"I sit beside my lonely fire and pray for wisdom yet: for calmness to remember or courage to forget."-- Charles Hamilton Aide


Geoff has come out of the conflagration in pretty good shape. He got out of the fire A- dressed, B- with just a few heroic smudges, and C- having saved Sophie, Clarice, and Lisette. He's the only one the press and authorities have to speak with, as he's intact and all, so he gets to be the hero. Sophie and Clarice get to gaze adoringly at him.

After the magical red berry injections, Robert is looking much better. The stitches were very finely done and everyone in the hospital is very impressed with the doctor's work. Yeah, right...the sooner Robert gets the hell out of here and to a proper doctor the better!

Still in the dark of early morning, Robert is shaken awake with a hand over his mouth, and a figure in white off to his side (hard to see well with all those bandages on his face). It's Lachlan. Again. He must have been waiting for Ariana to leave the room (to get cleaned up and dressed). Lachlan: "After I left you, it came to me. I have a new plan for us. Maybe we don't have to start a war. I realized that the answer is right here - the silver mines are of vital importance to the local economy. You just have to take the area denial munition and once it goes off the silver mines will be history. Then you and I can go to my ship, find the stupid machine, and you and I can get off this rock. I'll have it delivered to you." Robert: "Wait!" Lachlan: "I know you did your best with Colonel Thompson, and I appreciate that." He squeezes Robert's hand in a friendly fashion. Uh...? Robert: "If I set off this device in the mine..." Lachlan: "Not a problem, it's just strontium 90. I have protective gear and Anarad. It'll just effect the locals. And they won't be able to use the mines for a couple of thousand years." Robert: "Well, give me a couple of days to heal up, okay? I'm a bit beat up here." Lachlan: "That's okay, I brought you something. I'll speak with you again in two days." He presses an auto-injector of Regen (in theory) into Robert's hand, gently brushes his cheek (Robert casts about for his 12mm, which is across the room - damn), and leaves. Robert gets up, painfully, gets his gun and returns to bed. He rings the nurse's bell.

A nurse eventually shows up. Nurse: "How are we feeling?" Robert: "I'm feeling much better. Are any of my associates awake?" Nurse: "I'm sure they're sleeping peacefully." Robert: "Could you check? Please?" The nurse leaves and returns ten minutes later to inform Robert that his associates are, in fact, sleeping. Nurse: "Would you care for something to help you sleep?" Robert: "No, I'm actually sleeping just fine, except for the strange man who keeps coming in." Nurse: "Strange man? I didn't see any strange man." She checks Robert's chart, sees he's been given Laudenum, and humors him. Nurse: "There's nothing to worry about, it's just in your imagination." Gee, thanks.

Dawn breaks, amid much moaning and unhappiness. Ariana is in Robert's room when he wakes up. Robert wants a wheelchair and wants to visit Sam. He's told that the Count is visiting her at the moment. Robert knocks on the door and asks if he can come in. Franz: "Of course. I have some things to attend to. Lady Telford." Robert: "No, please stay." Franz: "I have matters to attend to." He walks out, on automatic, not looking back. Robert: "Samantha?" Samantha: "Yes?" Robert: "How are you doing?" Samantha: "I'm alive." Robert: "So is Mr. Lachlan, who visited me twice last night. If you're up to it, I think we should discuss this with our other companions. Mr. Lachlan has devised an entirely new clever plan." A nurse comes in. Nurse: "Good morning, Lady Telford. How are you this morning?" Samantha: "I've been better. On the other hand, I've been a lot worse." Robert is asked to wait outside while Sam's bandages are checked and everything. By the time that's done, Geoff has arrived, rested and well-dressed, to cheer up his damaged friends. He spots Ariana and Robert in the hall.

Geoff: "Hi, how's it going?" Robert: "Not bad for having my face almost ripped off." Geoff: "Yeah, it looks painful. I've seen worse." Robert: "The good Dr. Jurgen worked his magic on me." Geoff: "Good. Glad to see it." Robert: "I wouldn't ask Sam how she's doing." Geoff: "Is that a physical problem, or psychological?" Robert: "Both, but probably more the latter. We have something to discuss with everyone - I've had a chat with Mr. Lachlan about his new plan. Maybe you should round up Kaeth?" Geoff: "Okay. He goes off in search of Kaeth.

Kaeth is located (not hard, pretty much everyone is in the hospital). Geoff: "Hi, the loony spy has a new plan and has shared with Robert. Want to come discuss it?" Kaeth: "A new plan? Wouldn't miss it." He follows Geoff, and they rejoin Robert and Ariana out in the hall.

Party in Sam's room! The nurse leaves, Robert knocks on the door. Samantha: "Come in." Robert: "I got a visit from Mr. Lachlan, twice last night. He gave me this." He hands Kaeth the Regen ampule, it appears legit. Robert: "I have a little bit more confirmation as to the location of Mr. Lachlan's ship. I'm pretty sure it's in the cavern since he wants to set off a pocket nuke in the mine to deprive the locals of it, and it would serve the same purpose as starting a war." Geoff: "Well, fortunately for us, we have you for bait. You know, I'm really not averse to torture in the matter of finding his ship." Kaeth: "So he's been here for...?" Robert: "Eight years. And he's really putting a crimp in my plans to get off this rock." Kaeth: "If he actually has a nuke." Robert: "His exact words were area denial munition." Kaeth: "Lovely. That means a dirty pocket nuke." Robert: "He also mentioned he had protective suits." Kaeth: "Made of what?" Robert: "I don't' know." Kaeth: "I'm beginning to think it's moonbeams and rainbows." Robert: "I figure he's got some equipment, but as to what shape it's in I don't know. He may just have a ship's boat, but we can get off planet with that." Samantha: "Mr. Lachlan appears to like you." Robert: "The feeling is not mutual. If my gun had been in my hand, I would have shot him. <to Ariana> Did you move my gun?" Ariana: "No." Robert: "Then he must have moved it before he woke me up." Ariana: "Well of course - he's an ISA agent. What chance do we stand against a trained killer?" Samantha: "Give me ten minutes, hell give me five minutes alone in a room with him and I'll take care of that problem for you." Kaeth: "What does he want? The ultimate weapon?" Robert: "No, he wants what turns the ultimate weapon off. He's obsessed with finding whatever is causing the effect on this planet. I guess we could tell him we've found it." Kaeth: "Yeah, I suppose we could draw him out, but where?" Robert: "You know, there's a wing in Franz's palace I don't think he's been in." Kaeth: "In eight years? Oh, that wing. Didn't it burn down?" Robert: "No. We could lure him in there." Kaeth: "Assuming he hasn't already been there. Someone had to give her the shot." Robert: "That's true. But if we can set up something as bait...I've got it - the device is in Zenda, and they're getting ready to shoot it into space." Geoff: "Good plan!!" Robert: "We just make sure he's on it when it goes up." Geoff: "But that doesn't stop him from nuking the mine." Robert: "It does if he's distracted." Kaeth: "I don't know. He's been here so long he may have some sort of grudge against Franz." Robert: "Maybe." It's the start of a plan at any rate, and Robert has a day or two of leeway.

Geoff leaves the room. He's getting a lot of attention - the press, Sophie and Clarice. The latter two are crediting him with saving their lives. Geoff: "You know, you are such intelligent females, I'm sure you could have gotten out of the burning building without me. The other members of our party took the brunt of the damage, and had more to do with making sure people got out." Clarice: "Well of course, but you're the one available." Geoff: "Besides, the people who died haven't even been buried." Geoff keeps a low profile. The others are stuck in the hospital, resting and healing.

Dr. Jurgen shows up after dinner to check on everyone. He suggests a walk in the solarium, for whoever wants to. He gives the count's regrets, and hands an envelope to Sam. Geoff and Robert tell Dr. Jurgen they want to speak with Franz, but the doctor doesn't think that's wise. Dr. Jurgen: "He doesn't seem to be himself right now." Geoff: "I think perhaps he would want to do something about the man who killed his wife." Dr. Jurgen: "Yes, but you must understand that I cannot compel him to do anything or go any where he doesn't want to go."

Sam reads the letter during this. Franz feels guilty about the death of his wife because he was wishing for it and now it happened. His fondness for Samantha is tempered by concern for her safety. Franz: "...If you stay with me it would put you in danger, and I would probably not be able to make you happy, and it's not fair of me to expect you to love me." Samantha: <to herself> "It's a bit late for that now."

