"In tragic life, God wot,
No villain need be! Passions spin the plot:
We are betrayed by what is false within."
-- George Meredith

308 - 311, 1122

The election runoff has a candidate for almost every taste, and actually a four way tie: Behrel Dom Camréal (rocker, entrepreneur, maker of naughty movies), General Elspeth Vandermoot (a 6' tall, telegenic, flashing white smile, blue eyes, highly decorated veteran) , Gorgneg Polypnel (a Rana, running on a platform of more vacations, a shorter work week, and state subsidy for beer), and Rodney Phillippe Landsdorpe Wiggins-Pompley-Smythe (very wealthy noble who's decided he's 'a man of the people' and wants to be elected rather than buying a senate seat, offers to pay $100 credits to everyone who votes for him, and is running on the 'everything seems to be running quite smoothly but you can count on me in a pinch' platform). Corina decides to publicly support Behrel, as he helped her out before she was Duchess, but it remains to be seen whether this hurts or helps Behrel.

General Vandermoot, who received a medical discharge from service (intolerance to Regen™ A), still thinks like a general, so some people may find her a bit overpowering. She obviously wants the position, since at a debate she catches up with Behrel and whispers to him: "You screw up this election for me and I'll cut your balls off." Behrel: "I believe that privilege belongs to my wife, ma'am." As for Rodney, well, he has too many hyphens and not enough chin. The Rana will probably get the drinking vote.

Behrel has sent a little note to Regina Security and to one or two other influential agencies, regarding possible support. He gets a visit from a gentleman in a nice suit, who offers the support of his principals. Suit: "In exchange for this support, at some time in the future, for some particular issue, my principals may want the vote to go a certain way." Behrel attempts to negotiate a bit further - "as long as for the vote they ask for, they come to me, as a person, and ask for the favor". Suit: "You should bear in mind sir, that you are a politician, not a person of importance. Good day sir." And who the hell was he with?

Corina's support does Behrel more harm than good, as some people decide that it's better to have the senate not on good terms with the Duchess. Don't want the government being too efficient, now do we?

Le Mercenaire supports General Vandermoot, the Times won't come out in support of anyone (they list all the candidates' weak points and faults, and none of their good points) , Free Thoughts supports Behrel (but believe he'll be assassinated by some cabal or another), as does the Tattler. The Free Thoughts support gets Behrel the paranoid vote (which helps), but the Tattler support proves to be a slight disadvantage.

Behrel gets another visit from the Suit. Suit: "The individual whom I represent, who wishes to remain out of the picture because he is a very private person, and a member of the bureaucracy, would like me to extend an offer to you. You're behind in the polls, but you can still win. In fact, we can assure you of a victory, in exchange for which, you would agree to, when an issue that concerns my principal arises, vote as he wishes you to." Behrel: "If I'm behind, why come to me?" Suit: "General Vandermoot has proven to be, well..." Behrel: "Unbribable?" Suit: "Yes. And the other two have proven unreliable. We can at least rely on you to not just go off on a wild hair." Behrel: "Let me put it this way. In matters regarding things in which I have no expertise, I would certainly welcome the assistance of, shall we say, my advisors." Suit: "We would certainly defer to your judgment in the case of anything involving pornography and rock and roll." Behrel: "And certain matters of a military nature, small business, etc." Suit: "The person I represent has very little interest in politics, and only rarely becomes involved in them." Behrel: "I believe I have one request, and that is that when I do not have the expertise, that I know from where the request for the favor is coming. Random favors are not in my nature." Suit: "The only other concern of my client is that given your current standings in the polls, there will be higher expenses involved. Say, well lets say that my principal wishes to recoup these expenses by acquiring an interest in your business. A ten percent interest. My principal will, of course be a silent partner, and in return, not only would he be able to ensure that you win the election, but you would not have to worry about any untoward regulations interfering with your productions, nor would you have to worry about any of the more conservative, shall we say, groups causing you problems on Regina." Behrel: "I'm not worried about protests. I believe in free speech." Suit: "My principal does not believe in free speech. He believes that speech is very expensive." Behrel: "Well, that's where we differ. But just because we differ on our opinions, doesn't mean we can't do business." Suit: "Excellent. I just happen to have the paperwork." Behrel has his assistant look over the contract, just to make sure. It's only for the ten percent arrangement, no mention of the other part of the relationship. Behrel does request that the duration of the contract be specified - a five year contract, in case Behrel isn't re-elected. A new contract is produced. Good call Behrel. The "other party" mentioned in the contract is Blanc-Noir, et Cie. (Who are these guys???) Behrel: "I want one consideration. You may have to pull out another contract, but I prefer to do my favors for an individual." Suit: "Of course sir, your silent partner is an individual." Behrel: "I know that, but this just says Blanc-Noir, et Cie, and that's a holding company." Suit: "Yes, but these are public documents of record. I can give you my personal guarantee." Behrel: "That's all I want. He signs.

In a surprising upset, Behrel wins! General Vandermoot is decidedly not pleased, and informs Behrel of this. Vandermoot: "I don't know how you did it, you bastard, but I know you did it. I have a new mission in life, and it's to bring you down, you corrupt, sybaritic son of a bitch. You've just made an enemy for life." Hey, Behrel's all for personal choice, and if that's what she wants to do, fine. And Behrel throws one hell of a victory party, on a park near the Senate buildings on planet. He receives a bottle of Terran champagne from an anonymous benefactor (nudge-nudge), with congratulations. No one should have been surprised that Behrel came out on top of a four-way.

There will be some curiosity, at least in the Times, about Behrel's win. Free Thoughts is crowing to the high heavens that "the forces of Light have beaten the forces of Darkness". This may be the first time Behrel's been classified that way. The General must be a member of one of the cabals. Gun sales are up, since the Regina Rifle Association have declared that Behrel's win means that jackbooted fascists will be breaking down people's doors to snatch their guns away. Regina Citizens for Sensible Gun Control is heralding Behrel's election as a victory. Soon Regina can become the paradise that is Moughas!

Behrel is interested in being on the committee that appoints the judiciary, but there is a lot of jockeying among all the senators for that one, so that will be one of the first power struggles. Randi Kyle, with her admin background, goes after the less high profile, more real power committees, like Ways and Means. ("I'm sorry, senator, there isn't enough money in the budget to heat your offices this year...")

311, 1122.

Meanwhile, on the Intrepid Voyager, Robert and Ariana put their plan into play. First step, to make sure they actually have backup tapes. There's an auto tape loader that feeds backup tapes into a clean system, so that's good news. The bad news? Some one has hand re-labelled all the backups: "Good backup?", "Bad backup?", "Don't use this backup!", "EVIL backup!", "Felix's Favorite Tunes", "Do not use under any circumstances!", "Self destruct tape", etc. And there's a note, in an elegant hand, from Felix: "You have no doubt noticed that I have modified your backup tapes. However, one of the backup tapes is actually a good one, so no one can say I'm not a good sport. PS I have modified these tapes so that once the restore is started, it must complete, and cannot be stopped. " Robert puts in the "Self-destruct tape". Felix's voice: "Excellent choice! This would have been the correct tape, if I had played fair. But, I lied. This really is the self-destruct program. See you in the next life." A chain reaction has been set into play, and the reactor is going to go. Alarms go off, safety pods are launched, etc. Computer: "Four minutes to make minimum safe distance. Primary and secondary cooling systems are off line." The safety pods are all gone, and the gig has been blown off it's moorings, leaving Robert and Ariana with no way off except to grab their extra oxygen bottles and go out in their vac suits. Ariana: "We're going to die out here, aren't we?" Robert: "No we're not." How they're going to get far enough away from blast radius is the big question, but out of the ship they go.

On board a Naval vessel just into system, and maneuvering towards Regina. Ensign: "Ma'am? Are you sure you want to go here? It's quite dangerous." Viper: "Yes, I'm sure, but thank you." The 'derelict' ship is spotted, apparently just left out there as a hazard to navigation, and the crew would like to blow it up. (They're bored.) Viper is okay with this, but they have to call the starport first, to get clearance. Starport Authority is panicking, as the ship's drives are going critical, and it's drifting toward the station, so they would really like the Navy to blow it up, please!

Viper gets to go down to the huge belly turret for the particle beam, so she can watch. (She's bored too.) One of the gunners attaches a grounding tether to Viper's ankle, explaining that the charge from the particle beam would be very unpleasant. (It's an older gun, but they don't make them this big and ugly anymore, and the crew is fond of it.) Gunner: "Ma'am? Would you care to?" He indicates the gunner's chair. Viper: "You mean I get to push the button?" Gunner: "Absolutely, you can do the honors." He puts Viper into the chair, and explains the set up. Most of the work is done by the computer, but she can adjust the sights, and the exact point of impact. Viper: "What part of the ship should I aim for?" Gunner: "Well, ma'am, with the size of the ship and the range we're at, it really won't matter."

Viper sees something floating near the ship. Gunner: "Stuff has been sloughing off the ship. It'll probably dissolve from the targeting radar." Viper really cranks up the magnification, and she thinks there are people out there. After Robert pulls Ariana closer, now it looks like some sort of eight-legged creature. Ah, it was probably just debris, after all. Robert and Ariana are feeling better once Viper turns off the targeting radar, but they're still not happy campers. Gunner: "Ma'am, watch this. Chief? Take care of that ship's boat." The gig suddenly disappears. It's very pretty - ionized gas dissipating. Viper overhears a whispered "Have engineering get us closer so she can see up close, give her a thrill." Viper realizes this is one of the few ratings who hasn't been to the onboard firing range with her; this will be remedied.

