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The Music Changes,
    The Dance Goes On


Equus World map     After their visit to the Order's facilities on-station, the knights returned to the Hotel California while Munarshu worked on ship's maintenance.  Munarshu watched the clock as it closed on their intended lift time while he worked.  Finally, because he'd stayed up later than he wanted the night before, Munarshu called Mikah to ask permission to fire up the ship's reactor so he could relax?  Mikah reminded him that task, along with a number of other things he'd asked for, was the role of the Chief Engineer, Eikusdi. ( Note: Munarshu knew Aali as Dame Eikusdi, using her "official public" or business name.  He was aware of her nickname but didn't use it or the more correct personal name: Aalikiir. )  Ordered off that task, Munarshu saw he could take a break in his engineering work.  He didn't want to rack out yet, to keep an active security presence.  So Munarshu worked on one of the droid' subsystems as he waited.

When he got back to the ship, Aiden hit a data terminal in the lounge and logged into the auctions he was running for his High Passages.  He was disappointed when he saw both auctions were hovering around KCr 6.  He'd made a good bit more on the last passage he'd sold in-system.  But he was out of time so he reached out to the high bidders in each auction and closed the deals.  This still made him a cool Cr 12,000 for free.  Knowing they planned to leave port the next day by noon, Aiden read for a half hour before setting an alarm and going to sleep.

Getting back, Aali continued her pre-launch engineering checks before bed.  Emkir, having given up worrying about his losses with the AI, hit his notes on the various translations pieces he had.  Without the book from Sir Brian's collection, Emkir set about summarizing his work and consolidating his data.  He also consolidated his other work as Emkir checked to make sure he had copies of everything he could get from the local system.  This included some last-minute requests sent people or lists he'd worked with for files or discussion digests.  In engineering, Aali finished the prep-work and sparked up the ship's reactor.  Before sleep, she spent the last part of her night riding the reactor to confirm stabilization.  They eventually racked out to be ready for the launch the next day.

Mikah and Zimzod both secured their stashes of coffee as soon as they got back.  After that, she checked with the status of all aboard and saw the loose ends were being tied up by her crew.  So Mikah settled down to check the news until she planned to sleep, around 11pm.  Zimzod decided to slip close to Mikah and attempt to lure her into the stateroom and further erode her morals.  As she watched and did her best to withstand Zimzod's affections, Mikah was happy to see any news about her crew had slipped from the front lines, fading to the actual news.  The local news stories were the main start, events happening on a station the size of a megaCity with the backdrop of all events on the world of Rhylanor.  These were overshadowed by stories surrounding the Arch Duke's work, preparations for Duchess Muktheswara to return to the Glisten system.  One story which was starting to settle was the on-going concern for system security.

Having flared up most recently, due to the attack made by the ramshackle fleet, there were a number of recent events that heated the issue up again.  As Mikah and Zimzod listened, reviews touched on the events including the battle with ramshackle fleet and the attack on the Selat Atrara salvage station.  Mikah was happy mentions of those stories largely included ship names.  So while the Hotel California was described as 'damaged and later repaired' in the attack, they were aboard the INS Sable Addix.  So the mention didn't directly relate to the crew in the memory of the average viewer.  Significant progress had been made as the Duke and system authorities worked to calm the population.

The few civilian losses, mostly related to the attack on the Selat Atrara station, were also fading into the background as moves were being made to show how security was being enhanced.  One step along that trail had even been a success by the Duke in changing the budget to build a ten new defense ships using the latest technology.  The cost of the new demi-squadron would be partly offset by the sale of a number of lower-tech warships to other systems.[ Read: the last of the TL 13 and some TL 14 ships ].  This would not only enhance the security of the local system, but augment the forces of those systems attackers would need to pass through to strike at the Rhylanor system.  Despite the cutbacks in civilian-sector spending, the measure was being met with a high level of citizen approval.

After the local stories were done, the news delved into interstellar news.  That started with an update from the Mora system,and general news from that system.  Those including updates and announcements from the Grand Duchess' court on the running of the sector and Mikah noticed one story more personally:

    Mora ( AA99AC7-F 2 Hi In Green A1 II M5 V )                                                 Date: 280-1112
    Spokesperson Commander Shash Ukhanuu Dirshi pronounced that the
    Empress Marava class far trader IMS Kard Damasc, personal yacht of
    Katherine, Lady hault-Evers, has been officially declared "Missing and
    Lost with all personnel".  The Commander continued to state that all
    searches except some on-going efforts by the IISS were being called
    off.  Commander Dirshi reminded those at the briefing that the IISS
    has a constant on-going program, through its exploration branch, to
    search for lost vessels recent and ancient.  This program both offers
    the chance to resolve such disappearances and also provides deep
    space exploration training to Scout crews.

    In addition to Lady Katherine and her crew, those known to have been
    aboard were several invited passengers including Imperial Navy Captain
    Mevers, currently on leave.  It was also believed Lady Kiaru Dandiiaand
    and Lord Guergnudzi Unidt were also aboard.

    Lady Kiaru was a member of the Grand Duchess' inner circle and had
    immigrated to the Spinward Marches with Duchess Delphine.  In addition,
    she was a member of the Mora Subsector Population Management Council.
    As part of that organization, her work influenced the Imperial Ministry of
    Colonization in the Spinward Marches.  Grand Duchess Delphine, currently
    in-system, has not released a comment on this issue.

    Lord Guergnudzi, a Vargr from the Dinomn system, was a known explorer
    and adventurer.  While it was not expected he was in the service of either
    Ladies Kiaru or Katherine, there was no data made public of a project the
    three were working on at the time of their disappearance.  What is known
    is that the IMS Kard Damasc was last known to have departed
    the Porozlo system on 064-1112.  Ironically, that was shortly after Lady
    Dame Mikah's crew left the same system aboard the detached Suleiman
    class scout ship Dawnstar Horizon.  To add irony, that crew left Porozlo
    with no filed destination and apparently embarked on a cross sector run
    which eventually brought them to the Rech system.  There they joined a
    flotilla engaging pirates with Imperial Navy ships.

    In that battle, the ISS Dawnstar Horizon was destroyed, which is a story
    much different than their recent actions against the ragtag Sword World
    fleet of so called Baron von Kreden.  They eventually arrived in the Regina
    system before returning to the Rhylanor subsector.

    When reached for comment, the Baron Maunder, Lady Katherine's father
    had no comment on those measures the family had been, and planned to
    take.  There was also no comment on what Lady Katherine and her crew
    were embarked on.  The Baron is noted as a leading electronics industrialist
    in the Mora system.                            

