"First things first, but not necessarily in that order."-- The Doctor, Doctor Who


Will has been called in to check on the mysterious death at Clairidges . He checks in at the scene with the officer in charge, who's surprised the Will showed up in person; it's hard to get used to this new idea of actual professional competency in the Coroner's Office.

Will: "How did you get called?" Officer: "An hysterical woman called about there being a body in her room. The weird thing is, she claims she doesn't know how it got there. The first thing she remembers is finding a dead body in her room." Will: "She doesn't remember checking in?" Officer: "She remembers that, but nothing about the man, where he came from, how he became dead, and all that. And there are no obvious signs as to cause of death." That's what Will needs to figure out.

Photos were taken of the body in situ. No visible trauma, none of the security cameras show him entering the locked room, and the dead guy had no ID on him. Will: "That's interesting. Is there a record of who the woman is?" Officer: "A Mrs. Marguerite Ezbeki. Strange thing - she has no Imperial ID either." Will: "That's not strange, a lot of people don't have Imperial ID." Okay, true. Will: "It could also be that he died of natural causes, while stepping out, so to speak, and that's why we had an hysterical woman." Officer: "Could be. We do know he wasn't Mr. Ezbeki." Will: "There you go." Officer: "We located Mr. Ezbeki, and he was in surgery at the time."

Will goes to the morgue to do his thing. He needs to determine cause of death before things get further. He first draws blood samples and sends them off right away, since that will take the longest. No external damage, or puncture marks on the body. On the other hand, the cause of death is pretty obvious once the scans are done - there are tears in a very specific area of the brain. The brain stem and a small area about the size of a quarter right on the top of the medulla oblongata have been shattered, almost like it was a solid. No damage to the surrounding areas at all. Severe mechanical damage, not the sort that would have been caused by a CVA. No external trauma, or bruising, or damage of any kind. And the guy was dead but quick.

Will goes to his office to research, but can't find anything that fits this, so he calls Dr. Auschlander, who comes over and is fascinated by the evidence Will shows him. Will: "Could someone do it to himself if he decelerated quickly?" Dr. Auschlander: "But that would cause damage in other areas. It almost looks like the tissue shattered, but this is spongiform material, and it is a very discreet area. Note the line where the damage stops is very well-defined." Will: "Could it be a military weapon?" Dr. Auschlander: "None that I'm aware of. And the fractures wouldn't stop so definitely." Will: "What about a psionic who could manipulate matter?" Dr. Auschlander: "Based on what I know, that would be the best possibility, but I don't have any experience in this area." Will thinks the sudden deceleration might be done psionically, but Dr. Auschlander points out that this would cause damage in other areas. Dr. Auschlander leaves, Will calls Regina Security, leaving a message for Black to call.

A few minutes later, Will's secretary (Claire) buzzes Will and tells him that Mr. Black is there. Will goes out to get him. Black is chatting with Claire. Who he can't have. (Everyone is always trying to poach Will's secretary.) Black goes inside with Will, and they both sit down. Black: "I take it you wanted to speak with me?" Will: "There is a case where I wanted to check out if it's something of interest to you before I go further." Black: "Really? What is it?" Will: "A man was found in Clairidges with no ID, and was not the person registered there. He died from trauma to the brain that's not explainable by any external trauma. See here?" <shows scans> Black: "Interesting. You appear to have a puzzling case here." Will: "I'm concerned that it may be the work of a psionic." Black: "I see. Well, it's nothing of concern to me, although it is an interesting case." Will: "Okay, so it's not something you're directly involved in. However if you have a psionic wandering around UpPort killing people, I'm guessing that would be of concern to Regina Security." Black: "This is certainly not for public consumption, but let me say that we keep an eye on psionic talents. The public doesn't need to be aware of that. I can tell you there is no indication of any known or suspected psionic talent being in the area. You must understand that it would have to have been someone in close proximity to the victim; the law of inverse square proportions applies to psionics as well." Will: "It's a very localized area, it would not involve a great deal of power to do this at a distance." Black: "As I said, we have nothing that would indicate a psionic assassin at work here. I suggest you follow the facts on this case as you would with any other." Will: "Have you heard of anything like this as an assassination technique before?" Black: "I don't know. Why don't you send a copy of the report to my office, and I'll have my boffins take a look at it." Will: "I'll do that, thank you." Black: <standing> "Well, I must get back to work. Do give my regards to your lovely wife. I understand that the final galley prints are in the works. Does she have another book in the works?" Will: "I think so. It's nice for her to have an interest." Black: "Yes, I appreciate that she draws her characters from life. I do hope we won't have anything...awkward show up." Will: "No, she runs everything by me first, and I have considerable influence, shall we say, on the writer. I can also assure you that I like my job, and I'd like to keep it." Black: "Oh I can't imagine either she or you would do something that would damage your position. No one expects you to do anything but your job. After all, we're both in the business of taking care of the people of Regina. It's important that people know they're being taken care of, and that the truth is being revealed." Will: "As much as they need to know." Black: "No need to worry them unnecessarily." Will: "If you can come up with any information that might give me a clue as to the technique used, it would be greatly appreciated." Black: "Of course. If Regina Security can be of any assistance, we're more than willing. We're just a small cog in the wheel of government. Civil servants much like yourself. I was hoping you might be free Friday. We're having a small gathering at my club, and I was wondering if you might be available?" Will: "I'll have to check with Bunny, but that should be fine." Black: "Good, there are some people I think you should meet. In the meantime, keep up the good work. I know we all sleep better at night knowing you're on the job." Uh-huh.

