"He told how murders walk the earth
Beneath the crimson curse of Cain,
With crimson clouds before their eyes
And flames about their brains;
For blood has left upon their souls
Its everlasting stain."
-- - Hood

163 - 1123.

Before Nicolai does anything, he has to see Anders. Which he does. Anders: "What? More medicking?" Nicolai: "This is the first time you've medicked me. <pause> Lately." Anders does her usual sterling work, making sure it still hurts though, as a lesson. The bill comes next; $900 credits worth. Now that was painful!

Anders' stabbing victim is doing much better. The internal damage has been repaired, and the scarring minimized. The abdominal muscle is coming back nicely as well. But when Anders returns to her room, she finds the girl has been cleaning the room. Anders explains what motions are all right, and which ones are not. According to the police, a Quebecker named Claire D'Anjou was reported missing, which the police believe is the girl under Anders' care. And yes, she is allowed to bow, but not at the waist. When Nicolai comes into the room, Claire starts to bow then kneels in front of him and says something in an archaic language Nicolai doesn't understand. Anders believes she's thanking Nicolai, who does not allow her to kneel. He gets the idea that she's grateful. Nicolai: "You don't have to kneel or bow to me or anything." Claire doesn't bow or kneel any more. Claire: "My father will be very grateful." There is shouting outside Anders' door, in the hallway, then pounding on the door and more of the language Claire was speaking. Anders: "A relative?" Claire: "Papa." Anders opens the door.

The two policemen outside have their heads locked under Papa's arms. He's not a tall man, but he looks like he was made out of nail kegs. Anders: "Release them." Cop: <wheezed> "You're..under...arrest." Papa rolls the cops out of the headlocks, dumping them onto the floor. Anders takes Papa's arm and pulls him inside, shutting the door before things get ugly. Claire and her father get into a heated discussion in their native tongue for several minutes. Papa then turns to Nicolai, hugs him tightly, then kisses him on both cheeks. He then promises Nicolai something. Nicolai: <to Anders> "Did you understand that?" Anders: "He says you will always be welcome in their home, and you will never be without comrades - the man and his sons. You're owed a vendetta. Might come in handy." Nicolai leaves, as Detective Ved is about to knock on the door. Anders tells Papa that Claire needs to rest, but he can take her home tonight. He understands, and anything that Anders needs... She'll think about it. He leaves, and Nicolai has already taken off. Anders lets Ved inside, with a female officer. Ved asks if he can speak with the victim. Anders: "It would be less traumatic for the girl to ask the questions, rather than you." Ved: "Of course. Do you have a recording device?" Anders: "Not one that can tape a long time. You can be in the room." Anders sets them up so Claire has the female officer in her line of sight, but Ved is in the room and can hear everything. The female officer takes out her pad and already has questions written down. Ved is quiet and listens intently. Claire describes the attacker as very mousy, very ordinary looking in his cravat. He was wearing a suit, but not a nice suit. A clerk's suit, but no ink stains. Anders: "what about the cravat?" That's the only thing that's off - a cravat is something indicative of a higher income, due to the cost of material primarily. Anders: "He might also be trying to hide a deformity or scar." Anders has experience with interrogation, and the girl is a very observant witness. She didn't realize she was in danger until she smelled the blood - like butchering pigs. Anders asks her about the knife. Claire describes a leaf-shaped blade used literally to butcher animals; common on a farm.

By the time evening falls, the father and brothers return. Anders: "She can do normal things, but she should have some one with her at all times, as the man who did this might know she's alive and come after her so she can't identify her." He nods, and discusses things with his sons. Anders explains further that Claire may not do any lifting for two weeks. Anders is given a wedge of aromatic goat cheese. Now she needs some mutton. Ved: "Please send the bill for her care to our department." Very forward-thinking of him. Anders: "Don't worry, I have a sliding scale. Some people I charge double, you understand." Mostly those with injuries due to their own stupidity.

Nicolai is having an entertaining cell phone conversation. Evans: "Mr. Sinclair?" Nicolai: "Yes?" Evans: "Are you available?" Nicolai: "I'm on my way." Evans: "We're in a place with a pair of purple trousers hung up outside as a sign." Hey, that's the clothing shop Nicolai and the others were in last night. The owner now sees hiding offworlders as a side business.

Since he already knows where the place is, it doesn't take Nicolai long to get to the shop. He enters through the back. Williamson: "I demand that I be able to continue my observations of the locals. It's imperative." All Nicolai needs to do for light is strike a match near this guy. He's extremely belligerent, and this is after the drugs to calm him down. Evans: <to Nicolai> "Perhaps your partner should try to find Mr. Caldecott." Nicolai: "Where did he go?" Evans: "He went out the back to try to find transport." Nicolai: "I came in the back. I didn't see him." Evans: "Perhaps you should tell your partner?" Nicolai: "My partner is already aware of the situation." Evans: "Ah." Williamson is still going on about being left alone to continue his "research", when he suddenly notices Nicolai. Williamson: <to Nicolai> "I know you. Was I looking for you? No...I know you. Tip of my tongue..." The drugs are finally taking effect. Nicolai: <to Evans> "Look. I have an AP problem here, and you lot are interfering." Evans: "An AP? Here?" Nicolai: "Yes, here. It's bad enough that I had to come to this dirt ball to deal with an AP, but now I'm having to babysit three bureaucrats." Williamson: <loudly> "An Artificial Person?!!!" Nicolai pops him in the upper arm, hard. Williamson goes sideways into the wall and falls over. Nicolai: <to Evans> "If you have any way to clear his thoughts, so to speak, use them. I'm sure you're well aware of my orders with regard to anyone who endangers my mission." Evans: "Yes. Of course." He attends to Williamson. A few moments later, the superior Solomani quiet gravs arrive out back, thanks to auto-call. Nicolai packs Williamson over and drops him in the grav car. There's a certain amount of angonized groaning. Evans get in. Nicolai : "What shall I tell Caldecott?" Evans: "Tell him to go to the hotel and call me." They leave, Evans white and barely keeping his dinner down - all the violence!