Not pleased with the added commentary on a chapter of history she wanted to see buried, Mikah couldn't help snickering at the loss of Katherine and her lot.

    Inthe ( B575776-9 2 Green Ag 723 F8 V )                                                       Date: 296-1112
    The office of the Marquis of Inthe stated enhanced security measures
    in-system would be scaled back as conditions improved in that system.
    Issues with weapons and contraband smuggling were much reduced
    thanks to data turned up by multiple lines of investigation including
    the crew of the IMS Pilot Error [ Reader's note, the IMS Pilot Error was
    later renamed the IMS Hotel California and is the ship of Lady Dame
    Mikah and her crew of Imperial Knights ] Thanks to the activities of
    specialists such as Lady Mikah and her crew, we developed the data
    needed to break the back of smuggling in-system.

    As well as reduction of smuggling activities, the data did provide law
    enforcement opportunities to smash several large and nearly pervasive
    Vargr gangs operating in the city of New Port Dunslade, home of the
    worlds primary downport.  The city's new Chief of Police, Wyss has
    commented on the number of arrests made so far.  The numbers are
    so significant Chief Wyss and the city's Mayor have petitioned the
    Marquis' office for help in shipping the criminals to an Imperial penal
    facility off-world.                            

Still licking her perceived wounds about being ordered out of Rhylanor, Mikah muttered to herself about at least getting some respect for her actions.  She was less pleased about the following commentary, which speculated on the unrest which followed the crew from system to system.  She was even less pleased when the commentary turned to Sir Rol's arrival in-system and accusations of war crimes charges.  When that moved on, Mikah was pleased to see the news turn to compliment another of her activities.

    Risek ( A325579-A N Green NI 501 M5 V M3 D )                                            Date: 302-1112
    Reports from the Risek system interdiction fleet indicate the nation of
    Podesti continues its recovery.  The response from both the offices of
    the Duke and Arch-Duke were that both men, and Grand Duchess
    Delphine, currently in-system, were pleased with the progress made.
    The commanding doctor of the relief support vessel INS Midiixa has
    reported the plague outbreak has been well managed thanks to the cure                      

Despite the mention of her work, Mikah was disappointed at it being relegated to a footnote.  She was even more disgusted as the report further and repeatedly pounded in the "fact" the outbreak had been a natural medical disaster and not an act of terror.

    Regina ( A788899-C A Ca 703 Im F7V M6V M8D )                                         Date: 261-1112
    In a brief dispatch from the Regina system, a spokesman from the
    office of Lord Branj Dilgaadin, His Grace's Seneschal, announced Sir
    Jeremy Lewis had been detained in the Lewis system by the personal
    Concierge of the Tukera family.  The announcement specified this
    "gift" had been provided to the Lady Seldrian Aledon on her request,
    and in honor of the elevation of her father.

    Lord Dilgaadin's statement included that Lord Jeremy was being
    transported to the Regina system for an inquiry into his portrayal
    of Imperial actions during the Fifth Frontier War.                      

When they announced the pending inquiry, Terin joked, "I guess someone didn't like his book, huh?" and Emkir answered, "The entire Admiralty didn't like it."  As Emkir was an Admiral, his rank lent weight to his disapproval.  As the next story faded into a more current report on the Ardella Mestler situation.  Mikah called out, "Hey, you guys better listen to this!" as all those with cloning insurance had a stake in legal decisions on clone's rights.

    Iderati ( A887798-C 201 M9V )                                                                       Date: 254-1112
    An official declaration from Admiral Lord Gustav Elphinstone accepted
    the determination the person represented as Ardella Mestler was the
    authentic clone of the singer.  Predicated on that data, the Admiral,
    holding the de facto rank of Duke of the Five Sisters Subsector, has
    ordered all the rights and prerogatives of the cloned Mrs. Mestler be
    awarded her and protected under the full force of Imperial Law.

    Additionally, charges had been announced against various members
    of Mrs. Mestler's family.  These charges range from misuse of assets
    to outright theft and conspiracy to commit crimes.  Details on the
    accusations provided a list of prosecutions for which various family
    members and advisors would eventually stand trial.

    Continued discussion of the action covered the reactions in various
    systems as news spread. As the Admiral's decisions in Iderati were
    reported in the context of positions made by their Collective Graces
    Muktheswara, Leonard, Delphine and Norris.  In those systems, much
    was made of where the various positions met and where they might
    differ, as well as the ramifications for those differences.                      

This led to a chat on the power and prerogative of the nobility by the commenters.  During the report, it was often pointed out that the Admiral, as an acting Duke, was handling his role much as then Duke Norris had during the Fifth Frontier War.  In addition to other noted nobles who had acted in the past, for the good of the Imperium.  Some other commenters even mistakenly included the crew of the Hotel California, based on their action in the battle with von Kreden's ships.  Where that happened, it was as often corrected though the knights were credited for their courage and actions.  In the end, such segments often became unintentional PSA's for the positive force of the Nobility within the Imperium.

    Glisten ( A000986-F A Hi Na In As Cp 821 Im K9 V )                                     Date: 240-1112
    The Choir of Pavabid have begun performances in the subsector
    capital to the disappointment of not performing for Duchess
    Muktheswara.  While it was reported the performances were
    well attended, there are also significant protests against the
    Pavabid system's perceived enslavement of its population.
    Despite the protests, the performances have received generally
    positive reviews.  Per the experts, the suggested class of music
    can be comfortably referred to as evangelical or gospel.                      

Additional details covered security details, some of which hinged on the advantages of systems like Glisten, where all habitations existed within purpose-built archologies, ships or hollowed out asteroids.  In those situations, authorities could use the shape and size of venues to control threats as well as deployed forces and countermeasures.

    Mire ( A665A95-B M Hi * 110 Da M6 V )                                                          Date: 226-1112
    Reports continued to arrive from forward command and reintegration
    of the Entropic worlds.  As Darrian government and civilian organizations
    carried out on-going identification and reconstruction of destroyed
    infrastructure and facilities, documentation of the atrocities blamed
    on Sword Worlds forces rose.  Despite denials from governments of some
    Sword Worlds systems, the Darrian government are literally pouring out
    video and electronic evidence of the near-cataclysmic destruction carried
    out in those systems.

    Most loudly, the government of the Gram system claimed most of the
    displayed damage could be tied directly to damage caused when
    Darrian military forces conquered the systems, which were by
    right Sword Worlds territory.  Ambassadorial staff from Gram
    often came loaded with their own evidence of actions taken by the
    Mire government of the Darrians, creating guerrilla-level terror
    units before the war.  They claimed these led to some of the most
    devastating ground actions blamed on Sword Worlds ground forces.