Meanwhile, Robert and Ariana had been left at the Savoy with the charming, if not brilliant, Bunny. She friendly and socially adept. Way more socially adept than Ariana, who gives Robert nervous glances occasionally, unsure if Bunny is putting the moves on Robert. No, Bunny is just paying more attention to Robert because he's friendlier. It's just normal social charm. Not like Robert is going to put the moves on her or anything. She's married to the coroner, who was involved in the investigation of Count Barada's death, and he's a known duelist.

Bunny: "You must come to dinner!" Robert: "Yes, we will have to do that someday." Bunny: "How about tonight?" Robert isn't thrilled, but Ariana seems taken by Bunny, and she wants to go. Bunny: <to Ariana> "You have such a lovely smile, you should show it more often. I know just the shade of lipstick..." By the time lunch is through, Bunny has convinced Ariana to go out and do some girlie stuff after lunch - maybe get a manicure. Robert will have to entertain himself for a bit. Robert takes Ariana off to one side first. Robert: <whispered> "Remember who's wife this is." Ariana: "The coroner? Whee." Robert: "Yes, the man who interrogated us in jail." Ariana: "Yeah, but Bunny's so nice. She wouldn't do anything mean." Robert: "I'm sure she wouldn't." The ladies go off happily together, fast friends.

He has ship business to attend to. Like finding a new ship's boat. He goes to the Ships' Chandler to make inquiries about a 20 ton pinnace to replace the one he crashed and left on another planet for the Scouts to find. Robert stops at the Bread and Bean for some coffee on his way back to the ship. A man sidles up to him. "Excuse me, Captain Shelzie?" The man is about 5'11" - 6', brownish hair, brown eyes. The only even slightly memorable thing is the small bruise on his forehead. Robert: "I'm crew on a ship, not the captain." Man: "But you are crew on a ship for hire, correct?" Robert: "Yes." Man: "I'm interested in hiring a ship." Robert: "Where are you heading?" Man: "Well, there's one of several systems we're interested in. We'll decide on a destination based on my associates' research." Robert: "Research?" Man: "Oh yes. We're on sabbatical. We've reached the point in our research where we need to go to the site itself, which is why we require a ship. And there's always the chance of fortune hunters, so we need someone who is discreet and can take us and our cargo." Robert: "How much cargo?" Man: "Oh, just our personal belongings, along with some equipment. Not too much." Robert: "I'll speak with my captain. Is there a number you can be reached at?" Thomas Smith gives Robert his card. Smith: "Let me know. We're looking to secure a ship within seven to ten days." Robert: " I should be able to let you know well before then." Smith: "Excellent. I look forward to hearing from you. I must say I look forward to getting off Regina; it's been a bit too exciting for me." Robert: "Yes, I know. My introduction to Regina society was rather exciting as well." Smith: "It's certainly different from Rhylanor." Robert: "Oh, you're from Rhylanor?" Smith: "Yes." Smith: "Well, it's nice to meet someone else from there. I'll pass on your request to my captain." Smith: "Please do. I would definitely prefer to travel with some one from Rhylanor! We wouldn't be here at all if it weren't for Regina being the closest planet to our planned digs." They shake hands and part.