Robert sees a light coming closer. With his luck, it's a missile. Wait, maybe it's a satellite! That could be good. Robert uses up his spare oxygen bottle to take them closer to the trajectory of the satellite. They do get closer, and it is a large satellite - it has the Times logo on it. Robert then goes to use Ariana's spare bottle of oxygen, and finds that the valve has been tampered with, and the tank is empty. Ariana puts her faceplate against Robert's. Ariana: "I think there's something wrong with my suit..." She's sort of babbling. Robert can now see that Ariana's suit is not as stiff as it should be, and on close examination, he finds that her suit has lots and lots of tiny little holes in it. That bastard Esterhazy. Robert patches as much as he can, and tosses the two empty bottles away to try to get momentum towards the satellite. He eventually has to use his last oxygen bottle to get them moving in the right direction. Robert ends up going way too fast towards the satellite, and hits the solar panel. Ariana hits the end of her tether, sending the satellite spinning.

Gunner: "We'll wait until the satellite moves out of your field of vision, ma'am. We still have 70 seconds before the reactor goes critical." Viper, who has been watching the satellite, sees it start to spin. She tells the rating. Rating: "Whoa - it looks like it's lost its stabilizers." But it's out of the line of fire, so Viper gets to blow up the big luxury yacht, and it's very satisfying. Then Viper sees some lunatic, that would be Robert, get jerked off to the end of his tether, as Ariana maintains a death grip on the panel. Viper: "Those are people! Crazy people, but people." The Times is queried as to whether or not they are having maintenance done on their satellite, and the answer is no - feel free to arrest whoever's on it.

Robert wakes up when he's being lightly kicked. That's no way to treat some one in the Elyssian Fields! He opens his eyes to find two Imperial Marines standing over him, in some sort of a small room. His helmet is off, and there's an atmosphere, so he's breathing. Ariana is laying next to him. Robert: "Did you get Count Barada?" Marine: "Who?" Robert: "Count Barada. He was on board the Intrepid Voyager." Marine: "Uh...The ship was going to blow, and we weren't receiving any FFI information..." Robert: "He was on board the ship, trying to fix it." Marine: "Ah, we better get this to an officer." They take the victims to sickbay. Marine <to himself>: "Maybe they have brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Please God, let him have brain damage, and there not have been an important noble on board the ship we just blew up."

Viper is informed of the um, situation. Ensign: "Pardon me for asking, ma'am, but, who's Count Barada?" Viper actually remembers that the Count is, or was, very rich, very powerful, horribly burned, and some one who kept hidden from the public. Fortunately, not some one with a large family to come after them. Unfortunate, as the Count is the last of the family line. And there is absolutely no chance whatsoever, of finding remains. Lt.: "Then there is the matter of the crew, or the people claiming to be the crew." Viper: "Do we have any reason to believe they are not the crew?" Lt.: "Not really, ma'am." Viper: "Then they're the crew." Lt.: "Yes ma'am."

Viper and several other officers have a meeting with the Captain, as this situation could be a considerable embarrassment to the Navy, since they blew up the ship that (apparently) the Baron was on. Viper: "Yes, but the ship was 45 seconds away from blowing up, and 45 seconds is not enough time to get clear of a nuclear explosion." One of the ensigns in the room blurts out: "Excuse me, sir, but didn't the Starport Authority request that we blow up the ship?" The room goes quiet, and everyone turns to the young (heretofore anonymous) ensign. <Pause> Viper: "Good work, Hawkins!" Captain: "Yes, ensign, quite right. You'll go far, young man. Right! We were acting as agents of the Regina Starport Authority." So, it's Corina's fault? There will have to be a Coroner's Inquest.

In the sick bay, Robert overhears two Marines talking. Marine A: "Well, what are we going to do with them?" Marine B: "What do you think? We're going to turn them over to the coroner." Marine A: "Right, you two, let's go. It's to the coroner with you." They are transported to the starport, and turned over to the police.

Viper has come to Regina for several reasons. First, she just has to get away from Rhylanor every once in a while, before she explodes! She can't wear jeans, and she has a fashion consultant, and has to be careful that she presents the correctly "ducal" image. Second, she has Theresa's wedding ring to return to Mikie. Viper checks into Clairidges, and gives Corina a ring. Fortunately, as soon as the ship jumped into system, the Duchess' people were informed that Viper was coming in, although travelling under her most minor title (Baroness) to avoid as much pomp and circumstance as possible. And Viper sends Black a little note that she's arrived. Of course, Viper knows that Black already knows she's here, and Black knows that she knows that he knows she's already here, and oh never mind. The important thing is that they have a good, friendly working arrangement.

In Regina Trauma, Will Delgado is working on Verlak's latest victim, Irving. It's really crowded in the operating room, as Will is working on Irving's head (interesting - Pikhans have double-hulled skulls, with a layer of spongy bone in the middle, like a bike helmet), a thoracic surgeon is working on his chest, etc. Nurse: "Doc, what do you want me to do with this?" Hmm, he might want that... Pikhans are sure tough little guys. It looks like Irving will make it after all. The brain has been concussed rather seriously, but has not sustained any gross damage.

Ghaer is having a lovely dream. All the attractive Vargr females he's met in his life are there, feeding him little tiddly morsels, grooming him, fanning him, petting him. Then one of them turns her fan around and pokes him with the butt end of it. Ow. Ghaer opens his eyes, and sees a person shining a flashlight up from down below him, and poking him with a long pole. Ghaer is up in the ceiling supports, and restrained or something. Worker: "Hey! Hey, buddy are you all right? What kind of kinky shit are you into up there?" Ghaer seems to be some kind of cocoon. What the...? Ghaer: "I need to get down, please." Ghaer is poked off the beam, and his ten foot fall is cushioned by the cocoon. The worker has to cut him out, and some of the stuff is stuck to Ghaer's fur and clothing, so it's not pleasant. Ghaer's right shoulder and neck really hurt. A lot. The last thing he remembers is going after the figure in the crawlspace, and catching a glimpse of something with too many legs. Something is going to be really unhappy when it comes back for its snack and finds it gone.

Worker: "You all right? Do you need a doctor?" Ghaer is concerned about a possible toxic giant spider bite, so he would really like to go to a doctor, yes. The worker takes Ghaer up to the park above (near the site of the most recent explosion), and flags down the police. Cop: "You've probably had enough to drink today sir. Oh, what happened to your arm?" The cop looks at the part of his shoulder that Ghaer can't see, grimaces briefly, then tries to reassure Ghaer that he'll be just fine, really. The cop takes Ghaer to Regina Trauma, for another trip to the gun and knife club.

Ghaer isn't able to tell the doctors exactly what bit him, just that it was big and "had too many legs". He's cleaned up, patched up, and scanned. No larvae, sorry, he'll just have to procreate the old fashioned way. There is some necrosis of the skin, and some of his fur is falling out in patches. The areas around the fur is grey, but the doctor feels it's probably just temporary. Really, Ghaer was lucky - the spider's fangs missed all the veins, etc. Bad day for the spider.

It's only about 24 hours that Ghaer's missing, so he's not in too bad a shape. The hospital would like to keep Ghaer overnight, just to make sure. Ghaer tries to call the Intrepid Voyager, but is told that the ship left station yesterday, and requested a parking orbit, but they are no longer in it and did not file a flight plan. Ghaer feels like he has the worst flu of his life, and is crawling up from the gutter after the worst drunk of his life, at the same time.

Will: "God, I'm a great surgeon." Yes, he says it out loud. But yes, he has done an excellent job on Irving. The Pikhan goes off to recovery, and the reconstructive surgeon will work on him later. Some Pikhan Regen™ mysteriously appeared at Regina Trauma, from "an anonymous benefactor". Yes, it was tested before being given to the patient. (It's not paranoia if you live on Regina.)

One of the trauma doctors sees Will as he's changing after surgery. Doctor: "Heading home?" Will: "Yes." Doctor: "Don't blame you, it's been quite the night. First we get a super mouse that some one tries to run through a trash compactor, and then we've got Ling-Ling down in ER with a giant spider bite." Will: "Ghaer Raller?" Doctor: "Yeah, him. A maintenance worker found him, suspended in the overheads, by, and I quote: 'some sort of cocoon'. There was evidence of fang marks about six inches apart, and proteinaceous toxin. He's stable, but they're keeping him overnight in critical care." Will checks on Ghaer before leaving. Ghaer is asleep, and does not look good at all. His arm is all swollen and discolored. Ghaer starts awake suddenly, dreaming of something looming over him. Will: "Ah, draining nicely." Ghaer: "Yes, thank you." Will: "So what the hell did you pick a fight with?" Ghaer: "I didn't. It was more like 'Lunch!'" The attending physician comes into the room. Doctor: "Hey, Will, what are you doing down here? I heard you were coroner - you shopping for clients?" Will: "No, just checking in on a buddy." Doctor: "Good, because this one is going to make it, contrary to appearance. And his head isn't damaged, so we won't be needing a neurosurgeon, so off you go." Will: "I'll see you tomorrow, Ghaer."

Mikie is fine now, thank you, in the Ambassadore. Esterhazy thinks the Autarch has just gotten over it. Or something. Carl is also still in denial about his ancestry. Too bad. Mikie: "Look, the gryphons won't chose Felix, so that's not a concern. Trust me. So it's either you, or some one else - I'm open to suggestions, but it's not me. I'm out of this." And since it's not official until the coronation and anointing, which Mikie is not going to allow (what are they going to do - hold him at gunpoint?), the autarch position is open.

