Apart from the unwashed or boarded up storefronts, the handful of very ugly dust-whores, and a couple of scraggly purveyors of illegal psychoactives, it was a beautiful morning in the Startown district outside of Down Franklin Starport on Regina
While on the way to the rendevous to pick up the replacement for his laser rifle, the Lone Sniper decided to try once again to buy a carton of M&T's, his favorite brand of cigarettes. Outside of Native North American Joe's Smoke Shop, he saw two well known dealers in illegal psychoactive substances standing off to the side of the entrance. One of the dealers was a tall, long haired and foul mouthed jerk who was constantly dancing about. The other was a short, stout, bearded and silent fellow. The short and silent one had laid a cigarette across the palm of his left hand and was staring at it while holding his right hand open over it with palm facing downward.
The tall and foul mouthed dealer saw this and slapped the cigarette out of the short dealer's hand.
"Yo bro!" Shouted the tall one. "You's lobbying for a lobotomy!"
The Lone Sniper went into Native North American Joe's Smoke Shop only to find that their stock of M&T's were sold out again.
Lisa was in another vision.
Dennis led Lisa past the security checkpoint on Sylea. They were both dressed casually and were each carrying their own fully packed military luggage sets, a duffel bag and officer's suitcase. Navy blue for Dennis and Marine Force maroon for Lisa.
As they were walking down the path to the dock Lisa began to grouse.
"Indirect approach my ass!" She grunted. "You read one book by an ancient Solomani military theorist and then you become obsessed with applying his theories to all aspects of life. I really do wonder about you sometimes."
"I'm sure you do." He replied.
As they stepped from the shore onto the dock Lisa asked Dennis a question.
"You personally know the Emperor, why couldn't you simply introduce me to him instead of some Marquis from a backwater sector?"
"Gushemenge is not a backwater sector."
"You haven't answered my question."
"I did some troubleshooting for him." He said. "I can't just walk up and introduce you to him. Kourtiershiesse is an area of endeavor that I have absolutely no talent for, if you're going to lobby on Norrie's behalf then you're going to need other friends in the Imperial Court."
Dennis then added. "And you were always much better at social interaction than I ever will be."
"No shit." Lisa said.
Parked at the end of the dock was a two-masted sailing yacht. As Dennis and Lisa approached it a familiar but casually dressed figure stepped out on deck to raise the black and gold flag of the Third Imperium at the stern.
With the shock of recognition, Lisa dropped her luggage. The duffel bag immediately rolled off the dock into the water.
"YOUR MAJESTY!" She said.
Emperor Strephon shot a look at Dennis as though he were the one who committed the faux pas.
"You did tell her about the rule?" He asked Dennis.
"Yes sir." Dennis replied. "No titles on board."
At this point Cheryl, who was mentally linked to Lisa during this vision, broke the contact.
They were sitting in Cheryl's office at Windhaven House.
"He would pull a stunt like that." Lisa said.
"That still doesn't answer the question." Said Cheryl.
The last moment of consciousness experienced by Helen Spofulam was of her being carried down to deck three aboard the Chauchat.
When she woke up Helen was in one of the cold sleep berths on deck three. In the berth with her was her teddy bear. For a moment Helen wondered how many dead Bargerites were trod upon when the bear was recovered from her last residence on Regina. Ditzie did tend to exaggerate a bit and Dennis and his Vargr spook buddy weren't talking.
Helen then noticed that Don the Khan was standing on the deck outside of the berth.
"Good Morning, Sunshine." He said.
"Hello Donnie." She replied. "Where's everyone?"
"Busy." Said Don the Khan. "The Boss wants everything cleared for action and he wants you off the ship."
"I'm going to tell Hengabar about how I was treated here."
"Go ahead." Don the Khan replied. "The Boss has arranged transport for you from Pandrin to Capital."
It was at that point that Helen noticed that her luggage was already packed and sitting on the deck in the cold berth compartment. Don the Khan handed her a bundle of clothes.
"I'll be waiting outside." He said as he turned to exit the compartment.
Lisa felt as if she were ten years older. She was standing on the bridge of the Chauchat. Out of the bridge windows she could see dull gray glow of jumpspace. She finished the instrument check and left the bridge.
When they married, Dennis had insisted that Lisa upgrade her pilot's certificate from the subordinate craft rating to the small starship rating.
It was almost time for today's cutlass drills. Lisa walked into her cabin and picked up her Marine officer's cutlass and a smaller child sized cutlass from the weapon's rack and then walked to the old officer's wardroom.
In the wardroom, which was now part of the family space aboard the Chauchat, Dennis was doing his share of the tutoring duties with their daughter Alice.
"Daddy," said Alice, "what is the Right of Assassination?"
"I don't really know how to answer that." He said.
"Yes you do dear." Lisa cut in. "You are the history geek in this family."
"It's going to be a LONG answer." He replied as if he were issuing a warning.
"That never stopped you before." Said Lisa.
"Right!" He said to Lisa, he then turned back to Alice and spoke to her.
"Emperor Cleon the Second was the son of the founder of the Third Imperium. After ruling for about a year he decided that he would rather be a troubleshooter than to be a ruler, even though he would not have your cousin Ditzie to help him out."
Alice giggled a bit. Lisa had to cut in.
"Did you have to start at that point?"
