Lisa was barely out of the bathtub and into a towel when the phone rang. She pressed the audio only button and picked up the receiver.
"Sir Louis?" She replied to the familiar voice on the line.
"Colonel Holland," Screwy Louie started his pitch, "We're in the process of updating a dossier of someone who has been a problem to us, that is the Lord Admiral was well as yourself."
"Yes. Him." Came the reply. "We recently received some information about his recent activities in the Mora Subsector that doesn't fit our profile of him. We were wondering if you could help us make sense of it?"
And perhaps Sir Louis was also attempting to recruit her into Santanocheev's organization. And if there was one thing they were certainly lacking it was an in-house group of psions. If nothing else Lisa would have another opportunity to peek inside of Screwy Louie's head.
"Sure." She said. "Where do you want me to meet you?"
"La Gondola in the New Victoria Arcology at Nineteen-Hundred hours."
La Gondola, if Lisa recalled correctly, was a cheap clip- joint for picking up tarts which was favored by those (cough) gentlemen (cough-cough) who wouldn't be caught dead in the Startown District. If nothing else, Screwy Louie was going to receive a stern lecture on the practice of tradecraft tonight.
Then again, perhaps not.
"No problem." She told him.
It was a bloody good thing for Lisa that His Majesty, Emperor Strephon, was covering the water bills for the family housing at the naval base on Regina. She was going to need another really long shower tonight.
Dennis, Ditzie, and Daevagh were met at the docking port of the Emissary by Sergei hault-Oberlindes, his wife Zinovia, and their other guest, the commander of a mercenary unit.
"My Lord Windhaven," said Sergei to Dennis, "I believe that you already know Sir John Redfield."
Sir John Redfield, who was otherwise known as Aramanx Jack, was a retired officer of the Imperial Marine Corps Commando branch. He was nearly as tall as a Zhodani and was built like a professional wrestler. Aramanx Jack spoke with a deep and gravelly voice and his own personal solution to his personal follicle deficiency problem was to shave off everything but the mustache and eyebrows.
Whereas Dennis followed a minimalist approach to civilian attire, many mercenaries in the Imperium preferred a loud and flashy style to their non-combat dress. And no one was louder or flashier than Aramanx Jack. Though Dennis did believe that the feather boa that Aramanx Jack once wore to a particularly raucous victory celebration was a bit over the top.
Dennis had met Aramanx Jack about thirty-five years ago in the Startown district of the neutral planet of Arden's capital city back when Aramanx Jack was one of Big Bill Aledon's personal troubleshooters.
The full head of blond hair that Jack had at the time was covered by a psi-shield helmet when Jack and his team had burst into the cheap hotel room where Dennis and his younger brother had been dragged by his parents while they were waiting to be contacted by Zhodani agents.
Little Dennie, curled up in the corner of the room, was buffeted by the backwash of the lethal force waves of hatred given off by his mother, who was never the most balanced of people in normal times, while she attempted to psionically blast Lieutenant Redfield and his strike team. Jack had held the raving bitch in a choke hold until well after she had lost consciousness.
Sterling's less than dear Mother had never fully recovered from that choke hold, which probably saved her from a visit to the firing squad.
Sterling's father had taken the younger son to the initial meeting with the Zhos. Somehow the Zhodani agents had felt the commotion when the mother had been taken down by the Imperials.
The Zhos had taken the younger brother, who they thought had some potential as a psion, back to the Consulate and left the non-psionic father to his fate, a secret court martial by Department Six and a visit to the firing squad.
Whenever he looked back upon those events, Dennis would always feel fortunate to have been rescued from his mother's treasonous scheme. In his personal view, the bitch got what she deserved.
"Sir John," said Dennis he shook hands with Aramanx Jack, "it is good to see you again."
Dennis introduced Lieutenant Commander Daevagh to his hosts and then introduced Ditzie.
Instead of the usual Imperial Court curtsy, Ditzie proceeded to speak to Jack in an apparently worshipful tone.
"Are you really, really, really THE Aramanx Jack?"
"Yes." Jack knelt down and replied as if he were an ancient mountain given voice. "Are you really, really, really THE Ditzamer Spofulam?"
"Oh, yes, yes, yes!" She replied.
Since his retirement from the Imperial Marines, Aramanx Jack had appeared in several tri-dee movies and had used his salary as an actor to purchase the first unit of his three ship squadron, a Cobra class escort converted to the Crusader configuration, which he named after himself.
It could never be said that Aramanx Jack did not have a mountainous ego.
As unusual as Ditzie's worshipful behavior was towards Aramanx Jack, something about it seemed oddly familiar to Dennis. It was if he'd seen it in other people before at some time in the distant past.
And then the memory hit him like a tech level six diesel- electric locomotive barreling down the railroad tracks at full speed.
Prefabricated Boy Bands!
Some of the cultural customs that followed in the wake of the Solomani soldiers and spacemen who conquered the Vilani Empire were the musical traditions, which unfortunately included the commercial targeting of the young female audience with prefabricated pop groups, usually bands of boys in the sixteen to twenty age range, by recording companies and their associated manager-songwriter teams. Even in the first decade of the twelfth century of the Third Imperium it was still a very profitable business.
