Chapter 11: Palace Arkman
With a bit of checking I had the message saved. I'd have to get a computer like that guy had to store information and do banking. I now had 724,000 credits. Getting a pocket computer shouldn't be that hard now! If this keeps up, I'll have over a million before the night is out. But it looked like my luck ran out. Others were getting the idea and were finding their own contacts without myself as the middle man. The pickings are going to be slim here. Just then I saw a beautiful woman watching Cedric. It was the same woman I saw yesterday before the ambush. This was too much to be happenstance. I made my way over to her. It was hard due to all the people here. The woman still had that long lavender hair and blue eyes. She was talking to some guests between looks at Cedric. She rarely took her eyes off him. When I finally got to her I gave her one of my best conversation starters.

There wasn't much of a reaction, as I expected, but we did make some small talk. I did remember to take a few seconds of tape for later reference. Her name was Mali Faris, the daughter of a Nisttan Design Group designer. She has traveled from Loriel to attend the party with her father. I took a few seconds of video to be analyzed later. I knew she was lying because I had already talked to every member of Nisttan looking for one who was in the position to deal with an Ettaran distributor. He said that there were seven representatives of Nisttan here. He was also the seventh Nisttan person I talked to and none of them were named Faris. Cedric noticed me and I discretely nodded to the woman inviting him over. When he got within five steps she suddenly said she had to powder her nose and made off to the ladies room. I asked Cedric if he knew who she was. He didn't but there was something familiar to him about her.

She never came out of the restroom. A servant said there was a one-way door leading outside in there. It confirmed my suspicions that she had left. Cedric was disappointed. He then noticed a tall man give something to Karin. It looked like a note. We went to her and asked what it was. She said it was none of our business. She also said she knew nothing about the man either. That appeared to be that, except for the fact Lady Arkman saw him leave the party and the remark she made about not remembering if he had an invitation. I didn't know what to make of either event. The woman didn't act threatening, and Karin wouldn't let us help her. Well, I can't do everything.

I set aside these intriguing mysteries to others. If they need help, they know who to talk to. Trumpets sounded and the valet made another announcement, "The Lady Ariel of Muria." she proclaimed.

There was a moment of complete silence when the girl steps through the large doors in the banquet hall. She is possibly the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She seemed to glide into the room, oblivious to the silence and the stares. More than one head turned (including Eiran's) as she walked into the room. As she wound into the crowd, conversation returned to normal. He almost ran to Cedric and myself. "Isn't she beautiful? I want to meet her but what if she doesn't like me?" he asked.

"Go for it kid!" I encouraged, "If you don't try, you'll never know. Carpe deim."

"Huh?" they said in unison.

"Old Earth phrase. It means seize the day. Now where is she?"

Eiran's face turning red answered my question. I turned around and there she was. We introduced ourselves (or in Eiran's case, tried to) and she asked us to follow her. I whispered to Eiran that I thought she likes him. He smiled thankfully and his face turned a brighter red. Ariel made a point to walk near Eiran and he attempted to make small talk with her following whispered advice and encouragement from Cedric and myself. We went and collected the other seven members of Rimfire. Along the way I noticed that Mr.Ashman and the lady I introduced him to were getting along very well. When they saw me they waved their thanks.

Once we got the last one, she took us to a private library that she said Lord Arkman had provided. We stood in a circle and she began to speak. "Hello, as you know my name is Ariel, and Tal has informed me of yours. Here is what he know and suspects. That thing you killed was an Aggendi. The legends are true; they do exist. Tal is afraid that there are more out there, in space. When you were killing it, the powerful ESPers of the planet felt its cry. Only Tal and a few others of the greatest skill were able to perceive it. The Doctor, and others, are afraid that is was sending a distress call to something. This something may or may not exist, but we can afford to take no chances. If there are more of them, in better condition, there could be a serious threat to all life on this planet. Tal is now returning from a meeting in Kondur and will be able to meet with us the day after tomorrow. We have an appointment with him and the Queen at noon. Please tell no one about this threat. You are simply going to the palace to meet Ymri, understand?"

The history book I was given didn't have much to say about the Aggendi. They were the stuff of legends similar to dragons of Earth. If there were more of them like the one we first fought against as a team, we were in serious drek. I asked how much from the legends was true and how much was fiction. She said that Dr.Tal would be of more service than herself. As usual I must wait for the important information. I didn't think for a second that the powers the legends game the Aggendi were true (like shape shifting, regeneration, and un-assisted flight), but I was willing to say that they were a most formidable foe anyway.

Ariel then said that she was to be the 'date' for one of the men as a cover until we reach the palace. I was involved with Eliza and Cedric didn't seem to be in the mood for romance, especially with someone nearly ten years younger than himself. Tharis almost volunteered but a stern look from Aleoi stopped him. There was definitely something between those two. That left Tammis and Eiran. Cedric directed a signal to me. Eiran was standing between us and looked like he really wanted to have the honor but was too shy to do it. We gave him a slight shove towards Areil. I noticed that Celine (who was next to Tammis) seemed to have grabbed the back of his tux, preventing him from moving forward. "Thank you Eiran for your offer." Ariel said taking his arm.