Nicolai goes out back to look for Caldecott, and encounters some men in long-sleeved tunics, high collars, and lace skullcaps. They are pounding on things with sticks and talking about "infidel dogs". Man: "There'll be no more of his juvenile antics. We'll have him before the magistrate." Nicolai lets them go past, then tracks behind them in search of Caldecott. He spots a man in an impeccable grey suit, coming out of a little house with a half moon on it, down the road a bit towards the loading area. Nicolai stealths that way. Caldecott: <whispered> "It looks clear." Four men, dressed like locals, unfold themselves out of the out-house. Man: "I thought we were dead." Nicolai is able to sneak closer on the porch area, the men looking in the opposite direction. Nicolai: "I see you've escaped detention by the locals." This is said right behind the men. Caldecott wheels and points a small Solomani version of a crowd control weapon right at Nicolai. Caldecott doesn't pull the trigger (that's good, since the dosage of tranq in the weapon has been upped considerably for the trip to the Marches). Caldecott: "Mr. Sinclair. Mr. Evans, Mr. Williamson?" Nicolai: "They're at the hotel. I'll escort you there." Caldecott: "You might want to help get these four Imperial nobles <making a foofy noble gesture to Nicolai> back to the hotel as well. They're not locals. It would be good for the service." Nicolai: "This is not part of my mission." Caldecott goes on about making contacts, good will, passing on the truth to the oppressed. Nicolai: "How long have you been here?" Caldecott: <proudly> "I'm on my third week." (Okay, so it is a miracle he's lasted this long.) Nicolai: "All right, I'll do this. But I want a voucher." Caldecott: "Of course." Nicolai: "I want a voucher made out to Anders Jorgensen for $25,000 credits. Imperial credits. And I'm not taking one step until I get it." Caldecott: "But...<seeing Nicolai's expression> Of course." He uses his little PDA and mini-printer [what's next - a pocket espresso machine???] to make up the voucher, which he signs and hands over to Nicolai. The remaining members of Caldecott's merry band are still trying to fully extricate themselves from their hiding place. One of them has gotten stuck. Noble #1: "How did you get your leg down the hole?" Noble #2: "Just help me get out!" Nicolai yanks the guy loose. Nicolai: "Right. No one makes a sound, or I'm out of here. And I'm sure Mr. Caldecott can tell you that we are not alone; we're being watched." Right. Nicolai: "Mr. Caldecott, escort your friends back to the hotel. I won't be far off." They walk a bit faster going up hill until a man dressed like their earlier pursuers walks by and the group flattens against a wall. The man looks at them like they're very odd, wishes them peace in the local dialect, and leaves, as one of the group (the kid in the back) returns the greeting in what sounds like Vilani. Noble #2: "Shut up!" Kid: "They're saying it wrong!" Noble #1: "That's what got us into this mess to begin with!" They walk on, and Nicolai comes up behind the kid, covering his mouth and pulling him back. Nicolai: "If you break silence again, I will break your neck and then you will die here." There's an unpleasant, damply acrid smell and the boy hurries after them. Caldecott varies his route and picks up the pace.

The group gets almost up to the Metropol when Nicolai notices a quiet man in a lumpy suit. Man: "Are you in for the night, Mr. Volkov?" Nicolai: "Who's asking?" Man: "I am Delaze. Metropolitan branch. The police." Nicolai: "I think I'm in for the night." He enters the hotel. Desk clerk: "I'm not sure we have rooms." Noble #1: "My Dad..." Nicolai goes up to his room after ordering a shower. This is none of his business.

Anders is downstairs, looking forward to being attacked. "Excuse me, ma'am?" Anders: "Yes?" Man: "I've been informed that you are an offworld doctor?" Anders: "Yes." Man: "I have a rather...delicate matter." She waves him over to her table. Young man: "I'd prefer some place less public." Anders checks the guy out and sees he appears to be a clerk (according to his callouses and ink stains) and is not wearing a cravat. Anders decides to take the man upstairs, although she is expecting trouble (not necessarily from him, but you never know). Man: "I'm not interrupting, am I?" As he's speaking to Anders, and they're going through the door, she senses him moving closer. She steps inside quickly, leaving the man to close the door, which he does, turning away from her. He closes the door quietly, facing away, and Anders hears the bolt being thrown. He doesn't want to be interrupted, apparently. Anders has her hand on the Halt!™ nerve spray in her pocket. (Skin absorbed acetocholine - he'll die unless he's given an antidote.) The man turns, knife in a reverse grip to her throat, and the other hand in a blocking position. Anders sprays her attacker's knee with the heavy liquid spray. Near the surface of the knee are ligaments, and muscles. Anders is wearing concealment armour under her clothing, which fortunately isn't what the killer is expecting. He does cut through the armour, but only doing minimal damage. Anders breaks away as the man moves on her, encountering problems when his one knee doesn't quite work. Anders takes advantage of the opportunity and kicks the man in the same leg, but not connecting well. She's slashed again, but it doesn't penetrate her armour. Her turn again, this time she hits his hip, also on the weak leg. The man can only move one leg and drag the other, but he's coming at her with that extremely determined look associated with rather insane people. It's very quiet - he hasn't said anything. Finally, Anders connects solidly, on the opposite leg. The killer is still trying to kill Anders, so she decides to just kick him in the head. This she proceeds to do - up the side of the head. He drops, the knife comes out of his hand, and Anders kicks the knife away. The man is still breathing, barely. The leg he went down on is very twisted, and he's bleeding from the ear, but he is still breathing.

