"Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell."-- Joan Crawford


When last we left our merry band, plucky spaceman Bob was exploring the depths of the silver mine with young Michael the miner, and had discovered that his flashlight was actually working!

Elsewhere, in the city of Silberstadt within the castle walls, some of the others are exploring the town. There are little shops, and three large conservatories - glassed-in parks, each one easily at least as large as Aguilon Park. There had to be somewhere for Franz and Dr. Jurgen to put the specimens they've brought back from all their expeditions. Franz isn't with the group, having sent the "his excellency apologizes, but matters of state...he thought you might like a tour of the..." message again. At least the town is interesting. The streets are cobbled, but flat-topped and carefully swept. Very neat and tidy, but not quite with the psychotic neatness of Switzerland Zenda.

Geoff is walking around with Sophie and Clarice, looking in the shops. There are exotic items from all over. Geoff buys a few little trinkets for the girls, including a troll-like doll - a kobold. [This is not something you'd give a child, unless you didn't want him to sleep at night.] One of the things Geoff wants to accomplish on this little outing is to get a word or two with Clarice in private. He's able to get her to himself in a corner of one of the shops. Geoff: "I wanted to let you know I'm glad you're along on the trip, and I appreciate your chaperone-ship. You're definitely an improvement over Aunt Patricia." Clarice: "Why thank you. I know Lady Patricia means well, but she can be a bit, well, overwhelming sometimes. It's only because she cares so much for Sophie." Geoff: "I understand that. We all want the best for Sophie. That's one of the reasons I wanted to speak with you. I want to make sure that when we get married, Sophie has a smooth transition. I'm sure that as a married woman you understand." Clarice: "I don't understand what you mean, Colonel." She's fanning herself, and makes a show of being a bit flustered. The appearance of propriety is what matters here, at least to Clarice. Geoff: "I think Sophie could be in need of some..." Clarice: "Matronly advice?" Geoff: "Yes, matronly advice. Exactly. I'm sure you would be much better suited to that than Lady Patricia, who probably doesn't even remember when the last time was she was with her husband. Any how, I really do want Sophie to be happy." Clarice: "I think we all want Sophie to be happy. She's very lucky to have found someone like you." Geoff: "Any way, you can give any matronly advice to Sophie you want, except your taste in servants." Clarice: <confused> "You disapprove of my choice of servants?" Geoff: "No, it was just the borrowed kind - Hi Sophie!" The object of Geoff's affections bounces over with a bag of goodies. Sophie: "They've got all sorts of lovely things here!" She's doing the tourist thing, and enjoying it. Sophie: "Shall we get something to eat? All this walking has worn me out." You can identify the locals by their powerful calf muscles, Silberstadt is not exactly a level place. They go to a local tavern, and Geoff tries the Silbervasser - think white lightning with silver in it and an anise root waved over it a couple of times. He'll stick to the beer from now on. Whoa!! Sophie decides to try a bit, and being a well-bred young lady she can't spit it out all over the bar. Sophie: "I'll just sip this..." Geoff: "Mine's all finished. May I have some of yours?" Sophie: "Oh yes, please." Geoff's such a gentleman. Then a couple of obviously well-bred gentlemen tip their hats to Geoff and send over refills. No, no, no. Geoff will be polite, but he is way too big to carry back to the castle!

Back at the castle, Kaeth is making arrangements to have his little Farraday cage made, and has ended up hanging around with the good Dr. Jurgen, who has a lab in the castle.

Samantha is wandering around in the high places. Occasionally she runs into servants who are polishing things and cleaning up after birds. An elderly servant, leaning on a silver-tipped cane approaches her. Servant: "Spectacular view, your ladyship. If you're interested in the birds as well, there are eagles nesting along the East wall." Samantha: "Really? Thank you." Servant: "You'll want to mind your step, the walkways are a bit narrow." Samantha: "I will, thank you." Servant: "They really are magnificent birds, ma'am, eight foot wingspan." Wow. Samantha heads that way, and as she gets closer she hears them. There are several of them are in the updrafts - very pretty to watch. The workman has been following along, pointing out things like "those are a bit loose over there", and "mind that section - watch your head". Be kind of embarrassing if he got one of the guests killed.

There's a section where the walls abut into the cliff with sections that have eroded, and there are seven or eight nests in a row. Samantha stops on a bridge-like section with cable railings. Servant: "Yes, I love the little critters. You've come at the right time of the year, they have babies." He's been walking with his little hooked cane, and he suddenly hooks Sam's ankle and flips her. She's holding on to the cable with both hands, but ends up on the wrong side of the damn cable, hanging over the edge. He then takes his cane and hits her hard on the left hand with his cane, upsetting the birds and really hurting Sam's hand. Okay, so maybe it's only embarrassing if he gets one of the guests killed accidentally. Sam lets go with her injured hand and swings a leg up, getting both her legs up onto the walkway. Annoyed, she sweeps back and kicks the old bastard in the leg. He wasn't expecting that, falls over the edge, screams briefly before hitting the granite ledge, then the birds are on him. (They do have babies to feed.) Yeah...quite the view.