Esterhazy: "There has to be some mistake. There has to be somebody else. You're the All Knowing One." Mikie: "I am not the 'All Knowing One', thank you. And I am not going to be autarch. So, it's either you, or I'll just step down." Esterhazy: "You can't just step down!" Mikie: "Just watch me. I can if the gryphons unchoose me." Esterhazy: "But, the gryphons can't unchoose you. They've never unchosen an autarch...." Esterhazy suddenly stops pacing. Esterhazy: "Aha! The gryphons have never unchosen an autarch. It's supposed to be a sacred bond for life, usually the life of the Autarch. Even the Chamberlain won't be able to find anything in the tomes about this." Finally, a loophole. Esterhazy: "But if you step down, that still leaves Felix." Mikie: "Then if you want, we'll take care of him. He's not going to be autarch, if the gryphons don't chose him, though." Esterhazy: "If the gryphons don't chose him." Mikie: "They won't." Esterhazy: "How do we know that? Only the gryphons know." Mikie: "We'll have to ask them." Esterhazy: "You will have to ask them. Only the Autarch is worthy to speak with the gryphons." Mikie: "So I'll send for them." Blaelok: "I'll just go get one shall I?" There's some scuffling outside, and then Esterhazy is wide-eyed as the doors open and a struggling gryphon is dragged in by it's tail, seemingly by nothing. Mikie on the other hand, sees Blaelok pulling the gryphon in. Gryphon: "Save me, Autarch! Save me from this black-souled thing!" Mikie has Blaelok let the gryphon go. Blaelok carefully wipes his hand with a handkerchief, after letting the gryphon loose. The gryphon cowers in front of Mikie. Gryphon: "Why, oh great Autarch, why are you doing this? Have I not been a loyal subject?" Mikie: "Yes, you're fine. Just calm down." Gryphon: "Then I don't understand. Why are you sometimes such a kind person and others this black-souled evil creature?" Blaelok: "Ah, that would be me. And I find 'evil' to be a very confining term." Mikie: "You're not helping. <to the gryphon> Calm down. <to Blaelok> Would you mind leaving us...?" Blaelok: "Not at all. We're here for you. I'll just go check on Theresa." Blaelok pats Mikie on the shoulder, and leaves. Esterhazy is looking rather strangely at Mikie, especially after he said "You're not helping" out loud, to thin air. But, insanity has never been grounds for exclusion for a Lyrian Autarch. Well, maybe it should be.

Now that the poor gryphon is in the room, Mikie can ask him the important question - about choosing Felix, who's deranged. Gryphon: "Yes, yes, we will chose whoever you say. The other you has already told us." Mikie: "There's no other me." Gryphon: "You forget that we, like you, are psionic. We can read his mind, his heart. He's evil. How can you share the same essence?" Mikie <uncomfortable>: "We don't...We don't." Gryphon: "Whatever you say, Autarch! I would not contradict you." Mikie: "Calm down. I'm not going to hurt you." Gryphon: "It is not you that we fear, but the other you." Mikie: "You can go now." The gryphon kowtows before leaving. Blaelok: "I rather like that. Well, what can I do for you? You must want me for something? No? All right." The footsteps fade away.

Esterhazy: "Your grace? Is there something else?" Mikie: "They won't choose Felix." Esterhazy: "Even so, Felix could still make trouble if he chose to. And even if there is no mistake, I do not share the same gift as you and the late Prince; I cannot communicate with the gryphons. That is another mark of the Autarch." Mikie checks Esterhazy out, and there is not a smidgen of psionic ability there at all. He's like Ghaer, only much more linear - there's right and wrong, black and white. Very straightforward. Damn.

Speaking of bad news, right after Will goes home and goes to bed (well, a couple of hours after), his new acting-coroner beeper goes off. Good thing Will's used to being sleep deprived. They need him to look at a body, and look into an inquest, although it looks like it's going to be a lot more straightforward than they thought originally." Will: "Inquest? What am I supposed to do at an inquest??" Clerk: "Well, you're the coroner." Will: "But what did the last coroner do? Isn't there a manual or something?" Clerk: "I don't know. Have you checked your office?" Will drags himself to his new office, and is able to find the very dusty manual. He begins to read it as the information comes in.

Clerk <to Will>: "A noble has gotten himself killed." Ship's reactor was going critical, ship blown up, etc. They've recovered a body, and they need Will to confirm that it's Count Barada. Will: "Has he been on station before?" Clerk: "No." Will: "So he just jumped into system and the ship blew up?" Clerk: "Oh, I thought you meant besides this trip. Yes, he has been on station." Will: "So we should have his ID, retina scan, fingerprints, DNA, and all." Clerk: "Well, yes and no." They have DNA on his documents. The Count was a very private man, and used all his noble influence to avoid being poked, prodded, fingerprinted, etc., since he had been disfigured in a horrible accident. Will figures that since the accident happened while the Count was in the Navy, there should be records, which he requests. And there are two crew members - the pilot, a Navy guy, and the Count's (wink-wink) niece. Will: "Well, how did the crew members survive and the Count didn't?" Clerk: "They had vac suits on. The body didn't." And that's what Will needs to sort out.

Will meets with Dr. Mason, the pathologist. He'll be doing the actual autopsy, while Will gets all that nasty paperwork. The bodybag is delivered, and the attendant tells the doctors that it's not in too bad a shape, sort of freeze-dried. Mason: "Well, you're the coroner, what are we doing?" Will: "An autopsy. <Mason give him an expectant look> We need to look for identifying scars, marks, tattoos, fingerprints, etc., as there may be a question of identity. And cause of death." Mason: "Lots of scarring, due to radiation burns, apparently. Right age. Take a look here - around the neck, tell me what you think. Ligature marks?" Will looks, and sure enough, there is a wide ligature mark around his neck. Will: "Check his wrists and ankles for marks too." Mason: "Doesn't look like he was tied up, but according to the gas-chromatograph, there wouldn't have been a need to. Either the Count had trouble sleeping, or some one slipped him a mickie. I haven't seen chlorohydrate for years, I didn't think you could still get it." Will: "Was he killed before he was spaced, or did he die as the result of exposure to vacuum?" Mason: "I'd say he was dead long before he was spaced. Probably killed and then kept until it was convenient to dispose of the body. They would have been better off leaving the body on board the ship. But nobody said criminals were bright. Looks like you've got a murder on your hands." The body was found eight hours after the ship blew, by sheer accident, by a ship out looking for salvage. Will: "Well, he's a dead man of wealth and power - he doubtless made enemies. But at least we have the last two people who saw him alive." Mason: "You better have a long talk with those people, because they're lying. According to their brief statements, Count Barada was alive and valiantly trying to stop the engines from going critical when he died. "

Will pays a call on Commissioner Globber, and fills him in on what was found out about the body. Globber: "I can see some one is going to have to have a chat with the survivors. Would you like to observe?" Behind the two-way mirror? Just like in Major Case Squad? Of course Will would like to observe! Globber: "Good, good. <on the intercom> Margaret, would you send some cinnamon roles and some coffee down to interview room three please?" Will: "I might be able to tell you whether or not they're lying, based on physical evidence and they're reactions." Globber: "I can see it's going to be different having a doctor as coroner."

In the holding cells, Robert gets a visit from Detective Weseli. James: "Mr. Shelzie? I wonder if you would mind coming down with us to interview three? We have a few last questions to ask you before letting you go. What with a noble dying and all, you understand." Robert goes with them. James: "We just have a few more questions for you. Oh, and we managed to recover the Count's body." The camera with the thermal imager is broadcasting to the hidden room Will and Globber are in. James: "Since you and Ariana were the last people to see the Count alive, we would like you to verify a few things for us. Now, according to your statements, the Count stayed behind because the engines were overloading, and you left, right? You just left the Count behind, why was that?" Robert is not answering any questions, so he doesn't have to lie. James: "How did you come to be on the ship?" He's still not answering. Second cop: "Hello! Do you have a hearing problem, son?" Robert: "No, I can hear him." Cop: "What's the matter? Did the Count find out about you and the blonde? Did he confront you about it, and you lost your temper and space him?" No response. James: "Is that what happened? Did you lose your temper? Did he say something to make you mad? Maybe you had something going with the girl in the other room, is that it?" Robert: "Lawyer." James: "You're a lawyer?" Robert: "I want my lawyer." The police then bring up Robert's recent record on Regina, his run in with Count Barada (sort of), his parole, Judge Bubba, etc. Robert is not going to say anything to the detectives. Period. And the cops aren't going to rough Robert up, since that would mess up a perfectly good case. James: "Look buddy, if I were you, and the girl or some one else is responsible, then you better talk to us. She's being questioned in the other room right now, and you can bet she's going to save herself from a murder charge if given the chance." Robert: "The Count isn't dead." Will <over the intercom>: "The man on the slab is very, very, dead. I had his brain in my hands, and I don't do that with live people." Robert: "The Count's not dead." James: "Okay..." Robert: "I'm telling you, and I'm telling you the truth - the Count is not dead." James: "Right. Some one broke into the main computer system, changed the Count's records so that they'd match the body's, right? It's all part of some great conspiracy." Robert: "Who's your coroner?" James: "Will Delgado." Robert: "I want to talk to him." Will comes into the room. Robert: "I want to talk to you, off the record. These two can stay <indicating the cops>, but I want it off the record." Will: "Can I do that? Can I talk to him off the record?" James: "Sure. What's he going to say now that would make things worse for him?" Robert: "You have a body you're claiming to be Count Barada?" Will: "It is Count Barada." Robert: "No, it's not Count Barada. And Ghaer Raller can verify that it's not Count Barada." Will: "We have his Naval records. They match." Robert: "Naval records can get switched. It happens all the time. You go ask Ghaer." James: "Should we haul him in?" Will: "Who?" James: "Ghaer." Will: "He's in the hospital, he's not going anywhere. And he has no reason to talk to us, he wasn't involved in any of this, he was hung up in a cocoon while all this was going on." Now there's a new alibi!