Geoff: "You know, it's kind of peculiar that this man can come and go from Franz's estate with such ease, from places that you would need to be a trusted servant or someone known to the staff. Is it possible that Lachlan has someone in Franz's household?" Robert: "Well, someone had to give his wife the Frenzy." Dr. Jurgen: "You mentioned this drug before. Where would one obtain it?" Kaeth: "You don't usually obtain it. It's highly illegal." Samantha: "The reason Frenzy is so illegal is that it's a one-way trip. It's fatal. It was designed to be used as a last resort." Geoff: "Carolin was already dead before she even started the fire, and I think Franz would like to know that." Dr. Jurgen: "Well, I don't know that it would be a good idea to tell him. I'm not sure how he will react. He's not himself." Samantha: "I need to speak with him. Can you arrange it? Or at least get me in the same room?" Dr. Jurgen: "I know where he will be tomorrow. He won't be attending the memorial. I can see to it that you are able to meet him."

They fill Dr. Jurgen in on the latest plan from the deranged Mr. Lachlan, including the whole bomb thing, the odd effect Robert encountered, and the suspicion that Lachlan is hiding his ship in some sort of huge cavern there. Dr. Jurgen: "In the mines? <pause> I believe I may be able to help. I saw something in a book recently...something that caught my attention. It may help to locate the area to which you refer. I'll look into it at once." Samantha: "You'll have to be careful." Dr. Jurgen: "Really?" Samantha: "We don't know how many people he has here, and he has been able to come and go freely." Dr. Jurgen: "All right. And I want you to rest as much as you can." Robert: "If strange men would stop sneaking in and out of our rooms, I'm sure we'd rest a lot easier." Dr. Jurgen: "I'll see if I can't get the Count to assign some of his people to stand guard." Geoff: "No. That would be a change in procedure, and might alert him that something was up." Dr. Jurgen: "I'll go to Franz's library and look for the reference. " Geoff: "I'll go with you." Samantha: "Good idea." Geoff: "I'll suggest to Sophie that she and Clarice might like to check out the library." Dr. Jurgen: "Yes, another pair of eyes could be useful. There is some reference in a book, about the mines..." Samantha: "Sophie should like that, she loves to read.

Sophie responds with delight, and Clarice is willing to help out (even if it is in a stuffy old library. Dr. Jurgen, Geoff, Sophie, and Clarice all gather in Franz's library, where Dr. Jurgen explains what they're looking for. The book was one he read recently, and is in a large section of books that hasn't been sorted yet. Dr. Jurgen: "Something about the morphology of the rock, or something like that. I don't remember - it was so long ago." They start looking. [Scoobies in research mode!] Clarice leafs through books and stops occasionally when there's a picture. Dr. Jurgen lights his pipe and starts reading - Geoff tries to keep him on task.


3:00 AM.

Sophie: "Dr. Jurgen! Dr. Jurgen! Look at this!!" Everyone starts back to full consciousness, and the doctor goes over to check on the book. Dr. Jurgen: "Yes! This is it exactly. <to Geoff> Take a look. This is a map of the shafts and the veins of silver. As you may know, the silver here is of a purity that is unmatched anywhere in the world." They take a tracing, and it looks almost like a dome shape that has shifted around. Dr. Jurgen: "This doesn't look natural." Geoff: "That's a bitch of an expensive science project." Dr. Jurgen: "Well, I thought - perhaps the province of God, but..."

Flashback scene: The doctor was having his breakfast and dropped a soft-boiled egg. Servant: "I'll get that sir." Dr. Jurgen: "No! Don't touch it!!" The servant backs away. Jurgen stared at the somewhat deformed shape of the egg, the cracks in the shell...

Dr. Jurgen: "That was when I started to take into consideration the possibility of beings with god-like powers. The cavern that Sir Robert described is about one third of the way from where the dome would be." Geoff: "The tunnel they were in would lead to the middle of this dome?" Dr. Jurgen: "Possibly. I'd have to check with the head geologist. But it's certainly interesting. I think the best thing to do is get some rest now, and tomorrow we can make inquiries of the geologist. <pause> It was intimated that this other...foreigner could have his ether-ship here, and that electricity is being suppressed by something." Geoff: "That's what he thinks." Dr. Jurgen nods. Dr. Jurgen: "I think your friends need another night's sleep, and we should not bring in any other confederates. It certainly wouldn't do to let the general populace know that there are spacemen on planet." Geoff: "And who would be silly enough to tell them that?" Certainly not Ariana, no siree Bob!

Geoff decides to watch Dr. Jurgen's door during the night. The doctor's room has been moved (since it was in the fire-damaged wing) to the male guest wing and is near Geoff's. Geoff just leaves his door open and keeps an eye open. It's pretty boring. Dr. Jurgen has brandy brought up, and Clarice and Sophie go back and forth down the hall to their rooms and giggle a lot for a while, but other than that it's just a few servants.

Geoff is startled awake by a servant with his morning coffee. Geoff has stayed up far too long, and slept badly in an awkward position. He feels about ninety years old right now, and the servant woke him at his usual early hour of 6:00 AM. Geoff: <to servant> "When is the memorial service?" Servant: "At eleven o'clock, sir." Hmmm. Sophie usually doesn't get up until much later, but as Geoff doesn't know her sleeping habits that well, he knocks on her door. Sophie comes to the door a few minutes later, bleary-eyed and in a robe. Geoff: "I'm sorry to wake you, but would you mind getting up early today?" Sophie: "Did you have something in mind?" Geoff: "It's kind of complicated." Sophie: "Oh, of course my love. I'll be right down." Geoff: "I'll go eat breakfast." He has plenty of time to eat a nice breakfast while Sophie dresses.

A while later, when Geoff is enjoying his coffee, Sophie and Clarice come downstairs. Geoff asks for their help. Geoff: "I need sleep, but I don't want to sleep alone, as I think the party might be in danger, so could you watch while I nap before the service? I'll just lay down on this morning couch while you girls knit, or whatever, and just wake me up in time for the memorial service. I don't want it to be too public - I want to cast the illusion that we think everything is fine." Sophie: "You are concerned that someone will come in and take advantage of you while you sleep? <Geoff nods> I understand." They go up to the sitting room off Sophie's room. It's more private, but with both Sophie and Clarice there, it's still proper. Clarice is a bit confused as to why they're doing this. Geoff: "There's a bad guy, okay." Clarice: "Good heavens! And he would dare to come into the palace? What sort of low assassin would do that?" Geoff: "Exactly! A low assassin." Clarice: "But surely the Count has people who could take care of the blackguard?" Geoff: "Well, all of us can contribute to this. I hope to catch the blackguard this very night." Sophie: "Oh, Clarice, it will be fun!" Clarice can't deny Sophie her participation, Geoff has his guards.

Back at the hospital, Dr. Jurgen arrives to check on the party members still there. For some reason everyone keeps gathering in Sam's room. Again. Dr. Jurgen: "If you wish, you can move back to the residence. What is being provided here can certainly be provided in the residence, and with more comfort." Samantha: "Absolutely." Robert also accepts, having gotten tired of nurses asking stupid questions. Back to the palace. The burned section has been cleaned up, and is already being repaired, thanks to the stonework that makes up most of the construction in the castle. Robert is able to check out his face, and thank God the swelling has gone down. He does have a lot of fine black stitches though. Lachlan is so going to pay for this.

Geoff is awoken from his nap in time for the memorial service. As promised, Dr. Jurgen comes to tell Samantha where she can find Franz during the service, he shows her where to go through a window. Dr. Jurgen: "If you want to know where Franz is going to be, there is a hillside over there, just beyond the castle." He gives her enough warning time to get there on foot. Dr. Jurgen has a lengthy conversation with a servant before sending him with Lady Telford to escort her close to the location.

Out the back of the city proper, there's a small road that goes up the hillside. Up, switchback, then around the side on the hill. On the mountainside it's on the same level as the castle, but around the corner, and it would be difficult to sneak up with your troops this way. There's an area where something took a chunk out of the mountain about 1,000 years ago, leaving a mountain meadow overlooking the valley. Dr. Jurgen probably should have told Sam that Franz would be there with a couple of men with shovels and a small section of recently mounded earth. This is a tad awkward. Samantha sends the servant back to the castle, then keeps her distance for now. The men with shovels leave Franz alone. He kneels down next to the mound. Samantha waits. After a while, Franz starts down the road, almost literally running into Samantha.

Franz: "Lady Telford. I had not expected to see you here. Perhaps we can speak later, I have something..." Samantha: "I think we should speak now." Franz can't get around her, and he looks like he'd rather be somewhere else at the moment. Franz: <resignedly> "I seem to have no choice, as you bar the way. A moment then." Samantha: "Dr. Jurgen gave me your note. I'm very sorry about Carolin, but it wasn't your fault." Franz: "I seem to carry ill luck with me. Perhaps it would be best if you leave now." Samantha: "I think there's more than enough ill luck to go around. And you're not getting rid of me that easily, not now, not after everything that's happened." Franz: "But you're still young and beautiful, and have your whole life ahead of you. What could there possibly be here to hold you?"