Anders ties the man to a chair, then duct tapes him to it. She unlocks the door and yells for the night bellcaptain to summon the police. The police arrive tout de suite. One rather lumpy plainclothesman comes running upstairs so fast he must be psionic. Anders returns to her now patient, who's head has slumped forward, cutting off his air supply. Delaze enters the room with his off-planet MilTech Police Positive revolver in hand. Anders: "You're going to need several people to carry the man to the police station, and you should probably get the detective to come up and get the murder weapon." Cop: "Murder weapon? Ah, yes. You will keep him alive?" Anders: "He should stay alive long enough to get back to the station." Other cops arrive, the uniformed ones. Anders won't let anyone touch the knife before the detective gets there. The man is searched, and the police find a leather covered notebook. It's the man's appointment book. It contains entries in a very neat handwriting mentioning Anders and her room number, Claire's name, Emma's name, and Frank's as well. Delaze: "This man looks familiar." Anders: "Has an artist been taken to see the girl who was attacked?" Delaze: "Uh..." Anders: "If you have to think, you haven't done it. You'll have to get several other men in a line up with this one for identification." She wastes some of her valuable medical supplies on keeping the miserable bastard alive. Delaze: "I'm sure I've seen this man before." Anders: "He's probably shown up around the investigation. In the crowd, answering questions..." Ved arrives, very out of breathe. He also recognizes the man. Anders: "Has he offered to help you in your case?" Ved: "Yes, yes he has." Anders: "What special expertise has he offered?" Ved: "He offered to correlate the evidence. He is a clerk. He's been helping us. His master was kind enough to give him the time." Anders: "And who is his master?" Ved: "He is a wealthy man in the herring trade." Anders: "One possibility is he's the killer, but the other is that his boss is and he's trying to protect him. Either because he was ordered to, or out of loyalty." Ved: "We are going to need forensic evidence." Anders: "Any good butcher or local doctor can tell you what the knife should look like." Ved: "Oh yes." Anders: <indicates knife on floor> "Is that it?" Ved: "Probably." It's the correct size and shape of blade at the least.

In Frank's room, he and Emma are in the afterglow stage when there's a loud knock on the door. Frank answers the door in his boxers, with a shotgun. A very nervous bellman is there, with two policemen. Bellman: "Excuse me sir. The police say they must speak with Miss Walsh." Frank: <over his shoulder> "Hey Emma, are you decent?" Emma: "Uh, not yet." She grabs clothing, quickly. Frank: <not waiting> "Come on in." One of the cops has very wide eyes, the other one is carefully looking in Emma's eyes. Emma throws a shoe at Frank. Cop: "Excuse us, ma'am. We'll wait outside." He drags off his partner. Frank gets dressed as well.

Kay has been summoned to attend to the lightly injured Anders, but he's badly effected by the scent of the spray she used. He leaves and returns wearing his respirator. When Emma and Frank arrive, there's a Vargr wearing BDU pants and a respirator and nothing else, bending over Anders. Frank: "This is a bit too kinky for me." Kay ignores Frank and does a fine job with the stitch tape, and anaesthetic. Anders: "I wasn't asking for it - well, I was only half asking for it." Kay: "Good evening Miss Walsh." He leaves. Anders cuts off the pant leg of her assailant, and properly disposes of the effected clothing, so as to not cause any harm to the officers who have to handle the man. Emma is looking at an intubated man with one very damaged leg. Emma: <to Anders> "Are you all right? I know he isn't." Anders: "I would have been a lot less all right if it hadn't been for my vest. In fact, I'd probably be up for a kidney transplant right about now." Emma takes a look at the knife - it was recently made, and very recently sharpened. She tells the detective this. Ved: "We can't get prints off this handle." Anders: "We don't need to. We know he tried to stab me with it." Several police officers take the man and the chair quietly out the back way, while a decoy is taken very noisily out the front door.

Nicolai steps out of his shower to find a woman in his room. Nicolai: "Who are you?" Woman: "I'm your masseuse." Nicolai: "I didn't ask for a masseuse." Woman: "One of your friends did. They were concerned that you were too tense. Please." She indicates the table. Nicolai: "Get out." Woman: "If you insist." Nicolai: "I don't need a masseuse." The woman leaves, perfectly happy to have been well paid to not do her job.

Frank: "You know who should be here? Nicolai. He should know about this." Emma: "Why?" Frank: "Because he's the only one who isn't here, and he should know. We may have brought the killer here." Anders: "No kidding." Frank: "We should disseminate the information. But later. After he's gone to sleep." Ved: "So the killer didn't use this knife?" Emma: "Well he did tonight!" Anders: "He's not used to working without the element of surprise. You shouldn't count on the element of surprise." Myron wanders down the hall. Myron: <to Frank> "Is there something I should be aware of?" Frank: "It doesn't concern us. The local serial killer was just apprehended. Seems he tried to kill our doctor." Myron: "Good heavens! Is she all right?" Frank: "Oh yeah. Just goes to show you, you shouldn't fuck with strangers."

Emma: "Whoever sharpened the knife did it very carefully." Frank: "He's a psycho. He probably got a big woody thinking about the woman he was going to cut. These guys, they're nuts." Anders: "Thanks Frank." Emma: <to Ved> "Is there anything else you'd like me for tonight?" Ved: "No, not tonight. I realize that you're employer..." He's being polite, but he is doing the "you're in my jurisdiction" thing.

Frank: <to Anders> "I thought you doctors had some sort of rule against taking human life." Anders: "I didn't take any human life! All I did was kick him in the head. I even wasted a dose of Regen™ to make sure he didn't die." Frank: "Well if they execute him you should ask for your money back." Anders: "I might. And I suppose you'll be turning on your blow dryer to make sure it takes him a long time to fry." Frank: "Does that work?" My goodness, doing something so barbarous as use electricity on a human!? They're much more civilized - they chop the bad guy's head off.

164 - 1123.