Samantha takes the silver cane the now dead man dropped on the walkway and makes her way - carefully - back to the residence. She asks one of the household servants if Dr. Jurgen is on the premises. Servant: "Dr. Jurgen? Yes miss, I believe he's in the laboratory." Samantha: "Really? I didn't know there was a laboratory. Could you direct me there?" Servant: "I don't think you want to go there, your ladyship." Samantha: "I'm sorry, is it off-limits?" Servant: "No, no. It's just... I believe that Dr. Jurgen is engaged in a dissection." Samantha: "Anyone I know?" She takes pity on the stricken man. Samantha: "Perhaps I could just send a message to him." Servant: "I'll take it to him right away, miss." Samantha: "All right. Let him know I'm in need of his services. And could I possibly get some ice? Perhaps in a bowl?" Servant: "Of course, madame." Odd people, but they're the upperclass, and it's expected.

In the laboratory, Dr. Jurgen is dissecting a large sea creature of some sort that came out of a big jar. A friend of the doctor sent it up to him. Kaeth was invited to watch, as he's down there trying to get the little Farraday cage-like thing to work with the help of an assistant. He's got something that looks like a Farraday cage built by someone who had a Farraday cage described to them. Dr. Jurgen: "What were you planning on catching?" Yes, it was made like a real cage, with a hanger and all. Kaeth: "Perhaps a mesh box would be better." Dr. Jurgen: "Ah, so that it can't catch it's beak on anything!" He's quite intrigued. A servant comes down with a message. Dr. Jurgen: " Lady Telford has returned. I think I've done enough damage here. Let's go up for a bit of lunch."

Back to the shoppers. The ladies have acquired fur coats, very practical given the weather. Clarice: <to Sophie> "That fox is so you." Sophie: "But the sable brings out the color in your hair." Clarice: "And we can trade! Oh, Geoffrey, how are you doing?" Geoff: <to Sophie> "You look very...soft." And she has pink cheeks. Sophie: "It is a bit brisk." Geoff: "Perhaps we should get back." Sophie: "Yes, a roaring fire would be very nice." They've decided to walk back to the residence, as it's a bright, clear day even if it is cold.

Clarice: "There's that man again." Sophie turns, looks back and squints (she's not wearing her glasses). Geoff: "Come on Sophie, let's go." Geoff looks back when he gets the chance. There's a man behind them, well-dressed, top hat, in a warm coat. The collar on the coat is turned up, so Geoff can't get a look at him. Geoff takes the ladies back to the residence, where there's a moderately sized tree on the fire. Once they go inside the residence no one follows , but there are several men outside who could be the man.

Geoff joins the ladies for hot chocolate in the drawing room. A servant comes in. Servant: "Excuse me, sir. This just arrived for you." Geoff takes the envelope and opens it. It reads: "You have a very attractive companion." Sophie: Anything interesting?" Geoff: "No." He tosses it into the fireplace. Sophie and Clarice start talking about the wedding. That's Geoff's cue to leave! Geoff: "Have fun, dear." He kisses Sophie on the cheek and leaves. There are servants around, fortunately. Geoff speaks with the doorman, requesting that he be on the alert for "strangers, or someone who might want to harm your master." Doorman: <aghast> "In Silberstadt?"

In the mines, Robert is very excited to be somewhere his flashlight works. He figures he should head back to the others now, and share his discovery. He and Michael turn to go back up the tunnel when a male voice calls out from behind them. "Ah, I see your flashlight works down here. So does my gauss pistol." Robert runs. He sees a spark up ahead of him, and hears the ballistic crack. More shots are fired as Robert runs, and then no footsteps. Robert dashes around an outcropping, turns out his flashlight, and waits. Man: "Yoo-hoo, I know you're up there! Which one are you? Is it Thompson, or Shelzie?" No answer. Man: "I can hear you breathing. You really need to get in better shape, you'll live longer. Or not. <pause> Gee, what's that heat bloom up ahead?" Robert stands up, gun in one hand, flashlight in the other and aimed at the voice. For a brief moment, Robert sees a man in goggles, in the Weaver stance, aiming at him. They fire simultaneously, Robert hitting in the usual place (something must be done about this problem he has with other men's privates), but he's shot himself in the chest - right in the heart. Robert drops like a rock, a horrible pain in his chest and lapses into unconscious, so he doesn't feel himself being kicked, although gently, so nothing is jangled on the upset man.