Tharis looked disappointed and Tammis was severely jealous. But with two of his senior officers staring him down, he didn't say a word. After the new couple left all of us gathered in a group. "Sorry Tammis, but Eiran already called her. There will be others for you next time." I promised.

"Come on, guys. All he's going to do is mess up. She at least deserves someone who knows how to party."

Celine offered her support, "She's not the partying type. But I am. Shall we?"

I shook my head in amazement then thanked her silently for defusing the tension between team members. we left Larani came up to me and asked how I did. "Oh, I made a few friends in high places. Matched up couples. Made some money. How about you?"

"How much money?" I showed her my card saying that it was all gifts and I didn't ask for any of it.

When she saw the total amount her jaw dropped. "You did THAT in one night? That's more than I make in a -- nevermind! Don't you know the UAA discourages its members from making a profit on missions?"

"Well is this a mission or a covert operation? I was just drawing attention away from our real purpose here. Besides what I did tonight will help your nation greatly." I got her now, trapped between a grey area of the law and the good of her nation.

She decided that this wasn't worth pursuing since there was no way to prove that I demanded payment for services rendered and left the room. Eliza was still nowhere in sight so I went to check up on Eiran. When I caught up to him I didn't know if he wanted to thank me or kill me. He was doing his best to be polite. He also made a few gestures that could almost be considered romantic. Eiran's shyness was still there inside him. But during the few days I spent with him, I think its influence had diminished a micron. Ariel, to her credit, was being understanding and was genuinely flattered by Eiran's kindness. My presence was having a calming affect on the Ettaran.

The band was coming on stage and people were clearing the center of the ballroom for a dancing area. Eiran and Ariel sat down at a table for two. I chose to sit down at a similar table close enough for us to see each other. I had the waiter bring them something to drink. When he asked me to be more specific, I found I couldn't. They probably not old enough for anything alcholic. People that young should even drink anyway. But anything else might be an insult because they might think I was treating them like children. I finally decided to pass the buck and told the waiter to ask them what they wanted and to bill it to me.

I heard Ariel ask who I was and if I was related to him. Eiran said I was helping him with a few things and that I was almost like an uncle to him...the uncle no one talks about. Real funny guy. Well she though it was amusing and asked what I was helping him with. Eiran's answer could either make or break his relationship with Ariel. I knew that Murians were telepathic so lying would only turn her off, no one likes to be lied to. On the other hand telling her that I was helping him overcome his shyness will most likely do one of two things. Either she will be turned off by his inexperience or will appreciate him more for having the courage to admit this. He opted for honesty and told her the truth and that I was here for moral support. She visibly relaxed and said that her own experience on a personal scale was also limited. It was nice to see that they had at least one thing in common. Eliza sat down at my table with a drink in each hand. "Planning a take over of someone else's territory?" she asked.

"Just making sure Eiran doesn't make a fool of himself. How have you been?"

"So many people to kiss up to, so little time. But I got some things done. What have you been up to?"

"Stimulating the international economy and making a good living from it. Right now I'm here to give any necessary assistance to Eiran."

"I read his dossier and had a chance to meet him before joining Rimfire. You've really helped him. I don't think he would have even tried talking to someone as attractive as her a week ago."

"He still looks a bit uncomfortable."

"It's a start. Besides it's healthy to be this nervous on a first date." In the background the band started playing a traditional Elaran waltz. I pulled Eliza out her chair and onto the dance floor. She protested claiming that she didn't know how do dance but I just told her to leave the driving to me. She got the hang of it quickly and started to enjoy herself. But by then the song had ended and the next one began. It took a few seconds but the chip was able to direct us through the dance with a combination of a waltz and foxtrot. As bizarre as it sounded, it went rather well.

Ariel practically dragged Eiran onto the floor and began dancing with everyone else. He was better than I expected. Probably was made to take lessons when he was young. Ariel was as surprised as I was that he could dance. Slowly I made my way to the speaker controller and saw the central hook up to the speakers. This would be the perfect way to expose these people to some real music. I decided to dance a bit more to get the feel of Algolian music before attempting anything. I heard pieces from every nation on Algol of about every style. Eliza and I dance to most of them. Eiran and Ariel were still having fun, but getting very tired. The party was winding down. It was now or never.

When this song ended I yanked out the cord which led to the microphones and inserted my own which led to the portable music chip player I stashed along. Amid the brief moment of confusion I stood up on the bandstand and yelled with exaggerated mouth movements, "Let's rock this joint!!" and hit the play button. Ultra-loud, heart stopping, deaf defying, pure rock and roll assaulted the ears of the upperclass party goers. One couple who was dancing too close to the speakers was literally knocked down by the force of the music. The area around the stand had cleared so I jumped down and danced solo to the music.

