: "Would his excellency like another pillow, perhaps?" Mikie starts awake. (Okay, so he is still a bit tired, but it would take a lot of espresso to get through this stuff awake.) The reader is getting a bit hoarse, so Mikie dismisses him. Mikie: "Isn't there a way to get just the edited, simple version of this?" Chamberlain: "Your majesty would suggest which sections of the Sacred Tomes to leave out?" Never mind. Esterhazy whispers that "this is not exactly the sort of question you should ask the Chamberlain." No kidding. Then they tell Mikie that the Archbishop has been waiting for 3.5 hours. The Chamberlain suggests telling the Archbishop that the Autarch is fatigued, as "the Autarch should not concern himself with the comfort of others", but Mikie tells them to give him ten minutes alone with Esterhazy, apologize, then send in the Archbishop. Mikie wants to see if he can get another copy of the papers from Astridi, but the Archduke's ship is already maneuvering out to jump point. A message is sent and acknowledged, but there's no way of telling if they had time to do anything before jump. Damn.

Mikie calls in one of the gryphons. Mikie: "Can you tell whether or not I'm lying?" Gryphon: "I have no way of knowing. You may simply have a powerful enough mind to impress upon me that you are telling the truth." Mikie: "Damn. Well, never mind, you can go out with the others." Esterhazy: "What is it you wish, sir?" Mikie: "Bear with me. I'm not sure exactly how to say this. If there was some one who was in a better position in the lineage, in line for autarch, who had the same goals as you, and had the good of your people, would you support that person?" From behind Mikie, Blaelok says: "I could kill him quietly, we could slip out, start somewhere new, like Rhylanor. Who would know? Just a thought. After all, you'd get what you want, he'd get what he wants. You get away from the Lyrians, he gets to die gloriously for the cause." Mikie <to Blaelok>: "No! I don't want you to kill him." Blaelok: "Fine, fine. Just trying to be helpful."

Esterhazy is looking at Mikie like he left him in mid-sentence, but doesn't say anything. Mikie: "I know you mean well, and you probably only have the best interests of your people in mind, but the plain truth is - I want my life back." Esterhazy: "If the autarch wishes not to be autarch, I can only obey your orders, my lord. What would you have me do?" Mikie: "There's some one else in the line of succession." Esterhazy: "Well, nothing is fixed until the anointing. Once anointed, you are autarch until you die." Mikie: "There's some one else, some one older. It goes by birth order, right?" Esterhazy: "Within the line of succession, yes." Mikie: "My mother, apparently , ran off when she was sixteen, and got married. Her family had it annulled. And they found a nice family to raise the twin boys she had." Esterhazy: "Ah." Mikie: "So the elder of those two would have a better claim, right?" Esterhazy: "If they were accepted by the gryphons, yes." Blaelok has come back. Blaelok: "I had a chat with the gryphons, and they're willing to accept a turnip, if you say so." Esterhazy: "So, you have two older brothers. The Prince was not aware of this. Although if the marriage was annulled, that would make them bastards. However, that can be remedied. If your father were to acknowledge them as his sons, they would be legitimized." Mikie: "But we don't have the same father." Esterhazy: "That doesn't matter. There is more stock placed on the affirmation of the father than any genetic testing. To challenge a man's word, would be to challenge his honor." Mikie <after thinking for a minute>: "How public would it have to be?" Esterhazy: "An affirmation in front of the Lyrian Archbishop should be sufficient. <pause> My concern, sir, is while I know you to be troubled at this lofty position, I know you to be a man of honor who would do the best for your people if you became anointed. You might hate the position, but you would do the right thing. I don't know that your brothers would be as honorable." Mikie: "What I know about my... brothers..." Esterhazy: "One can only hope that neither one is the sort of brother I have been cursed with." Mikie: "Funny you should mention that... Under normal circumstances I wouldn't do this to another person, but oh well. Are you willing to accept my word of something, even if I no longer have the documents?" Esterhazy: "You are my Autarch. Of course I will accept whatever you tell me as truth." Mikie: "Not as your autarch, as a person. Because this is about to get real personal." Esterhazy: "You have never, to my knowledge, lied to me. I believe you to be an honest man." Mikie: "The name of the family the twin boys were given to was Esterhazy." he doesn't say anything for a while. Then he starts to go on about the ancient Esterhazy family tradition. Were you not my Autarch, to imply that I was not my father or mother's child, I would take this as a great insult. But, you are my Autarch. The other issue is, that contrary to the public belief, it is my brother Felix who is the eldest." Mikie: "Shit. And whoever he's working with may know that. Look, part of the documents I had were from your brother's hospital. The last files had comments about how he claimed 'they were coming for him, and that he was going to be part of some sort of grand plan'. And then he got away." Esterhazy: "My brother has always been clever, and insanity does not exclude one from being autarch." Mikie: "Well, maybe we should change that." Esterhazy: "I doubt very much that the College of Scribes and the Chamberlain will allow that." Oh. Damn.