Most of the group meets for breakfast in the hotel. Anders tells Frank and Emma what Ved told her about her attacker and his boss. Frank: "And you think he might not be the killer?" Emma: "What's his bosses name?" Anders: "Al-Hadak." Nicolai: "Oh, Anders. For future medical needs." He passes the voucher over. Anders: "Oh, thanks." Nicolai: "So other than the fact that the person sent the serial killer after you, what do you want us to do with him?" Anders: "No, I said he might work for the serial killer." Frank: "Has he been interrogated yet?" Anders: "I don't know, maybe this morning." Frank: "Maybe I should offer my help." Anders: "I think the police probably want him in one piece when they're done, just in case he's not actually guilty of anything." Frank: <affronted> "What are you suggesting? I'm a former member of Regina's finest." Anders: "And I've treated several of your questionees." Frank: "And they were all bad people. They had it coming." Anders: "Well, some of them were badly beaten." Nicolai: "We still have our original job to do." Frank: "Yeah, have we tried reasoning with the woman at the Silver Wren yet?" Emma: "No, I was on my way back from there when all hell broke loose." Frank: "Oh yeah." Caldecott is sitting at the next table, and "discreetly" sends a note. Frank: <to Nicolai> "Looks like your boyfriend wants to see you." Emma: "Frank!" Frank: "Well, what do you think? I keep sending him women and he keeps sending them back." Emma: "You've been sending him women?"

Nicolai has gone over to see Caldecott, maybe to get away from Frank. Evans: "My senior has asked that I express his gratitude for your assistance. If we may be of any assistance, you have but to ask." Nicolai: "I need four high passages off of Roup, and transportation to get them to Roup. No questions asked." Caldecott: "Four high passages may be difficult, but I have been given..." He rummages through his coat. "Ah, do you want a printout? <Nicolai shakes his head no> I was given a name, in case I ever needed a way off." Nicolai: "Thank you." Caldecott: "Are they always like this, these Imperials?" Nicolai: "Yes. Or worse. When you get to Rhylanor, watch out for the Duchess. I hear she carries weapons. Openly." Not openly. At least not in public. Caldecott: <conspiratorially> "Is it true she's this former, some sort of euphemism for a sort of old and dangerous profession?" Nicolai: "No, she was never a prostitute. And I wouldn't say that to her face." Caldecott: "No, no! Something else." Nicolai: "Oh, you mean a gunslinger." Caldecott: "No, but that sounds interesting. I'll have to look that up." Nicolai: <curious now> "What had you heard?" Caldecott: "Oh, something garbled. Never mind." Nicolai: "Well, with luck, Mr. Caldecott, our paths will never cross again." Caldecott goes off to meet up with his four-pack of little nobles. They all have golf clubs, and the youngest one is trying to carry two computers. Nicolai glares at him. He scuttles off to the waiting area outside.

The police have arrived at the group's table by the time Nicolai returns. Ved: "There is...an issue." A gentleman in a crimson silk tunic robe is with him, and has a small ruby on his white cravat. Ved is following him. Ved introduces the Most Honourable Prefect Hallas. Hallas: "Ah, the redoubtable Officer O'Malley and Inspector Walsh. [Close, but not quite - on both counts.] It is truly an example of God's providence that you are here at this time. We have a matter that requires the delicate precision of a trained inspector." Oh-oh. Flattery is usually followed by trouble. Hallas: "Doctor Jorgensen. You are well?" Anders: "Fine, thank you." Nicolai: "I can take Myron to do his business. It sounds like you've got cop business to attend to." Frank: "We don't have any jurisdiction here." Hallas: "It would be as consultants." Myron: "I'd be willing to allow them to work on this project, but it would mean some difficulty and delay..." For the next 30 minutes, Myron and the Prefect talk business while the others finish breakfast. Frank: <to Emma> "Remember that guy, Eddie Fast Hands? Well..." Oh great, cop stories! Nicolai tries to ignore them. Ved is offered coffee. Frank: "Hey, there's something wrong with this coffee. It tastes like coffee!" Emma: "How would you know?" Frank: "Good point!" Myron, Kay, and Nicolai will go to the Silver Wren, while Frank and Emma assist the authorities with their investigation.

Frank and Emma get to visit the Palace of Justice. Frank ends up waiting two hours while Emma works inside. There's a second knife, exactly like the other one, which she is told was found in a young man's room. Fortunately, Emma has her laptop and some of her forensic gear with her, as Myron had said she might need it.

After an hour in the Silver Wren, Myron joins Nicolai and Kay, and they leave. Myron: "I would rather have the Imperial Revenue Service audit my books for the next ten years..." Nicolai: "What happened?" Myron: "She is not interested in giving up Oriana, and she wants an absolutely unreasonable compensation should she do so." Nicolai: "How unreasonable?" Myron: "A minimum of $50,000 credits and ten per cent of the gross of all profits for the next ten years." Nicolai: "Looks like we do this the old fashioned way." Myron: "I am not leaving Oriana with that...person." He said "person", he thought "bitch".

Emma: "This was placed there about 24 hours ago. There's only one readable print, but it is readable." With her equipment. And it matches the person Anders didn't kill last night. The knife was found in the room of the son of Al-Hadak. Emma: "That is the employer of the person who attacked Anders?" Ved: "Yes. There will be an investigation." The injuries to the victims are consistent with the handedness, size and height of the man in custody. Looks like they have the right man after all.

When Emma gets ready to leave the Palace of Justice, she's evidently made people happy by providing the answers the police wanted. Frank responds to this predictably. Frank: "That's because she's a fucking genius. We used to call her Sherlock Walsh on Regina. Superintendent Globber used to consult with her on cases that he couldn't solve himself." All this is being said just out of Emma's hearing, to other cops. An older, somewhat grizzled cop shows up. Cop: "Yeah, silly bitch from off-planet waves her stuff around and they all fall over." Frank: "So you think they're barking up the wrong tree?" Cop: "Oh yeah. It's an offworlder. No offense." Frank: "None taken." Cop: "Yeah. They don't care if they've got the wrong guy as long as they can make it look good." Frank: "What I heard was it was a local cop who did it." There's random muttering. A group of high muckety-mucks want to whisk Emma off to the real Palace to meet the Vizier, but she doesn't want to go without Frank, who gets dragged along before he gets into real trouble.