312, 1122.

The Tattler has great headlines today! "Love Triangle Ends in Count's Death!", "Hyper-Vargr Survives Giant Spider Attack!", "Frozen Secretary Rises from the Dead and Roams Up Port in Search of Victims!", "Ghost of Solomani Consul Haunts Consulate!", "Spirit Killer Haunts Psych Ward!", "Psionic Ruler Sent to Boobyhatch!" Oh joy.

Viper catches up on the local news, and oh my. All of the above, and the Lyrian crap too. Sigh. Since Viper wants to speak with Mikie and doesn't know whom to contact, she gives Black a call to ask for some assistance. Black: "I would be happy to place the organs of government at your disposal." Now there's a lovely image. Viper: "I don't know that the organs will be needed. I just wondered if you could help me locate a couple of friends. One of them is Michael Griffin." Black: "That's too easy. He's staying in the Ambassadore hotel, with all of his retinue." Viper: "Retinue?" Black: "Oh yes - chamberlain, servants, captain of the guard, royal backscratcher, and all that." Viper: "How depressing." Black: "Anyone else?" Viper: "Mr. Raller. I read about the 'giant spider' attack. Is he still in the hospital?" Black: "Yes, he's still in the hospital, although he's expected to make a full recovery. As for the so-called 'giant spider', there's not much you can do about it when children bring exotic pets onto the station, and their parents flush them down the toilet." Viper: "So that's the problem!" Viper exchanges pleasantries with Black, and he invites her to have dinner with him at his club during her stay. She accepts.

Once Viper is off the phone with Mr. Black, she calls up the Ambassadore, and asks for the room number Black provided. Viper: "Is Mr. Griffin available?" Chamberlain <who recognizes the Duchess of Rhylanor>: "I'm sure the Autarch will wish to speak to you. I shall go inquire of him at once, your Grace."

In the Autarch's room, there's is a soft rapping at the door. Mikie: "What?" The chamberlain enters, bowing. Chamberlain: "Oh Munificent One, Most Radiant ...." Mikie: "Is there a point!??" Chamberlain: "Yes, oh Favored of Heaven." Mikie <thinking>: "Boy, is he wrong!" Chamberlain: "Her Grace, the Duchess of Rhylanor inquires if you would have the time to fit her in to your busy schedule? What message shall I send her?" Mikie: "Did she leave a number?" Chamberlain: "Of course. Shall I have a message sent to her?" Mikie: "Can't you just give me the number?" Of course he can't just give him the number, silly Autarch. After a brief struggle, Mikie gives up. Mikie: "Okay, what's the quickest way for me to speak with her?"

The special, ridiculously ornate phone, in the overly ornate box is brought in by the special Royal Phone man (who can't float on his back when at the beach, lest some one see his magnificent proboscis and think him a shark), and the special Royal Phone carriers, who wear white gloves and dial one digit at a time with a special stick. Mikie takes the phone, and makes everyone leave. Including the Chamberlain. Chamberlain: "I shall await your command, without."

The latest issue of the Tattler bears the banner headline: "Regina Police Form Special Spider Force", along with some sort of stock photo in the Tattler of police officers in balaclavas. Rick Walker, on Port in pursuit of a ship for Adam Shelzie to fund for his privateering venture, glances at the headlines in the newsfaxes as he passes. If anything, Regina is getting even weirder.

The phone in the coroner's office rings, and Will answers. A voice he's never heard before says: "This is Banks. Osbourne Banks. Just thought I'd pass along some information that's come my way. That Shelzie person? He's not involved in this Count Barada incident. I'll be seeing you. Good day." <click> Will <looking at the phone>: "Who the hell is Osbourne Banks?" Will has to look him up, and finds out that Sir Osbourne Banks is the Minister of Justice on Regina. That makes him Globber's boss, Mercer Black's boss, oh yeah, and Will's boss. Oh.

Will is still trying to figure out this Count Barada thing, even if Banks says Robert Shelzie isn't involved. Will speaks with Detective James Weseli about his questioning of Ariana 'Smith'. Will: "What's your impression of the woman?" James: "Very circumspect, thinks about everything she says." Will: "Did she come on board station?" James: "Apparently she didn't. She was on board the ship." That means no processing through customs. Damn. Will: "Did she back Shelzie's story up?" James: "She very limitedly reinforced the Shelzie story." Will: "Did she say the Count was dead?" James: "No." Will: "Did she say the count was alive?" James: "No." Will: "I thought that the point of the police asking questions was to get information?" James: "She says she doesn't know." Will: "When did she say she saw him last?" James: "When he was trying to repair the drives." Will: "We know that's a lie. Did she give any kind of explanation of what led up to the drives going critical?" James: "She claims that she was a companion, and that she doesn't have any technical expertise, and we should ask Robert Shelzie." Will: "What kind of companion?" James: "Diversion, apparently. Although not physical. And she wasn't on board long." Will: "Did the Count act as his own pilot?" James: "Sometimes." Will: "Did he act as his own pilot when he came into Regina?" James: "Yes. She did reiterate several times that the Count had every confidence in Lt. Commander Shelzie. I think she believes she's being helpful, but she's holding something back." Will goes to see her.

Ariana: "I don't know what's happened to Count Barada, but as long as I've known him, which wasn't long, I can't believe he's dead." Will: "Why do you say that?" Ariana: "I don't know. He just gave off that sort of vibe." Will: "Was he psionic?" Ariana: "Good heavens no!" She says that like she finds the suggestion distasteful. Ariana: "I'm sure that Robert has gone over all that with you. He's the pilot, and I'm sure he's much more capable to give you the information you need." Will: "What is it you're not telling us?" Ariana: "I certainly have nothing to hide, and I know that Robert doesn't. We're innocent, as you'll no doubt discover. I'm sure that the stories about Regina aren't true, and that the justice system hear won't let us down." Big smile. Will: "Count Barada is dead -" Ariana: "Is that a ring? You're married aren't you? Delgado? I remember, you married Caroline Collingwood." Will: "Excuse me, we're talking business here." Ariana: "Of course, you're the Dashing Dueling Daring Doctor!" Will: "That's right, and I'm about to lose my chance to rescue you from your fate if you don't cooperate." Ariana: "I know who you need to speak with! I don't know why I didn't think of this before. There's a man named Esterhazy. He was dealing with the Count. I believe there was some sort of problem between them." Will is told that Esterhazy had been on the ship, and "must have sabotaged it somehow. You need to get this Esterhazy. I think he's a dangerous guy. He's responsible for it all." Will: "Esterhazy didn't make up your lies. Okay, so Esterhazy left the ship, and then?" Ariana: "He left just before we...before we left the station." She's obviously very uncomfortable. Ariana: "I'm not feeling well, can we talk later?" Will: "Look, I just want to get to the bottom of this. Right now, it looks like Robert Shelzie killed the count and blew up the ship to cover it up." Ariana: "Can I tell you something that you can't tell anyone else?" Will: "Only if it's about your physical condition." Ariana: "What I would tell you would impact on a noble house, mean thousands of lost jobs, the destruction of an ancient family. You can understand, can't you?" Will: "I'm listening." Ariana: "What if I were to tell you that the count is alive? That I'd seen him, very much alive, very recently?" Will: "Well, unless he's masquerading as a police officer, I've seen him more recently than you have, and he's very dead." Ariana: "Then he must have been masquerading as a police officer, because he's as alive as I am. To tell you anymore would destroy Count Barada, and break a solemn promise." Will: "You have to decide whether it's worth it to keep you off death row." Will leaves, still frustrated.

Will <to James>: "She's obviously lying up a storm." James: "Yeah, but why? What the heck is she trying to protect? Well, people lie even when it's not in their best interest. They're lying to protect each other, maybe thinking the other one is a murderer, and they might be right." Will leaves to go see Ghaer.

Rick is interested in the news, so he decides to go find Ghaer, and ask him about the spider thing. He heads for Regina Trauma, where everybody wants to talk with Ghaer it seems - the coroner, the press, etc. Rick is told that he needs to wait as the patient was speaking with the coroner. Ghaer: "The arm's getting better." Will: "Good. You don't look quite as bad as you did, so you'll probably even live." Ghaer: "Thank you so much." Will: "Okay, yesterday, when the man with the splinter gun came to take you and the Shelzie guy to see Count Barada, did you?" Ghaer: "Yes, I did see him. Or I saw his clothing. And smelled him. Something that you flat faces often forget." Will: "Okay, care to come down to the morgue and smell him again?" Ghaer: "Okay..." Will: "There will be an overlaying scent of death and other things, but it might work." Will wheels Ghaer out. Rick waves at Ghaer. Ghaer: "Hey Rick. I'll be right back." Rick: "Do you need higher tech medical treatment than you can get here?" Ghaer: "No, that's okay."