    Despite the relationships between the Imperial government and both
    the Sword Worlds and Darrian governments, Arch Duke Norris and
    Grand Duchess Delphine have both committed to working out a position
    which they hope will help prevent more conflict in the sector.  They
    hope to work with the Imperial Sector government to both develop
    this position and recommend it to Emperor Strephon.                      

As the crew followed the story, the reading they got between the lines suggested an unspoken issue was rising.  Biologic Darrians who were raised under the Sword Worlds were discussed a number of times, and always in a positive light.  However, it was becoming clear that what wasn't said suggested to those who listened that there might be nascent insurgent movements.  This was possibility yet another factor to plug into possible visits to the Confederation.

    Mire ( A665A95-B M Hi * 110 Da M6 V )                                                          Date: 226-1112
    Per authorities in the Darrian Capitol of Mire, continued instability in
    the Nonym system has been reduced as changes in that system's
    government take hold.  The new political coalition has welcomed the
    income and stability a Darrian naval base has brought to the system.
    As a result, they have settled into negotiations over settling the sale
    of the territory, permanently, to the Confederation and officially sued
    for membership in the Confederation.

    Imperial diplomats and the offices of the Arch Duke have not spoken
    to this development stating this is an internal matter for the Darrians
    to iron out.  This despite attempts by the previous government of
    Nonym to remove the Darrian base.  Those attempts ended when the
    Darrian Navy moved a squadron of vessels attached to their "Special
    Branch" into the system.  The reaction caused by that move sent a
    wave of panic through the population.  Soon, the populace removed
    the former government and put in place the current Darrian-Friendly
    regime.                      

There was little to say to that news, as all the members of the crew had heard at least rumors of the Darrian Special Branch and their Star Trigger technology.  A technological power of a bygone era, the Darrians nearly destroyed themselves when they triggered massive stellar flares in their home sun.  These sent waves of radiation out to devastate electronics and technology for parsecs in every direction, nearly wiping out the center of their young empire.  Still, Zimzod said that the Darrians wouldn't trigger Nonym's home star, as the ten-parsec sphere of devastation that would cause would swallow all the remaining Darrian systems and much of the Sword Worlds Confederation.

    Regina ( A788899-C A Ca 703 Im F7V M6V M8D )                                         Date: 261-1112
    Lieutenant Commander Mazar Sirkh Khiir, Spokesperson for the Regina Naval
    Command, presented data on the arrest of three merchant crews suspected
    of planning to assist the "Payan Network on Regina" and its leader, Gelamid
    Mome, in preparing a covert landing on the Paya mainworld.  While the data
    presented did not succeed in implicating Mome or any of his senior leaders,
    there was enough evidence to hold the movement leaders for questioning.
    While the movement's leadership have not yet been fully released to return
    to their activities, the Admiralty have made it clear they cannot be held for
    crimes without the needed evidence. Most significant of the public comments
    attributed to Mr. Mome include the threat to hire mercenaries to retake their
    homeworld by force.

    The masters and crews of the IMS Sonne, IMS Infineon and IMS Diirnir Daalam
    have been detained.  Additionally, contraband found aboard the Diirnir Daalam,
    flying under a Mongo (Jewell) registry, led authorities to secure the vessel for
    auction.  The Admiralty have remained quiet on the potential fate of the other
    two vessels.  The Commander also commented on several other unidentified
    vessels under investigation.  No comment was available when it was asked if
    a date had been set for the sale of the Far Trader IMS Diirnir Daalam nor did
    he describe the nature of the "contraband" found aboard that vessel.

    Scattered across six systems, there are believed to be tens of thousands of
    refugees hoping to return to their homeworld.  These are those who fled the
    system in 1075, before the mainworld was directly struck by a comet.  With
    growing families, the refugees have been refused re-entry by the new
    government of the Paya system, formed by "The Faithful", who remained in
    the face of the comet and survived.  As those in the Paya system became
    wealthy on Imperial spending to rebuild the system, officials of the Imperial
    Navy are walking softly given the results of an earlier incident.

    When Fleet Admiral Sir Iishima Sarla Kegush had commented they could
    use more of the refugees to increase labor pools and get work done.  The
    result of that slip to the media was an enforced six months of restrictions
    limiting Imperial access to the system's resources, including its surviving
    lanthanum deposits.  Imperial authorities are in lock step, supporting the
    hope they can find a non-violent method of resolving the refugee issue.
    His Grace Norris has, according to his offices in Rhylanor no comment
    while he studies this latest unfortunate event.                      

        Regina ( A788899-C A Ca 703 Im F7V M6V M8D )                                     Date: 261-1112
    News sources in the Arden system have said their borders continue to
    firm up as the Federation government works to stabilize their new ties
    with the Zenopit system.  While experts still can't explain what either
    system will gain by the move, it cannot be denied they see some kind
    of gain.  Lord Admiral Sir Sergu Khikum, when asked, admitted that
    there is a diplomatic stage for the nascent Federation.  The Admiral was
    quoted as saying, "Since the Esalin experiment has obviously failed,
    the Capitol of the Federation can serve very well as a neutral place for
    Imperial and Zhodani diplomats to meet and continue post-war
    negotiations."

    Esalin had been the one system experiment where the mainworld had
    been evenly divided between Imperial and Zhodani settlers.  Since the
    entry of Imperial forces into the system at the end of the Fifth Frontier
    War, the Zhodani population have been a captive population.  With the
    decision to annex the system, the Zhodani have been ordered to choose
    between Imperial Citizenship or transport to a Zhodani system to
    return to the Consulate.  While the Consulate has protested this treatment
    of their citizens, they have no leverage.

    In the same vein, while protests in-system are many, they are small in
    number and under the massive watch of significant Imperial ground
    forces.  With additional limits in legal crowd size and protest lengths,
    the Zhodani are reminded the Imperium is a Feudal society, where the
    populace serve the good of all as determined by the Nobility and those
    authorities appointed to the Emperor's government.  As quipped by one
    un-named protester, "One can await export in one's home or in a prison
    cell.  This is the only choice left us except for those few who also choose
    how to die." While this reporter did try to learn more from the protester,
    he was quickly arrested for spreading sedition and this reporter warned
    against allowing the improper and even illegal use of the media.                      

Finally, as the major interstellar stories died down, Mikah surrendered to Zimzod's desires as the couple slipped into Zimzod's stateroom.  Still, they did have to launch the next day so she set the clock for an early wake up.

