"Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying."
-- T.S. Eliot

Time to tidy up (or further complicate) some lives before going off to the Solomani Rim to wreak havoc there.

20, 1123.

Having returned from the mystical far away land, Ghaer wakes up after a horrible dream, drenched in sweat. He staggers to the bathroom, splashes water on his face and goes back to bed.

21, 1123.

He gets up in the morning, takes a couple of Tylenol due to the headache from grinding his teeth, and when he closes the medicine cabinet the reflection in the mirror is not his! His teeth are sharper, his muzzle is pointier, he's much slimmer, and he's a lot less tabby-striped. He seems to be sort of a transitional Varlow.

The apartment is an absolute mess, since Ghaer has been gone for a couple of months, and he ran into some friends when he got back.... The alcohol, including a couple of bottles of Netherworld sparkling brandy that's sort of like 80 proof champagne, was consumed in massive quantities. (Before she left planet, Ming-Na gave instructions that Ghaer, Robert, and Ariana were to be well-supplied on their trip back. This included fresh food, and cases of liquor.) So now Ghaer's hung over, and de-evolved. Or in Ghaer's case, maybe it's re-volved. Three months of evolving in one night. Boy, don't drink that foreign brandy!

There is still a case and a half of the brandy hidden in the closet, which Ghaer takes a look at about three hours later, when he's feeling less like death warmed over. He's starting to feel like he might want to survive, and not call someone who could kill him in an absolutely silent fashion. The brandy is in hand blown bottles with a twist to them. No label, just a clear bottle, with a blob of colored glass worked into the shape of a dragon or something. The brandy sort of sparkles, and is kind of rosé-colored. Then he goes around picking up empty bottles of wine, brandy, bourbon, scotch, Grand Marnier, beer, and something called 'Quot' that resembled vegetable oil with floating blobs of something in it. The place is a mess. Ghaer's just grateful he doesn't have any tentacles after the Quot stuff. There are several still unopened bottles of Quot, which Ghaer will save for unwanted guests.

At about noon, Ghaer realizes that among the debris are a couple of unconscious, but alive bodies. He has no idea who these people are. When he goes back into his bedroom, he finds there's someone else in his bed. A female (good) Vargr (better), wearing a shiny ring on her left hand (bad), that probably came from the jewelry box on the nightstand (very bad). She stirs, looks up, and says "Who are you? Where's Ghaer?" Ghaer still has no clue who she is. Ghaer: "Fuzzy, soft fur, orange stripes?" Vargr: "Yeah, very soft fur. I think the stripes were orange." Ghaer: "Maybe I'm Ghaer... Nahhh." He gives her a couple of aspirin and some orange juice. She looks quizzically at the ring.

Ghaer is feeling more aggressive, and really wants meat. Bloody, warm, and lots of it. Ghaer: "My name is Ghaer Raller. I'm going to get some meat. What do you want from the store?" Vargr: "Morphine." Ghaer: "Sorry, I don't have any." Vargr: "Was that guy really a priest?" Ghaer: "Did he have tentacles?" Vargr: "I don't think so." Ghaer: "I'm pretty sure the guy with tentacles was a priest. By the way, what's your name?" Vargr: "Kira." Ghaer: "Ghaer Raller. Pleased to meet you." He goes off to get species appropriate food and coffee for all.

Ghaer returns to his apartment to find people moving furniture in. Kira: "Ghaer! Meet my mother." If mom is a prototype of what the little woman will grow into, be afraid. She takes Vargr garish to levels one would not have believed possible. Mom: "You look better than the pictures Kira sent me. I like you better without the stripes." Ghaer: "You never can tell when they'll show up, what with the hard radiation and all." Kira has photos of her and Ghaer, and Hunter, and friends with drinks in their hands. And apparently the marriage was consummated. Several times. Whoo boy. Ghaer was apparently in the 'just get out of jail?' mode.

So Ghaer is hung over, has a new wife and mother-in-law, and is surrounded by fireworks and noise, and people partying. Kira at least seems very nice, and she's a stylist at Curl Up and Dye, so she'll know how to groom Ghaer.

Ghaer starts getting calls from people congratulating him on his marriage, and there is a wedding certificate. It's from a church Ghaer has never heard of, but it is licensed to perform marriages. Ghaer: "I was very drunk. And outside of the fact that you are attractive, and bright, I have no idea why a young lady such as yourself would hook up with me." Kira: "The way you were talking last night, you made my heartstrings go all aquiver. And they way you...Grrrr." She nibbles his neck, takes his hand, and pulls him into the bedroom, kicking the door shut on the movers. Ghaer is definitely feeling virile, and this is the shove the stuff off the table and break some furniture kind of sex.