At the Ambassadore, once the annoying people have left, Mikie hangs up the stupid, ornate phone, goes to the regular one, and calls Viper himself. Viper: "Michael, hello." Mikie: "Hello." Viper: "You seem to have been busy." Mikie: "I guess that's one way of putting it." Viper: "You know the papers, they tend to leave things out." Mikie: "When did you get in?" Viper: "A couple of hours ago. I was wondering if you'd have time to have dinner some time this week?" Mikie: "Whenever you like." Viper: "Oh, you mean I don't have to schedule it through several layers of chamberlains or whatever?" Mikie: "Not as far as I'm concerned, no." Viper: "Well, how about tonight or tomorrow?" Mikie: "Tonight's fine. where?" Viper: "We can have a quiet dinner in, or go to the Oaks." Mikie: "In's fine, or the Oaks if you'd like." Viper: "The Oaks then, at 7:00 tonight." It's a date.

Speaking of dates, Will takes Ghaer down to look at the dead guy. The body looks like the Count is supposed to, but Ghaer says it "doesn't have the right scent". He's lying through his teeth. Will: "Let me put it this way. The Count is dead. His body matches his ID, his Naval medical history, everything. Ariana and Shelzie are lying. They're lying about a lot of things. They're lying separately, and they're not lying well." Ghaer: "What was their rad count? And what was the body's?" The body has definitely been in vacuum, but not in space, and decidedly not near a drive explosion - no radiation in the tissue. So, this is a dead Count Barada, according to the records. The only thing that doesn't agree is the story that Robert Shelzie and Ariana are telling. Will: "Okay, why do you believe that count Barada is alive?" Ghaer: "Because he doesn't smell right." Will: "All you know is you met a person 24 hours or so ago, who claimed to be Count Barada, and who doesn't 'smell like' this body. Do you know that person really was the Count?" Ghaer: "No, I don't know that. He didn't have a driver's license. All I know is the person seemed to match the ship, in personality. And he matched the two old servants, who were decidedly servile." Will: "What were the servants' names?" Ghaer: "Those I can give them you."

Cooling his heels in his holding cell, Robert's rest is interrupted when a section of wall falls in, and some guy he's never seen before pokes his head in and says: "Robert Shelzie?" Robert: "Yes...?" Man: "Come with me. I'm hear to get you out of here." Robert: "I don't know who the hell you are, and I'm not going with you." Robert figures that escaping will just confirm everything the police already suspect. And besides, he's a Shelzie. Shelzies do not flee through holes in walls. Man: "Look. Everything's gone to hell, and they're rolling up the project. I don't know all the details." Robert: "I am not going with you." The man finally leaves.

Will: "Well, somebody went to a lot of trouble faking this death then. If the real Count wants to be dead, why don't they let him?" Ghaer: "If I understand it correctly, it has something to do with the Count's estate." Mason: "We do have something interesting about the Count. According to his DNA, the Count has had a sex change." Will: "The count is a female?" Mason: "Evidently." It's not the body that's been changed, it's the DNA on the ID. Someone manipulated the DNA, but the pathologist found the traces. Mason: "you know, this has me disturbed. To make a body like this, it takes megacredits. how do we know Regina Security isn't involved? Or the ISA? We don't want to rock the wrong boat." Will is going to speak with Commissioner Globber.

Ghaer gets to go back to his room, and see Rick. Rick: "Ghaer, you've looked better. On the other hand, you've looked worse." Ghaer: "Thank you?" Rick: "So, do you know what's been happening with our friend the Autarch?" Ghaer: "Sort of. He is in a lot of trouble." Rick: "Does he need calvary?" Ghaer: "What he really needs is time to himself to grieve and deal with things. Mike is really hurting, and I think it's gone to his head. This Autarch thing isn't helping." Rick: "Well, maybe he needs a vacation. We can go to Bob, I've heard it's a wild place. Or we can go shrimp fishing. Or camping on Down Port. So, what are we going to do first?" Ghaer: "There are several things. There's something very un-good running around." Rick: "This is Regina, what's new with that? Is it something specifically un-good?" Ghaer: "Something that If it doesn't have the knowledge it needs, it sort of absorbs it." That doesn't sound good. Rick: "Uh, do we need armor?" Ghaer: "I guess so." Rick: "Where's yours?" Ghaer points at his arm, which is still too swollen to be put into armor. Rick: "Ah. Tell you what, let's go help Mike, and I'll make sure you don't get attacked by any more giant spiders. Sounds like what passes as a plan. Ghaer is allowed to check out, after being sucked dry by the bill. Aaaaah!!!

In police headquarters, on his way to see Globber, Will gets a call on his cell phone. Cop: "Hey Doc, you're gonna love this. This Shelzie guy you wanted us to talk to? We're standing in front of his cell right now, and there's a two metre wide hole in it." Will: "He escaped?!" Cop: "No, he's still in the cell, it just has a two metre hole in it. Looks like it was dug from the outside." Will: "Well, try not to lose him for now." Will goes into Globber's office. Globber: "That will be all for now, Tracy." The leggy blonde gets off his desk and leaves. Will: "Thanks for taking the time to see me. I've got to talk to you about this Count Barada mess." Globber: "Of course, of course. Eclair? I made them myself." Will takes one of the huge éclairs, and they are good. Will: "Right. Now, we've got this body in the morgue. The body was murdered, or made to be murdered. The Count's medical records match the body, but the witnesses all say it's not him and - " Globber: "Dr. Delgado. A moment. I feel like I've walked into the middle of the movie. The body appeared to have been murdered?" Will: "The body was murdered, and was made to look like it was Count Barada's body." Globber: "The two people you have in custody are probably lying, but it's apparently about the succession. They're trying to keep it alive. There's a lot of money involved. The really interesting thing is when Osbourne banks called, you know who he is?

Yes, I know who Sir Osbourne is." He looks up on the wall, where there's a picture of him and Sir Osbourne. Will's phone rings again. Mason: "Will, this is Cecil.. You remember the Count's body? It's gone. I left the room for five minutes, and it's gone. Not a scrap, not a sausage. Gone." Will: "Let's not discuss your dietary habits." Mason: "I don't know about you, but I don't like the way this is going." Will: "Don't worry, all you do is cut them up." Mason: "That's right. It's the coroner who actually signs off on things. I'll talk to you later." Globber: "You were saying?" Will: "The body's missing." The phone rings. Globber: "Of course I'll speak to him. Yes....Yes, of course. <to Will> I have to take this call. We'll talk later." Will knows when he's been dismissed, so he leaves. On the way out he runs into James Weseli, and tells him about the call from Osbourne. Will: "We can't get them to tell the truth, the body's gone missing, so as far as I'm concerned you can just turn them both loose, and be done with it."

Rick and Ghaer are still discussing their future plans, and Rick thinks the best idea is to just get them and Mikie the hell off Regina. Rick: "I can be prepped in 15 minutes, off station in 20, and off we go. To wherever." Ghaer: "Michael is going through really bad stuff since his wife was murdered, and there's something else, but he won't tell me about it." Rick: "That's pretty rough. Did they catch the bad guys?" Ghaer: "Sort of. Parts of them." Rick: "That's no good. no closure there." No kidding.

Jailer: "Hey! Shelzie!" Robert: "What?" Jailer: "You're free to go." Robert follows, and Ariana has been brought out too. She goes to him and hugs him. Robert <whispering>: "Don't say anything - let's just get out of here while we can." Ariana nods, and they are processed out.

Will's report: body recovered from space, identity unknown. Cause of death: asphyxiation, possibly from being improperly defrosted. Orderly: "That one armed salvage operator is going to be really disappointed. He really thought he'd found something." Will: "One armed salvage operator??" The person who claimed to have "found" the body of Count Barada matches the description of Esterhazy - one arm and an eyepatch, but the orderly can't remember which arm was missing. Orderly: "Guy like that, though, he shouldn't be too hard to find. Oh, and your wife called, several times." Will: "Why didn't some one tell me??" He calls Bunny, who's upset because he's been gone all this time, and he missed dinner, and he hasn't even called to tell her what was going on. Will's very sorry. Really.

Robert and Ariana leave the police station. Robert: "I feel like getting off this place and having it towed into the sun." (Ah yes, but which sun?) Ariana: "I understand the feeling, but you know, Esterhazy and whoever's pulling his strings are still here, and if we leave, they'll get away with it. But if you want to leave, I'll understand." Robert: "No, you're right. We'll get through this." Ariana wants to go celebrate, so they look up a restaurant and decide to go to the Oaks, since it's listed as having good steaks in the guide.

Viper, in the Navy limo, has picked up Mikie. No one argued with Mikie over going out by himself. Esterhazy looks like he's about to, gets an odd look on his face, and decides that discretion is the better part of valor. The limo arrives at the Oaks just ahead of Ghaer and Rick, who spotted Viper and Mikie at the Ambassadore, and just followed. Rick, who hasn't been on planet for a couple of months, can see that Mikie isn't looking well - dark circles under his eyes, weight loss, looks like he hasn't been sleeping. Rick: "So, can we join you, or are we interrupting?" Viper <to Mikie>: "You don't mind, do you?" Mikie: "No." The group goes inside, where Viper is very well known. Maitre d': "Your Grace. It's good to see you again. Will you require a table in back?" Viper: "Maybe later. I think my guests will feel more comfortable in the main area." Maitre d': "Of course. Gaspar! The best table for her Grace. And the Autarch. How nice of you to join us, your Illuminance." Mikie: "No. Please." Maitre d': "Ah, I see. We are nothing if not discreet. Show Mr. Griffin to his table."