Nicolai sees a fancy coach and guards go by, and radios Frank. Frank: "O'Malley." Nicolai: "What's your guys' situation?" Frank: "We're 10:26 at the corner of..." Nicolai: "Okay, now tell me what a 10-26 is." Frank: "We're heading east on Royal Way. Our escort is two males, one about 5'5"..." Old habits die hard.

Emma gets to meet a middle aged man, who looks fairly normal except for the ostrich feather and a robin's egg sized blue stone in his turban. This would be the Vizier. The Prefect goes on about the difficulty of the case, the minuteness of the details, and the intelligence of the Prefect for calling in the offworld expert. (True.) Prefect: "...and this is officer O'Malley." Frank just offers his hand. There's a very brief pause, but the Vizier politely takes the proffered hand. He walks with the group into a garden. The Vizier chats with Emma a bit. She's awarded a small, silver peacock broach, with a colorful tail (of precious stones), presented on a pillow. And for Frank, the Vizier takes the dagger and sheathe off his belt. Frank: "Hey thanks, buddy. You're all right." The officials present are horrified by Frank's lack of manners, but they keep quiet, possibly in fascination. Frank, in the meantime, is wondering "What the fuck am I going to do with this? Open my mail?". Thankfully, he keeps that to himself.

Four hours later, after a bunch of little tiddly bits for lunch, it's back to the coach, with a servant following Emma with the peacock on it's pillow. He'll go away once they get back to the hotel.

Myron doesn't look happy. He wants to get Oriana and get the hell off this planet. Frank: "I think we should go see this, what's her name, and try to make her - try to explain things to her. She doesn't appreciate that this is an Imperial citizen, and slavery is against the law..." Nicolai: "I think we should make arrangements to get off planet first." Frank: "What's she gonna do? Send her ninjas after us? Besides, we've got the advantage of Emma being the local hero here. Shall we bring Nicolai with us when we go to see Mrs. Wren? He can look intimidating." Emma: "Sure. Always take backup." They decide to go to the Silver Wren just around closing time. The discussion wanders over to what women do at the establishment, going rapidly down hill with Frank's help. Eventually they get back on topic. Nicolai: "So you just want me to stand around and look mean?" Emma: "And provide back up if things go all pear-shaped.

After the appointed time arrives, the group heads off together. Kay also goes along, but will remain outside on the commo. Out in front of the Silver Wren is something familiar looking - a sedan-chair. Looks like one a large, chubby man would use. Emma: "Oh, good Lord. Just what we needed. Well, let's go in." Frank: "Maybe he'll have a new bodyguard for you to break." Nicolai: "I didn't break the last one." Frank: "Exactly." They go in, Frank first. There are several things that jar. For one thing, Gaulte has several men with him who are not big, just oily and dangerous looking. Emma notices that the women there are unhappy, and wearing a lot more clothing than they were when she was here originally. (To prevent ogling?) They're having a local dialect conversation, very quickly. Frank heads over towards Gaulte, while Emma goes directly to Oriana, as she's noticed the handprint-shaped red mark on her cheek. Emma: "Who hit you?" Oriana glares at the female, the owner apparently.

Frank: "Hey you big fat fuck, get the fuck out of here - we've got business to take care of. Don't make me have my friend fuck you up." Nicolai: <looking out the door and sniffing> "Hey, that chair's on fire!" Gaulte says something in a language they don't understand and his men nod and head for Nicolai. He triggers. They stop. He moves on them. Gaulte has finally hired good people, and Nicolai is hit just after he breaks the first man's knee. The "death touch" doesn't take down Nicolai, how odd. Step - kick - thump. That's two flunkies down.

Meanwhile, Frank uses Nicolai's actions as a distraction, moves up to Gaulte and gets him in a come-along hold - hyperextending the man's elbow. Frank: "Emma. Get his pants. I don't want him to be able to come back." She goes over to help. Nicolai steps outside to dump the minions onto the palanquin and sees Kay outside pointing the suppressed sub-gun behind Nicolai. Nicolai wheels one of his new friends that direction, using him as a fairly effective shield. Good thing, too. The shooter is quickly and permanently suppressed by Kay. Kay: "I saw two of them come in over the roof. I couldn't get to you on the commo, you went dead as soon as you got here." Nicolai: "Then there's still one more. Let's go."

Frank: <to Emma> "And now, if you please, a nice feminine scream." She screams, Frank shoves Gaulte out the door. Frank: "Let him explain it to the police." Nicolai charges in, bounding up the stairs towards the roof, while Kay, panting, follows to cover. There are many small rooms to clear, and much screaming as Nicolai clears every one of them. This gives Kay time to catch up and breathe.

This provides the opportunity for the people downstairs to try to work things out. Frank: "Okay Oriana, everyone's worried about you. Time to go home." Azzah Al-Kayat: "She is working off her debt." Frank: "What debt?" Azzah: "She was part of an offworld conspiracy to distribute drugs." Frank: "No, she was not. <to Oriana> Were you ever charged with any crime?" Oriana: "No." Frank: "There you go." Azzah: "That doesn't matter. I paid good money, and she will remain here until her debt is discharged." Frank: "Well, we tried to arrange this nicely. The Imperium doesn't take kindly to slavery, especially where an Imperial citizen is involved. Besides, you know how clumsy offworlders are. Do you really want to have us around all this breakable stuff?" This is followed by a demonstration of how clumsy Frank is around small glass objects. Frank: "Besides which, you lost her in that card game to my friend Emma here. And we have witnesses. Noted offworld law enforcement officers such as myself, and Oriana, of course."