Dr. Jurgen finally emerges, having cleaned himself up properly. Samantha is sitting in her room with her hand in ice. Dr. Jurgen is distressed that she's been injured. Dr. Jurgen: "Good heavens, what happened?" Samantha: "An elderly servant whacked me with this cane." Dr. Jurgen: "Well, give me the man's name and I'll see that he's flogged!" Samantha: "He didn't give me his name, just tried to knock me off the East wall." Dr. Jurgen: "You mean to tell me someone tried to throw you off the wall? It was intentional??" Samantha: "Oh yes, it was very intentional." Dr. Jurgen: "I must tell the count. He'll want to ferret out the blackguard." Samantha: "That could be difficult. He fell quite a distance, and the birds went after him. They have really big birds here." Dr. Jurgen: "Ah. Well, at the least, he might have associates. But for right now we need to take care of your hand. It's definitely broken." Samantha: "If someone inside the house went after me, it's possible he has associates inside. They might go after Franz again." Dr. Jurgen: "Tush tush, don't worry about that. You just relax. Here, drink this." He gives Sam a glass of cognac, laced appropriately of course, he doesn't want to cause any more pain while he's setting her hand. After the doctor gets everything the way he wants it, he tapes up and plasters her hand. Now she has a club. The broken bones are up the hand, and the cast has been set so her fingers will be free, it's just her hand and wrist that are immobilized. Dr. Jurgen: "Well, perhaps I should speak with the Count before he hears about this from another source. He does tend to overreact, especially with his fondness for you. Will you be all right by yourself?" Samantha: "Sure. Ooh, shiny." Yeah, she won't be going anywhere.

Dr. Jurgen is late coming in to lunch. Dr. Jurgen: <to Kaeth> "Lady Telford has injured her hand. Nothing serious, I've taken care of it." Ariana walks in. Ariana: "Oh good, I thought I smelled food." She sits down and tucks in. Ariana: "Robert isn't back yet. I hope he hasn't hurt himself in the mine, he might get tetanus or rabies or something. God knows what kind of treatment they use here for rabies - they probably bleed you or something." Dr. Jurgen: "Ah, medicinal bleeding. Most efficacious. Leeches." He does this with a straight face. Ariana's eyebrows shoot up. Ariana: "What if he has hurt himself? What if he fell and broke his neck, and is lying there paralyzed and unable to call for help!?" [Nah, just shot through the heart and bleeding out.] Ariana: "Kaeth, I'm worried. Can you go look for him?" Kaeth: "I'll just get a few things first, then I'll go after him." Ariana: "Are you just going to sit here and do nothing? I'll go after him." Kaeth: "No, I'll go after him. Let's not make matters worse by going after him without important things like a med kit, rope and lanterns." He's happy to let Ariana run off in search of the necessities, it gives her something to do, and lets him finish his lunch. Kaeth: "How about Lady Telford?" Dr. Jurgen: "She just had her hand splinted. A minor injury, nothing serious." Kaeth: "How did she injure her hand? I thought she was staying put in the residence?" Dr. Jurgen: "Yes. She was exploring the upper reaches of the castle. Not the sort of place where you would expect to encounter an older gentleman swinging a silver-headed cane with nefarious intentions." Kaeth: "Does Franz know?" Dr. Jurgen: "He is involved in a somewhat delicate affair, and knowing his fondness for Lady Telford, he might overreact and that might be counter indicated at this time. I will inform him later, of course." Kaeth: "And now Robert has disappeared." Dr. Jurgen: "Perhaps he just got lost?" Wishful thinking.

Kaeth finds Geoff and is told about the man with the top hat, and then the note, although Geoff doesn't know if the two are related. Geoff: "I may be overreacting." Kaeth: "Someone tried to take out Sam a little while ago. She's been treated, and knowing the locals I'm guessing that she's been sedated." Well, of course - she might have an hysterical fit! [Not bloody likely.]

In not enough time, Ariana shows back up with rope and the other things from Kaeth's list, and she's panting. But she insists on going along. Kaeth tries to discourage her by pointing out she's not really dressed for clambering around in the caves, and she'd need to worry about falling rock, and of course bats. Ariana: "Bats?" Kaeth: "Yes." Ariana: "You mean like flying rats? You mean harmless fruitbats, right?" Kaeth: "Ah, no. I believe cave bats are either insectivores or predators." Ariana: "Predators?" Kaeth: "And they have been known to carry rabies." Ariana: "Rabies? <pause> I'll be right back." She returns with coveralls, boots, gloves, everything tucked in, and with a hat and a veil like a beekeeper would wear. Ariana: "Right. Let's go."