Bunny has dragged Will, um, suggested that they go out to dinner, somewhere different. Since that's just the way the universe works, she wants to go somewhere new, so they too end up at the Oaks, and come over to say hello to Viper's group. Viper asks how Bunny is doing, and the response is "Happy, and in love with my man." She's a bit different since the head injury, but she's still such a charming person. Time for a bigger table.

Robert and Ariana will be at a different table than that the evil SolSec psionic. Robert, recognizing the wife of Grand Admiral Grey, sends a note: "Your Grace, you realize you're sitting with an evil SolSec psionic? R.S." Viper reads the note, and with great effort does not laugh. She raises an eyebrow, looks over at Robert (who she does not know) and nods. She sees the full flap holster, and realizes that ah, it's a Navy guy. Robert figures that the Admiral's wife must know what she's doing.

Bunny <to Mikie>: "Tell us about this Autarch thing. Is it exciting, is it fulfilling, does it keep you busy?" Rick: "It looks like it pays well. I seem to remember a time when you had no money, and wanted lots." Mikie: "No. All I ever wanted was enough money to pay rent." Rick: "Well, that's important." Bunny goes on about what was in the paper about the former coroner's car, the description of Verlak, the seatbelting of the body... Bunny: "You'd think he had his girlfriend in there or something." Mikie pales visibly, clenching his hands. Bunny <charming, but oblivious>: "Oh, that reminds me, hon. I have something for you. Anniversary and celebrating your new job." Will: "But I didn't get you anything." Bunny: "That's all right dear, it's mostly for your new job." Will unwraps the package and finds a set of books - "Rex Ruskin, Crime Doctor" novels, signed by the author, who's a forensic toxicologist. Cool.

Robert, still concerned about the nearby evil SolSec psionic, tells Ariana what he's worried about. Ariana: "How do you know he's a SolSec agent?" Robert: "Some one told me he was." Ariana: "He doesn't look Solomani to me. Besides, have you ever seen a SolSec agent who wasn't tall, good-looking, well-dressed, and with something attractive on his arm?" Robert: "Well, no. But I've never seen one." Ariana: "And we're more than a year away from the Rim, so what are the odds that one of them would even be here?" Little does she know Regina has become THE vacation spot for SolSec agents. Ariana: "I think your friend may have been mistaken." Robert isn't so sure.

A waiter approaches Viper's table. (Yes, it's really a waiter.) Waiter: "Mr. Griffin?" Mikie: "Yes?" Waiter: "This was just delivered for you. I was told it was urgent." Mikie opens the manila envelope. It has flat photos in it. Flat photos that look like they were taken in a hotel room in the Ambassadore, with an auto-timer. Looks exactly like the little woman (Theresa). On the bed. With her special man. And it's not Mikie. Mikie stands up, blood draining from his face, the pictures falling from his hands. Blaelok: "This has gone on long enough."

Rick goes after the waiter. Robert hears a disturbance, and looks over at the table. He now sees a tall, unattractive man standing right behind Mikie, with a hand on his shoulder. Robert decides to charge the table, to save the Admiral's wife, but it will take him a few seconds to close. Mikie's eyes roll back in his head, and he falls to the ground as Viper, who recognizes Blaelok, draws to shoot. He's supposed to be dead! Ghaer hears the voice of evil as he is on the floor, trying to get the pictures picked up. Will medics Mikie, who is apparently having a seizure.

Viper shoots Blaelok, aiming for his knees. The wall behind him explodes, but Blaelok doesn't miss a beat. Viper: "Great. A projection." She reaches out to hit Blaelok in the knees, and her hand is grabbed in a very strong grip. Oh, wait, a hologram can't.... Blaelok: "Please, your Grace, I do not wish to hurt you." He slaps the gun out of her hand, shattering it. Viper: "You son of a bitch!" Rick has caught up with the waiter, who is very confused. Will has yelled to the doorman for his medical bag. Rick then uses his psionic attack (an artificial implant) on Blaelok. This normally would drop anyone, but it doesn't; Blaelok just shakes it off. Mikie's shield comes up reflexively, and a second later Rick falls to the ground, bleeding from his ears, nose, and mouth.

Since Mikie is convulsing, Ghaer hits him with both barrels of his tranq gun. Robert dives at the evil man who's threatening the Admiral's wife, running full tilt. He goes right through Blaelok, and hits the wall at full speed. He slides to the floor, unconscious. The tranq doesn't seem to be working on Mikie, so Will tries muscle relaxant. That helps with the convulsions, but there's still a lot of rapid eye movement, so Will adds medical tranq. That does the trick, and Mikie's out. Suddenly Viper's hand is released, as Blaelok vanishes like a soap bubble.

There's a sudden hush in the Oaks, then the other people go back to their dinners as Will goes over to medic Rick, who is in bad shape. Ghaer medics Robert, who has a concussion, and a broken a finger. But the wall has been suppressed. Ambulances are called for, and Ariana now realizes that Robert is missing. She had her back to the table, and just ignored all the noise, but now she runs to Robert.

Will puts a cervical collar on Robert, just in case. Ghaer makes sure all the photos have been picked up. Viper asks the waiter who gave him the envelope for Mr. Griffin. Waiter: "It was an average sized guy, with brown hair." Viper: "What was he wearing?" Waiter: "A leather bomber jacket, white turtleneck, dark pants tucked into boots. That's about all I remember." Will: "Did he tip you?" Waiter: "Yes." Will: "How much?" Waiter: "Twenty credits." Viper: "Can I replace that twenty with this fifty?" Oh yeah. Viper carefully takes the twenty, hoping to get fingerprints or DNA traces.

Everyone ends up at Regina Trauma, except for Ghaer and Bunny, who Ghaer is going to see home. One of the doctors at Regina Trauma asks Will if "the coroner is out drumming up business?" Will: "You'd better be careful what you say - I am the Dashing Daring Dueling doctor!" Will decides to call the Regina Security number that Mikie gave him, since he can't find what he needs at the hospital. Voice: "Hello, 627. Who is this?" Will: "This is Doctor Will Delgado, and I need to speak to some one about obtaining a piece of equipment." Voice: "That would be Logistics. I'll transfer you." <beep> Man's voice: "Logistics, 678." Will: "This is Will Delgado. I'm acting coroner -" Man: "William Peregrine Delgado." Will: "Yes, that's correct. I need to borrow a piece of equipment. Do you have a mechanical psi shield?" Man: "That's classified." Will: "I just need to borrow one." <pause> Man: "I can't tell you if we have one, but I can put in a request." Will: "Thank you. I'll need it delivered to Regina Trauma." Man: "I know. Do you want it sent directly to the nurses' station on 2B?" They have the best caller ID on the market. Will: "My office will be fine, thank you." <click>

Robert wakes up with the world's worst headache; <thinking>: "Why am I in a giant lit bell?" Actually, he's in an exam room in ER, but for him it amounts to the same thing. Boy, that wall was hard. Fortunately, aside from the concussion, Robert isn't badly hurt.

Viper is in another exam room, having her hand checked. As it turns out, she has a lateral fracture. Not too bad, they'll just give her something for the pain, and use some bone adhesive to fix her up. Viper has an attractive, very friendly young resident working on her. Antonio: "Have we met before? I never forget a face. And you look like the kind of girl I'd take out - to somewhere nice. Like when we're done here." Viper: "That's a nice offer, but several of my friends were just brought in and I'd like to check on them. And I need to call my husband; I don't think he'd approve." Antonio: "That's all right, tell him you'll be late. Or hell, invite him along."

When Rick wakes up in ER, he doesn't remember anything after docking on Up Port. So he just lets the doctor's do their thing. Then he called his ship to make sure it answers (the AI is there and functional, so yes), and checks the time. He's lost over six hours. Considering the size of his headache, Rick hopes he had a good time.

Viper, having gotten away from Antonio's tender care before it got too tender, calls Mr. Black. Viper: "Do you have any kind of equipment that could dampen or suppress psionic activity?" Black: "Psi-suppress is the easiest way to do that. And it's quite effective." Viper: "I'd prefer to use equipment rather than drugs. He's not reacting well to drugs." And she remembers Mikie telling her how unpleasant suppress was. Black: "There are areas of the brain that control psionics - you could have those removed." Viper: "I don't think so." Black: "Are you fond of the psionic?" Viper: "Yes." Black: "Ah well. That's a problem then." Viper: "It's Mr. Griffin." Black: "Really? That's unfortunate." Viper: "More so than I can explain." Black thinks for a moment. Black: "Well, there is one thing - we have a device that induces Russian sleep, that should dampen all the theta activity." Now that sounds more like what Viper had in mind.

Will pops in to check on Viper. Viper: "Has some one contacted the Lyrians about Michael?" Will: "Not yet. I'm not sure I can handle any more duels related to Mr. Griffin. I still have an IOU out for a duel with his doctor from the last time I disagreed with his treatment." Viper: "I'll take care of the phone call."

En route to walking Bunny home, she and Ghaer go past the Ambassadore. There are several police cars out front of the hotel, and they are escorting people in uniforms into squad cars. Apparently the police went to speak with this Esterhazy person, and he objected. So did some of his friends. They look like they've fallen down stairs a couple of times. Ghaer takes Bunny home, then goes to Regina Trauma to start checking on people.

First stop is Rick's room. Rick: "Hi Ghaer, I was going to look you up." Ghaer: "You did." Rick: "Oh. Can they turn the lights down? I'm hungry can we go get something to eat?" Ghaer: "I think you should get something from the hospital cafeteria, and stay put." Rick: "Ghaer, can you tell me what happened? Quietly?" Rick wants to go home, but he's forced to stay for twenty-four hours just in case. Ghaer: "We were all out to dinner together, and you were protecting the Duchess..."