It was the most recent put on the chip, one of the few I had the opportunity to practice beforehand for a small undercover job with Johnny Silverhand. With the help of the chip, my performance went relitivily flawlessly. But they didn't notice any mistakes. Either they were too amazed to notice or they were too busy covering their ears. When my show was over I stopped the disk and basked the applause of my audience. The clapping continued as I returned all the cords to their original places. The normal music continued and people started dancing again. But now I could barely detect a hint of rock in their music. The dancing left me exhausted and I plopped down in the nearest chair. The reaction of the party goers was mixed. Some felt my music was just plain noise and were offended that I had the nerve to play it. But most commented that it was a welcome change of pace from regular party music. There was one person who made an offer to copy and distribute them to record stores, once the lyrics were translated, of course. I said that I would think it over, mostly to get him off my back. He gave me his business card and took up conversation with someone else. Lord and Lady Arkman complemented me on my dance, but requested that I notify them next time.

Eliza came on over and commented about the time. It was getting pretty late. I was able to get the party going a little longer but soon people were leaving. I suggested to Eliza that we offer to take Eiran and Ariel home. But someone already told Ariel that it was time to go. She and Eiran said their good-byes. If they weren't in public, I'd swear they would have kissed. I had learned that the others had left already and the three of us was left. I collected Eiran as Eliza got the car. The boy glowed but very weary as I led him outside. All he could talk about was Ariel. How she looked, how she moved, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. As we went back to our quarters, he fell asleep muttering her name.

"Young love is so sweet." Eliza commented as she moved closer to me.

"You know, Nate, that we should do our parts to try and cut costs. Maybe we should share a room tonight."

"Sounds good to me."

We began to kiss but Eiran's stirring stopped us from going any further. I carried him into his quarters and set him on his bed. I was assigned the room next door where Eliza already was. A quick change of my skill chips and... let's just say that I hope our activities during the night didn't wake him. The sleep inducer allowed us to extend our time together.

While it was her turn I used the computer to order one of those portable machine I saw last night and check into this Taylor woman I met. Ordering the pocket computer was simple enough. In fact it was being sent here right after I paid for it with the card. It would be here by morning. I got a real fancy one too. With large memory storage modem uplink, notepad, printer connection, cellular phone, every little gadget I could cram in there. Investigating Taylor was a bit harder. Things like her first name, Rillia, birth date, ect were simple enough to access from the Who's Who of Kargan Business Leaders, but there was no middle name available. Estimated worth of her company and headquarters was also there. But details of her past were more difficult. Personnel records were damaged during the war and her background had been lost. Government records like taxes, crime files, and military service were restricted despite my UAA authority. The same was true of her company's records. As a final resort, I checked into anyone named Taylor. The list was too long for me to check without Eliza waking up so I had the computer scan every Taylor's relatives listing for Rillia. No such luck, every Taylor was checked and no one had a daughter, niece, mother, sister, cousin, ect named Rillia. How frustrating. I did learn that the number she gave me was to her cellular phone, not a business or home number. As long as she had that phone, anyone with this number could reach her anywhere on the planet. She must really think highly of me. Or I did until I realized that she could easily change the number or get a new phone. But that wasn't too likely in the next few days.

On a whim I checked my own file. Much of the stuff was listed as unknown. But I found that I had a personal phone number. It was blank for a second, but then a number filled the void. Was the military able to learn about my purchase and update its files so quickly? Well this WAS a military base and I did pay for the computer with a military card. One thing I felt I had to do was get a new card, one someone cannot trace. Getting the big score and retiring after Overwatch is no longer needed by Algol would be easier if they couldn't poke around in my personal finances.

I could quit, but that was out of the question. Once a fixer gives his word, we are compelled to keep it. Rimfire was still the best place for me. I couldn't leave my new friends. Besides, where would I go? It was due to one of our missions that got me all this cash in the first place! Staying would suit both their and my own purposes. Betrayal is the absolute worst thing right now and I banished the thought from my mind. I tried to relax. My turn in induced sleep came first and I was feeling ready for some more sex with Eliza, but she was asleep. The time was spent pondering my activities for the next few days. Our appointment with Yrmi was top priority. Followed by seeing Dr.Tal. Finding a way to counteract Dorian's anti-machine power would be nice also. Maybe a low powered radio would help. I rolled the idea around in my mind. A radio which sends a continuous signal, weak enough not to be noticed by normal scanners, but a specialized one could receive and track its location. A computer would always monitor it and when the signal ended, like by a mental ability, would alert the controller. A weak signal would make the power source last a long time. This just might work.

Just then Eliza began to stir, the timer on the inducer when off. I gave her something to drink. She was amazed about how well it worked. "Last I remember, I turned it on and now I feel well rested. Come here you."

We continued what we were doing earlier well into morning with only an occasional break for rest. While I was in the shower I heard the phone ring. Eliza was talking to someone. I couldn't make it out. She hung up and I heard her walk into the cramped bathroom and wrap on the shower door. I turned off the water to hear what she had to say. Eliza showered first and was already dressed. She held my cleaned clothes in hand and wore a grim look on her face. "Marci's dead." she said simply.