Joe Lee has been on the Sengi homeworld of Birabates for some time now. Months, in fact. And he has discovered that the Var-Sengi and their "we live for hundreds of years, so we take the long view, there's no need to rush" attitude can try the patient of a Zen master. Literally.
Finally Joe has had enough of watching them do nothing but sit around, look at him, look at each other, and occasionally cock an eyebrow or move a finger. So, he announces that he needs to see the Great Board (j'la). Now. It's one of those Oracle things. Joe is lead off...
Joe wakes up to a jai trying to get him to drink water. There are a number of jai attending him, and they are all very surprised that he's not dead, and tell him this. Joe feels rather weak, his finger nails are very long and unkempt, and he has no flipping idea what happened with the Great Board. He is escorted in to see the Kaesthra and the Ba Notr (plural), who are awaiting a relevant statement from the Oracle. Joe Lee reacts badly, and draws his sword. The Kaesthra raises an eyebrow, and inquires "Was what you saw so terrible that you do not wish to continue living?" Joe Lee responds with "Perhaps it is my time to die. Perhaps we are all going to die." The Kaesthra says "All things die that live. That is the nature of life." He thinks that Joe Lee was "unprepared to understand" his vision (among other things), and that he has not enough knowledge to interpret the vision. Joe Lee is willing to accept this, and puts away his sword.
The Kaesthra speaks briefly with a distortion in midair, and then informs Joe Lee that he must go forth to acquire wisdom. And to do this he must find the one called Raller - Joe Lee will trade knowledge for wisdom with the Raller. Oh, that makes it ever so clear, thank you; Joe wonders if he'll be given a Cube of Knowledge to exchange for the Ball of Wisdom or something. Joe knows that the last place he saw Ghaer Raller was on Regina, so that is where he needs to start. Before he leaves, a jai dressed in some sort of ceremonial garment comes out with an ornately wrapped box, containing a book. The book is made of incredibly thin sheets of some sort of platinum-like metal, and has writing on it that Joe Lee can't read; how helpful.
Joe carefully takes the book, and then asks about getting to Regina. The Kaesthra says "This servant will take you." The "servant" is a Barlow, who reaches out of the distortion, takes Joe Lee's hand, and pulls him in.
202 - 1122.
After having been turned inside out, then rightside out again (an experience he can live without repeating, thank you), Joe Lee finds himself on Regina, at a table in a restaurant. A really nice restaurant, without prices on the menu. The wait staff treat Joe like some wealthy eccentric, and make no comments about his appearance, at least where Joe can hear. The menu has no prices, which is bad, so Joe asks about the cost of some of the appetizers. He only intends to order the cheapest one, but he's very hungry, and ends up adding a salad. The high cost of his little snack at the Savoy Grill leaves him with only $11 credits to his name.
Joe leaves, and heads out past Aguilon Park, wondering if the Barlow put him in some kind of alternate dimension, as the station is much cleaner, and the air smells fresher and slightly of moss. At the park, the perfectly round koi pond is all wrong, and the trees in the Japanese garden have been replanted in an orderly, Germanic fashion - all of which irritates the hell out of Joe Lee, who starts trying to fix things.
The police (in different uniforms than Joe remembers) show up to stop the crazy old guy from messing up the park. Joe Lee fishes his old park i.d. badge out of his pocket, but when the police look at it, then at him, the response is "Yeah, right." They ask if Joe has looked at himself in the mirror lately, "old-timer"? Joe looks at his reflection in the pond, and gets quite a surprise - he has long, unkempt hair and beard to go with his long fingernails, and he apparently hasn't been cleaned up lately. Oh boy.
Joe decides to call Mikie (the ex-Oracle, thank God), to get some help finding Ghaer. It's very early morning, and Theresa is staggering over to the kitchen to get coffee, when she accidentally answers the vid-phone. After both sides get a shock from the appearance of the other (Theresa has one of those 'beauty mask' things on), she tells Joe he has the wrong number, and hangs up. Joe is a bit confused, and has wasted a credit, so he's standing in the phone booth looking perplexed when a very friendly, sort of ferret-like man offers to help him. It's the new improved Vinny Weseli, who helps Joe Lee look up Mikie's number and make sure he's dialing it correctly. This time Mikie answers the phone, and while he's surprised to hear from Joe, and see him in this state, agrees for Joe to come over to at least clean up. Mikie informs Joe that he and Theresa are "in the same apartment, but it's moved further down the hall". This merely confirms Joe's suspicion about the alternate dimension thing, and he listens carefully to the directions.
Theresa has been warned about Joe Lee coming over, so she's not completely surprised by the appearance on her doorstep of some scruffy-looking strange man. Mikie is a bit concerned about Joe Lee being really Joe Lee, especially since the incident with Vinny Weseli, so he takes a quick scan just to make sure Joe is Joe. At least, that's the intention. Mikie is still not used to having gotten suddenly more adept at the telepathy thing, and evidently goes deeper than he intended.
After a few seconds, Mikie realizes that he's the one who is screaming, and stops. He calms Theresa down while Joe Lee uses the fresher to get cleaned up. (Now he has clean, matted hair.) Whatever Mikie saw psionically, his mind has decided he doesn't need to know, so it's been walled up in the back, behind the other repressed memories, and the sign that reads "Beware: leopard!" Joe Lee doesn't ask Mikie anything, and Mikie doesn't bring it up. Yet.
Mikie takes Joe Lee to Curl Up and Dye, to get all combed out. Joe has decided to leave the hair and beard, just have them brushed and trimmed. Mikie picks up the tab, as Joe Lee is pretty much out of money until he can see about getting his old job at the park back; Mikie will speak to their former boss at the park, to see if he can help. Joe Lee hasn't mentioned looking for Ghaer so far.
Various and Sundry Other News.
On Capital, Mark Bach and his wife, Katerina Zhakirov-Bach, get some fascinating news. It turns out that the blessed event they will be having on or about day 297 of this year will be even more blessed than planned. Four times more blessed to be exact. Quadruplets. Girls. Identical. Good thing Katerina's sister-in-law Ilsa (the Empress) already has four children, including identical twin boys; she'll be able to help. The baby shower should be truly spectacular, what with four of everything.
Back in the Marches, Steiner is informed that her other duties will be put aside for a more important one. Since the Chosen One and her mother Marcy Bach-Burke have settled onto their estates in the Lanth subsector, Steiner is being sent there to help keep the Chosen One (Aeisheia) safe. Great. Wonderful. Now Steiner just has to find some one to tell her who the hell the "Chosen One" is, and what that means. Should be a lovely trip, what with the morning sickness, and all