The biggest boy-band, which was not an actual pre-fab group, to hit the Spinward Marches when Dennis was growing up was called the Glisten Grav Gliders, also known as the Three-Gees even though there were actually five members. When Brian Morrow, the lead guitarist, objected to certain managerial practices, the other band members were persuaded by the manager to dump him in favor of a virtually brain dead, but more physically attractive to the girls, guitar operator.
Brian then assumed the stage name of Buzzy Mania and started an Amp-Rock band that he called The Soviets. When asked why he chose that name for his new act, he replied, "it came to me in a dream."
The Three-Gees would quickly fade into obscurity after being very throughly ripped off by their manager.
Buzzy Mania and The Soviets would go on to run up a roadie and audience bodycount that was exceeded only by VEEDBACK in the Solomani Rim, and would achieve a lost drummer count that was beaten only by the legendary pre-contact Solomani band known as Spinal Tap.
Still, even with the near record amplitude and carnage, the saccharine memory of Buzzy's previous musical association continued to hang about him like the odor of a multi-million-head livestock feedlot.
Dennis, Norris, Eneri, and for some strange reason Lisa, were utterly mystified at the behavior of their young female contemporaries whenever the so-called songs of the Three-Gees were being played. Or worse, when the band in its original incarnation was playing concert dates on Regina.
Eneri, the hardcore history geek that he was, had later dug up several separate instances, on Vilani worlds during the dark age between the fall of the Second Empire and founding of the Third Imperium, of the creation of some form of the hereditary boy band caste. Generation after generation, sons after fathers, would sing the same songs over and over again.
And pre-contact Solomani songs such as "Daydream Believer," sung in the Vilani language and in the traditional Vilani tonal scale, had to be heard to be believed.
Before leaving home to meet Screwy Louie, Lisa left a message on her sister Cheryl's voice mail.
"This is Lisa. I know you're sleeping right now. I just had a prescient vision of you-know-who while awake in the bath. I'm dead certain that I'll need to check back into your facility sometime soon, preferably not in you-know-who's room. Okay? Bye."
While Don the Khan pulled a watch on the bridge of the Chauchat, Dana and Doc went shopping on the station. Doc was reading off the list that Dennis had given them.
"Folding steel chair."
"Check." Replied Dana.
"High fidelity stereo headset--Vargr."
"Hearing protectors, one each, Human and Vargr."
"One roll of duct tape."
"I don't know why the boss insists on using duct tape." Said Dana. "Hull tape is better and we have plenty of it on board."
"And perhaps the Captain wants it to stay on board." Doc replied. Dennis had told them to load the items on the shopping list onto the ship's gig.
"He used it the last time." Said Dana.
"He was really pressed for time." Said Doc. "He somehow also acquired a low-tech cutting torch for that particular job."
Dennis was involved in uncovering some seemingly dirty business on Byret in the Mora Subsector. Even Ditzie, who had gone down to that planet to help her Uncle, was unusually silent on the matter.
"Fortunately," Doc continued, "he is back to his usual methods." She then read off the final item on the list.
"One box pistol ammunition, eleven-point-four millimeter, Imperial standard."
Eneri had made enough money from the articles and books he wrote for civilian publication for him to afford to live off the naval base. When he entered his flat the its computer began to list the incoming messages that he had missed during his long work day. When a certain name came up he voiced a command to the computer.
"Play message from Lieutenant Colonel Holland."
The apartment's computer complied.
"Hi En'ri," Lisa had said to the computer, "Screwy Louie invited me to dinner at La Gondola. I suspect that he's trying to recruit me into Santanocheev's crew. If nothing else, I'll have another look into his head. Bye."
"Say hello to Luigi for me." Eneri vocalized to no one in particular.
He tossed a bag of popcorn into the microwave oven and dropped a data crystal into its slot on the holotank. Dennis had brought from Capital a copy of a new documentary series, "A History of the Terrans." The holotank began to play the first episode of the series, "Banging the Rocks Together."
After dinner, Zinovia took Ditzie off on a tour of the Emissary.
Dennis, Daevagh, Sergei, and Aramanx Jack began to compare notes on their common problem.
"His real name," said Dennis, "is Showa Lakidgussar, he was a not terribly competent engineering officer before joining the Office of Naval Information."
Every psion in Regina's capital city heard the cry for help. In his office in the Ducal Residence, Branj Dilgaadin, the duke's right hand man, was now faced with an unpleasant task.
There was no question as to whether or not he was to notify the local police. The question was how was he going to explain the origin of his knowledge.
And as usual Branj would have to lie about it.
The police dispatcher answered the call.
"This the office of the Duke of Regina." Said Branj. "An Imperial Marine officer is being assaulted in the La Gondola restaurant in the New Victoria Arcology. You will send every available officer to the scene."
The dispatcher asked him how he knew this.
"I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to explain." Branj replied.
The dispatcher continued to object.
"I'm sure," said Branj, "that His Grace will be happy to personally tell you how pleased he is with your procedural correctness. Right before he personally busts your ass and reassigns you to a one-man post on an airless rock in the outer system."
Branj now had to make one more call.
"Sir," he said to Norris over the phone, "there's a problem with Lisa Holland."