Will is trying to figure out what is going on with Mikie. He has psi-suppress, and the mechanical shield for himself, and he wants to try to sort out what is going on in Mikie's brain when Blaelok appears; this means before and after scans. Mikie is in the MRI, and Will needs to stimulate a reaction. He could use the pictures, but since Mikie is evidently still unconscious, he can't have him look at anything, so Will tries just talking over the intercom to him about Verlak, before then and after using psi-suppress on him. After the suppress, Mikie is saying something, but so quietly that Will can't understand. He has to go into the room, and get right up to him, at which point Mikie's hand breaks out of the restraint, and he grabs Will by the throat. Literally.

There's a distant voice trying to talk to Mikie, but it's far off, and he's talking to Theresa right now any way, and she's telling him not to listen to the voice - it doesn't matter. Mikie, or rather, his body, points at the orderlies and says "Get out!" in a distinctly Solomani accent. Will: "That's it. You behave, or I'm calling a priest." Blaelok: "Very funny, doctor. You may be the one who needs a priest. You wouldn't want your lovely wife to be widowed a second time, now would you?" Will: "Leave my wife out of this." Blaelok: "That's not important. What is important is that I'm in a bit of a difficulty right now. I have a personality that's interfering with my becoming fully manifested." Will: "If you're looking for sympathy, you've come to the wrong person." Blaelok: "My attempts to drive Mr. Griffin into insanity and permanent retreat have so far been less than completely successful. He is more resilient than I anticipated. I'm going to have to resort to other methods. I'm going to need the undesirable sections of my brain excised, and that's where you come in." Will: "I don't know that I can help you. I might understand the mechanics, but it's not really my area." Blaelok: "Sit there, and don't move or I will kill you, without hesitation." Will's psi-shield is still on, and it doesn't help at all. But he's not going to let Blaelok make the call. Blaelok goes over to the door, and starts trying to bend the door handle. Will starts to draw his gun, but Blaelok beats him to it. Will gets snap kicked in the chest. Good thing Mikie's legs are shorter than Blaelok is used to, or Will would be dead. As it is, his ribs are broken and his chair is sent rolling (the mind of someone trained in martial arts, in the body of some one with similar training is a dangerous combination). Will takes his shot, hitting Mikie or Blaelok in the back with his 9mm. He's still up, and he attacks Will again, breaking his elbow. Will then kicks Blaelok, although not effectively. As Blaelok goes to pick up the gun, Will dives for it too, and sends the gun winging across the room where it sticks to the MRI. It's not going any where now. Then Will gets kicked in the throat. Not a great kick, but adequate. Blaelok then picks the chair up, says "Doctor, you have been most troublesome", and goes to drop it onto Will. Will's attempt to kick him again doesn't do much. Blaelok: "I can see I'll have to go elsewhere for help." He hits Will in the head with the chair. As Will loses consciousness, he hears the phone being picked up. Blaelok: "Paul, you idiot, this isn't working. I'll bring him to you. You need to drive him out. I'll meet you at the park."

Will didn't tell Viper where to wait or where to meet him, so she goes looking for him. She finds a security guard and asks where Dr. Delgado is. She's directed to the MRI room, a few minutes after some one leaves, in a hospital gown. She looks in, calls the guard over, and asks "Where is he?" Guard: "Where is who?" Viper: "Where is the patient Dr. Delgado was working on? Go after him." Guard: "Right. Be careful, he's dangerous!" Some doctors show up, and go to work on Will. The guard calls in: "It looks like we may have a mental patient who's gone missing." Will wakes up, and wants to tell them what he heard, but it takes a couple of tries. He is eventually able to tell Viper that Mikie is in control of another personality, is going to the park to meet some one named Paul, and they're going to remove the Michael personality. Permanently. Viper calls Black, and tells him what's up, asking for help in the park, and a tranq gun. Black: "A tranq gun. Yes, I have something just like that."

Mikie, under Blaelok's control, has walked out of Regina Trauma, pulled a driver out of a cab, and took off in the car. Almost to the park, Blaelok loses control, and Mikie resurfaces. One small problem: Blaelok knows how to drive a car; Mikie hasn't a clue. Mikie manages to not crash too badly, just gets the cab stuck in an access alley. He grabs the leather jacket in the front seat, and gets out of the car. As he does, a blond man pulls up in a Denzetti. Verlak: "Hey boss, come on, let's go." He ushers Blaelok, he thinks, into the car, and takes off. Viper, Ghaer, and Rick, are now in pursuit of the bad guys, in her Navy limo, listening in on the police band. Cop: "Suspects one and two have just gotten into a black Denzetti, and are headed towards Aguilon Park."

Verlak: "I got a place all set up for you, boss, and I've got the little woman in the back." He reaches between the seats, moves the hand, picks up a big tube with handles. Mikie, still somewhat dazed, does not look in the back. The car is allowed to slowly roll forward as Verlak stands up through the sun roof, and fires on the pursuing police car with the recoiless rifle loaded with cannister. The police car literally levitates as it (and everything/one near it) is hit with thousands of rounds of shot. So much for the official pursuit, now for the unofficial one.

Viper's driver is really unhappy about this. Driver: "Ma'am, we've got to get you to safety. The Admiral will fry my ass if anything happens to you!" Viper: "The Admiral is four weeks away. I'm here." The driver starts to put the car into reverse, Ghaer puts a gun to his ear, and the car is stopped. Rick: "Ghaer - you can drive, right?" Ghaer: "Sure, I guess." The driver is left behind as the car takes off after the speeding Denzetti.

Robert didn't want to go with Ghaer, so he's still in his room. Ariana is with him, and is using the restroom currently. Orderly: "How may I help you sir?" Esterhazy: "Colonel. I'm looking for a patient of yours. A Robert Shelzie." Orderly: "This way, Colonel." Robert's door opens, and a man in uniform carrying a big bouquet of flowers, and drawing a shotgun from the bouquet. Robert rolls off the bed, pushes it towards the door, and Esterhazy shoots the stuffing out of it. Ariana screams in the bathroom, Robert charges Esterhazy, who is not noncorporeal, and they wrestle over the gun, which goes off. Both of them pause as the smoke curls up. Esterhazy: "You know, I think one of us was hit." Robert looks down, and there's no blood. But Esterhazy's artificial leg is smoking. Esterhazy: "Damn you! Ruined!" Robert hits Esterhazy with the now empty shotgun, in the head, knocking his jaw loose. Hmm. Esterhazy does not appear to have a normal skull anymore. Esterhazy then drives the knife he drew all the way into Robert's ribcage. Esterhazy then takes a moment to reset his jaw, and Robert uses the shotgun club to hit Esterhazy in the artificial leg, knocking him to the ground. But Esterhazy still gets back up. Esterhazy: "Is that the best you've got? Your woman did worse. Let's see if you squeal like her." He grabs the hilt of the knife and reams on it. Very painful.

At this point Ariana comes screaming out of the bathroom. She runs up and whacks Esterhazy on the head with the stainless steel bedpan, stunning him. She grabs Robert. Ariana: "Wake up, dammit! Wake up, don't you die on me!" Ariana is shaking him. She doesn't see the tentacle coming towards her from Esterhazy's not unconscious form, but Robert does. Robert grabs the tentacle, jamming it into the 220 volt wall outlet. There's a loud bzzap, followed by a big popping noise as Esterhazy's head imitates a large kernel of popping corn, and that's the last thing Robert hears as he slips into unconsciousness.

Verlak is speeding along, laughing as he tries to run over as many pedestrians as he can. Mikie looks around for a weapon, and finds the glovebox is filled with handguns. He takes out a big block revolver, puts it up against Verlak's side, and fires until empty. Verlak is trying to drive and shove the gun, which is only slightly effective. He's hit multiple times, including in the femoral artery. In the pursuit limo, they can see the windows of the Denzetti sprayed with blood. Rick: "Looks like they need windshield wipers on the inside." The car careens out of control, crashing into and under a large truck. No one is decapitated, although it's close. Verlak hits Mikie in the throat as the car coasts to a stop. Then they start fighting over the shotgun. As the shotgun is too long to be effectively used in such close quarters, Mikie lets go, and grabs the first handgun he can find. He shoots Verlak, with the splintergun, in the chest. Verlak is still conscious, and slaps a patch on his leg. The Frenzy kicks in, and Verlak's heart blows up. (Oops) He flips Mikie off with his last breath. Mikie, although having trouble breathing, manages to unbuckle the seatbelt, and climbs into the back seat, where he removes the jacket, and wraps it around Theresa's body. Ghaer and the others screech to a halt and leap out of the car, running up to the wrecked Denzetti.

Eventually, Robert wakes up. He's not in the hospital. Ariana: "How do you feel?" Robert: "Like I've been stabbed, and beaten, and electrocuted..." That's about right. He's in the back seat of a Range Rover. The far back is filled with camping equipment, and they're driving through forest. Ariana: "We had to get out of here. even the hospital wasn't safe. I've arranged for a place to stay, and I paid cash. We've got a med bot in the back, and as soon as we stop I'll put him to work on you. For now, just rest." They continue to drive.

When Viper, Ghaer, and Rick get to the car, Mikie is sort of himself again, or at least, he doesn't currently appear to be Blaelok. Mikie is in the back seat of the car, cradling Theresa in his arms, and not responding to anything else. The interior of the Denzetti is completely covered in blood, and Verlak is very definitely dead. Ghaer checks him to make sure, and finds a key in his pocket, with the serial number etched off (it appears to be a Down Port tramline locker key); Ghaer keeps the key.