At least when Ghaer gets home after a hard day of trying to figure out what the hell's going on, and getting his money from Hunter, there is hot food on the table. Hot and meaty, and plenty of it. Kira doesn't expect a lot of intense conversation. She brings Ghaer a cold drink after dinner, turns on the sports channel, and goes off to sing to herself and the Walkman in the kitchen. And her mother didn't move in, she just came by to check Ghaer out. As soon as the dishwasher turns on, Ghaer goes in to dance with her. And if they end up on the table again, which they do, so what? Ghaer's libido has been on high for the last couple of days...

Next day, Ghaer goes by the Plinth of Knowledge, which is still there in Aguilon Park. It seems duller, and not many runes are visible, but the spray painted tag is slowly dripping off. A set of battledress arrives for Hunter, as well as a cheque for $80,000 credits, from Corina. Cena also gets a cheque, or will when she returns from Cogri.

Ghaer contacts Hunter about getting his share of the payment for the op, and the 'prank'. Hunter thought it was Ghaer's prank. No... Ghaer: "She can cook." Angela can't cook, but she does have a doctorate in Vilani literature. And great people skills. It appears that Ghaer is really married to this Kira person, since Hunter was a witness to a real ceremony (and he still remembers it)..

Ghaer finds that the next time he partakes of the sparkling brandy, he wakes up a little bit more Vargr. Hmmm. Well, to assume that the brandy caused the change would be a post hoc logical fallacy. [Note: Post hoc ergo prompter hoc. 'After this therefore because of this.'] But that doesn't mean it didn't cause it....

21, 1123.

Now, as for the reason for the fireworks and noise... It's all the Duchess' fault. At a reasonable hour of the late morning, after less than an hour of labor [Bitch!], the kid just pops out. A little small, 6.5 lbs., but a perfectly normal, healthy baby boy. Really. None the worse for having been in Blaelok's tender care for several days.

Welcome to Regina: Jack Norris Armstrong, Jr. Daddy Jack is handing out cigars, and doing the "look what I did" thing. And now that there's a Jack Junior, he'll have some one to watch grav-ball with, play catch with, etc. Next week.

There will be fireworks on Regina. Dangerous on Up Port, but what the hell. The official fireworks will be in space. A major deal - Navy ships and everything. Much celebrating. The Duchess can't receive anyone currently, since she's busy eviscerating servants, due to postpartum emotional issues. But they do have the Ling family retainer ( a female Aslan) as a nurse, and she's bright enough to stay out of reach.

Corina is eventually given a little something to even out her mood, which should take effect in a few days. Not that she was having any problems; she was fine - the other people were being unreasonable.

In the less lofty circles of Regina, if Will Delgado really wants the job, it's his for real, not just the Acting Coroner gig. Before he agrees, Will goes to see Black, and is seen by one of his underlings, as the Director is busy. Will asks "if Regina Security wants something, just tell me. Give me the codebook if you need to, but I won't assume that it's something you want, unless you let me know."

When he returns to his office, Will has his secretary, Claire, call and make an appointment with Black. Claire is just so efficient! Although someone at Regina Security, one of the agents, makes a comment about "keeping an eye on your secretary", in an oblique fashion, when they drop off a body at Will's office. They need a death certificate for the body, preferably one that reads "natural causes". Whoever the deceased was, he was beaten to death. Looks like someone tried to beat him to within an inch of his life and sort of missed. "Heart failure", yeah - that's it!

Will does get to see Mr. Black in person, so off he goes back to the big grey buildings with no windows. He's shown into Black's office. Black: "What do you know about syphilis?" Recovering quickly from this rather bizarre version of "Good afternoon", Will rattles off everything he's ever read about syphilis, until Black stops him.

Black: "I'm a busy man, Dr. Delgado. You wanted something?" Will: "If you need something from my office, I'm perfectly happy to cooperate with you, but I need to know what you want. I can't just guess, I need to be kept informed." Black: "I see." Will: " I've made the mistake already of assuming that a conversation with the Great Oz constitutes official policy. For instance, the Michael Griffin thing. I know he's not dead. And I know you have your reasons for wanting him to appear to be dead, but by not -" Black: "What makes you think he's not dead?" Will: "If he were dead, you would have just run the body through the usual channels." Black: "Are you a curious man, doctor?" Will: "I had a personal relationship with Mr. Griffin." Black: "That wasn't the question. Are you a curious man?" Will pauses to consider this. Will: "No, that's not a major component of my personality." Black: "Good. We'll get along just fine. I'll make certain you get the briefings you require. Is your secretary happy in her new position?" Will: "Yes." Black escorts Will out personally. Black: "Do give my regards to your lovely wife." Will: "Thank you for your time."

So Will is now the Coroner for real. Dr. Auschlander, Will's department head at Regina Trauma, is a bit disappointed, since Will had the making of a fine neurosurgeon. Will: "That doesn't mean I can't play with people's brains on the side..." No , really, that's fine Will. Bunny is thrilled about Will's job, since she figures it's just as exciting as the Crime Doctor series. Bunny: "If I were coroner, I couldn't wait to get up in the morning!"