Meanwhile in the memorial service in the conservatory. It's very nice inside, and relatively warm. Mostly it's just people from the household attending. After a while everyone moves away. Geoff watches people as they get ready to leave. His attention is drawn to a woman dressed in dark clothing, wearing a veil. She's very tall for around here - 5'9" or so. Geoff follows her and her escort. Geoff: "Excuse me." Escort: "Yes?" Geoff: "May I speak with the lady?" Escort: "Catherine?" Geoff: "My condolences, ma'am." Catherine: "Thank you." Geoff: "Which of the staff were you related to?" Catherine: "Rolf Grunvaldt. We had known each other for some time." She (he?) has a contralto voice - could be male or female. She's wearing gloves, long sleeves, a high necked dress, none which is nothing unusual here - it's cold. Geoff: "Rolf seemed very familiar. Where was he from?" Catherine: "Darnstadt." Geoff: "Oh then I guess I wouldn't have met him there. How long had he been in the Count's service?" Catherine: "Fifteen years." The escort, recognized as a servant, doesn't look nervous and the lady seems calm as well. Geoff: "The staff performed heroically that night, you can be proud of him." Catherine: "Thank you. It has been a pleasure to meet you. Colonel Thompson, isn't it?" Geoff: "Yes." Catherine extends her hand, like a proper lady. Geoff takes it politely, not giving in to the temptation to wrestle the person to the ground, rip off the veil, and determine once and for all any gender questions. Geoff watches as she leaves, he has a lot of practice watching women walk away. Sophie: "That's certainly a tall woman." Geoff: "Do you think that's a woman?" Sophie: "Do you think it's not?" Geoff: "You and Clarice take a look - what do you think?" They're not sure. Geoff: "Why? Tell me quickly." Sophie: "She walks like a woman, but like a man as well. She takes very long strides." Catherine's escort is helping her on with her coat. Geoff: "Let's go ladies." Geoff asks about the woman, is she known to the other staff? Servant: "Yes sir, she was on the special staff." Geoff: "Special staff?" Servant: <quietly> "We don't speak of it sir, but that staff didn't mingle with the rest of the household staff, they kept to themselves. And I hope our conversation will not get back to the Count?" Geoff: "Of course not." Geoff overhears Catherine's parting comment to another servant. Catherine: "Poor thing. Well, at least it's over." Geoff decides to return to the house and not follow the woman, but Sophie and Clarice are excited about the whole thing. Sophie and Clarice have picked up things from the servants, especially Clarice. Clarice: "They worked in the locked wing of the house, where the Count's wife was cared for. It's dreadful what happened. At least her pain is over, and the poor Count...he apparently did all he could for her, in spite of the fact that she tried to rip his throat out any time he came to see her. Perhaps he'll meet someone nice." Sophie: "Like Lady Telford." Geoff: "We can only hope." They return to the residence.

Dr. Jurgen has information and gathers the party members (except for Sam) minus Sophie and Clarice. The doctor has found out that a tunnel was sunk in the area they're interested in, but after exploration it was found to not be viable and the tunnel was closed off. That was some time ago, and the current geologist wasn't involved with it. Dr. Jurgen: "I've procured some equipment, including some light digging equipment. None of us is in any condition to do more than that, and it would be dangerous to try anything more extensive." Geoff: "I agree." Dr. Jurgen: "I take it you intend to limit this to the smallest number of people possible?" Kaeth: "In other words, are you going to take Sophie?" Geoff: "I can't risk leaving her here." And he can't take Sophie and not Clarice. Dr. Jurgen: "If this is the resting place of this...device that Mr. Lachlan searches for..." Geoff: "I doubt it." Time to gather equipment and prepare for today's adventure.

Back to the hilltop. Franz: "...What could there possibly be here to hold you?" Samantha: "I was hoping you would." He steps towards her, takes her hands. Franz: "May I kiss you?" Samantha: "Yes." After Franz kisses her, he steps back and apologizes. Samantha: "Don't apologize." Franz: <decisively> "No. It's not proper. Everything should be done properly. Come. It's cold." It is, she's shivering, but he's still holding her hands. He puts his coat around her and they head back. He promises to come see her later. Franz: "I trust that I'll see you for dinner? I unfortunately do have things to attend to." Samantha: "You'll be careful?" Franz: "I am always careful."

Samantha is escorted back to her quarters. She walks into the wing to see the others gearing up for a major expedition. Samantha: "Have I missed something?" Geoff: "Acquire your weapon and medical kit and gear. We're going spelunking." Sam goes to change into her boots, split skirt, and body armor, and gets her gun. Geoff has told Sophie and Clarice they're going on an adventure and should dress for an outing.

During the preparations an encumbered servant approaches Robert. Servant: "Excuse me, Sir Robert?" Robert: "Yes?" Servant: "A package for you sir. Shall I place it in your room?" It looks like a heavy package. Robert: "Just set it down." The paper-wrapped box is set down on a table. There is also a letter, which the servant hands to Robert as he leaves. Robert opens the letter. Bob - Everything is set. The device is rigged, timer set, and everything is set. My advice - don't take too long. Robert: "Uh, Geoff?" Geoff: "Yes?" Robert: "What do you know about explosives?" Geoff: "If they blow up and you're too close, it's bad. <pause> I've worked with explosives." As has Kaeth. Robert: "I think you two should take a look at this. It's from our friend." Samantha picks this moment to come back, just in time to hear them discuss how to deal with the contents of the box. Robert: "I don't know how much time we have, I just know it's set and running." This is not good news, but Sam has the beginnings of an idea. Samantha: "Dr. Jurgen, what do they mine here? Besides silver." Dr. Jurgen: "I know they mine pitchblend for iridium for watches, and of course there's the lead by-product of the silver mining." Ah! Geoff: "Where's the slag pile?" Dr. Jurgen: "On the far side of the castle, where the wind blows away from civilization." Geoff: "Okay, we put it between slag piles." They carefully open the package to get a look at the device. It's in a wooden box, and it's a Mark 27B Area Denial Munition. It does have anti-tampering devices. [Do not fold, spindle or mutilate.] Geoff: "Right. Let's put explosives on it, bury it between two slag heaps, cover it with more slag and blow it in place." Should work, and Geoff brought his own demo on the trip.

They need to go to the smelters. Samantha: "We need to put the box inside something." Geoff: "Why?" Samantha: "Because if we go out carrying that box, one of Lachlan's people may see it. If we go out in a group with, say, a big picnic basket, no one will take notice." Geoff: "Works for me." An empty picnic hamper is easily acquired, and the bomb fits nicely inside it.

Geoff: "Doctor, can you take Sophie and Clarice with you to the mine when you go to speak with the geologist? I don't want them with us when we're dealing with this thing, it's too risky." Dr. Jurgen: "Then surely Lady Telford should come with me as well. There's no need to put her in danger." Geoff: <to Sam> "Can you secure the geologist and Dr. Jurgen?" Samantha: "Yes." That's settled then - Dr. Jurgen will go with the women, and the Marines handle to explosive device. Meanwhile, Robert and Ariana will head for the mines with an empty box wrapped in the paper the bomb was in. Time for a little (okay, a lot) of obfuscation.

Into a carriage, with the picnic hamper. Geoff and Kaeth arrive at the smelting area. The foreman comes over to investigate. Foreman: "Can I help you sir?" He's a bit confused by the coach with the Count's crest on it, and a couple of odd strangers with a picnic basket inside. Geoff: "Absolutely." Kaeth goes to set the explosives, while Geoff takes the foreman to see what's in the pot. They're just about to pour the silver. Geoff: "Pour it now. We need the slag - it's an emergency, don't ask." Foreman: "Yes sir." They're from the Count, so just do whatever the nice man says.

Geoff looks up from the edge of the cliff to where the man operating the crane is positioning it. Geoff: "Hey, can you bring that over here?" Operator: "Who the hell are you?" Geoff stands up. Geoff: "If you would be so kind as to bring that here, I have a gold piece for your troubles." That works. The device is set, covered, buried among slag heaps. Geoff and Kaeth make sure the crew is away from the edge, and Geoff is about to set off the device when the heat does it for him.

And - there's a bang. Not a big one, but it's a bang. There's a big slag bubble, which quickly collapses in on itself. Pretty safe. Geoff advises that the crew leave the site until tomorrow, but they can't do that. Kaeth: <to Geoff> "If it does go off, no one will notice." Geoff: "True. <to the crew> Just keep dumping lead over that area." A device that small relies on a fairly sophisticated implosion which has been severely disturbed. Now that it's covered in lead, it shouldn't be a problem.

On the way to the geologist, Dr. Jurgen and the ladies pass through the town. It's busy. Extremely busy. Hmmm. Samantha: "What's going on?" They stop to inquire and are able to find out only that some personage of great importance is supposed to be arriving shortly. Great.