They know Robert has been exploring the used caverns, on the advice of the head geologist, and has been working off a map. They're sent to see him, after Kaeth writes a quick sit-rep for Geoff and Sam, just in case. Kaeth leads the beekeeper off to meet Herr Gruber. Kaeth asks after Robert. Gruber looks at the beekeeper but says nothing. Ariana: "What are you looking at?" She's not in lady mode. (Social skills issues.) Gruber: "Yes, I believe Michael took him down section 13 C. He was interested in the larger caves." Kaeth: "Have you seen Sir Robert or Michael since?" Gruber: "No, but there are miles of tunnels, and Sir Robert didn't indicate how long they'd be." Kaeth: "Lady Ariana was a bit concerned." Gruber: "I'm sure he's fine. Michael is a very competent man. You weren't thinking of taking the lady into the mines, surely?" Ariana: "No, I'm dressed like this because there's a costume party. Now show me the way or get out of the way." Kaeth: <to Gruber> "Albion. They let their women go crazy." Gruber nods. That's what happens when you have these new-fangled democracies. Gruber: "Let me fetch a lamp then. I'll show you the way myself." He gets a lamp set up while Kaeth looks at his diploma, asks about his school, and chats him up. Gruber started as a miner, was sent by the mining company to the polytechnic institute to study, came back, and worked his way up to head geologist.

They move into the tunnels, Gruber talking about the mine as they go. Gruber: "I'm sure they're fine. I myself could spend days down here, it's so quiet." They can hear machinery in the distance, probably pumps - water being the enemy of mining. Gruber: "Let's see, the large cavern is this way...I would have taken this route." He leads them around. Ariana: <quietly> "Yeah, if my inertial locator was working, maybe I could find my way back. Keep the mine guy alive."

They continue on for quite a ways. Gruber: "What's that?" He shines his light on a dark body surrounded by a pool of black liquid. There's a black flashlight on the ground near him. Kaeth has Ariana look off down another direction, and he goes to check on Robert. Amazingly enough, there's still a pulse. Weak, but there's a pulse. Ariana: "What is it? What's going on?" She's in the back of the line and can't see. Kaeth: "Robert's hurt. He's alive. Watch our back." Ariana: Robert's hurt? What happened?" Kaeth: "He's alive, he's got a pulse." She can see more when Kaeth bends down and examines Robert. Ariana: "Oh my God. Is he still alive?" Kaeth: "Yes, he's still alive." He strips off Robert's shirt to find out where exactly he was hit in all that blood. There's a small hole in front, and a regular trickle of blood. Heart. The penetration could have been done by an ice pick, or a mining pick, or maybe a foil. The most Kaeth can do under these circumstances is to stop the bleeding with pressure bandages.

Robert starts to regain consciousness as Kaeth is working on him. Robert is cold to the touch, and it may be the carbon light, but he looks grey. Kaeth: "Is there something we can use to make a stretcher?" Gruber: "I can bring down a mining car. It will take a couple of minutes to get it started, but I think it's the best bet." Kaeth: "Go." Gruber: "Wait here." He takes off.

Ariana: "Robert, can you hear me? Robert? Robert?!" Robert: "Yes." It feels like there's a small elephant sitting on his chest, and he's cold and wet. Kaeth picks up Robert's gun, then he picks up the flashlight, wondering why Robert had it out. Probably because it works. Oh! It is weak, it's only as bright as a normal flashlight. Kaeth checks out Robert's pupils - he's fine, other than the hole in his chest and almost bleeding out. Robert: "I'm cold, and I'm wet." Kaeth: "We can't move you right now." Robert: "Gauss weapon." Kaeth: "No talking."

After a few minutes, Gruber arrives with the car. Robert: "Mike's down the tunnel." Kaeth checks further down the tunnel, and finds the deceased Michael. He has a fist-sized crater in his chest, and he was probably dead before he even hit the ground. Robert is loaded onto the mining train car, with Ariana complaining about how he's being handled.

Even with the wait, it's much faster out on the little train. Kaeth keeps an eye open, not wanting to run into any other surprises. They just need to keep their heads down and hands inside the car. Ariana: <to Robert> "You're going to be okay." She glances at Kaeth, who nods. They get up top, and a mine doctor is sent for, along with people to go fetch Michael's body. After about fifteen minutes, a coach arrives with a doctor. Kaeth spends the time worrying about what happened with the round. The doctor wants the patient taken to the hospital for a fluoroscope.

To the hospital! Robert is laid on a table and handled by men in heavy lead aprons. Robert wants to know where his lead apron is, at least from the waist down. Dr. Hawthorne: <to Kaeth> "You've done everything you could, we'll handle it from here." Robert: "He's my doctor." Dr. Hawthorne: "Are you a surgeon?" Kaeth: "Yes." Dr. Hawthorne: "Ah, would you care to scrub in?" He would. He can observe while Drs. Hawthorne and Lehman do all the actual work.

Into surgery, and into Robert. They hope to have the film soon. A mask is fitted over Robert's face, and a nurse drops ether onto the mask. Quite effective. Incision, rib-spreader. They can see there's blood flowing into the pericardial, and there's a domed area where the heart was damaged. Dr. Hawthorne: "Well, I like a challenge. Let's make his breathing easier." Robert would appreciate this if he were awake. Kaeth is in awe of the man stitching up the still-beating heart as he chats about putting on the extension on the summer house, which plays are in town. Maybe it's a good thing Robert isn't awake.