Nicolai has found a room with an open window, and movement going out it. The room is filled with beakers and bubbling stuff over small burners. (The perfume room, most likely.) The hand movement in the window was a man tossing an incendiary device into the room. There's a yelp from Kay upstairs of "Ears!" This is followed by a noise from upstairs that's easily identified as Nicolai shooting stuff again. Frank: <to Azzah> "If I were you, I'd make my decision pretty quickly while you still have a place left." Nicolai then breaks the window out, to get some fresh air. The surfgun helped to extinguish the start of the fire, resulting in more smoke than anything else. Just a few minor explosions as some bottles blow up from the heat and the gunfire.

Frank: "So, what do you say?" From upstairs: crash - boom - boom -crash - tinkle. Frank: "Sounds like he's done with the second floor." Nicolai catches sight of a foot being pulled over the edge of the next rooftop. Nicolai decides he's not going chase anyone. He tosses the dead guy from the balcony (the shooter Kay took out earlier) off the staircase onto the floor. Emma looks over. Emma: "Nobody we know." From outside: "This is the police." It's the plainclothes officer who was following Nicolai earlier - Delaze.

Frank opens the front door calmly, and Frank: "We were just discussing the contract of this young woman." Delaze enters, cautiously. Frank: "These women were not the property of Bernie Tingler, they were his employees. We're just trying to settle everything in a business-like fashion so the girls can go home, but the lady here did not want to listen to reason, and was trying to extort more money from Mr. Greenstone." Azzah has been glaring at Frank, and now she goes for him. Emma takes exception to this and trips her. She lands hard on the floor, Frank shoves the cop away, yelling "Look out!" and uses the distraction to drop his sterile throw down and then yell "She's got a gun!" Oriana dives behind the bar, and the cop smacks Azzah's arm with his baton. Frank draws and fires into the marble floor, with the predictable result of a hell of a lot of noise, and shards of marble and a bullet richoceting around briefly. Emma: "Frank!" It's very fucking loud. Frank cuffs Azzah and pats her down. He looks at Emma, indicates Oriana and motions to the door. Then he helps the officer up. Oriana was tucked down behind the juice bar with her hands over her ears.

Frank: <to Delaze> "You all right?" Delaze: "What?!" Frank: "Are you all right!!?!" Nicolai: "What's this?" He kicks the assassin's body. Delaze: "Ah, a Nightwalker. Very interesting." Frank goes off into the fiction of being told to come here and bring $50,000 credits, probably planning on having them all killed. Frank: <to Nicolai> "Did you kill this guy?" Nicolai: "No, Kay did." Kay: "Hey, Nicolai!" He hands over a small box, that Frank recognizes. It's a very illegal device that jams police frequencies. Usually used by people planning "jobs". Frank shows it to the cop and explains what it is and what it's for. And it's way too high tech for here. It searches and jams all nearby signals, on multiple frequencies. Mostly battery, and if you used it on Regina you'd be found because people would notice the frequencies being jammed, and could locate your position by the broadcast.

Unfortunately, Delaze and the other officers didn't actually see anything, it was all reactive. Frank tells as much of the truth as he needs to in his fabrication. Azzah did demand $50,000 credits from Myron, after all, and people did try to kill Nicolai at the very least. Frank: "I can't believe I fired my weapon. Eighteen years on the force and I never once fired my weapon in anger. I feel ashamed." He knows to milk it for as much as he can.

It takes five hours for Nicolai to be released. He's questioned politely, about Gaulte, and other people he doesn't know. Azzah is going to sue for $5 million credits, she'll slap Tingler Enterprises with a lawsuit, and she'll go to Regina if she has to; Nicolai doesn't recommend the latter. Myron shows up and he has legal. There is also a gentleman there in a yellow coat who wants to talk to Nicolai. Fine. He's just not going to talk to them. Frank will redirect the man to Emma if need be, but first, they just let the lawyer do the talking to see what he tells them.

Kay explains that he lost contact, came forward, and saw an unknown man about to shoot Nicolai. As Kay had no idea what was going on inside the building, he can't answer any questions about that. The gentleman in the yellow coat approaches Frank and the others. Man: "How are you?" He's very polite, just wants to ask some general questions. Delaze identifies the man, when asked, as a lawyer. He's Azzah's lawyer, to be exact. Emma: "Why did he not identify himself?" Frank: "We don't have to talk to him. We're not the one who came after us with a gun." Lawyer: "My client never saw that weapon before." Frank: "Yeah, right. How many times have I heard that before?" There's a screech, and Azzah leaps across the desk at Frank's throat again. Frank lets her, just protecting his eyes and gonads. Two large cops get a lock on her arms and drag the kicking and screaming woman away. Well.

Oriana is being let go, since there is some question as to her status. Frank suggests posting a bond, but it's turned down. She is released as a ward of the state. Besides, she has a bruise on her face, her eyes are very wide, and she's been crying. She's huddled in her chair looking pathetic. She's a fine actress - the Tingler Agency would be proud.

Frank spends as little time as possible talking about what happened and as much time as possible talking about cop stuff. They decide to spend more time talking to Emma. She's there for another hour after Nicolai (smelling like a fire in a whorehouse) and the others are let go.

165 - 1123.

It's the middle of the night - 2:00 in the morning. Frank has spent almost all the time waiting for Emma and trading cop stories. Nicolai gets back to the hotel and is waved down by the night bellman. Bellman: "Mr. Volkov? Will you be seeing Mr. Sinclair?" Nicolai: "Yes, I can get a message to him." He takes the note. It thanks him for his assistance, and contains two sets of tickets for the travelling art exhibit that has come out from the Rim. It's an exhibit of original Garcias - he too can see the splendid oil on velvet of the "Crying Clown" and others. Nicolai will give one set of tickets to Frank. Nicolai gets a new room to sleep in, just in case.