Knowledge For Others

     Once he returned to the ship, Rol headed for his stateroom.  Behind a closed door, Rol comm'd port central offices to receive a civil, if cool, greeting.  Still, this was an official channel, and Rol was asked what he needed?  Rol asked if he could get copies of the security video feed covering the ship's berth for the previous 24 hours?  That got the tech's attention as the request was irregular, at best.  Into the pause, Rol said, "I'm in the middle of an investigation", and he identified himself as the ship's security officer.  After checking the records filed by the ship on arrival to confirm Rol was listed as the California's security officer, the tech played it by the rules and told Rol they had to have a request from the ship's Captain to provide the video.

Thanking the man, but disappointed as he'd wanted to keep this personal, Rol signed off the comms and went back to the lounge.  There, he found Mikah watching coverage of local news before the interstellar stories while Zimzod pawed at her and pulled on her clothes in suggestive ways.  As he approached, Rol said, "Sorry to interrupt you guys.  It's clear you're very busy right now with important matters, but, ah...  I need a little bit of help here."  Looking at Mikah, he continued, "I'm trying to find out something and I need you to authorize something".  When Mikah asked, "What?" Rol said he was looking to get access to the berth's security cameras.  When Mikah asked "Why?" Rol said, "Keeping a promise to a friend."  In the pause that followed, Rol asked, "You wouldn't mind if I looked at the security feed would you?"  Mikah said "I wouldn't mind.  But I'm not authorizing it." in clipped tones.

When Rol asked, "Why not?", Mikah said, "We have to leave tomorrow.  I don't have time for this."  When Rol said it would only take five minutes, she said she'd bet it would take longer than that.  To add emphasis, Mikah gestured towards engineering and said, "Ask Mr. 'I'll only be gone for a few hours' about that." in a reference to Munarshu's apparent temporal delusions.  When Rol said he had everything set except her authorization, she cut him short and refused.  Considering his next steps, he accepted her decision and said, "Sorry to bother you."  Rol returned to his stateroom with an idea sparked by the droning news from the screen.  Again behind closed doors, Rol considered the news teams outside the berth and those outlets he was familiar with.  Coming to a decision, Rol sparked up his comms and called the news desk of an outlet he'd done business with before.  TAS.

Once the call was connected, Rol introduced himself to the sudden hushed and excited demands of the person on the far end, to shut people up because he had Sir Rol Kaihvos on the line!  Despite putting his hand over his mic, Rol could hear the desk editor's near-squeaking demands to shut the room behind him up as he also tried to listen to Rol.  Once he had the man's undivided attention, and was asked how they could help him, Rol asked to speak to someone in the media archives department?  The response of "Umm, what?" played first across the editor's face before he organized his thoughts enough to ask the question out loud, in obvious confusion.  Finally getting his brain in gear, the man said, "Well, this is the news department M'Lord.  How can we help you?  Is there anything you're calling to report as news?  Anything aboard the ship we could help you cover?"  Waiting for the excited man to run low on steam, Rol finally said, "I'm doing something of a personal project and I was wondering if you've been covering our berth for the last day or two?"

Trying to think faster than speak, and hopefully figure out where Sir Rol was going before they got there, the editor delayed.  "Well, as I am sure your Lordship is aware, there is generally a crew covering your berth twenty-four-seven."  Still, that didn't get him anywhere closer to where the knight might be going or how to profit from it?  Continuing, he said, "This generally provides wall to wall coverage of the activities of your crew."  That snapped into place!  There had to be something someone had done in the berth in the last day!  Picking up on the editor's comments, Rol conversationally said, "I kind of thought that was the case.  I just wanted to make sure of that."  After a very brief pause, Rol asked, "Would you have a problem if I could borrow, or have access to, some of that footage for the last twenty-four hours?"  That confirmed the knight was onto something, and meant the editor needed to either find it first, before it could be covered up, or get it to his boss to air while it might still gain TAS some viewers.

Trying to get Rol to lead him right to the treasure, the editor asked, "Could you be more specific, Your Lordship?"  Not caring what TAS got out of it, Rol answered, "Yes, our crew had a bit of a party last night."  And as he paused to frame his request, the editor realized the party could mean sex, anger, intrigue!  Any number of other things those who'd reviewed the so called "dead air" somehow missed while checking it in the dead of early morning.  Perhaps they'd fallen asleep, or they just didn't understand what Sir Rol was about to teach him, so he could reap the rewards.  Rol continued, "It was sort of a pre-departure party really.  And, um, I kind of missed some parts of it.  And I'd like to get an idea what it was like from an outside point of view?"  Reading between the lines, it was obvious the knight got drunk from the reports the editor had already seen.  So he had gotten plastered before "something" happened and he wanted to catch "someone" in the act!

Now the editor only needed to know what "it" was and how much of a bonus he'd get for figuring it out and getting it on the air before anyone else?  He was typing and sending notes to his crew like a mad man as Sir Rol continued to think "he" was the clever one.  Then, as the knight paused, inspiration struck and the editor asked, "Would it be possible for me to bring a reporter down to the ship so we can sit together and piece this together..."  But Rol cut him off, saying they really didn't have time for that and he was just looking for the raw video footage at the moment.  As Rol stole from Mikah's play book, the editor tried to box the knight in saying, "Well, your Lordship.  It is fairly late, and normally we would have those people making such requests go through our footage sales..."  The editor reminded Rol that all their footage was rights-protected.

Soon, the editor asked to put Rol on hold and the knight was satisfied because the editor said he'd try to make an exception rather than having Rol call back during sales office hours.  Of course, the editor already had the footage of the party and aftermath pulled, sectioned and had people going through each section.  He imagined the glory, and profit, of asking Sir Rol if it was 'perpetrator X' he was trying to catch in the act of something embarrassing?  What might the knight spill to him in hopes of keeping this juicy bit from airing?  But after each of the bits had been gone through at least twice, all came up empty and the editor came up with a better idea.  Choosing one of the tape monkeys who did a great spoof of several of the sales people, he called the guy over and explained his evil plan.

Finally, the line came active again as Rol was greeted by the smooth and dulcet, if vox-only, sounds of a salesman's voice.  The man's over-velvet tones flowed from the comms as he asked, "Sir Kaihvos, How can we be of service today?"  Knowing he'd need a shower after the call to de-grease, Rol said, "I was calling up to see if I could possibly obtain some video footage you might have of our, ah, activities here?  Of the party we had?"  Answering in salesperson-eese, the monkey oozed, "I'm sure that shouldn't be a problem.  Could you give me some a list of times to select from?  So I could understand what footage you're looking for and get everything you need?"  That almost earned him a smack from the editor, as it cast a wide and non-specific net instead of getting the details he needed.  But all the tape monkey needed was booze money and he was the guy with the voice.