Kaeth: "Have you seen much heart surgery?" Dr. Lehman: "No, mostly traumatic injury." Dr. Hawthorne: "Ah yes. We get quite a lot of that here. Max here has been in the mines for some time. <pause> What do you suppose did this? Some sort of mining equipment?" Kaeth: "I'm not sure." They do find the gauss round, just under the skin. It's not recognizable as a gauss round, it looks sort of like a nail. Kaeth is able to get his paws on it so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. They finish up and leave the nurse to wheel Robert into recovery. They don't want to take the risk of blood shock, and he seems healthy enough, which means they won't try a transfusion. Saline, lots of fluids and bloody meats should do the trick. Kaeth chats with the doctors, asks if they've seen any unusual injuries in the mines in the last few years. The heart specialist hasn't been here too long. He was lured here by a very good salary, the opportunity to do research, and the lovely house that his wife adores.

Dr. Hawthorne: "The most interesting case I ever had was a very severe case of frostbite. It was never sufficiently explained to me, but the man died from what was definitely frostbite, there was quite an investigation. The man could have wandered into the mine during the winter, I suppose, and just wasn't found until Spring. But where are my manners? I'm Hawthorne." Hands are shaken. Kaeth: "Just call me Kaeth." Dr. Hawthorne: "A pleasure. Would you care to join me for dinner at my club, Black's? Say at seven?" Kaeth: "Thank you, that would be very nice. I hope they haven't over starched my shirts."

Robert wakes up. He can breathe! Wow!! Ariana: "Don't worry, when we get off this place I'll have a proper doctor look at you." Robert: "Damn straight. Where's my gun?" Ariana: "Kaeth has it." Robert: "Get it. Give me your nine for now." Ariana: "Okay, but don't move." Robert: "Don't worry." She gives him her handgun, goes in search of his.

Dr. Jurgen finds Kaeth and inquires as to the potential for awkward questions about Robert's injuries. Kaeth: "Don't worry. The round was nothing you would have recognized as a bullet." Dr. Jurgen goes to check on Robert. Dr. Jurgen: "How are we doing?" Robert: "You're the doctor." Dr. Jurgen: "Well, it seems like everything is still there. I think we can arrange for you to have more comfortable accommodations, if you'd like?" Kaeth: "More secure would be nice." Dr. Jurgen: "Yes, well, I think we can take care of that." Kaeth: "Oh, by the way, I've been invited out to dinner, at a club called Black's. Do you know it? I'm not sure what to wear." Dr. Jurgen: "It's one of the more modern clubs. It's a club, so there's no need to dress for dinner. A nice suit should do." Kaeth: "That I can do." Dr. Jurgen: "It's supposed to be quite nice." Robert: <to Kaeth> "Did you get the round?" Kaeth: "Yes." Robert: "Show it to him." He does. Dr. Jurgen: "This little dart?" Kaeth: "Yes, going at 1,000 feet per second." Dr. Jurgen: "Is that possible?!" Kaeth: "Yes." Robert: "We need to go back into the mine. But in a group." Dr. Jurgen: "I think a special...cocktail will be in order, considering." Dr. Jurgen gives him an injection of the red berry extract they've come to know and love. Dr. Jurgen: "I think we'll wait a few hours before moving you. Rest for now." Robert: "Did you get my..." Kaeth: "I got your PlusP, and everything."

Back at the castle, Samantha is awake and getting a tad bored. And the laudanum is wearing off. Hmm. Lisette brings in another snifter of cognac, the doctor left one just in case. Yes, her hand hurts, but not too bad. Samantha: "Just leave it here for now. What I really am is hungry." Lisette: "Dinner is in a few minutes if you feel up to dining with the others, or I can bring up some broth?" Samantha: No, I'll go downstairs. I missed lunch, and - hey, I missed lunch!" Broth will not cut it.

Samantha goes downstairs to dinner, finds Geoff, Sophie, Clarice, and Dr. Jurgen. Samantha: "Everyone else has escaped?" Dr. Jurgen: "Mr. Kaeth has gone to Black's for dinner." Sam doesn't choke, quite. Dr. Jurgen: "Mr. Shelzie has had a minor injury and is being cared for, Lady Ariana is with him. The Count sends his apologies, and hopes to join you later." It's a good meal, although Samantha is getting tired of having other people cut up her food.