The police are in a bit of a quandary. It seems someone has rudely murdered the coroner (the late Theodore 'Teddy' Renquist), and stolen his car. The only description is of a man of average height, very athletic build, short blond hair, and travelling with his own bodybag. He walked up to the coroner's car when it was stopped at a light, shot him in the head, took his shoes, and dumped the body there. The police are still investigating the shoe angle. It's a political issue, and Dr. Mason doesn't do politics, so he recommends Will, who has the makings of a fine pathologist himself. And it would get Will out of the office politics. As the owner's husband, it's been a bit awkward. The pathologist is too busy and too well-trained to be loaned out for this, as he might get roped into the position permanently.

Will is asked to speak with his boss (technically speaking). Dr. Auschlander: "Will, in light of what's been happening, I think you'd be perfect as acting coroner. Dr. Mason is a fine pathologist, but he's needed here, and I feel you'd be better able to handle the media attention." Will: "What is it with you and the media?" Dr. Auschlander: "I'm trying to offset your dashing, daring, dueling doctor reputation. Don't you have another duel coming up?" The Commissioner himself has requested you assist him, and could Will join him at his club?

Will joins his boyhood hero, Commission Globber, at the Daedalus Club. (One of Free Thoughts' evil 'secret societies'.) Globber: "Ah, the famous Dr. Delgado. Oh, just as an aside, dueling is not permitted in the Club." Will: "I doubt that anyone here will be challenging me to a duel." Globber: "Well, you never know." Since it's his Club, Will is happy to let Globber order for them. There's no set menu at the Daedalus Club. Globber: "So, Doctor. Detective Weseli was quite taken by your powers of observation. He spoke very highly of you." Will: "As a neurosurgeon, you have to notice small things. If a patient's foot twitches to the right, that could have significant meaning, neurologically speaking." Globber discusses some of the goings on at Regina Trauma. Will: "Have you read 'Inside SolSec'?" Globber: "That sensationalistic drivel? What do you know about Blenford?" Will: "That he choked on a chicken bone, and he was a vegetarian?" Globber: "I've known my share of closet meat-eaters. Do you think if SolSec wanted him dead they'd kill him in so obvious a manner?" Will: "Maybe they wanted the people who knew Blenford to know he was killed?" Globber: "In a locked room?" Will: "If you're trying to impress people with how clever your organization is, why not?" Globber: "How about if I round up every SolSec agent, round them up, and question them until they confess?" Will: "I'm not suggesting that. Have you heard about Amygdanol?" Globber: "I've heard of the amygdala, it's part of the brain." Another member has wandered over, and goes on at length on what the Amygdala is, and what it's for. Globber: "Yes, well, thank you so much August." As he goes to leave, August stops by Will. August: "Oh doctor, try not to pronate your hand quite so much. I think you'll find your thrusts will be much straighter." He's not talking about how he's cutting his lunch. Then he pats Will on the shoulder, and leaves.