Rol said "Certainly", as he tried to recall times and realized he'd done much less research before making this call than he should have.  Recalling roughly what time the drinking started, Rol estimated he might have survived most of an hour, based on what he'd overheard.  So Rol decided to ask for time blocks from the start of the party to an hour in.  After that, the tape monkey bowed to the editor's demands and oozed, "I'm sure we can do that.  Are there any other parameters you can give me so I can have my editors filter it down and give you exactly what you're looking for?"  And for a second, as the pause played out, the TAS crew feared they'd over-played their hand.  The tape monkey had really worked the word "exactly", to make it sound as if it were a "wrapped and bow-tied gift" just waiting to be grabbed for.

Then, Rol seemed to take the bait saying, "I'm looking primarily for the activities of the crew members, as seen during that time."  And the editor raised his fists in silent triumph, having guessed where the knight wanted to go and hoping Sir Rol would now be so trusting as to spill all the details.  But he was crushed as Rol continued, "Well, I don't really want to bias the coverage.  I just want the raw video for now.  And I understand this is late.  I understand this is a bit of trouble for you, so, um, what sort of compensation can I give you for this?"  And just as fast, Sir Rol was speaking Tape Monkey language and the editor realized he'd gotten as much as he would from the knight.  Still, the tape monkey oozed out an apology that Rol would "have to pay the network its standard, going price." in a tone that said, "But wait!  There's more!" about which only a salesperson getting commission would be pleased.

Cutting the bait short, right in front of Rol's ears, he modestly claimed he was just happy to be a humble servant and was sure that Sir Rol, as a Knight of the Imperium, and a Knight of Rhylanor [laying it on reeeal thick here] would have more experience with how much to compensate a loyal servant.  "Very well," Rol started off, and the 'salesman' threw in, "especially if this is going to be either on or off the books..."  With a cringe, now he was inside the mouth of the beast and admiring its teeth, Rol said, "Well, there's no reason necessarily to make a big thing of this.  Its just a personal project."  And as he said that, the Editor nearly exploded with the realization this was something Sir Rol wanted to keep secret!!!  The bribe be damned, after the call was over he was taking that footage apart microsecond by microsecond!!

As Rol defensively asked, "There's no reason to put this on the books.  Right?" tape monkey oozed, "I should not think so." agreeably.  Rol then asked, "OK, so what's the standard going rate for this amount of footage?" and the monkey came back with the sum of Cr 10,000 without even a half second pause.  At that, the editor nearly crashed the deal as he went apoplectic at the sum!  He knew clips like this sold, at best, for Cr 1,000 unless they were really juicy.  But Sir money bags didn't even pause a breath as he came back with, "OK, how do you think Cr 12,000 would cover the..."  Rol tried to reach for an appropriate expression before he found himself professionally led, with a smooth "that will do just fine" relieving him of the need to be eloquent himself.  Grateful for having gotten what he wanted, Rol simply said, "I'll do that for you" as he drew his Ident and slipped it into the comms port.  He then asked, "May I have an account to send it to?"

Now, it was the Editor's turn to step up and whisper into the monkey's ear.  The firm had many no-name accounts to pay off informants who wanted their financial good name kept off the records.  Or who wanted to remain anonymous.  One of those was the perfect place to have Sir money bags relieve himself of their future spending cash.  And after the data was given, the money was quickly sent and confirmed.  With that, the tape monkey was back on the line to confirm with Sir Rol that his editors would have the video within the hour and only needed a server directory to send the file to?  Rol was happily able to hand over the link to his mail share on the ship's server.  The next day, the temporary computer account would be closed and the ship on its way.  After the smooth-voiced tape monkey promised to deliver the video, Rol said, "It was a pleasure doing business with you."  He then cut the call before the tape monkey cheered out, "steaks for everyone!"  The editor began transferring the funds out of the TAS account.  And as the tape monkey ordered dinner and the editor began ripping the file apart to search, Rol smiled to himself as he waited for his video without a clue how much money some basic research might have saved him.

Plans And Surprises

     When Terin got back to the ship, and as Mikah sparked up the news, he made sure they planned to lift from the port around noon the next day.  Having that, he began digging for nav-data and started making some advanced plots for the planned jump.  He worked with the desire to visit one of the gas giants to refuel.  But as he pulled up the base specs on the system, Terin was surprised to find the system's two gas giants were in two of the inner most orbits!  The inner-most orbit was a planetoid belt where an early planet had been torn apart by the gravitational stresses so close the star and two near-orbit giant planets.  The next two orbits, both well within the jump shadow of the star, held the system's gas giants.  The first orbit clear of the star's jump shadow was the fourth orbit(including orbit 0) and that was where the mainworld orbited.  Based on his early math, the best they could hope for would be to arrive in-system and then cruise just under 5.25 days before getting to the closest gas giant.  And only after spending nearly a week getting there could they start scooping and refining.

Looking to mitigate things, Terin checked the preferred gas giant and saw there were five moons.  That was promising if he wanted to try and plot a pirate point.  Of course, while that would save them time and fuel, a pirate arrival would draw the attention of patrols specifically looking for that sort of tactic from criminals.  Once he was more sure his general models were correct enough, Terin called Mikah from his bridge station and explained the travel times, fuel and food costs to her.  Mikah realized the situation and decided they would jump into the mainworld's orbit to dock at the station and buy food.  After that, they'd cruise to the gas giant to refuel before leaving the system.  When Terin asked, Mikah approved his idea to plot an outbound pirate point, as that would draw much less chance of friendly fire.

As he dug into the plotting, Terin posted the common data he found on the system to some of the ship's terminals so people could check that out:

      Equus:
         Living in space or deep under sea requires a lot of technology.
         The nearly 300 million citizens of Equus mostly live in seabed cities reached
         by submarine, or are members of the Dolphin community.  Industries on-world
         include mining, fish farming and harvesting spices and minerals from the
         oceans of Equus for export.
         The off-world economy includes support for the trade passing through the
         system to and from most of the spinward sections of the sector.  With a major
         highport in orbit of the main-world, one can expect large "vessel service" class
         craft plus mobile stations in orbit of the system's two gas giants.

         Corporations found in the orbital and interstellar regions of the system include
         Al Morai and LSP.  Seafood export and even deep-sea tourism firms are also
         pervasive in-system.

         The government, a Feudal Technocracy is more an assembly of competing
         factions working to raise and support the tech needed for the underwater and
         orbital archologies, ocean harvesting and mining industries and all the facets
         of undersea and orbital life.  The government rose from the need to do anything
         to increase efficiency while also raising the money to not only maintain what
         they had but buy more.  Both for growth and replacement.