Kaeth goes to Black's for dinner. Dr. Hawthorne, as it turns out, is from one of the smaller countries just south of Kanaida. Kaeth: "How interesting. I'm travelling with a party from Kanaida." He gets Hawthorne talking about his practice, and all. Hawthorne is a young doctor, and is rather eager. He's doing research right now, and has theories about bypassing the heart or even icing it down during surgery. Maybe even using some sort of blood pump. A steam-powered heart pump?? Hawthorne: "This is all highly experimental, of course, but with all the new technologies, like these plastics they're talking about...The chance to do research was what drew me here, and of course the offer from our titular host, the Count, was very generous - four times my salary, and the house..." Kaeth talks to him pleasantly over dinner. Hawthorne has absolutely no political concerns, and Black's seems to discourage that, from what Kaeth overhears at another table. It's a men's club - smoking, reading of the papers, drinks, a cut off the haunch, a good cigar. Kaeth likes it here. Hawthorne doesn't smoke, himself, believing that it will prove deleterious to the health. The other men find this a rather amusing theory. Lehman: "Next thing you'll be telling us is that alcohol is a poison of some sort. And not the gin addict lying in the gutter mind you." Hawthorne: "Yes, I have seen the effects of alcohol enough to know that it is not healthful." Horst: "Well, good God man, what would you have us do? Take away our cigar, our brandy, what's next? A good chop?" Hawthorne is way ahead of his time in the healthy living ideas. His friends tease him about it, but in a friendly way. Nothing serious, and even Hawthorne can laugh about it. Hawthorne: "We'll all die of something eventually." Kaeth: "And there'll probably be a woman involved in it somewhere." Horst: "Yes, we would probably all live longer without women, but who would want to?" A few risqué comments, joking conversations, very pleasant. Hawthorne is interested in his work, and keeping his wife happy, and that's about it. Not too much shop talk among all the doctors, but many other topical subjects are covered. Kaeth will have a lot off fodder for his next conversation with the ladies, and a very good meal. Thick cuts of roast, refilling of wine glasses, then coffee, cigars, brandy, before people wander home. Kaeth forgoes the brandy. Everyone parts amicably. Hawthorne: "Well, it's almost eleven. Must be getting home."

The Count does not, unfortunately, make an appearance at dinner or later. Robert is transported back to his room, and he's feeling much better. Kaeth checks in on him when he gets back. Robert: "When I'm able to, we need to go back down there, in force." Kaeth: "Yes. As soon as we can. I'm worried about Franz." Kaeth goes to check on Sam, but she's sleeping peacefully, with a cast on her hand.

Kaeth does a quick check of Robert's room, and of Sam's (although Lisette isn't too happy about that). Then he goes back to his own room. Kaeth feels like Dick Salamander, but he stands off to one side when he pushes the door open. He checks out his room, but when he finds nothing untoward he goes to bed.


During the night, Robert is awoken by something running down the hall. It's some kind of growling animal - maybe a dog. Gun in hand, Robert gets up carefully. Ariana is still asleep beside him. Robert goes to the door after putting in his hearing protection. (He's learning.) He listens, hears nothing. He opens the door a crack, and sees nothing. He checks down the hall both ways, but sees nothing unusual. He closes the door, locks it, and goes back to bed.

A few minutes later, he hears the guttural moaning or growling outside again. He wakes Ariana up. It takes some doing, as she's taken something. Ariana: "Wha??" Robert gets up, again, and goes into the hall. He doesn't see anything at first, and the lights are low. Then he sees something glinting down the hall, goes that way, and finds a servant sprawled on the floor, near the small door that's open in the big, heavy, barred door. There's a heavy silver teapot smashed into the back of the servant's head. The man is breathing, but even Robert can tell he won't have much of a future - he has grey matter showing. Robert turns to go to Kaeth's room and steps on something that breaks. He looks down, and it's an ampule from an auto-injector. The label is illegible, and the liquid is clear-ish, at least in this light. It's definitely not local tech. Robert picks it up in the handkerchief off the servant, and goes after Kaeth.

Kaeth hears rapping, then pounding on his door. Robert pounds harder. Kaeth gets up, unhappily, and opens the door. Robert hands him the handkerchief. Kaeth: <blinking> "You have a cold?" Robert: "Look inside." Kaeth opens the cloth and looks at the remains of the ampule. Kaeth: "You haven't been dosing yourself have you?" Robert: "No, but someone's been dosing somebody. There's a servant down the hall with a teapot bashed into his head. Literally."

A man's voice yells "Fire!" from down the hall. Then more cries of "Fire! Fire!!" Robert goes to get Ariana, who's drooling on the pillow. She's reacting like someone who's been drugged, or drugged herself. There's an empty brandy snifter by the bed. The brandy here is quite something. "Fire!" There's the sound of people pounding on doors.