To the mine! The geologist has been secured. Gruber: "Ah, Lady Telford. How may I be of service?" A train whistle is heard. Samantha: "Can you see the train from here?" Dr. Jurgen: "Herr Gruber, have you perhaps a field glass?" Gruber: "Of course." He passes Sam his glass. She looks at the approaching train. Well, bugger - looks like another royal train thing. Samantha: <to Dr. Jurgen> "Take a look, tell me what you think." Dr. Jurgen: "I would say it's definitely the Emperor. Fortunately, he's travelling as Count von Grafenburg." In other words, under one of his lesser titles, making this a not-quite-so-official visit. Ariana and her Wonderboy have shown up for this bit of good news. Robert: "How long before the train gets here?" Dr. Jurgen: "About forty minutes. Although, if this is an announced visit, the Emperor will no doubt slow down the train to give the Count more time to prepare." Samantha: "I hope the others get here soon."

Right on cue, Geoff and Kaeth arrive. Samantha informs them about the visitor. Geoff: "Do we save the emperor or go after the heart of this problem?" Robert: "The heart of the problem." Samantha: "Agreed." Time to head out to the mine, armed with the best diagram available. Sophie: "This is very exciting. We can help. Geoff, what is it that we're looking for?" Geoff: "We're looking for the bad guy, for one. Two, we're looking for something the bad guy is looking for but I don't think exists. Or we're looking for the bad guy's means of transportation."

It takes a half an hour to hike to the spot where Robert was earlier. Hearing protection is passed around to the civilians. Samantha: <to Clarice and Sophie> "This is in case of any loud noises. It can be dangerous to your hearing inside like this. Before we go any further, if any of us tell you to get down, you get down. Don't think, just drop." They agree, but as excited as they are, it's hard to tell what's getting through.

Forty minutes later, they see actinic bright light up ahead, flashing like someone's arcwelding. The tunnel opens up into a cavern. Someone in coveralls and a welding mask is working on a large slab of steel that's plugging up the far tunnel. It looks like a really big vault door mounted into the rock, with an Imperial eagle and warnings all over it. (The Do Not Enter Upon Penalty of Death kind of warnings.) The figure doesn't notice they have company.

Geoff: "Do we want to stop him, or do we wait until he's done?" Samantha: "We don't have that much time. We stop him." It's going to take a lot of work for him to get through, although he seems to be concentrating on the locking bolts, which is faster. Robert: "Ten credits it's Lachlan." Geoff: "Shoot first, then ask." He takes a bead on Lachlan, or Wainwright (or whoever), using his shotgun with slug. Robert walks that way, not getting in Geoff's line of sight. It's too intense to look directly at the light. Samantha gets the girls and Dr. Jurgen down in back. Robert draws his gun and gets it in his hand, covering his eyes to not be blinded, intending to switch off the carbon-arc welder.

Geoff: <to Sophie and Clarice> "Close your eyes in case this goes to hell and we need someone who's not blind." Sam closes her eyes too. Geoff waits until Robert gets fairly close, then Geoff shoots the welder (the machine, not the person), trying to shut it down so Robert can see. Bang, then a jet of flame going out sideways. (Well, it is a plasma torch.) Robert gets a nasty burn in the upper leg, the nerves are vaporized so quickly that it doesn't register as a burn. As this is occurring, the welder (person) turns around quickly, and everybody up the tunnel feels a brief blast of hot air.

Sam is watching their back, up the tunnel. No more surprises, please. Geoff fires the other barrel, hitting the man in the shin. Robert fires, hitting the man in the heart as he turns. Robert: "Whatever happened to don't shoot the welder!?!" Geoff: "No one said don't shoot the welder!!" Robert pulls off the welding mask, and it's a blue-eyed, blonde-haired female. They weren't expecting that! Underneath the coveralls is a Scout uniform. One of Lachlan's people?

Sophie: "Geoff, what happened?" Geoff: "We need to get Robert some medical attention." Fortunately, Kaeth has burn foam. Nasty wound. Kaeth then goes up to check on the body. Yup, she's dead. There's a half a survival bar in one pocket, but not much else, and no ID. The plasma cutter is fairly standard, and is very broken. Kaeth: "They may have been looking for Lachlan." Sam: "By cutting through this door??" The door is almost ready to open.

Sam makes sure the body is taken off to one side and neatly covered, for Sophie and Clarice's sake. Sophie: "What happened? I heard two shots?" Geoff: "Don't worry, Robert wasn't shot." Samantha: <staring at vault> "Oh God. Why didn't I think of it before? It must be all the damn smoke I inhaled....Hidden bank vault door, Imperial seal, Count who lends money to the government...?" Geoff pulls on the door, which apparently was ready to open. Springs unwinding, clockwork noises. Geoff checks for demo, finds none. Samantha: "If you don't have to, don't go in." She takes Dr. Jurgen and the females back into the tunnel.

Geoff goes in, intending to just check, and telling the others to stay back. He goes around the stacked wall of silver bars and finds a hemispheric chamber, with a dark globe-like thing glowing in the middle of the room, with colored glyphs on it. It looks like nothing else they've ever seen. They, because Robert followed Geoff. Robert doesn't take orders from Marines, apparently. Geoff: "Out. We're locking it back up." Robert: "I just want Ariana to see it." Geoff: "Why? The more people who see this, the more jeopardy we're going to be in." Robert: "I don't think that matters." Geoff: "The more people who know what's back here, the more jeopardy we're going to be in. Let's back out, figure out a way to re-seal it, and look for Wainwright and his ship." Robert: "Lachlan." They leave.

The vault door is replaced as well as possible. They're getting ready to leave when further back in the tunnel is the sound of a group of people coming their way. And that's the only exit. Geoff decides to be proactive and goes to the entrance to make contact in a friendly fashion. Geoff: "Hello?" Male voice: "Halt!!" A covered lantern is flipped open. Geoff is grabbed and forced up against the wall. They're not gentle. Geoff: "Hey! Does Franz know you're roughing up his guests?" He's disarmed. More men in spiff black and white Imperial uniforms come in, carrying rifles with gleaming bayonets. Officer: "All of you, hands in the air! Drop your weapons or you will be shot!" Everyone moves to comply. Geoff: "What's going on?" Officer: "Quiet! No talking!" Geoff: "Is the Count with you? These are the Count's mines, I'm his guest." Officer: "Quiet!" One of his men attempts to buttstroke Geoff, who evades, but does not resist. This bunch could use more people skills.

One of the men is checking out the covered corpse. Soldier: "Sir, look!" He takes a glance. Officer: <to the party> "Your confederate?" Geoff: "No, that is the person we shot twice, and then we shot her equipment." Officer: "Where is her weapon?" Geoff: "She was using the torch as a weapon. See the burn on my friend?" The officer isn't impressed.

They tie everyone up, arms behind their backs, except for Dr. Jurgen, who they seem to recognize. Sam protests. Samantha: "If you want to tie my hands in front, that's fine, but my arm is injured." They agree to that, seeing as she has a cast on her hand and her arm's in a sling. They do treat the women more gently. They take Dr. Jurgen away from the group and off up the tunnel.

The rest of the party is removed from the large cavern, taken up the tunnel a ways, then herded into a smaller side cavern with only one way in or out. They're put against the far wall, face to the wall. Doesn't bode well. Sergeant: "Orders sir?" Officer: "The standing orders, sergeant." Sergeant: "But, sir! Some of them are women!" The officer doesn't seem to give a rip. This is bad. Geoff turns and charges the men as they're putting in their ear plugs. Kaeth and Sam do likewise. Geoff yells "Drop!" as he moves. Robert shields Ariana with his body. Sophie and Clarice hesitate for a moment, but then remember what "drop" means. Clarice does lift her skirts to keep them out of the dirt.

The fight is on, although having their hands tied behind their backs - literally - makes things difficult for the good guys. Kaeth takes out one man, hitting him in the lower legs - he goes over Kaeth's back and down. Geoff spears one man in the gut with his head. No air, and the subgun is dropped. The primitive submachinegun's safety is bumped loose and the weapon fires around the room. One additional guard goes down. Sam goes for the nearest man, who tries to stab her with the bayonet on his rifle. She moves inside and kicks the man hard in the hip but is slashed in the upper leg rather badly. They both go down, but the man is paying for it with a broken hip. This leaves the officer, who is drawing his weapon, the sergeant, who has his pistol out already, and two riflemen.

The sergeant fires but narrowly misses Geoff's head. Geoff moves onto the standing rifleman. Robert looks down and sees the smg next to him. He'll be spending the next turn trying to get his hands in front of himself. (That'll hurt later, he hopes.) Geoff charges his target, hitting him in the shins, but not taking him down. The man tries to hit Kaeth with the gun as Kaeth does a hop and slams the smg guy with his knee, he's hit in the arm.