Once they're alone again, Will tells Globber about the Amygdanol, Mikie, and Paul Verlak, including Mikie's warning about Verlak and the fact that his description seems to match that of the coroner's murderer. Globber: "I have heard that Mr. Griffin is himself a member of the security apparatus." Will: "All the more reason for him to be a target for Solomani security. Oh, and the Archduke is involved. Maybe not in the murder, but he does think Michael Griffin is important enough to take an interest in." Globber: "I see."

The topic now turns to Will's new assignment. Globber tells him he'll need to qualify for his carry permit if he wants to use a gun. Will: "Is that usual on this job?" Globber: "On Regina?? Considering what happened to the last one? It won't be hard to qualify. For the type of job you'll be in, he'll just need to fire 20 rounds at a man silhouette at 10 metres. Half the silhouette is white, half is black. You need to hit 50%." Will: "Doesn't that mean you have 10 bullets winging their way down range towards potentially innocent bystanders?" Globber: "You're the coroner, not a police officer." Will: "Good thing. I hope they have to do a bit better to qualify." Globber: "You'll be able to use the official car. It war discovered a couple of hours after the murder, and has been cleaned. All the evidence was collected beforehand, of course." Will: "Is there any other information about the murder I should know?" Globber: "The witnesses said that what was strange is that the blond man placed the bodybag in the front seat, and carefully belted it in." Will is given the orders that make him Acting Coroner for Regina Up Port, a badge, and a communicator (high tech pager). Oh and a small container of Vick's Vapor Rub, and the ceremonial rubber gloves. Will can pick up the car later if he wants. Globber: "You know, this is quite unusual. I believe this is the first time the coroner has actually been a doctor. I don't think it will catch on." There is a salary involved, plus expenses, of course. And Bunny will probably find it fascinating given her current interest in mysteries.

Back at the Ambassadore, Esterhazy is in denial. "I'm sure there's some sort of logical explanation. Another family named Esterhazy, perhaps." Mikie: "Sure. Two Esterhazy families, both with identical twin boys born on the same date, on Jewell, both sets of brothers named Carl and Felix?" Esterhazy: "I can't put my brother on the throne." Blaelok's back. "I could kill him. I could make it last for days." Mikie doesn't like it when he says things like that. Blaelok: "Oh relax, I'm just kidding. But I can take care of this Esterhazy person. Just get him into the room with you and leave it to me."

Will's pager goes off the minute he leaves the Daedalus Club. Mr. Verlak is not going to be hard to find, he leaves dead people wherever he goes. Only this last victim has been rude enough to not die yet. The victim is en route to the hospital, and James Weseli is waiting for Will at the scene of the crime - the Discarding Sabot. A waitress at the bar is Weseli's witness. Suzy: "This blond guy comes in, and says he had an appointment to see Irving. He has a small case, and I thought he wanted to have something fixed. Anyway, he was chatting with Irving, and then they went downstairs. They were down there for a while, and we were going to close up for a couple of hours, like we usually do, to clean up the place. There was some kind of noise coming up from downstairs for a while, like a machine running. I went down to ask Irving if he could shut it off, and.." Suzy takes a moment before she can continue. Suzy: "That's when I found him. The poor little guy, he was all smashed up..." James takes Will downstairs to the scene of the crime - Irving's workshop. James: "He's got quite the shop. Whoever wanted to get rid of him evidently threw him into this metal forming machine, or whatever it is." Blood and fur everywhere. And some odd sketches. James isn't sure what to make of the plan he found on the floor, but it's some kind of apparatus, and has a bloody, small handprint on it., so perhaps it's important.

Will has to put on his other hat when Dr. Auschlander calls him in to assist in the surgery on Irving. He's a tough little guy, and no one's sure how he's survived. There is also some blood on Irving's tail that is not his, so this may be a good source of Verlak's DNA (or at least the assailant's). Will takes a look at Irving, who's had neurostasis already, and thinks "Roadkill", but just briefly! He follows the 'ignore the gore' rule, and goes to work while the staff tries to locate Pikhan Regen™. Irving may look cute and furry, but Verlak may already regret tangling with a Pikhan.