Someone bangs on Samantha's door, but she took the brandy before going to bed, so she doesn't rouse. Dr. Jurgen is out in the hall in his dressing gown. Kaeth finds him. It appears the fire is in the wing where Franz and Dr. Jurgen's rooms are. Kaeth: "Where is Sam?" He and the doctor go to her room but are unable to wake her. Dr. Jurgen sees the brandy snifter by the bed. Dr. Jurgen: "Oh dear." He gets something out of his bag - a small capsule - and breaks it under Sam's nose. Hello! She's wide awake now. She gets up to go with the others. Samantha: "What's going on?" Kaeth: "You mean aside from the fire?" Robert: "Look. Remember that hallway that was always locked? Well some one broke out of it, bashed in a servant's head, and probably set the fire. I found an auto-injector ampule on the floor, and it looks like someone gave UWD to Franz's wife. Some one had better find her, and fast." Dr. Jurgen: "Yes, of course. What is UWD?" Kaeth: "It's the worse kind of chemical..." He takes out the broken ampule. Dr. Jurgen: "Surely there is something we can do about it?" Kaeth: "If it is UWD. We don't know for sure what was in here. Sam?" He shows it to her. She's probably only smelled that once before. Samantha: "It's Frenzy." There's a maniacal female laugh coming from down the hall. Robert: "Frenzy?" He's looking for the exit, and Kaeth wants a bigger shotgun. Samantha: <to Dr. Jurgen> "Where would Franz be?" Dr. Jurgen: "This way." They're running now. Dr. Jurgen: "What is this Frenzy you spoke of?" Kaeth: "A very powerful drug. Think of what Geoff was on, only much, much worse. It give the person superhuman strength and speed." Robert: "Wonderful."

The wing they head into is hot and very smoky. Further down the hall are two figures in the smoke, one larger that the others. Franz is recognizable from his voice, and he's with a woman. Franz: "Carolin, please, put down the torch." Carolin: "I'm going to make you suffer like I have suffered..." Maniacal ranting. Franz: "Please, we can discuss this later, let me take you out of here." Carolin: "The only way to burn away the sin is fire...it's my fault, I killed them...parents shouldn't outlive their children..." The hallway is filled with smoke, in spite of the high ceilings. The figures struggle, the larger one goes down.

Kaeth: <loudly> "Ah, we're getting the fire out over here, yes sir, we're stopping the fire!" Carolin: "No, you can't stop the fire!!" Swirling out of the smoke comes a frighteningly scary woman, wild hair, cuts on her hands. She takes one look at Samantha and stops. Carolin: "You! You're his fucking whore!" She's on Sam like a wild cat. Sam is hit on the left elbow with a flaming torch, knocked to one side and has flaming bits stuck to her. She drops her burning shawl. Kaeth, just as he's yelling "Sam - look out!!" is hit by a flaming beam, coming down on his shin and foot. More painful than damaging. Kaeth leaps out of the way.

Samantha goes further into the fire, where Franz was last seen. Everyone's coughing like crazy. Kaeth: <taunting> "Carolin's a loony!!" Robert, having a mostly drugged woman with him, goes into a side room that is not on fire. He opens a window, almost falling out and into the air, now he needs a glider. Okay, not this side. He takes Ariana and starts to head for a room across the hall.

Carolin apparently just doesn't like Sam. She appears from nowhere, leaping onto her. Robert: <shouting> "Hey, there's no fire in here! Nothing's burning in here!!" He's trying to taunt her into the room with the big drop out of the window. Sam is bitten in the neck, from behind. She throws Carolin off. The mad woman lands badly, but doesn't slow down.

Robert and Kaeth are taunting Carolin, trying to control where she goes. Robert, inspired, tries a different tack. Robert: "The children! The children!" Ariana: "The children! Where are they?" She's only semi-conscious, but now worried. Kaeth almost shoots Samantha in the smoke. She's holding her throat and bleeding. Caroline comes barrelling into the bedroom, hitting Robert (who's trying to keep Ariana down and out of the smoke). It's like being hit in the face by a really large cat. Robert is clawed up, blood pouring into his eyes. He rolls backwards, towards the window, his intent being to get this crazed creature out the fucking window. But she's way stronger than he is - wherever she's going, he's coming along. She wraps her legs around him, and sinks in the claws. Robert can feel something tearing on his scalp, and drops forward, onto Carolin, not knowing exactly where the window is. He finds it. They're teetering on the sill, the window opens, and there's a rush of air. Robert grabs onto something that grabs back.

Samantha crawls forward, into the fire. She can't see anything, but she's feeling along and finds a prone body. Franz? Kaeth lost track of Samantha as soon as she went back into the smoke, so he follows the sound of the wild animal fight. He finds Robert, the mad woman wrapped around him and screaming, teetering well over the edge of the window. Ariana has a hold of Robert's hand, and it's amazing they haven't all gone over. Kaeth takes a shot, hitting Carolin in the foot. Then Kaeth sees Robert and Carolin go out the window. Ariana has kept her grip on Robert, and lands on her stomach leaning over the ledge. Ariana: "I can't hold you! Help!!"

Samantha has found a prone figure, bleeding from a scalp wound. She can't tell if it's Franz (it is), but she drags him down the hall as well as she can. It's a bit less on fire in this area, but just a bit. She's almost hit by falling timbers, and continues to pull Franz out of the fire.

Kaeth drops the gun and dives forward to help Ariana, who's losing her grip. Robert pounds on Carolin, getting her to release one hand, but she clamps down even harder with the other one. Jeeze, this bitch is strong! Kaeth lands on the floor by Ariana, reaches over and grabs onto Robert. Good thing it's not Geoff out the window.