The officer has his gun out now, and fires on Kaeth. The sergeant fires at Geoff again, hoping to hit him this time. The officer hits Kaeth with a round from him 7.65 Walther, over the heart. Thank God for body armor. The sergeant fires and blows it again, hitting his own rifleman in the gut. Friendly fire! One rifleman left, and he fires on Geoff, hitting him in the left upper arm. Painful, but not fatal. The ball of flame shooting out of the rifle is rather spectacular. Sam switches her handy Shadow Systems bracelet into a knife and cuts her bonds, freeing her hands.

Kaeth stomps the foot of the smg guy, very hard, with his newly repaired, heavy boots. One more man unconscious. Robert picks up the smg and racks the bolt. He discovers it's already been racked. Either that or it's jammed. He tries to push the bolt forward, but it won't move. Sam's immediate opponent is out of action, so she switches to the officer and snap-kicks him in the chest. Even injured does enough damage to knock him down and out. Bastard.

Their numbers seriously thinned by the uncooperative tied captives, and their leader down, the sergeant and the remaining mobile rifleman and smg guy decide to leave. Sergeant: "Fall back!" Geoff goes for the man who dropped his smg and had drawn his bayonet. The rifleman doesn't return fire, neither does the man with the bayonet in hand. The sergeant does fire, and actually hits Geoff in the calf. He goes down, but not unconscious. Robert fires the smg, and he's found his new weapon of choice. It fires slowly, relatively speaking. Robert hits both the sergeant and the previously wounded rifleman. The rifleman is shot in the head. Robert runs out of ammo. Oh-oh.

Robert throws the smg at the fleeing man, hitting him in the chest. It doesn't do much damage, but it certainly startles him and will leave a bruise. Sam picks up the officer's pistol. Kaeth dives for the man's legs, knocking him to the ground, very hard. Geoff is busy getting his hands under and to the front. The remaining intact man rallies and starts fighting for his life. (Well, they started it!) He reaches forward to try to stab Kaeth, and hits him in the knee, just not very hard.

Geoff tries to kick the bayonet man, but he slips on the bloody floor, injuring his pride. Since he's still a threat, Sam shoots the man with the bayonet before he stabs the grounded Geoff, hitting him in the general lower torso. He goes down. Geoff picks up his knife off the pile and cuts the bonds on the remaining tied people.

Sophie: "Where are my glasses?" Clarice seems also nonplussed, just quiet as she looks at the pool of blood. Not a scratch on either one of them, or Ariana. Robert is bruised, but the bullet didn't penetrate his body armor. Ariana is checking him for injuries and the bullet rolls out of his shirt. Robert: "Keep that."

Sophie and Clarice come over to Geoff. Sophie lifts her skirt and tears off a bandage strip. [Wow, déja vu!] Clarice: "Quickly! Bandages, Geoff has been hurt!" Robert collects smg's and magazines. Sam restrains the live bodies, not slitting their throats. (It's just a fleeting thought...) The officer is out cold. Outside, there is the sound of voices yelling, but muffled and unintelligible. Robert goes out, the voices are a ways off still. His flashlight still works, and he turns it on. Robert: "Lachlan! Damn it, where are you?" He can't quite figure out where the other tunnel was, where he was when he was shot earlier. It's like a maze in here.

Kaeth: "What was in that room?" Geoff: "It wasn't from here. It was foreign. Very foreign. But it wasn't a ship, and it wasn't a way off here." Kaeth patches up people as much as he can, with what he has. Geoff has decided that Dr. Jurgen set them up deliberately. They leave, taking a different side tunnel.

Voices up the main tunnel. "You! Remain here, guard this passage. You, you, and you - come with me. The rest of you, stay here and do not advance, no matter what you hear. Stay put and guard this tunnel!"

Geoff: <to Sam> "If you can find a way out and take the girls, at least maybe they don't have to be shot at dawn. If you can get to Franz, maybe he can figure out if the Emperor is in on it or not. And you can tell him that Dr. Jurgen may not be trustworthy. Go this way." He directs them down the side tunnel. Sophie: "No. I'm not going to leave you. If you're staying, I'm staying." Geoff: "No, you're my one hope to get to Franz." Sophie: "Don't do this." Geoff: "I need you to survive. You may be my only hope." Sophie: "You wouldn't abandon me. I love you." Geoff kisses her. It's a long kiss. Aunt Patricia would not approve. Clarice glances and looks away, so she can say she didn't really see anything. Geoff: "Now go." Geoff takes tag, Kaeth and Robert share point, Robert navigating and Kaeth looking for traps. The party will stay together for now, until a safer direction is found for the women.

They go a short distance, and it's a dead end. Kaeth feels, taps. Wait a sec..that doesn't sound like stone. Sounds like plastic. It's been coated with rock dust and adhesive, and has a foam core behind it. They go through, replace it, and walk. And walk, and walk. Geoff: "Sophie, I've got something to tell you. I'm not from Kanaida. How much adventure do you want? Could you handle leaving everything you know and travelling to really exotic and foreign lands?" Sophie: "As long as I'm with you. And I have travelled, I've been to Brazzaville." Geoff: "Ever read space operas?" Sophie: "Space operas?" Geoff: "You know when your father invested in electricity? He wasn't wrong. Do you believe me? I know you said we couldn't elope, but this may be the ultimate elopement." Robert starts humming the love theme from Dick Salamander's last film. Sam: <groaning> "Someone please kill me now..." Kaeth continues and bumps into something nose first. There seems to be a shape that's hard to see, and is covered with Koosh-like material. Kaeth: "Ow!" Robert feels around and eventually finds the door, he thinks.

"My God." It's a rather familiar male voice from all the way behind the party. Geoff pivots that way, stepping in front of Sophie. Robert tries to open the door. It's locked, and there's just a keypad. Bugger. Dr. Jurgen: "It really is true." Geoff goes towards him. Dr. Jurgen is standing at the opening of the cavern, one hand on the wall, staring at what little of the ship he can see by the flashlights. The ship is about 400 tons, and covered with black stealth material. Geoff advances on Dr. Jurgen, who has opened his lamp to see more of the ship. Geoff: "Would you care to explain why I shouldn't just kill you now?" Dr. Jurgen: <confused> "Colonel Thompson?" Geoff: "What the hell happened back there? With the Imperial guard?" Dr. Jurgen: "They recognized me. I have performed some services for the Emperor. They took me off up the tunnel. I don't understand what you mean." Samantha: "Geoff thinks you set us up." Dr. Jurgen: "Surely if I wanted to set you up, I could have done it in a much less complicated way? What are you accusing me of doing?" Geoff: "You didn't set us up to go down into the chamber just in time to be found?" Dr. Jurgen: "Certainly not!" Geoff: "So how come you're back here now?" Dr. Jurgen: "You and I and the others were separated. I heard shots." Geoff: "That's because they were going to shoot all of us, including the women, in the back." Dr. Jurgen: "Good Lord. There was some confusion when shots were heard. I was able to get away." Geoff: "All right, I'll buy that for now. How much trouble are we in for having breached that door?" Dr. Jurgen: "You would be better able to judge that than me. I thought the warning on that door was to frighten the natives. Apparently not. How much of a possibility is it there that you wouldn't be recognized as having been in the tunnel?" Samantha: "They searched us, and tied us up. They saw us." Dr. Jurgen: "I would recommend that we get out, and you seek sanctuary with the Count. He has influence, even with the Emperor." Geoff: "We tell them the truth, if we can get them to listen. I was the only one who went inside the room. Maybe they'll be happy with just me." Dr. Jurgen: "I don't understand what could possibly be inside that room that would make them kill people." Geoff: "You have no idea." Dr. Jurgen: "But what could it be?" Geoff: "Doctor, you don't want to know what's in there. You want to be absolutely honest when you're questioned and you tell them you don't know. You need to take the women back with you and find Franz. It's our only hope right now."

Over by the ship, Robert and Ariana are still trying to get the damn door open. Suddenly it does. Robert gives Ariana a big kiss. Ariana: "But I didn't do anything!" The red light from the door is now suffusing the cavern. Geoff looks around the cavern, trying to figure out if anyone in there has opened the hatch. Can't see anything, but he's waiting for Lachlan to pop out of a side tunnel. Robert goes in, figuring that Lachlan is expecting him. Kaeth will go with him, to cover. As only two very friendly and not too large people will fit in the airlock, it's just Robert and Kaeth.