Frank and Emma get a ride back to the hotel and collapse. As long as the people who kill them don't wake them up, they don't really care.

At 9:00 AM, there's an annoying person at Emma's door reminding her that she has to go to trial. She fortunately has time for a shower. The room staff remembered she had to get up and have the water ready before they wake her. Emma: "Do you want to go to court? You don't have to." Frank: "I'll go to give you moral support. Let me get into my court suit." She takes her notes and laptop to the trial. Nicolai isn't sure if the Nightwalkers are after just him or not, but he's going to find a good spot to watch Emma's back, from a distance. He gets set up in a balcony with his binocs.

The trial drones on for a while. Emma testifies. In his position as watcher, Nicolai suddenly sees a blur that appears to come onto the railing of the balcony. The blur gets suddenly closer. Nicolai isn't waiting around to be attacked, and hits back first. The blur, hit very hard in the area of the family jewels, falls forward. When Nicolai hit, it felt like cloth armour. Looks like Chameleon 3, and it's trying to get up so Nicolai hits him again, this time in the hip. Down where Emma is, the accused is convicted; no surprise there. Nicolai removes the hood, and it's Williamson with a high tech camera. Nicolai plays it back to see what the man has been recording. T&A...T&A...T&A...way more than he wants to see, Nicolai talking with the Vargr, the Vargr watching Nicolai's back, Nicolai with Frank and Emma, Nicolai with Anders....Things that indicate Nicolai doesn't have a partner, and is way too friendly with the lower races. And there's some footage of Evans and Caldecott. Nicolai searches Williamson and finds some local money and a very high tech incendiary device, and some sort of device Nicolai can't identify but appears to contain some liquid. Also some local clothing and another camera chip. Nicolai checks it out and finds older shots of himself, and himself with Ghaer, and with Mikie. These pictures look like they were taken after Blaelok's death. There are a number of pictures of Julia Blaelok on there too. Nicolai erases those. Then he takes Williamson into the empty office behind him and duct tapes the now naked Williamson to a wooden chair, and tapes his mouth shut.

Nicolai continues watching out for Emma. They've gotten past the trial and go directly to the execution. It's not as smooth as they would have liked, as the killer was wearing a thick silk shirt, with a high collar. Much whacking to get the head off. Prefect: "Terribly sorry. Abdul hasn't been the same since the shoulder injury." Emma: "That's okay." The crowd starts to dissipate. Vizier: "Miss Walsh, would you kindly take charge of this young lady?" He indicates Oriana. Emma: "Of course sir." Vizier: "While we appreciate your efforts, and the courage it took to bring this case to a close, you are a great deal of trouble." Emma: "I'm trouble? Sir, you obviously haven't spent much time with the other members of my group." Vizier: "Yes, well, that's the problem. The other members of your group are somewhat...barbaric." Back to hotel, where Oriana joins Myron and Margery.

Some one starts trying to open the front door of the office Nicolai's in. Voice: "Oh, it's sticking again. Boy! Go get Maintenance. I'll be in the canteen." Second voice: "It's an execution day, we'll never get Maintenance up here." They discuss how to get the door open, while Nicolai tries to figure out his options. The balcony is only six feet off the ground, on the hill. Voice: "Three strokes. Bad luck." Second voice: "I heard there were two of them..." Nicolai needs some place he can hide Williamson. There's no closet in here, but there are a couple of huge filing cabinets. Full of drawers and files though. Damn. There are drapes up to the 10' ceiling. What to do with the naked, unconscious, duct-taped man and his chair? Nicolai pulls down the drapes and wraps Williamson up like a big overstuffed chair, takes the other drape and ties it to the chair, and lowers Williamson down. He follows it down and accepts the offer to help move his furniture, for a fee, from a man with a cart. (There's always some one around to try and make an extra bit of cash.) Nicolai: "I must get this chair to my friend. He's expecting it, and when his wife gets home...Look, can you help me with this?" Man: "For one Imperial credit." Nicolai pays, and gets a lift to the hotel, to the back. He declines the offer of help from the hotel staff and goes up to his room.

Nicolai unwraps Williamson. His breathing is ragged. Nicolai calls Kay on the commo, and asks for a medic. Kay: "Right." A few minutes later, Kay appears and Nicolai indicates Williamson. Nicolai: "Don't cut him loose." Kay: "Holy shit. He's in bad shape." Nicolai: "Well yeah, he surprised me." Kay: "Remind me to throw a pillow at you." Kay medics him as much as he can, then, per Nicolai's orders, he stims him then leaves before it takes effect.

Williamson wakes up shockily and sees Nicolai, who is holding Williamson's camera, his stealthsuit, his incendiary device, etc. Nicolai : "You should have enough flexibility to nod your head. I suggest moving very slowly." He nods. Nicolai: "I'm going to take the gag off. If you get loud, I'll kill you. You won't be going back to Section 9 for reprogramming." He seems to react to the reprogramming and not anything else. Nicolai: "You already have this problem with having gone native." Williamson: "They won't touch me if I deliver you." Nicolai: "I don't think so." Williamson: "Nothing personal. I just don't want to go home." Nicolai: "SolSec doesn't forget, and they don't let go. You think for one second that they'll give up on you once they have me?" Williamson: "It's got to stop. I can't live this way. Let me go, and I'll say I never saw you. Those two idiots will eventually figure it out." Nicolai: "Figure what out?" Williamson: "You're the one. Him. The commando without the partner." Nicolai: "There are lots of commandos without partners." Williamson: "The special SolSec commando unit." Nicolai: "If I'm SolSec, then you're already screwed." He starts to struggle. Nicolai: "How badly do you not want to die?" He's crying. Williamson: "Anything." He starts babbling to Nicolai about how he was a low level Party courier who kept getting small demerits and was really bad at politics. He ran away. Nicolai is recording all this on the chip he erased. Williamson's been running for years, dirt ball to dirt ball. He's getting hysterical and bashing his head against the back of the chair. Nicolai: "Relax. It's your lucky day." He cuts one hand loose, up to the elbow. Williamson starts trying to peel off more tape.