Marguerite, as Kaeth learns, hasn't been actually arrested and charged. She's being detained to assist with the investigation. Kaeth takes the handful of sparkly bits and baubles he picked up on Planet X to Sparkly Bits and Baubles to have them appraised. VF*: "I don't believe you've been in here before." Her body language indicates she'd be receptive to more than a business arrangement. VF*: "Interesting mountings. I haven't seen this sort since before the war. Very old fashioned. Where did you get these?" Kaeth: "A backwater planet." VF*: "People don't usually go to these lengths - they used real silver for the silver solder. <looking up> I can offer you $75,000 and dinner tonight." Kaeth: "I accept both offers. What time are you off?" VF*: "At 6:00." She's currently wearing a hot pink body stocking that hides and reveals at the same time. Cool. Kaeth: "I'll be back at six." VF*: "Is a bank draft all right?" Kaeth: "Fine." She hands him a bank draft. That will just about let him break even, what with the equipment replacement. Oddly enough, that $50,000 he was due for the trip to Planet X has mysteriously appeared in his account. Hmmm. He stops at a small florist shop to arrange for flowers for tonight's date.

Unfortunately, Kaeth has chosen a shop full of rude annoying people. Thug: "Some of us are trying to shop here. Why don't you take your smelly carcass out of here, skin?" There are two people talking to the florist, who seems upset. The men are squat and heavy-set, wearing off the rack suits. Other thug: "Yeah." Thug: "Are you slow, skin? Do I have to come over there and kick your ass? Why don't you get back to Gvurrdon, or wherever the heck you're from?" Kaeth: "Level 20." Thug: "Come on, let's get out of here. <to florist> Remember what I said." They set the florist back down, and shoulder their way past Kaeth. He lets them leave, buys a corsage, and goes in search of a Weseli. Not hard, on Regina. He locates Peter Paul Weseli, the reporter for the Tattler. Not really the one he wanted, but oh well.

PPW: "Oh, you're that...Your name's right on the tip of my tongue. Starts with K. I know 'cause those big guys were looking for you. Kale or Kray or something." Kaeth: "Krag?" PPW: "Yeah, I remember you, those big guys were looking for you. Why is that? My readers want to know." Kaeth: "I don't know, they're new in town and don't know anyone?" PPW: "Why would a couple of guys from the Rim want to find you?" Kaeth: "Maybe they're not from the Rim. Maybe they're Sworldworlders." PPW: "Psychotic Swordworlders...how about Angry AP's Ask About... Well word is you did come in on the Ruby." Kaeth: "Yeah, with two squabbling humans." PPW: "With that notorious Shelzie person." Kaeth: "I didn't know he was notorious! What's the scoop?" He takes PPW to a bar and buys him a beer. Kaeth: "Okay, the ship left, and someone left something on board for safety. Now the ship's back, and they want their stuff back. So, what is it? What did you hear?" PPW: "Right. So the ship Ruby leaves, rumored to have something hidden on board. Leaves with notable, very bad person, who disappears and the ship comes back without them. You telling me there wasn't some sort of housekeeping?" Kaeth: "I never thought Geoff was that bad a guy!" PPW: "Who's Geoff? I'm talking about Samantha. Samantha Telford. Word is she had a place in the guild. And I don't mean watchmakers." The wheels click, Kaeth's eyes get big. PPW: "Don't you want the public to know your side? While you're still alive." Kaeth pays for the beer and leaves. He goes to a pay phone and calls the Ruby. He gets a recording, as Robert is out. Kaeth: "Robert, Ariana, if you get this, someone is looking for something that was stashed on your ship. Very bad people. Watch your back."