Black has shown up. Good thing the calvary wasn't needed. Viper: "Verlak's dead, but we need to get Michael to a hospital." Black: "I don't know if a hospital is what he needs. I know where he can get help." Viper: "Where would you suggest?" Black: "I know of a place in the country, very quiet. If he is indeed hosting another personality, whether implanted or self-created..." Viper: "It was implanted." Black: "That may be, but my God, with what the man has gone through, who could blame him?" Viper: "True, but I believe this was a present from the late Mr. Blaelok." Black: "You may be right." Viper: "I want to make sure he gets the help he needs." Black: "Michael presents a danger to Regina society. I have some fondness for him because of our past association, and the place I have in mind is one that I trust with my own sister." Viper: "Wouldn't he be better off if I took him with me to Rhylanor, though?" Black: "Please. You do not want to risk letting him loose on some place like Rhylanor." Viper agrees. Viper: "I'd like to be able to visit him though." Black: "That will be up to the doctors to decide." Viper: "Agreed, but I want to be kept informed on his condition and progress." Black: "I'll see to that. Oh, something that might interest you. Mr. Verlak was wanted by several organizations, and there was a reward. $150,000 credits." Viper: "It should go to Michael, since he killed the creep. And he'll need it for his medical bills." Black: "His care will be covered under his medical benefits." Viper: "Oh, he's still in your employ?" Black: "Whether or not he ever left it, it will be covered." Ghaer: "Then the money can go to Verlak's victims." The cops, the bystanders, etc. Black agrees to that.

Ghaer <pulling Viper and Rick off to one side>: "We still have some issues left unresolved. Like the entity, Claire, Esterhazy." Black: "Felix Esterhazy? Forgive the interruption." Ghaer: "Yes." Black: "You didn't hear the tragic news then?" Ghaer: "Tragic news?" Black: "Yes, there was an accident in Regina Trauma. Apparently Mr. Esterhazy tripped over a cord, and fell. He hit his head on a power strip, and electrocuted himself." Ghaer: "He wasn't attempting to visit anyone at the time, was he?" Black: "He was in Mr. Shelzie's room, as a matter of fact. I believe the accident occurred when he was trying to show Mr. Shelzie his 'trick snake'." Viper doesn't ask. Fortunately, no one else does either. There are some things that you're just better off not knowing. Viper wants to know what will be done about the Lyrians. Black will take care of them. Viper: "Oh! Can I watch?"

As Black's people take control of the scene, Ghaer has a private conversation with Black. Ghaer: "Look. If Mike can't be helped, if the doctors can't get rid of this Blaelok thing, I think we both know what Michael would want. If it comes down to that, I want you to call me, and I will take care of it. I don't want it to be some stranger." (If it comes down to it, you have to be able to shoot your own dog. Er, boy.) Black: "I'll keep that in mind, Mr. Raller."

Black, with Viper observing, shows up at the Ambassadore. Black: "Colonel Esterhazy. And this must be the Archbishop. Allow me to extend my condolences." He gives them a small urn, that contains the ashes of their late Autarch. (Or the ashes from Black's fireplace, and it's anybody's guess who's in those). Black: "However, I have come across some information that might help you in your search for a new autarch." He hands the papers to the Archbishop. Archbishop: "Colonel Esterhazy? I had no idea!" The gryphons move quickly to surround the protesting Esterhazy. Archbishop: "The gryphons have chosen!" Yeah, the gryphons have had it with telepaths, and they're happy Esterhazy can't speak to them! Black: "May I be the first to congratulate you, your Illuminance?" Esterhazy will be coronated after an appropriate mourning period has passed.

313 - 317, 1122.

Ghaer considers going to inform Mikie's father of his death, but then decides that police would do a better job, since they wouldn't be lying, and Ghaer would be. Dr. Taylor may have been made into the Solomani's ideal 'contributing member of society', but his intellect is intact, and this is a very perceptive, very intelligent man. As for Will, Ghaer will tell him about the car chase, Mikie shooting the driver/Verlak, which resulted in the car crashing into a truck (all of which is true). He will tell Will that Mikie killed Verlak, that "Michael was injured in the crash, Regina Security showed up, one of their people pronounced Michael dead on the scene, and they took control of the crash site and the bodies." Which is, in fact, pretty much the truth. Ghaer has deliberately phrased this so that Will may or may not accept it as literal truth, but if he doesn't, he'll have to ask Regina Security.

Since Mikie is officially dead, his will (or a form of it) will be probated. Black makes sure that Mikie's money is not part of the estate disposed of - in case the money is ever needed. As far as most of the world is concerned, Michael Griffin died on 312, 1122 (less then four months after the death of his wife).

En route to his new home, Mikie, who has been medicked, is on really good drugs, and very calm, sees a funeral procession with people dressed in black and a riderless horse with reversed boots. Mikie: "A horse on Up Port. That's bizarre." One of the orderlies explains that it's a funeral tradition. Still kind of odd though. Mikie is taken Down Port, to a very pleasant place with white fences and green grass, and fluffy bunnies and kitties to pet, and probably better security than in the Imperial Reserve Bank. Mikie doesn't really understand where he is or what's going on right now, thanks to the level of drugs in his system. He sees a nice, dark haired woman named Christine, who is also gorked out of her mind on drugs. He meets several nurses and doctors, who assure Mikie that everything will be all right, and there's no rush. None at all.

Robert, in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, spends several days healing. On the third day, they come back to the cabin after a short walk to the lake, and find an envelope on the table. It contains information on all the people who might have had it in with Count Barada. From a friend, evidently.

Also on planet, a nurse tells Mikie it's all right for him to have his religious medal, which they found with his belongings, and that it's on his nightstand. That's odd - the last place Mikie saw it was in the former Solomani consulate. Mikie picks it up and looks at it. On the reverse side, there's now a SolSec eagle, and the words "Oderint dum metuant" ("Let them hate, so long as they fear."). Fortunately, Mikie is on so many drugs that he isn't capable of feeling anything right now. He knows it's a bad thing, though, so he asks the nurse to give it to the doctor. Black chose the facility wisely; Mikie's doctor understands that there really is evil out there - he's treated victims of SolSec before.

Irving has gotten out of the hospital, although he's in braces. Which he designed himself. (Oh boy.) Everyone is at D.S. to welcome Irving back, and he's telling them what happened with Verlak. Irving: "...You know, I think that guy had some serious psychological problems." Ghaer: "Yes, he did." Irving: "We used to have that sort of problem on my home world. But we have these creatures called chagras.... Any way, thanks you guys. Drinks are on me!" Sal flips the switch that charges Irving's account for the drinks.

Ariana has decided that, although her father wanted very much to preserve his family fortune and estates, that was his dream. Ariana's opinion - "Screw it." She's spent too much of her life pretending to be something she's not. Robert is still trying to come up with ways for her to resurrect the Count, at least temporarily. Maybe Ariana can be 'recognized' as the Count's niece, or something. Robert: "If you were to keep the estates, the Count would have had to eventually produce an heir, right?" Robert is thinking along the lines of he and Ariana making one, but she misunderstands. Ariana: "I know that, but I haven't been able to get up the nerve to have the surgery." Robert: "That's not what I meant. If you were recognized as the Count's wife or companion, then you could have his heir even after he 'died'..." Ariana suddenly realizes what he means, and goes a bit further, panicking for a moment when she realizes that she could potentially already be pregnant - if not by Robert (who's on lock), then by Felix. That doesn't really bear considering. Ew. Robert is able to calm her down, but not to convince her to continue the charade, and Ariana definitely is not a weak-willed person. Ariana: "You need to understand something. I've spent most of my adult life fighting to keep this empire alive. Fighting my family, fighting everyone. I've wasted my whole life on it. And I don't want whoever was behind Esterhazy to destroy what's left. Isn't it Shakespeare who said 'revenge is a dish best served cold'? It wouldn't bother me at all to give up a few hundred billion credits to get that man." That's what she would lose, if she gives up her father's empire. Robert: "Before you give it all up, we need to get a ship. Without a ship, we're trapped here." Ariana: "I know. But I'm not even sure I want revenge. I mean, what will it really get me? Why should I spend the rest of my life chasing the bastard? So he gets away - so what? I'm happy now. That's all that matters, right?" Robert: "Right." Ariana: "Good answer." She tosses the file into the fireplace. Ariana has access to a small portion of the Count's estate, so she's not broke. But if Robert wants to stay with her, she doesn't want him to feel like a 'kept man'. Ariana: "Here, take this." She hands Robert a $1 megacredit bearer bond. Ariana: "It's for saving my life. It's not charity, you earned at least that. You can keep it or cash it, whatever you want, but this way I know you'll have it." Robert is willing to go along with that. And for now, it's enough that they're safe and together. And away from everyone, and in front of a nice roaring fire.

Viper makes sure that Theresa's remains are properly cremated, in a traditional Catholic service. Even Black shows up to light a candle. Viper also arranges to have a memorial mass said for Theresa once a month, and a mass for Michael monthly as well. Viper will keep Theresa's wedding ring and remains with her, until such time as Michael is able to decide for himself what to do with them. She has a carrying case made for them. Of course, what she's going to tell her husband if he ever helps her unpack, and finds the urn, the ring, oh, and the diary of a serial killer (the late William Graves) in her luggage...