Nicolai gets on the commo and calls Emma. Nicolai: "Can you come to my room? Alone?" Emma: "I suppose so. Is there something wrong?" Nicolai: "I need your assistance with something." She goes to Nicolai's room, and he meets her outside the door. Nicolai: <whispered> "Find out who he is and what he's doing here, and what his interest is in our group. If I mention anything that sounds really freaky or bizarre, just go with it, okay?" Emma: "Okay...." They go into the room. There's an almost hysterical, naked man taped to a chair. Nicolai: "Ma'am." He goes over the equipment Williamson had, acting very deferential towards Emma (who's just plain confused). Nicolai: "...and this jar of liquid, which I believe to be coffee. Or perhaps tea. I'm not sure." He's being careful to not mention her name. The stealthsuit is very high tech, TL 15. Nicolai looks at the power cells, and they have a Ling Standard logo (the model is about 4 years old). He sits on the bed and waits.

Emma covers Williamson (mostly) up with a blanket, then pulls a chair over so she's sitting in front of the man, who's still panicked. Williamson: "I don't know anything. I don't want to go back." Emma: "Please calm down." She shows him the glass cylinder. Emma: "What is this?" Williamson: "It's...coffee." Emma: <to Nicolai> "Could you get this gentleman a cup, please?" He brings one. The "coffee" is viscous and doesn't smell like coffee. She offers the cup to Williamson, who shrinks back as much as he can. Williamson: "All right! Good God, you people gave me this stuff! Pour it on the suit, it won't burn." Emma pours a drop onto the suit and it unravels. Williamson: "I was told after the mission, to pour it on the suit." Emma: "When were you told that?" Williamson: "It was a couple of years ago." Emma: "What is your interest in our group here on planet?" Williamson: "None! I was just supposed to take pictures of him <Nicolai> and whoever he had contact with. That's all. I don't know anything else. They promised they'd let me go if I did it." Nicolai: "Oh hell, ma'am, I think you should just wipe him now." That's not helping. Williamson goes nuts again, banging his head. Emma: "Stop it." Nicolai takes his knife out and shaves a few hairs off his arm. Emma: "Who were your contacts?" Williamson: "What contacts? I dump the film into the envelope." Emma: "Where does it go?" Williamson: "I don't know!" He's babbling. And apparently not lying. Emma: "What if something went wrong? Did you have any sort of contact point?" Williamson: "When you see him, take the pictures, him and anyone he's with, some in specific. Fat striped Vargr, short human, blonde Solomani." Nicolai: "How were you contacted originally?" Williamson: "I came back to my hotel room, and there was stuff on my bed, with instructions. If I did good, they wouldn't bring me back. Said I could keep going." Emma: "Has there been any contact since?" Williamson: "Maybe. I don't know. Things that might have come from them. I don't know." He's panicking. Williamson: "I just took pictures! I don't know anything!" Nicolai: <standing> "Then I have no choice. <to Emma> Do you want to stay for this?" Emma: "I think we need to have a word." Nicolai: "Oh? You did learn something?" He taps the side of his temple, no doubt to indicate something significant, in a Dick Salamander-esque sort of way. They step out onto the balcony, where Nicolai can still keep an eye on Williamson.

Nicolai: "Yes?" Emma: "I'm not going to pretend to know what's going on in here, and I don't think I want to, but I will not be party to murder." Nicolai: "Oh no, I'm not going to kill him, I just didn't want him to know. I want him to be good and scared when he runs. If SolSec has something else to chase besides me, that's fine. He's not exactly sure what side I'm on, but no, I don't' kill people in cold blood. Emma: "I'm glad to hear that." Nicolai: "I'm just going to cut him loose." Emma: "A bit of advice." Nicolai: "Yes?" Emma: "He's panicked. If I were you, I wouldn't push him anymore. Otherwise you'll end up with a corpse, or someone who's so unbalanced when you let them go they're more of a problem than you want." Nicolai: "Okay." They go back inside. Emma takes a towel out of the bathroom and wipes her prints from the glass receptacle and coffee cup, sets them on the bed and leaves. Nicolai takes the suit into the bath and dissolves the rest of it, then rinses out the glass cylinder.

He steps back into the bedroom area and cuts Williamson loose. Nicolai: "You ready to go?" Williamson: <incredulously> "You're just going to let me go?" Nicolai: "Yup." Williamson: "You're going to shoot me in the back!" Nicolai: "Nope. I don't have any clothing in your size, but we'll figure something out." Williamson did have local clothing in his pack, so they'll use that. Nicolai: "I'll let you keep the local money, but you understand I can't let you keep any of the other gear. If anybody asks you, and this is just a suggestion, you might tell them you lost track of me." Williamson: "Yeah, last time I saw you, you were in a hotel somewhere." He's dressing, ineptly, due to stress. Runs out the door, still pulling on his clothing. Nicolai: <over commo>
"Emma, thanks. He's gone." She hears some one running like crazy down the hall. Frank: "Maybe we should have gotten him a boy." Emma will discourage that line of thought, but she is going to have to tell Frank what just happened. Too weird.

Nicolai now has the tape of his current group (all of them, plus Evans and Caldecott), and the one of Williamson's confession. Nicolai checks the tapes of the group, looking for anyone out of the ordinary in the background. He catches a couple of people who looked like the men who went after Emma in the jewelry shop. They appear to have been tracking the group for some time. Also, there's a man who looks like an offworld, Imperial businessman.

Now all they need to do is get all the girls together and get the hell off El Fahaz. Before Nicolai receives any more blasts from his past.