Dr. Jurgen isn't the only one shocked by the new developments - Sophie and Clarice are staring wide-eyed at the contents of the cavern. Geoff: <to Sophie> "Dear, we're from another planet. That is a spaceship." Sophie: <surprised and worried> "I'm staying with you." Geoff: " I love you. I need you to go back with Dr. Jurgen until we find out if we can get this ship out." Sophie: "No, I'm staying with you." Geoff: "I need you to do this. I need you to survive." Clarice: "Sophie, he's right. Think about this - it's a man from another planet. You don't even know if you can - if you're.." Robert: "Yes they are!" Geoff: "Go with Clarice. I won't leave you, I promise." Sophie grabs him and kisses him. It's a full body kiss. Dr. Jurgen wants to take a look inside the ship, just for a minute. Really. He doesn't want to just walk away.... Geoff: "Oh, all right. One look, then you have to go.

Kaeth and Geoff can get into everywhere but the bridge. In back are four empty lowberths, sixteen occupied ones - fifteen with lifesigns. Also an autodoc, weapons, supplies, the whole thing. There are two actual cabins. The bridge is locked. Geoff: "Who's for the autodoc?" At an hour a point, Kaeth doesn't want to spend the time.

There's a call from one of the cabins. Ariana: "Woohoo! Check this out! <the others head her way> Apparently Mr. Lachlan was a cross-dresser!!" Geoff: "Well, I knew that." Ariana has found clothing and makeup, local and otherwise. There's a Naval uniform for a female, and a Scout... It could be that Lachlan was sharing a cabin, but that's not important right now.

Robert: "We need to get on to the bridge." Kaeth: "Why?" Robert: "Because we aren't going anywhere unless we do." Kaeth is convinced to go into the autodoc, as he's really injured and the only medic Robert really trusts, and besides it may take a while to get through bridge security and to search the ship more thoroughly. They don't find anything on the first search. They do find a comb in the cabin with short blonde hair on it - probably the female, dead Scout. (Or non-Scout, it might have been a disguise.)

Dr. Jurgen gets his quick (edited) tour and takes Samantha, Sophie, and Clarice away from the cavern, and out to the Count. They hope. Of course no one has a map, and Dr. Jurgen may be a bad guy... They wander around and finally hit some rails that angle up. They follow them up and up and up, and eventually reach the top of the mine. There are a few people in the white and black Imperial uniforms, but they are not being particularly attentive, as they seem to be keeping people out, not in. The group darts behind an ore car, brushes off a lot of dust, and (in Sam's case) tries not to bleed. Dr. Jurgen: "Wait here." He steps out and hails a cab. A hansom is stopped, the women are put inside, and the doctor rides up top. Dr. Jurgen: "To the palace." He hands the driver a gold piece.

The servants recognize everyone and let them in at once. Dr. Jurgen: "Lady Telford was involved in a bit of an accident." From his point of view maybe, but she thinks of it as an on purpose. Dr. Jurgen speaks to the servants and does not lie - he omits things and speaks vaguely, but he doesn't lie. He escorts the ladies upstairs, to Samantha's room.

Dr. Jurgen: "Don't worry, I will speak to Franz. Everything will be all right." He ushers Sophie and Clarice out of the room so he can treat Samantha's injuries (and speak privately with her). Dr. Jurgen deals with the medical concerns first, in his usual competent manner. After washing up he sits down in the chair beside her bed. Dr. Jurgen: "Lady Telford, there is some question, before I speak with Franz, as to what I should tell him. I knew about your origins, but I admit that after seeing your ethership, I'm a bit giddy." Samantha: "Tell him as much of the truth as he needs to know. We went in there trying to find a lead on the person who was behind the attacks on Franz and others. We found someone breaking into the vault in that cavern. Shots were fired, the person was killed. Then men with guns showed up, took you away, tied us up, took us to a side cavern, and were going to kill all of us because the door was open. We weren't permitted to speak, to give our side of anything, they were just going to shoot us all in the back." Dr. Jurgen: "I'll tell him. You rest." He leaves to find Franz.

Geoff manages to get the bridge door open, after spending some time working on the keypad and hatch. Robert: "All right! I take back every bad thing I ever said about you." Geoff gives Robert a quizzical look as he goes onto the bridge.

The main drive is shut down and cold, and they're running off the auxiliary power. And there are a bunch of crossover controls for a bunch of systems - electronic and hydraulic versions of a few systems. If you were flying the ship manually, you'd have a very austere cockpit, but it would work. And it has strap-on solid fuel boosters. There is one minor problem - somebody has done something (probably deliberately) that has physically scrambled the main computer program. This makes it a ship's boat, rather than a starship, as jumping is out of the question without a replacement software. Commo is also scragged. Ariana is called forward to see what she can do with the computer.

Not much. Ariana: "It's a very expensive piece of art." Geoff: "We should be able to patch together some commo." Ariana: "We have a lot of work ahead of us then."

Back at the Count's place. The door to Sam's room bursts open and Franz comes rushing in, having been told that Lady Telford was injured. A few strides into the room Franz catches himself and maintains propriety, straightens his tie, then sits on the chair beside Samantha's bed. Franz: "You're well, I trust? Dr. Jurgen has taken care of you?" Samantha: "I've been better. On the other hand, it could have been a lot worse. And you're here." A few minutes later there's a knock on the door. Franz stands as the Emperor enters with two of his bodyguards. Now things should get interesting!

Franz: "Your Highness. This is Lady Samantha Telford." Count: "Count von Grafenburg. <to his guards> Please, leave us." He gestures Franz out as well, Franz leaves, but is a bit confused. Samantha: "Sir?" Grafenburg: "So. We have a visitor from a very distant place. You place me in a somewhat awkward position. I had not expected anyone to venture past my seals." Samantha: "We were not looking for your vault, sir. When we got there, someone was cutting their way through." Grafenburg: "That's not really what's important at this moment. It's obvious you're not from around here. Are you here for a purpose, or by misfortune? There's no need to be coy, I know what you are. Are you a Scout, Imperial Navy? Or an Imperial spy? I know all about your Imperium." Samantha: "None of the above. Actually I came here looking for a painting that was on a ship that went down here a few months ago. I wasn't expecting to crash here. To be honest, I wasn't expecting a lot of things." Grafenburg: "The question is do I believe you?" Samantha: "I suppose that's up to you." Grafenburg: "And is it enough if I do? Your mere presence on my world is a threat to my country, my world." Samantha: "Our presence, no. A man who goes by the name of Lachlan, yes." Grafenburg: "If you get off, what will you tell them? Would it be something that would fuel a lot of megacorps to feed off the ruins of this world?" Samantha: "I don't work for a megacorp. I have no association with any of the services you mentioned. I have no interest in having anything to do with them, and I have no reason to do anything that would bring attention or damage to your world." Grafenburg: "I'm sure you mean to be sincere, but I'm sure you understand that others that have come before you, and have proven to be less than, shall we say, civilized. One can't take a culture like ours and suddenly introduce higher technology without causing havoc. While you no doubt find it very primitive here, it suits us very well." Samantha: "I realize that. None of us came here with any such intentions." Grafenburg: "As I said, the question is whether or not I can trust you and your companions, especially now that you have seen what is in the mine. And obviously you are capable of violence." Samantha: "A few hours ago, your men were going to kill us. I'm sorry they're dead, but I'm not sorry we're alive. You might want to rephrase your standing orders to allow for innocent bystanders, or misunderstandings." Grafenburg: "The warnings are there for a reason. You deny that you and your companions were looking for the vault then?" Samantha: "I mentioned a man named Lachlan. I don't know if that's his real name. He's the one we were looking for. Have you heard of the of the ISA?" Grafenburg: "I am familiar with the bureaucracy of your Imperial government." Samantha: "Is that a yes?" Grafenburg: "I am familiar with the ISA." Samantha: "This Lachlan person has been here for eight years and has gone right out of his mind. He is an ISA agent. He is obsessed with finding whatever is causing the electricity issue on this planet, stealing it, and taking it back to our Imperium." Grafenburg: "Ah yes, electricity. You people are terribly concerned about your electricity." Samantha: "We were looking for Lachlan, or his ship. We didn't know there was a vault down there." Grafenburg: "You can appreciate it that in my position, I can ill afford to trust anyone." Samantha: "I understand your position. You might try to understand ours." He stands. Grafenburg: "Perhaps we will speak again, Lady Telford." A nod of the head, and he leaves.

The group on board the stealth ship manages, after hours of work, to make something that should work as commo, but they can't test it. They also start the drives warming up. Eventually, Kaeth pops out of the autodoc, feeling all better. He gives Geoff Regen™ 2, and he goes to sleep for a while. Kaeth checks out Robert, who isn't injured enough for it to be a problem with his flying and would rather wait to be back to civilization before being treated .