         The system's military forces include both an on-world cavalry battalion
         (submersible grav-AFV's) and space forces including 12 system defense
         squadrons, the forces of the local IISS base and the "Equus Squadron", a
         TL E force of warships assigned to the 18th Imperial Fleet.  While that
         fleet is assigned operations in a different subsector, the planetary squadron
         can be called up by the Fleet Admiral in time of need.

When Terin checked policies, he saw scooping fuel from the oceans was allowed by permission from the world government only.  Nearing eleven at night, Terin was just getting into his pre-plotting as others around the ship were ether in their bunks or winding down early and heading there.  The crew was preparing to leave the Rhylanor system by noon the next day.  As the ship was settling to sleep, Terin was the last person awake when the comms from the berth entrance chimed.  Knowing no one was expecting any visitors, he answered the comms to see a Battledress faceplate.  The voice that emerged from its voder ordered, "We are here under the orders of Duke Leonard of Rhylanor.  Open your ship for inspection."

Not sure how to respond to this, Terin literally blinked as he tried to get his mind in gear.  Once he was able to think again, he smoothly said, "One minute please" as he pinged both Mikah and Zimzod's staterooms.  Involved in something she didn't want to turn from, Mikah slapped the comms and angrily demanded, "What?"  Rather than say it straight out and get shot after Mikah was dressed again, Terin taunted, "Guess who's here in battledress to inspect our ship?"  When Mikah said, "Well, it's not Zimzod", Terin answered, "People from Duke Leonard's office, so they say."  Burying her anger, Mikah sighed, "Whatever!  Let them in." as she and Zimzod both rose to dress.  The mood was definitely broken.  With that, Terin confirmed she wanted the crew warned and turned back to the soldiers at the front door after blasting an 'all-hands warning' to everyone else.

Terin then let the trooper know he'd be right out to 'personally' open the portal.  But when he left the cargo bay and saw the barrier, Terin was surprised to see what looked like two entire squads of battledressed troopers!  Some with heavy weapons!  And they were backed up by a platoon of four AFVs, behind which it seemed he could see some SPA officials peeking out.  As Terin arrived, he politely but firmly asked for identification?  The lead trooper had that, in addition to a written order.  Making his political statement for the day, Sir Terin stood on principal as he read the entire writ, and confirmed it was all in order.  Once he did that, Terin opened the door and made to stand aside.

His friendliness ignored, two troopers stepped forward to hold him under guard while the others moved towards the ship.  Despite being ignored, as well as held in place, Sir Terin welcomed the troops to the Hotel California and played the amiable greeter.  As the crew hastily dressed and made their way out of their staterooms, the wave of troops washed into the ship, dividing up while opening and searching every compartment aboard.  To Terin's relief at the moment, and Mikah's later on, they didn't disturb the cargo in the bay.  But they did detail off two troopers each time they met a member of the crew, to take them under guard.  This included Lady Mikah, who demanded to see the officer in charge and any justification for this intrusion.

The officer, a Marine Captain Ushirku Mdurlim, stepped up and told Mikah, "There has been a complaint lodged against the ship.  We are present to remove certain articles.  Here is the writ on that."  As he spoke, he handed Mikah a datapad containing the order.  "In addition, we are ordered to carry out a general inspection of the vessel.  Here is the writ on that", and handed her a second datapad.  The officer continued, "You are further ordered to stand by and assist in any way ordered, in support of these actions.  And here is the Duke's signed order on that."  He then handed Mikah a third datapad.  Mikah recognized the tactic, which prevented her reading all the orders in favor of watching what the troops were doing aboard her ship?  So she agreed to escort the Captain during his inspection when asked.  Realizing she had no way to fight what was happening, Mikah said, "Go right ahead." as she followed his lead.

As they began the process, Mikah reminded the officer they might delay the ship's planned departure if the "inspection" took too long.  The Captain didn't seem overly worried about that.  Mikah also said the Duke would be liable for any damage caused, but was casually told, "You can file a claim."  Once in the crew lounge, the man established a command post from which he detailed his people.  As she stood with him, Mikah noticed a stream of Starport workers being escorted into Inger's stateroom, where they began removing her possessions!  As Mikah began to protest, the officer interrupted her, saying, "By the way, here is the official order from Duke Leonard, severing Dame Inger Martinusdtr Vik's relationship with your crew." handing her the datapad on that.  Standing fairly close to Mikah, Zimzod said, "huh.  I guess she did get upset with that." self-blaming his prank because he didn't know about the vargr juice.

Once the troops were at their duties, the Captain moved to the bridge with Lady Mikah to inspect that space and the ship's locker, with the weapons stored there.  Assuming most of the attention would be paid to Munarshu's glistening weapons, Mikah decided not to worry about that part of the search.  She kind of hoped they'd take the blow-up doll.  She did look in as some troopers worked and noticed a box she didn't remember being there.  Not acting in front of the Captain, she mentally marked it for later.  The inspection seemed to continue until workers from the port cleared out all of Dame Inger's possessions.  At that point, the Captain turned to Mikah and said, "Apparently, there was no contraband after all.  We'd like to thank you loyal Imperial citizens for your assistance."  With that, the Captain ordered his people to withdraw as they escorted the port personnel out of the berth.  Mikah watched them leave as the crew gathered to ask what the raid was all about and Mikah shared out the datapad for them to read.

Terin said, "I guess this was about that party thing, huh?" and Mikah kept silent.  The rest of the crew figured this was payback for Zimzod's prank.  Hearing Terin's comment, Emkir asked, "Really?  You know what happened in the stateroom?"  Like Rol, Emkir had little memory of the party.  As Mikah asked, "Really?" Terin tried to shrug it off saying it was just a guess.  Still, Rol turned to look at him speculatively and asked, "What do you know?"  And while the word pattern was comedic, the tone made it clear Rol was serious.  This was backed by his knowledge Terin had moved Inger into the stateroom and tried to stop Zimzod moving him into the same place.  He also knew Terin returned to the stateroom the next morning, suggesting he knew quite a bit.  So when Terin shrugged and said, "I already told you everything I know." Rol asked, "You did?  Come into my stateroom."  Not very intelligently, Terin asked Rol, "You're not gonna get fresh, are you?" as Zimzod joked, "He won't.  You're not an inflatable doll."

Even less intelligently, Terin followed Rol into his stateroom asking, "Sir, what?" as Rol encouraged him to close the door.  Shrugging, Terin said "Sure, what's up?" as he closed the door behind him to cut off the stares of the assembled crew.  Leaning closer to Terin, Rol flatly asked, "Who put me and Inger together, in the same bed?"  Terin couldn't help but note a bit of threat in Sir Rol's tone.  Still, he comfortably answered, "I already told you.  Zimzod brought you into that room."  When Rol pushed, "Was there anybody else?" Terin answered "No."  When Rol asked, "Just him?" Terin shot back, "Yes" as he started getting a bit annoyed himself.  When Rol said, "OK", Terin said, "I thought we went over this before?" and Rol said he just wanted to make sure.  But after a pause, Rol asked, "Do you know anybody who perhaps had an idea to do this, other than Zimzod?"  Firmly, Terin answered, "I don't know what took place.  I just know Zimzod took you in there."

