A few hours later Grif's arm was completely healed—it wasn't even sore, a far cry from the mostly useless thing he'd been dragging about the last time it was taken out of the machine. Aside from discovering his bill was paid in full, he and Amys learned the Baron had also arranged for transportation to take them back to the Fool's Errand: a high-end transport, the height of comfort in Tyrelos Station. Completely separated from their driver, they had absolute privacy.
For half the trip they said nothing, each staring out their own windows. Finally Grif sighed, shook his head, and looked at Amys ruefully.
"I'm an idiot."
"Not usually," Amys said. "Which is why it's so goddamn frustrating when you are."
"I'm just not sure what happened," Grif said.
Amys snorted in disgust. "You were showing off in front of a pretty girl. Only she wasn't a girl, she was the Baron of Tyrelos Industries. What the hell is wrong with you?"
"I…hell, I don't know, Amys." Grif shrugged defensively. "There's a part of my brain that tells me I need to shut up, and there's another part of my brain that pantses the first part, then goes on to get me in trouble while the first part is getting itself all sorted out."
Amys sighed, and stared out the window again.
"Besides," Grif added, face breaking into a grin, "you didn't complain back when I was showing off for you."
Amys smiled slightly. "Another act of idiocy on your part."
"Without question," Grif agreed solemnly. "Worst decision I ever made."
Amys barked a laugh and elbowed him in the arm. Grif grunted good-naturedly.
"The fact that you're charming doesn't change the fact that you screwed up," Amys said.
"Yeah..." Grif admitted. "Well, let's review. The Throne hates us… wants to arrest all of us and apparently kill me. The Alliance is sending us on a suicide mission. And now the weakest of the Trade Baronies, caught in the middle of a coup, is trying to force me to be their spokesman for the Independents Tourism Board."
"That sums it up," Amys said.
"On the other hand," Grif said, "Baron Tyrelos is stunningly attractive."
Amys shot him a look.
"Well did you see her?" Grif asked. "I mean, up close. You saw her, right?"
Amys narrowed her eyes. "You're baiting me."
"Nevermind," Grif said. "It's not as much fun when you figure it out."
The second city raced below them, gradually changing from the gleaming, well-to-do neighborhoods to the industrial districts. They were getting to close to the transport hub that connected to Dock 78.
"It could work. I think." Amys sounded reluctant. "Her idea."
Grif looked at Amys curiously. "Making Tyrelos the new home for the Independents? You didn't sound convinced back in the hospital."
"I wasn't," Amys said. "I'm still not. I said it could work, but I'm not sure if she'd be willing to do what it would take."
"What would it take?"
"She'd have to improve her shipyards," Amys said. "Drastically, and quickly. And it'd have to be on one of the planets. Tyrelos Station is too difficult to get to."
"It's not so bad," Grif countered. "We'd never have any troubles if I didn't insist on going in so fast all the time. And I don't think there are many independent ships as big as the Fool's Errand."
"Tyrelos Station isn't big enough," Amys said. "It's huge, but it's not large enough to handle the bulk of the independents, assuming they decided to come. It's already pretty full…"
"Fair point," Grif said. "It's harder to expand an artificial dwelling floating in space in the middle of a proto-ring than it is to expand an artificial dwelling sitting on solid ground. So it'd have to be one of the planets."
"Moji," Amys said. "Selur's atmosphere is too corrosive for a shipyard of any decent size."
Grif laughed. "Yes, Moji would be quite the hot spot for independents. 'Gimmie the respirator, Cyrus, I have a yen to see the moons rise over the lovely billowing chlorine clouds!'"
Amys smiled slightly. "I seem to remember you didn't mind that much."
Grif smirked. "Entirely different circumstances. And I wasn't paying much attention to the moons or the clouds—though I did feel like I needed that respirator once or twice."
Amys laughed. "You bastard."
"I am at that. So who's next in your sights? It's Bennet, isn't it?"
Amys wrinkled her nose. "Hardly."
"But he seems so dreamy..."
Amys shook her head, grinning. "Quiet, you. And he did agree to keep quiet about your... er... moment of honesty."
"Remind me to avoid honesty in the future. Bad decision on my part. But yes, that goes a long way toward lessening my general desire to kill him."
"Do you really have a plan?" Amys asked, trying not to sound anxious. "I mean, you're not kidding about that, or stalling for time, are you?"
"No," Grif said. "I swear, Amys—it all fell into my lap in the hangar back there. It's risky, but it can actually work."
Grif shook his head. "Not yet," he said. "We need to get back to the ship and I need to make a call or two. Gotta track someone down before I know if we can even try it."
"Oh," Amys said. "One of those plans..."
Grif sighed. "You have no idea..."
The return was uneventful. Morgan, Cyrus, Ktk, Cutter, Hari, Vod and Gurgan were all very happy and relieved to see Grif and Amys, as was Bennet, though in a reserved way. Velis appeared briefly, scowled, and returned to her quarters.
The welcoming committee was threatening to turn into a welcoming party, but Grif regretfully derailed it. "I've got to take care of some things," he said, ignoring the protests of his crew. "I've got people to call, and I've got to pull an astoundingly brilliant miracle out of thin air."