Suddenly an amplified voice booms through the cavern. "You in the ether ship. Surrender now, or we will bombard your ship." The men outside have Maxim guns and artillery. The ship does have lasers, but they're controlled by the computer, which doesn't work. There is a targeting laser, but it can't be aimed without modifications. There's enough power to run gravitics, but only for about a half hour. The men outside are aiming the field gun at the bridge. Robert: "If you fire upon this vessel, I will ignite the rockets." Officer: "Thank you for the warning. I appreciate it. But I have my orders." Robert: "And I have mine." He turns on the gravitics. Robert: "We either surrender, or we get out of here." Kaeth wake Geoff up with stim. Ooh! Geoff: "What!" He leaps up, nerves jangling. Kaeth: "We've got a situation." Geoff: "What?" Kaeth: "The locals are here, and they want us to surrender." Geoff: "Well, maybe you can let me out and close back up. They want us to surrender, I can find out what they want. If nothing else we need to find out whether Samantha is staying or going." Kaeth: "I think she's staying."

Geoff goes outside, hands up. The Imperial guard officer approaches. Officer: "Which one are you, sir?" Geoff: "Thompson." Officer: "Colonel Thompson, would you be so kind as to accompany me, sir? This way." They go up to the surface, then into a carriage and back to Franz's.

Once inside the residence, the officer stops Geoff outside of the study. Officer: "Pardon me, colonel, are you armed?" Geoff: "Yes." Officer: "May I have your weapons, please?" Geoff hands them over. Officer: "Thank you. These will be returned." He knocks on the door, then shows Geoff into the study. There's a twenty-two or twenty-three year old young man sitting at the desk, he looks up as Geoff enters, waving off the guard. Grafenburg: "Ah, Colonel Thompson. Please sit down. I've already spoken with your fellow, how do you say, spaceperson, Miss Telford. We have a situation." Geoff: "The situation right now is this. All they have to do right now is push a button on the spaceship and take off. That would burn up your men in the cavern." Grafenburg: "And my men have placed enough explosives at the mouth of the cavern to drop that side of the mountain on top of the ship and your friends." Geoff: "It might work. It might not. It would be costly for both sides. Why not just let the ship go?" Grafenburg: "And trust you not to return with your gangs of megacorps and others to strip this planet?" Geoff: "There isn't anything on this planet that isn't on any other planet, and what works on other planets might not work here. It's not worth that much effort." Grafenburg: "Then why did you come here?" Geoff: "I can assure you, the only reason that this party came here was to recover an object, and if we'd known it was going to be this much trouble we wouldn't have come here. Not that some of us haven't discovered reasons to want to stay here." Grafenburg: "So you wouldn't have a difficulty if I insisted you stay here?" Geoff: "Now personally, I would have a difficulty. I have someone who is not from this planet. He is not from here, he doesn't want to stay here, and I owe him a debt of honor. He was injured, and needs to get off-planet to receive the care he needs. There's also the painting we came here to get, and if we don't get that off planet someone may well come looking for it, and us. Now, if we could maybe borrow a zeppelin, I could go to Albion, pick up my friend and the painting, and come back here. Would that be possible?" Grafenburg: "I believe someone could be dispatched to acquire your associate and the object, yes." Geoff: "Great. Then whoever wants to stay can stay, and the others can leave with the ship and not bother you any more. But you should know that getting rid of us won't solve all your problems. There's still the man we were searching for in the mines, who has tried to kill Count von Hollenstein, plotted to kill you, poses a substantial danger to anyone who stands in his way, and is seeking the artifact that shields this planet from electricity. If you can locate him, or if you can remove the ship from his possession, you will have deprived him of equipment and a way off. That will at the very least limit his ability to harm you or your world. And if you decide that you need to kill someone who saw what was in the vault, then kill me. I was the only one who saw it, let the others go." The young man studies Geoff carefully. Grafenburg: "I'm of two minds. Count von Hollenstein has spoken highly of you. <pause> Well, as an act of good faith, why don't you and your associates join me for dinner. I promise you a decision before dessert." Geoff: "Samantha and I can, of course, but the others will probably want to stay on board the ship." Grafenburg: "I'm afraid I really must insist. I cannot make a decision on whether or not to trust a man I have never met face to face. " Geoff: "You aren't by any chance a cavalry person? A cavalry officer? Do you know any?" Grafenburg: "Certainly." Geoff: "How would a cavalry officer feel if you told him he wouldn't be allowed to go near a horse again?" Grafenburg: "Nonetheless, I insist. I wish to speak with your associates, in person, before I make my decision." Geoff: "Okay, how about this. You need to speak to them, I'll take you to them." Grafenburg: "And how much would my life be worth if I were to step on board that ship?" Geoff: "Why would we harm you?" Grafenburg: "You could hold me hostage. <pause> Let me think on this matter for a while." Geoff: "May I speak with Miss Telford?" Grafenburg: "Of course. You're not a prisoner." Geoff leaves the room.

To Samantha's room, where Sam is considering having a revolving door installed. Geoff just walks in and starts talking like he's expected. Samantha: "Hello, are the others here too?" Geoff: "No. Any how..." There follows a brief description of what happened after Sam left with Dr. Jurgen. Geoff: "...trying to convince the Emperor to let us borrow a zeppelin, go get the painting and Ezbeki, and then whoever wants to leave, can leave, and whoever wants to stay can stay. Although I'm not sure if he's going to be very keen to let anyone stay." Not news Samantha wants to hear.

The men outside the ship suddenly pack up weapons and go to leave. No explanation. Kaeth checks out the weapons locker, and finds where the nuke and it's sleeves had been packed. And there seems to be a slot for a second one. Oh-oh. Kaeth looks around, can't find the other one. Can't find any record of it. He packs up all the really high tech Regen™ and other medical stuff into a big bag, along with extra ammo. Kaeth: "I'm going to see if they'll at least let me take this to Geoff and Sam. Maybe I can find out what's going on and get back to you." Robert isn't thrilled, and can't promise to wait for Kaeth and the others, but he'll try. Kaeth emerges cautiously, and finds a man in a black and white uniform who's willing to escort him up to Franz's place.

Franz doesn't quite understand what's going on, but he checks on Sam and Geoff. Franz: "I must confess, I'm more than a bit intrigued. Private conversations with the Emperor? Really." Geoff: "Franz, the Emperor has reasons to believe that our country is a potential danger to yours." Franz: "That's preposterous. I'll speak with him." Geoff: "No, he's right. I saw something in that cave that could effect the security of the country. I wouldn't willingly give it up, but I do know it. Your emperor is going to decide whether or not to allow those of us who want to leave, to return home. I explained to him that if it were possible, I would like to find a way to return to Albion for Ezbeki, who I know wants to go back. And I believe Miss Telford has something there she needs to get back to our home." Samantha: "Yes, I do have something I need to send back." Franz: "Well, I suggest that we have a meal, relax, and then we'll see what can be done." Geoff: "Could you send your zeppelin to Albion to pick up Ezbeki and the painting? That would help." Franz: "Yes, of course. It will take some time though." Geoff: "It will help. The clock is ticking." Uncertain young emperor, twitchy Navy types, missing rogue ISA agents, stressed Imperial guards with explosives...

Back at the ship, which Robert is not leaving, no how, no way. Ariana has gotten bored, and she's stressed. And Robert's beginning to figure out what happens when she gets stressed...Ariana: "Robert... I'm horny." She's wearing perfume and lingerie, and he's not playing. Robert: "You know, those fifteen guys in the back could wake up at any time." Ariana: "I can fix that, I just need to flip this breaker switch." She reaches up. Robert: "Not now, Ariana. This is not the time for this." Ariana: "Okay. Fine." She leaves to pout. Ariana: "Maybe I'll just defrost one of those guys!" She sets the door to slam.

Knock, knock. Samantha: "Whoever it is, just come in." Kaeth: "Excuse me, I don't mean to interrupt." Geoff: "Where are the others?" Kaeth: "Still on the ship. The artillery was withdrawn, so tensions have gone down a bit." Geoff: "Mostly." Kaeth: "Small problem, there's another 27B." Geoff: "Make my day." Kaeth: "Now there's a crazy man out there with a nuke. But he doesn't have any sleeves, so at least it'll be clean." Geoff: "So it's just a thousand tons of TNT. It'll just make a big crater, that's not too bad." Samantha: "Unless you're in the crater." Geoff: "You have to die someday." Samantha: "Some of us have other things to do at the moment."

They have dinner with the Emperor, Franz, and Dr. Jurgen, and talk about nothing related to the current issue. It's all very civilized.