Will goes to see Globber, and asks about taking some of the police courses, so he doesn't mess up any crime scenes. Globber is thrilled to have someone in the position that actually cares about procedure. Wow, this is two firsts for the new coroner: he's a real doctor and he actually doesn't want to mess things up for the cops! Globber: "Oh and by the way, your charming wife was here earlier, asking questions about forensics, and taking copious notes." Oh-oh.

Will goes home, and Bunny is out. Will goes into her office, and finds notes all over the place. It appears that she's plotting to kill someone! Oh wait. She's writing books. And they're not half bad. She has the writer's guide to the "Rex Ruskin, Crime Doctor" novels, and she has finished the drafts to several books already. Will reads the drafts, and they're pretty good, although he's going to have to help her out with the technical issues. Will carefully places post it notes on those parts of the manuscripts. Bunny has the dashing forensic pathologist darting from attractive female to attractive female down pat. Will recognizes a scene from the beach, but he's sure that no one else will (other than Bunny).

In a neighboring subsector... Since her arrival on Lanth, Steiner has been able to talk to some of the Sengi females about woman stuff, since she only knows the male, military side of Sengi society. The Var Sengi's don't really bother themselves with the menial child-rearing end of things, leaving that to the jai and the Sengi.

80, 1123.

After a very difficult ten month pregnancy comes the 13 hours of hard labor. Fortunately, Steiner blacks out for a few minutes towards the end. Her doctor is finally allowed to intervene, and performs an emergency C-section, bringing into the world a very healthy 12 lb. baby boy. That is not a baby, that is a toddler. Or a small turkey.

Actually, that is a Var Sengi male. Oh. Well, that should make the father, Lord Kurtashth even more smug and superior, once he gets the news. Not that the males have much to do with the kids until they're older and more interesting, but still - a new Var Sengi!

After the bonding moment with Mom, the baby is to be taken to be bonded with the clan (Kardak) Lord. Marcy, before the birth, was very careful to consult with Steiner as to what she wanted to do, as Marcy has concerns about the Sengi's 'practices'. The bonding thing with the lord is fine with Steiner - it's not like she's in any shape to argue, but it's a cultural thing, and Steiner is after all, a vassal. (Yes, Steiner has 'gone native'.) Besides, the child is Var Sengi, and is going to need to be raised like one.

Steiner is expected to spend a lot of time with the child when he's small, but it's sort of an ideal situation for a working mom, and from around toddler age the children are raised in groups. (Packs?) Normally a female Sengi of the same clan is selected to be the surrogate mother, and take care of the child on a day to day basis. Ideally, a female is chosen that is close to the mother, and shares her beliefs, etc. This could be a bit difficult for Steiner.

There is a whole communal thing about naming the child, and everything else. The naming day, at age eleven, is when the child's real name is given; they only use sort of nicknames until then. No rush; it's not like the boy will come when he's called just yet.

Steiner. A mother. How...interesting.

Speaking of Marcy, and children, Elizabeth Aeisheia Burke has been complaining constantly about not liking it on Lanth, and wanting to go back to Birabates. On further questioning, Marcy is able to determine that Elizabeth doesn't like "being told what to do", and not being able to wear her knife to school, and she gets into trouble when she gets into fights, which is often, and she can't go hunting with her uncles, and she's tired of being here surrounded by the barbarians. Marcy manages to pry her away from the bodyguards (at least get them out of the room), for a chat about having to learn more than the Sengi way of things, and that non-Var Sengi are not lower life forms. Marcy is attempting to civilize the wild child, but it's hard to do that when she's surrounded by un-civilizing influences.

Marcy: "Your customs are fine on Birabates, but you're not on Birabates. She has to be bigger than Birabates." Sengi: "Why should the Chosen One have to adapt to their customs? They should have to adapt to the Chosen One's customs." Marcy: "There are more of them." Sengi: "For now, but that can be remedied." Fortunately, they're under orders to keep the bloodshed down to a minimum.

Marcy has been working on this from the moment of Elizabeth's birth, but she's hampered by the Sengi's beliefs. If push ever comes to shove, Marcy will not just let them take her child, even if she's their "Chosen One". One of these days, this will have to be resolved, and it will probably get ugly.

Marcy tries to explain, in a way that the Sengi will understand, that it's necessary to 'know your enemy', etc. They do understand that, which is why there are several million Sengi in Imperial service. [Awaiting the time to take over by force? Or maybe they'll just breed the humans out of existence. Either way, it won't be as easy as they think - humans are very annoying that way.] Marcy finds out that if she keeps Elizabeth away from Birabates for too long, she will get more and more unhappy and unmanageable, and it will eventually effect Elizabeth physically. And they just never thought to mention this to Marcy before? It does seem to help if she spends time around Var Sengi though (and there is one on Lanth - from clan Kardak), so at least that's a temporary 'fix'.

Lives go on in the Imperium. New lives and old. Beginnings, endings, and beginnings again. Never a dull moment.