"Or somewhere else," Amys muttered, causing Cyrus to burst out laughing.
"Hold on a sec, Grif," Cyrus said before Grif could leave. "You need to tell us, since none of us have ever been in a MediCorp building before—what's it like? Are the walls paved with gold? Is it more of a hospital or more of a spa?"
"It's fascinating," Grif said. "And by fascinating, I mean 'isn't it fascinating how little I want to go back?' Now if anyone needs me, I'll be in my cabin."
The Captain's Cabin of the Fool's Errand was spacious. It consisted of five rooms: a medium-sized living area, a bathroom and shower, a small kitchen area, a medium-sized bedroom, and a private office. Some might have called such extensive quarters "extravagant," and for starship quarters it was, but it was Grif's home. It was the only home he'd ever needed, and he rarely took lodgings planetside. The quarters were meticulously clean and free of clutter, a result of years of traveling in zero gravity. The living area had an entertainment terminal that included a holographic projector, and the office had both a terminal wired to the rest of the ship and a computer that could interface with the ship but also had its own private storage.
Grif stepped into the cabin and sighed in relief: it felt good to be home. He tugged off the clothes the hospital had given him, took a quick shower—sonic, he was too practical to store water on a ship solely for the purpose of bathing—and changed out of the hospital-donated attire into his own clothes. He felt much better.
He wandered into his office and sat at his desk, activating the terminal with a wave of his hand. He patched into the communication system, and sent a message to the Captain of the Grlashimargrak.
"N'grash, hey, it's Grif—just wanted to let you know I'm still alive. From what I can gather, I have you to thank for a great deal of that. I owe you one—again—just let me know when you need to collect. Vindh out."
A moment later, something occurred to Grif that prompted him to send N'grash another message:
"N'grash, Grif again... it just occurred to me that if you hadn't told the Baron what I told you I wouldn't have been put in this mess to begin with. What the hell is that all about, anyway? I don't recommend working for the government... seriously. I really don't. Anyway, I still owe you one, but for the record? It's a much smaller one. Vindh out."
That done, Grif patched into the city communications grid and called up directory services.
"You have reached Tyrelos Station Directory Services," a pleasantly artificial voice said.
"Ebur Tosk," he said. "He's in my short list."
"Please hold while we connect you to Ebur Tosk."
Grif drummed his fingers on his desk as the terminal screen displayed the word "STANDBY" in front of a blue test pattern. Finally, the terminal beeped, and the screen switched to show a thin man with wispy red hair peering out from the monitor.
"Ebur!" Grif grinned at the terminal screen. "It's Grif."
"Grif?" The man peered back, squinting. "Hold on a moment, there's something wrong with my display..." The man turned away, fiddling with some controls, and then smacked the monitor in frustration. "OK, that's better. Oh, Grif! Hell, funny you should call. I just saw you on the news. Something about you shooting up a hospital?"
"Yeah... well, it's been an interesting few days," Grif said. "Look, I need to get to the point—you still hiring out?"
Ebur nodded. "Not as often, but yeah, if the price is right. Why? You looking to hire?"
"Yes," Grif said. "And it's incredibly inconvenient and dangerous, so it will most likely pay quite well."
A mixture of annoyance, intrigue and dread flitted across Ebur's face. "Could you, uh, be a little more specific about that?"
"All right," Grif said. "First, the job is in Throne space..."
Ebur didn't look happy about that. "You're going to put me in a crate, aren't you?"
"Well, a cylinder... but yes, same idea. Also, the job is... tricky. So I'm estimating we'll need to use you for a month."
Ebur looked even less thrilled. "A month? Are you serious? And how are you going to, you know..."
"Ktk," Grif said. "With the stick."
Ebur sighed. "This is going to cost you an arm and a leg."
"Hey, after this, I can practically guarantee you'll be able to retire in style."
There was a long silence. "One month, eh? What the hell are we doing, exactly?"
Grif grinned. "We're doing the impossible, Ebur. And if we succeed, the Throne is going to look pretty damned stupid."
"That's a nice thought," Ebur said. "Well, all right, but I'm serious—it's still going to cost you. A lot."
"Name a price, Ebur."
The red-haired man thought. "Two million standard."
"Uh... wow, that's not just an arm and a leg, Ebur. It's at least two arms, a leg and I think what's left of my liver."
Ebur smirked. "No great loss there. Look, Grif, this sounds like a big deal, and you know what those damn drugs do to me."
"OK, OK," Grif said, "tell you what. I'll float it by the lady footing the bill and I'll get back to you. Don't go anywhere, I'll get back to you in six hours or so."
Ebur nodded. "All right, Grif. I'll wait."
The screen went dark. Grif turned off the terminal feed, then punched into the intercom. "If Velis Enge and Bennet Jax would be so kind as to meet the Captain in the conference room in one hour. Thank you very much."
The intercom came to life again, and Velis' voice came through clear and sharp. "What the hell is this about, Grif?"
"It's about how we're going to get you that little trinket sitting in Ur Voys," Grif said. "One hour, please."
With that, Grif got up and wandered over to his kitchen, where he poured himself a stiff drink.