With her free hand, Carolin reaches up and grabs onto Kaeth's arm. Kaeth pulls up on both of them. Up she goes. She literally pulls herself up and over and off into the room. Robert gets much lighter. Kaeth pulls Robert up, with Ariana's help. Carolin is gone too fast for Kaeth to be able to do anything about her for now. Robert lays there and gasps.

The only place Samantha can see that isn't smoky is over in that room, and she drags Franz that way. Inside the room, Kaeth dives for Carolin and does something he's never done before, he bites her in the hand, almost taking her hand off. [Hmm, Ariana was worried about rabies....] Carolin bites at Kaeth's face, lacerating his face above his eye. It's hard to bite somebody's eye out when they're struggling. Through the red mist, Robert can mostly see what's going on, he goes to draw his gun, having to feel for it on the floor. Robert: "Where's my fucking gun?" It's put into his hand. Robert: <to Ariana> "No! Just shoot her!!"

Samantha now sees what's in the room. Oh. Perhaps she should go back into the fire. Meanwhile, the gnawing continues, and the fire keeps blazing out in the hall. Kaeth bites Carolin on the forearm, apparently trying to chew his way up her arm. It's ugly. Carolin head-butts him right in the nose. Not much of a challenge on a Vargr. Ow!! Something broke.

What to do? Sam closes on Carolin, while arming herself with the memory wire knife that doubles as the bracelet she always wears. Robert fires on the non-Vargr blur, hitting her in the upper leg. Carolin lets go of Kaeth, and charges Sam, who's between her and Franz. Carolin: "You! You fucking bitch!!"

Robert fires, hitting Carolin in the general upper torso, from behind. A good centre of body hit. A limp figure hits Sam, taking her down. Kaeth shuts the door. Yells from outside. "Is anyone here??" Robert and Kaeth yell back. Something hits the door. "Hurry!!" Sam rolls Carolin off, flips her knife back into bracelet form. They grab a blanket off the bed to drag Franz on, which helps. They get outside, sprayed by the water, as the ceiling collapses. Fortunately, with all the stone, they'll lose the interior of this wing, but that's it.

Dr. Jurgen has set up triage downstairs in the main salon. It's down there where Franz regains consciousness. Franz: "Carolin?" Dr. Jurgen: "I'm sorry, the fire got to her." People are taken to the hospital. Robert has only cuts and lacerations, but they're really serious ones. The nurse is taken aback when she comes into his room. She recovers quickly, but it doesn't do much for Robert's state of mind. On the other hand, they've given him something to take away the pain, and Ariana is with him. She's is mostly intact, but pretty frazzled. Samantha is in her own room as well, with Franz in a chair in the same room. He's staring at the wall.

Robert is bandaged up, and can't really see to the side. Ariana has been forced to wait for the medical people to give her permission to come back into the room (besides, they wanted to check her out for damage too). Robert hears some one come in and sit down beside him. All he can see is a flash of white fabric - lab coat maybe - then a familiar voice. Lachlan: "So how are we feeling?" Robert: "I feel like shit." Lachlan: "I have two words for you. Auto. Doc. All you have to do is help. I tried to appeal to your sense of honor and duty, but that didn't work. So, I'll appeal to your self-interest instead." Robert: "Didn't I get Colonel Thompson to the stable?" Lachlan: "Yes, but I don't think you were ever really involved in the operation." Robert: "It's a little bit hard to be more involved in the operation when I've had half my face ripped off." Lachlan: "Understandable. I'll leave you to rest. I've got my eyes on you." Ariana comes back into the room shortly after Lachlan leaves. She will now assume the position of Robert's personal nurse and pitbull.

Samantha is unfortunately wide awake, thanks at least in part to Dr. Jurgen's wake-up capsule. Her arm hurts like hell, as does her hand and her neck, and she's been breathing smoke for far too long. Franz's head is bandaged, but he's otherwise all right aside from some bruises and scratches. He's sitting just out of arm's reach from Sam's bed, on the left side - which means she can't reach out for him. They both sit up during the night.

Kaeth, on the other hand, has nightmares. He's not a happy puppy. He did what he had to, but it's really traumatic. When the sun rises, some of the patients will be able to see the smoke and steam rising up from one wing of the palace. Officially, Franz's wife had died years ago, in the fire that killed her children, so there won't be any official inquiries of that nature.

Dr. Jurgen shows up to check on Robert. He gives Robert several painful shots in the face. Dr. Jurgen: "Trust me." Kaeth wants mouthwash, and toothpaste, and anything else he can get that has any chance of getting the taste out of his mouth. Robert's mantra is now "Want off this rock, want off this rock, want off this rock". He just needs the ruby slippers.

Thanks to Geoff's speedy reaction to the fire, Sophie, Clarice, Lisette, and Geoff himself come out unscathed. Sophie and Clarice are all a-flutter with Geoffrey's bravery in rescuing them. Trust a Marine - not a scratch on him, and he still gets the girls.