Will gets a phone call in his office. Man: "Dr. Delgado?" Will: "Yes." Man: "I understand you're making inquiries about a man who was found dead in Clairidges." Will: "No, the police are making inquiries. I'm the coroner." Man: "Ah. Well, you do make the determination as to cause of death. I suggest you make a finding of natural causes. You have a very attractive wife, Dr. Delgado. Do you know where she is right now?" Click. Hmm. Will calls the police, and gets Detective James Weseli. Will: "Hi Jimmy. Do you want the short answer or the real answer?" James: "Got the word on our stiff?" Will: "The official answer is undetermined causes. Not natural." James: "Anything else? Any prints on the body? Anything that might help us ID him?" Will: "No scars, marks, or tattoos. No fillings. No broken bones, nothing. He's obviously had some very high tech medicine. He has no medical history at all. I can tell you he died from fractures of tissue in his brain. Very localized. No blunt trauma." James: "Is this something that might have happened during a mugging or something?" Will: "No, that would leave signs of trauma." James: "How about a CVA?" Will: "No. It's definitely not natural." James: "Thanks, doc. At least it's something." Will: "Oh, but I did get a call threatening me if I didn't say it was natural causes." He tells James the gist of the phone call. James: "Well, someone doesn't want us to know. Keep poking around. Go back to the body, see what it can tell you." Will: "He's dead, Jim!" James: "Well, we can wait until someone tries to kill you, and then nab them." Will: "I'd rather you protect my wife. Intimidation is a crime." James: "Right, we'll put a man on your wife. Meanwhile, go back to the body. There must be something there if someone is willing to kill over it." Will: "Like the fact that he's been killed by someone?" James: "We've sent out inquiries to the surrounding systems. We should get word back in a couple of weeks." Will: "Maybe you should talk to the staff at Clairidges?" James: "Do you know some particular staff that we should talk to?" Will: "Not specifically." They did find him on a couple of security cameras, but not going into the room he was killed in. Will: "Maybe you should check the tapes and see if they show him going into another room. Maybe he checked into one." James: "True, he could have registered electronically. The staff we spoke to didn't recognize him as a guest." Will: "Maybe he was with another person, who was a guest?" James: "Could be. We'll see what we can find there. And we're looking into this Marguerite person. She's from off planet, and came in on the Ruby. We're trying to locate the crew to talk to them now. Thanks Doc, you've helped a lot."

Will goes back to the body. The man does have a mark from wearing a pierced earring in the left ear, with some sort of stone according to the video. He lets Jimmy know. James, for some reason, is having a bad day and tries to find a way to pass this off as a simple robbery. Maybe James is sick or something. Or practicing a really annoying new form of interrogation.

Bunny calls. The ladies were thinking that Will and Robert might want to join them for dinner. They have a surprise for them... Robert gets a call on his cell. Ariana has had a wonderful time at lunch, and wants to go out to dinner. She wants Robert to pick a nice place, since he knows Regina better than she does.

Will double checks a few things. Will: "The clothing and effects, are those everything he had on him?" Lab tech: "Yes." Will: "Damn." Lab tech: "Oh, and the director of Regina Security wants to see you. Will calls. Black: "Let's meet in person. At the Bread and Bean, in say, twenty minutes?" Will: "Fine."

Will goes, Black is having coffee. Black: "Shall we go for ride? Let's take my car." They get in, and Black turns on every surveillance countermeasure he has. Black: "Has anyone been inquiring about your John Doe?" Will: "Yes. The police. And someone called and told me I needed to come back with a diagnosis of natural causes. And they threatened my wife." Black: "I was wondering if you could do me a favor. It might be completely unrelated, and it might be nothing of any real concern. But if you do hear about anyone else asking about this case, particularly if you hear mention of something called the Mind Sifter, I'd like you to give me a call immediately. Don't mention it on the phone, just tell me you'd like to meet. Can you do that for me, doctor?" Will: "Sure."

Robert is in Weintraub's Jewelers. He wants to buy a little something for Ariana. A pendant, maybe in a birthstone. He declines the really interesting pendant keyed to the owner that will blow up if on the wrong throat for too long. He spends several hundred credits, of the five hundred he has to his name, on a pendant in Ariana's birthstone. He makes reservations at Clairidges, then heads to the ship. He gets Kaeth's message and one other one. The second one is digital and appears to be encrypted, but the attachment is the scanned in image of a note written in an odd hand, with a sketch of a stone - asymmetric cut, and faceted. There's a second drawing that shows the stone in a setting. Robert can't tell if it's in a tiara or an alien artifact. Weird. He prints it out and calls Kaeth. Kaeth: "What do you need?" Kaeth fleshes out his message about "something being hidden on the Ruby, and a Weseli who says the rumor is we took Sam out and lost her."