Continuing, Terin explained his plan to out wait Zimzod and separate Rol and Inger that night.  But that had failed, and Rol had been gone by the time Terin returned the next morning.  Fixating on the "after", Rol asked, "So from the time you went to sleep to the time you went to your bunk, you don't know of anyone who went in there?"  Terin said, "Nope.  I didn't notice anyone going in while I was at the party."  Rol then asked, "You didn't hear anybody say anything that made you think that someone had entered into the stateroom after Zimzod left?"  Terin said, "I know nothing about anything from the point I went to bed on.  Like I said, I already told you everything I know."  When he finished, Rol said, "OK.  It sounds like that would be a bit of a help.  Thank you."  When Terin said, "No problem.  Anything else?" Rol said no and considered what he'd learned as Terin left the compartment.  Behind him, Rol was left knowing nothing new, including why Inger had gotten so suddenly drunk in the first place?

After the door closed behind Terin and Rol, Mikah waited briefly for sharp cries before she left for the ship's locker.  Stepping into the space, Mikah moved closer to investigate the strange box she'd noticed.  When she first examined it, she saw it was sealed so she ripped it open as those who'd followed her sudden movement watched.  Getting the package open, Mikah found sub-boxes within, covered by a flimsy on top.  As Mikah leaned down to read it, the document read:
         "Now that you're about to be out of the reach of the local Darrians,
           I hope you use these in good health.  Especially if you make use of
           their offer and travel through Darrian space."

And it was signed by Duke Sir Leonard of Rhylanor!

As Mikah dug into the boxes under the flimsy, she found various versions of psi helmets.  At least three were decorative hair nets, made to appear as if they were stylish hair jewelry a woman would wear in public.  But the sub-structure of the pieces were the micro-electronic wiring, chips and devices which made up a psionic-blocking helmet.  Added to that, there were nine advanced models of standard psionic blocking helmets.  As Mikah realized there were enough in the box for everyone in the crew including the now departed Dame Inger, she wondered at the Duke's motives and cross messages.  At the same time, Aali and Emkir exchanged looks remembering the charges Rol had leveled about the Darrian minister using psionics to scan him.

When Mikah complained that the Duke's mixed messages made no sense, Emkir pointed out the Duke had said 'now that they were out of reach of the local Darrians', stressing the word "Darrians".  He suggested the Duke may have wanted them out of the system for other reasons than he'd said publically.  When Mikah demanded why he didn't tell them that directly, no one felt comfortable pointing out the ruse might have been intentional.  So their thoughts wouldn't betray his plans.  And now he was giving them a defense in case they decided to venture through Darrian space despite the new hazard.  Ignoring the obvious, Mikah muttered, "He's still not getting that Tellona Diamond." which also got no comments from her crew.

As everything started settling down, Terin went back to his pre-plots as the others started settling back into bed.  Before she went to bed, Aali went below decks to check the power plant function, having started it up earlier that evening.  As she worked, she noticed Munarshu heading toward her and asked if he wouldn't usually be in bed this late?  Munarshu said he'd come below decks to check and confirm the plant was stable, which Aali took as a comment on her work as the engineer who started and managed it.  The Chief Engineer.  Having Munarshu sit down, Aali said, "You, my friend, are a junior engineer.  And I am the Chief Engineer.  You were hired to care for the maintenance that we tell you to handle."

As Munarshu said, "Yes", Aali continued, "Now I like the fact you are taking the initiative by trying to take things on.  But, perhaps you should pay more attention to what we tell you to do and less attention to trying to do my job."  When Munarshu said, "OK", Aali felt it important to confirm, asking, "Do we have an understanding?"  Munarshu said he understood.  With that, Aali said "Wonderful" and had Munarshu make a survey run of the loose 'droid parts to make sure they were all secure as she turned back to finish her work.  With a "thank you" behind him, Munarshu made sure all the parts were sealed away against shifting gravity and then returned to his stateroom to hit the rack.

Finally settling into their bed again, Mikah was relaxing into Zimzod's desires when the comms in the stateroom went off.  Exasperated, Mikah angrily cried out, "Oh!  Fuck this!" as an also exasperated Zimzod cried out, "I'm trying to!"  Mikah answered the comms to find it was Aali reporting the ship's power plant was up, stable and prepared for their launch the next day.  Mikah very sweetly thanked Aali, said goodbye and cut the connection on her chief engineer in hopes that would be the last interruption of the night.


Well Set Plans And Last Minute Changes

     As was his usual schedule, Munarshu's alarm woke him at 5am and he was about his morning routine quickly.  By 5:40, he was in the darkened ship's lounge grabbing a caff and hoping Rol would be willing to cook for him after the previous morning.  After grabbing his cup, Munarshu went down to engineering to begin his scheduled checks on the ship's systems and the work of the various 'droids.  By 6:30a, Rol got to the lounge to begin preparing breakfast.  By 7a, Rol was surprised to be swarmed by Mikah, Zimzod, Emkir, Aali and Aiden as they had all set their alarms for similar times.  Used to serving the crew in waves, Rol wondered if he needed to hire a maítre d' to handle seating?  Mikah checked the ship's systems report as a reminder came in that Zimzod, Rol and Aiden had to be ready for the TAS car to pick them up, at 10a, for their scans.  Shrugging, Mikah reminded the men as she figured it shouldn't take more than a minute to scan their empty heads.

In Room 393, TAS Planetside Residence, Rhylanor

     Having been discharged from the Navy three days before, Mr. Fesic Anfertirkåsmokt[An-fer-tir-kas-smah-k-t] was a man of the green worlds.  Loving the forests and countrysides, he was trapped on Rhylanor highport.  Being penned up on a rock wrapped in metal, ceramic and glass which even covered the oceans was not what he wanted from retirement.  Having been sponsored into TAS for his actions as a naval NCO and gunner, Fesic was working their concierge ragged looking for a berth out-bound.  So when the TAS agents learned a member of the Hotel California's crew had left the ship, the math added up to one free stateroom aboard.  And the ship had everything Fesic was asking for.  A commercial vessel, a crew partly made up of TAS members and a route that would get him to the Lunion system's lush green forests and grasslands.