"I told you it was going to be a long answer dear." He replied. Dennis then continued the lecture.
"So Cleon the Second abdicated the throne and dumped it on his chancellor, Artemsus Lentuli."
"Dumped?" Lisa spoke up. "Are you sure you want to describe an abdication that way?"
"Yes dear," he replied, "its my lecture."
"Anyway," Dennis continued, "when Emperor Martin the Second the grandson of Artemsus, died without an heir, a direct descendant of Cleon the Second stepped forth and claimed the throne for himself as Cleon the Third. But, to quote the history text, 'his claim was flawless, he was not.' He became to be known as Cleon the Mad."
"What did he do?" Asked Alice.
"Cleon the Mad did a number of things," said Dennis, "and shooting ministers during cabinet meetings was definitely considered to be bad form back then."
"To put it mildly." Said Lisa.
Dennis briefly glanced at Lisa and then continued the lecture.
"The senior surviving ministers decided to kill Cleon the Mad before he killed more of them. They drew lots to see who would shoot the mad emperor. Porfiria, a distant relative of Martin the Second, was picked to pull the trigger. And for saving the Imperium from that lunatic she was proclaimed Empress by the Moot. Unfortunately, there have been a number of usurpers who have used Porfiria's action as an excuse for their own illegitimate actions. The so-called 'Right of Assassination' is a political myth, nothing more."
Alice asked another question.
"What would you do if Emperor Strephon were assassinated?"
Dennis froze for a second, Lisa could sense his emotional state at that very moment, he felt as if someone had stepped on his own grave. Dennis then answered the question.
"Strephon is my friend," he said, "and I will die before I swear allegiance to his murderer."
"Your father and I have both had visions of what would happen if Emperor Strephon were to be assassinated." Said Lisa. "Another civil war. Imperial fleets vaporizing each other, and entire inhabited worlds burned to cinders."
The wardroom of the Chauchat faded away and Lisa was once again in her sister Cheryl's office.
"We seem to have bracketed the area of concern." Said Lisa.
Cheryl agreed and then said. "It also appears that you and Dennie will have a nice daughter."
Lisa stuck out her tongue and emitted a "Phutttt!"
The Imperial naval attache to Pandrin was tied down to a folding steel chair, a set of stereo headphones were duct-taped to his head. He gasped out a single word before again lapsing into unconsciousness. Dennis sensed that this time it was the correct answer.
"Otsesu," said Aramanx Jack, "that's five parsecs from here. That's one jump for the Emissary, very convenient."
"I've been there." Said Dennis. "They appear to have rebuilt the corsair base."
"So what do we do with him?" Jack asked while pointing at the attache.
"He betrayed the Imperium." Said Dennis. "There's really only one thing that can be done. Quietly, of course."
Aramanx Jack grabbed the attache by the head and right shoulder and snapped the neck.
Dennis, Lisa, and Cheryl were standing in front of the charred ruins of Windhaven House. Both Dennis and Cheryl wore navy dirtside blues, each with the rank of Captain. Dennis also wore the command badge and unit patch of the cruiser Bard Refuge.
"The bastards came in more or less on schedule." Said Dennis. A force of Zhodani commandoes had landed on the site about week before the three of them and Norris had returned to Regina to relieve Admiral Santanocheev of his command.
"The evacuation was ordered when the Wayward Dream dropped into the system." Cheryl said. Instead of the staff and patients of a small hospital, the Zhos were met by a lift infantry unit of the Imperial Army.
"So what do we do now?" Asked Lisa.
"Rebuild." Said Dennis.
Cheryl again broke the link.
"Does that answer the question?" Said Lisa.
"Yes." Said Cheryl. "I'll have to call a staff meeting for tomorrow morning."
Dennis and Aramanx Jack were seated in back as Daevagh piloted the ship's gig back to the Chauchat.
"May I ask you a question?" Said Jack.
"Shoot." Said Dennis.
"What the hell happened on the Ageone?"
Dennis was not about to answer that question.
"Usually I'm asked if I really used an acetylene torch on someone." He replied.
"You didn't." Said Jack. "You had spread out the contents of a can of spam on the seat of a folding chair and burned it to ashes with the torch. The stains and the lingering aroma had an intimidating effect on the people that you were questioning."
"And how did you know that?" Asked Dennis.
"It was in the fan club newsletter."
"YOU are a member of Ditzie's Fan Club?"
"It's a Marine thing." Said Aramanx Jack.
Dennis already knew that. It was a phenomena that he had encountered throughout the Imperium over the last twenty years. The mental image of Lisa in an "I (heart) H.E." tee-shirt suddenly came to his mind.
"I know." Said Dennis.
"You still haven't answered the question." Said Jack.
"I signed a secrecy oath on that incident."
"Okay then." Said Jack. "Then who was Ensign Renfrew and why has his family quietly taken out a contract on you?"
Dennis was surprised to have heard that. One of the other survivors of the Ageone may have talked about the incident.
"Ensign Renfrew," said Dennis, "was a brown-nosing piece of garbage who disobeyed legal orders and abandoned his post in the face of the enemy. He would have tried by court-martial and shot, we had a long trip to make in the ship's boat and I was not going to waste any energy to rescue him."
"I understand." Said Jack. "So what are you going to do about his family?"
"You know, I think Ditzie could use some new friends."