In the Jasmine Club, Black is having dinner. He invites Kiffin to sit down with him. Black: "It's all right, I've asked Mr. Sykes." Besides, as a hostess she's supposed to tend to the customers' needs. (Not those needs - 5th floor.) Black chats amiably with Kiffin about how she's doing and that sort of things. Black: "I have a sort of odd request. I've spoken with Mr. Sykes, and he has no objections. An associate of mine, somewhat strongwilled, is on planet. And you know Regina, it can be rather challenging outside of our citadel of calm. You're so much more comfortable around people than she is - she's led a rather sheltered life." Kiffin: "If you think I could be helpful. How will I know her?" Black: "I thought I might even arrange an introduction. If she knew I was trying to look after her, she'd be quite offended. It's concern for a friend, keep her out of trouble and if anything goes wrong, give me a call right away. Not that I'm expecting anything to go wrong. Her name is Ariana. Here's her picture." He shows her a flat photo of a blonde female. Black: "You sure you don't mind? I don't want to impose." Kiffin: "No, that's all right. I don't mind at all." Black: "Oh, there's one other thing. In case it comes up, there's a piece of...art work that I'm looking for, so if she makes any reference to a Mind Sifter, do let me know." Kiffin: "All right." Black: "Thank you. I knew I could count on you. And may I say, you get more lovely each time I see you." He stays and chats for a while longer. Just a normal visit. He'll get back to Kiffin about the introduction. Ariana will be in Clairidges for dinner, and her ship, the Ruby, is docked in bay 18."

Kaeth is able to get reservations at the Club Zambezi for tonight, for two, at 7:00. No problem. Now he needs to get some nice clothing. He does have some good dinner attire from Planet X, that should do nicely. He'll take her to the lounge at Clairidges first, if she's ready to go earlier.

Robert gets ready for dinner, tucks the note into an inside pocket, and heads out to Clairidges. He appears to be preoccupied or something, as he is taken completely by surprise when someone comes up behind him, shoves a gun in his back, and disarms him. Kiffin has just crossed over to Robert's (although she doesn't know him) side of the sidewalk and is accosted as well. Thug: "You're coming with us, honey. Don't give us any grief, just show us where it is and you'll be fine. Otherwise, you'll end up in the recycling center." Thug B: "All right you two, walk. It's up ahead." They're escorted (in a not polite way) into the warehouse area. Thug: "In here." They're motioned inside a storage unit the size of a largish livingroom. There's a high tech equivalent of a bare bulb, and some sort of uncomfy chair.

Thug: <to Kiffin> "You over there." Kiffin: "What is this about?" Thug: "Shut up!" He smacks her across the face with his gun hand. Thug: "Your boyfriend here is going to answer our questions, or you're going to pay for it." Thug B: "We know you were on the ship, we know it was on board, now where is it?" Robert: "You need to be more specific." Thug: "Oh don't worry, we don't think you're behind it." Robert: "Then what do you want?" Thug B: "Don't be stupid. We want the stone, we want the main component. The whole thing would be better, but we'll settle for the attenuator." Kiffin: "What's an attenuator?" Thug: "I thought I told you to shut up, bitch!" Robert: "We'll get it for you." Thug: "You'll get it. We'll keep your girlfriend here in the meantime." Robert: "No, she either goes with me to open the ship's safe or you don't get what you want." Thug B: "Fine. You got four hours to meet us back here with the attenuator or the whole device. You try to screw with us, or go to the police or anything, and you'll both be in the recycling center, in pieces." Thug: "And come alone, don't try to be a hero. We'll be watching you, and you won't know where we are. One mistake and that's it. Any other questions?" Robert: "No, none that you would answer." Thug: "Then get moving. Clock's ticking."

Robert and Kiffin leave, as soon as she's untied. Robert: "I'm sorry, I have no idea who those people were." And Kiffin has only a very superficial resemblance to Ariana, so Robert is really not impressed with these goons - can't they tell their blondes apart? Robert: "My name's Robert." Kiffin: "Kiffin." Robert takes her to Regina Trauma to be checked out, as she is bleeding. He leaves her there to be attended to. Robert: "I have to get going, but those guys weren't kidding. After you're done here, you might want to come to Clairidges." Yes, oddly enough she was intending to go there...

The plot thickens.