After dinner, Samantha is back upstairs in her room when Franz pays a visit. He leaves the door open, so nothing seems improper. Franz: "I understand the situation is such that it might be necessary for you to go away. Is this correct? The Emperor said you might have to go." Samantha: "Unless he forces me, or you tell me to, I'm not going anywhere." Franz: "No, I've been foolish in the past. I have no desire for you to leave." He takes her hand and puts something in it. It's a ring. Small, lady-like, big diamond. Franz: "I wish for you to be with me. As my wife." Samantha: "Yes." He kisses her, but in a more proper fashion than when Sophie and Geoff were kissing in the mine, Franz is too much the gentleman. They don't notice when Emperor comes in until he clears his throat. Franz reddens slightly. Grafenburg: "I wish to speak with Lady Telford and her friends." Franz is really starting to wonder about these private meetings with his guests and the Emperor, but he's too polite to say anything. He bows and withdraws.

Once more, the group (Geoff, Kaeth, Sam) gathers, but this time in the study. Grafenburg: "I've reached my decision. <dramatic pause> Those of you who remain behind will remain behind. Those of you who wish to leave may leave, and if they ever return, they will be executed. Once the time has come, the device will be turned off for as long as it takes for your vessel to depart." Samantha: "I'm staying." Funny, the Emperor doesn't seem surprised. Kaeth is going. Geoff is staying with Sophie. Grafenburg: <to Geoff> "Then if you are to remain, it seems that you will have to join our little fraternity." Geoff isn't too keen on this, not that he has a choice. He hopes it doesn't involve some sort of weird initiation ceremony. A secret handshake would be okay.

Grafenburg: "I hope I won't come to regret this decision. You may go." Not wanting to give him the chance to change his mind, they leave the room but quick.

241 to 245-1123.

Ariana won't leave the ship, and refuses to come out of her room and make up with Robert.

Mr. and Mrs. Ezbeki arrive from Albion. No one actually dies of shock, but it's close. Apparently it was Marguerite's idea (never should have left those two alone), and Ezbeki is in a panic when he sees Geoff. He wants to find some way out of the marriage, or else leave without her. Geoff isn't having any. Geoff: "You married her, you've got to keep her! This is for life." Ezbeki: "I can't live like that! What about all those other women I'd be disappointing?" Geoff: "You're an old retired guy now. She took care of you when you couldn't go to the bathroom by yourself." Ezbeki: "Don't remind me." Geoff: "Besides, she may be all the woman you can handle, Ezbeki." Ezbeki: "What was I thinking! Geoff, I beg you!" Geoff: "No, you have to take care of it yourself." Ezbeki: "Damn officers. When I get my back fixed, I'm coming back and -" Geoff: "No, if you come back, they'll kill you. That's definite. Once you leave, Ezbeki, that's it." Ezbeki: "Okay, okay. I get it." Marguerite is so incredibly thrilled when she finds out she'll be going on the ethership, that she'd go without Ezbeki.

Dr. Jurgen gets to take another look at the "ethership" before the others leave, and Geoff and Samantha can say good-bye. Kaeth asks for a sample of the red berry extract. Kaeth: "I may have to go through SuSAG to get it analyzed properly though..." Samantha and Geoff leap at Kaeth, who said it out loud. Samantha: "I don't think so!" Geoff: "Are you out of your mind?" Dr. Jurgen: "Certainly, I can spare a few CC's. You might become injured on your trip." Geoff and Sam glare at the Vargr, who reconsiders the idea of doing something that could get him beaten up. (Yeah, take the berry extract to SuSAG, and tell them it came from where, exactly? The Emperor would not be amused. More to the point, Geoff and Samantha would not be amused.) Kaeth: "No, no, that's all right. I have things that will do the same." Dr. Jurgen: "Sir Robert, I wish you well wherever you go. I can imagine no place as beautiful as our world, but I have not travelled as far as you. Lady Ariana, I shall miss your charm and grace." He doesn't recognize Ezbeki, which is just as well. Robert: "Married, huh? Hey, Ezbeki, have you told her about the ping-pong ball?" Payback...

Kaeth <to Sam> "Something you need to know. Are you on lock?" Samantha: "Yes.." Kaeth: "When was your last dose?" Samantha: <thinks> "About three months ago. Why??" Kaeth: "I wouldn't recommend pregnancy for an additional six months after you go off lock." Pregnancy?! Good grief, the woman hasn't gotten past the wedding yet!

At least the painting got to Fredonia in one piece. There was a bit of a bother. The bank where it was being stored burned down. But it's here. Sam gives it to Ariana, who has a vested interest in seeing it gets to Black. Ariana: "I'll see that it's delivered. And no offense, but I hope to never see this shit hole of a planet again." Samantha: "I hope you don't either." She gives Ariana an envelope for Black. Final good-byes are said.

Guard officer: "His Imperial Majesty asks how long to depart and reach your goal?" Robert estimates three hours will be plenty. Officer: "Very well. At exactly the stroke of midnight tonight, the device will be deactivated for exactly three hours." Robert sets his local chronometer with their local chronometer.

They count down. Ezbeki: "...And that was when I saved Geoff's life the fifth time..." Robert closes the door. Kaeth makes sure everyone is wearing a vac suit. Midnight comes, they manuever out and the electricity continues to function. Everything works just fine, like on every other planet. When they get out into the open, Robert does do a farewell roll. Then it's up and out. The radio does work, which means Ariana can communicate with the Ruby and get it into docking position.

Geoff takes Sophie out onto a balcony at midnight, to see the slow shooting star. It's very romantic. On another balcony, same castle, Franz stands with Samantha. Franz: "Look, a shooting star. That's good luck.

Ezbeki: "Hey, pilot guy! When you did that last roll, I think you knocked something loose." Kaeth goes to check, and finds the other 27B. It's been rolling around, it's armed, and it's wired into the jump drives. Hmm. Good thing they have the Ruby. Ariana: "Hey look people, we're on board an ISA ship. We can't show up with it, someone would ask questions." Kaeth: "They'll ask questions about the fifteen freezer burned guys." Ariana: "Exactly. We take nothing." Robert: "We take the autodoc." Ariana doesn't want anything from this ship. Period. They do transfer all the cash the get out of the safe, which is pretty good. They dock with the Ruby, transfer the non-ISA agents, the personal effects, and the money. Ariana finds something interesting in Lachlan's cabin - his journal. Or, to be truthful, her journal. It seems the blonde female cutting her way into the vault was none other than Joanne Lachlan. Or John, as she sometimes refers to herself in the journal. Yup, way too much time out in the cold. Pity Robert and the others can't let Geoff and Samantha know that Lachlan won't be a problem any more.

They can use the Ruby to send the other ship off in a trajectory into the sun. Robert is ticked off - he really wanted that ship. Ariana: "I'm sorry Robert. I want to have years and years with you, I don't want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, wondering who's after me." He doesn't buy that, but too bad. Ariana: "Before we leave, there's something we need to do. We should deactivate those lowberths. There are sixteen of them, that gives us each a bank to shut off - everybody gets their hands dirty." Not including Ezbeki and Marguerite, who don't know about the thugsicles. Robert: "All right." Ariana goes first, with very little hesitation.

No incidents. They get aboard the Ruby. Last man leaving the stealth ship evacuates the air. The ship is sent off towards the sun, and blows up before it gets to the sun. At just about exactly three hours, before the ship hits the sun, it blows up. A little present from Lachlan, no doubt. His loss.

245 to 259-1123.

The banns are read announcing Count von Hollenstein's engagement. On a larger scale, détante, and exchange of letters between the monarchs. There will be a state visit, but that's in the future. For now there will be a reduced state of tension, and everyone can breathe a bit easier for now.

Sophie: <to Geoff> "Isn't it about time we planned a trip to Albion?" Geoff: "Yes. Before Geoff leaves, he's summoned to Könisberg. With Samantha. There's a formal meeting with the Emperor. Grafenburg: "The thought occurs to me, that whatever we do, the secret will get out of the borders. Even now, the Imperials, or the Zhodani may have spies here." Geoff: "Aside from the one crazed ISA agent, it's mostly crash victims from what I can tell." Grafenburg: "Yes, the possibility is low, but exists. I just want you to think about something. At some point it might be useful to have operatives who can travel off-planet to look after our interests." Geoff: "He wants to make me a spy!" Grafenburg: "Not right away, but I may call upon you." Geoff: "The problem there is my residence is in Albion." Grafenburg: "I'm not asking you as a free citizen of Fredonia, but as a citizen of this world." Geoff: "No, no, you don't understand. I don't want to live that close to my aunt-in-law. If you were to appoint me to some sort of position here, that way I would be more available to you." Grafenburg: "Very well, but I think I'll let it be Count von Hollenstein's idea." Geoff: "That's fine." Grafenburg: "Perhaps counsel, assigned to Silverstadt or Damstadt. I'll see to it. <to Samantha> And Lady Telford, I don't know exactly of what use you could be, but I have a feeling you have hidden talents...You are certainly much more than what you appear to be."

Perhaps the Ruby will arrive in one piece to Regina.