As he scanned the port departure data for only the 8th time that morning, Fesic could see the data for the highport but he was planetside.  Still, he dared to hope when his room comms began to buzz and the ID showed it was the concierge.  Picking up the call, the woman greeted Fesic and told him she might have a lead on exactly the berth out-system he wanted!  Excited, Fesic asked for details and was told she had to confirm his booking before she could give him that.  Disappointed but still hopeful, Fesic agreed when she asked him to hold tight until she did that and called him back within the next half hour.

Hotel California Crew Lounge - Breakfast

     As most of the crew were gathered to eat and discuss their roles and expected tasks for the morning before launch, the ship's comms began to chime.  Wondering 'what now', Mikah snagged the comms to find herself talking to a representative from the Traveler's Aid Society.  As the woman introduced herself as a Member Assistance agent, Mikah almost called Zimzod over when the agent asked if they had a booking officer?  Surprised, Mikah said she was the Captain and could handle any issue TAS had and asked what the call was about?  The agent said the port records indicated the Hotel California was leaving port and had an available stateroom before asking if that was correct?  Wondering where this was going, Mikah confirmed the data and almost cringed as the agent smiled in obvious pleasure.

The TAS agent said that they had a high passage traveler who wanted to book transit to the Lunion system quickly.  She also said the ship would be assisting the TAS travel section greatly if they would allow the passenger to book their stateroom, as well as being paid the Cr 10,000 fare for passage.  Taking this request with a grain of salt, Mikah asked, "What did he, and or It do?" thinking this Fesic whatever had somehow also been asked to leave.  The TAS rep made it clear the Rhylanor system did not agree with him personally, and he wanted to leave very soon.  And the Hotel California was leaving "very soon".  The rep also mentioned the Cr 10,000 high passage they'd get paid to carry the passenger.  Figuring it was only four jumps, Mikah decided 'what the hell' and told the caller, "We're planning to be wheels up at noon, so tell him to get moving."

Room 393, TAS Planetside Residence, Rhylanor

     As the TAS rep thanked Mikah, she sent Mr. Anfertirkåsmokt's passenger file.  Of course, carrying a passenger meant they had to provide a steward, and be nice to the man.  It also meant the ship had to devote one ton of space to any cargo the passenger decided he wanted to bring with him or pick up along the way.  Considering Rol's skills, she realized they would have to cater to the passenger's needs.  As she cut the connection, Mikah told Rol about the new arrival on the way.  Then they talked about who was gonna be the steward?  Zimzod made it clear he wasn't the man for public relations as Mikah said, "Not me" because she was the Captain.  In his hotel room, Fesic answered the comms to be told to get moving.

Fesic was told a taxi had already been called to get him to the port and his hotel bill already resolved from his account.  At the port, he'd board a shuttle to the highport.  There, another taxi would take him and his gear to the berth of the IMS Hotel California, out-bound to the Lunion system and points spinward.  Thanks to his not-yet claimed monthly High Passage ticket, Fesic would be boarded to a stateroom of his own with passage paid in full.  Given the word, Fesic started getting his packages all in order as a bellhop showed up at his door with a gravCart to move his luggage.  In the hotel lobby, Fesic checked the bill before fingerprinting his approval of payment.  Then, it was into a harbor cab which moved him to the express passenger arrival at the port's shuttle facilities.

Welcome To the Hotel California

     At the shuttle terminal, Fesic was met by a TAS worker who had a cart and rode Fesic and his gear to the boarding area.  There, Fesic was settled in as his gear was packed and he waited until it was time to lift.  Pressed into his seat despite the inertial dampeners, the shuttle burned out of the launch bay and through Rhylanor's atmosphere into orbit.  The entire flight took under 40 minutes and ended with the shuttle being locked down by vacc suited figures inside a bay as the pressure doors closed and atmosphere was pumped back into the compartment.  Debarking, Fesic was met by another TAS worker who guided him to a waiting cab with his gear for the ride to the California's berth.  When he arrived and organized his gear, Fesic was a bit disconcerted by the crowd of media present.  Especially when some of them realized he was headed into the berth and started taking video of him!

Mikah answered herself when the berth entry buzzer went off.  Arriving at the portal, she hit the comms stud and asked, "Are you Mr. Anfertirkåsmokt?" only stumbling slightly over his last name.  Joking, Fesic said "No, I'm Mr. Anfertirkåsmokt", pronouncing the name correctly as if that made it totally different than her attempt.  Mikah just looked at him and said, "OK.  That thing.  Yes."  Indicating the press, Fesic asked, "What's with all the cameras?" and Mikah shrugged, "We're famous."  Fesic continued, "I didn't know I was getting myself in with famous people.  What have I gotten myself into?" and Mikah answered, "I don't know.  When you get to the Lunion system, you might want to ask why they picked our ship?"

As Fesic considered that, Mikah said, "Come on, we have breakfast ready for you and I'll introduce you to the crew."  Fesic said, "Sounds great." and Mikah called Munarshu to grab his luggage and move it to Inger's former stateroom.  As they arrived on the crew deck, Mikah pointed out his stateroom, freshly cleaned out, and said Munarshu would put his gear in there while he sat down and they had the ship's cook make him something for breakfast.  So Fesic left his gear and followed Mikah, getting a look around as the crewman called down went to get his gear and move it into the ship.

As Munarshu arrived to gather the passenger's luggage, he noticed a number of "Customs - Sealed" cases.  The long arm case apparently contained a laser rifle and the side arms case some kind of handgun.  As well as what Munarshu would consider a pitifully small sealed case of ammo boxes, there were two long blade cases and a carry case for sealed combat armor, a vacc suit and a PLSS.  As Munarshu looked over the rest of the gear, he noticed something about three feet at its longest and ovaloid in shape.  Not liking the look of that, he looked closer to see it was a military ordinance container.  With his attention piqued, the engineer moved in to read the markings and saw it marked "Breaching Charge/Bulkhead/Standard"!  Stopping what he was doing to grab his comms, Munarshu pinged the Captain.

When Mikah answered, Munarshu let her know their new passenger was arriving with all the amenities of modern combat including a bulkhead breaching charge!  Telling the engineer to hold on one, Mikah asked Fesic, "Why are you carrying a breaching charge?" with only mild concern in her voice as she showed monumental restraint.  Especially as the stateroom they'd planned to put him in shared a bulkhead with the ship's bridge!  Fesic shrugged innocently and said, "You never know when you're gonna need a breaching charge."  Mikah nodded and said, "We'll keep that in the ship's locker."  She echoed the order to Munarshu, who was prepared to put all the passenger's gear into the ship's locker.

As this got everyone interested in meeting this "passenger", Mikah introduced him around because the entire crew was now awake and available.  When Mikah started trying to pronounce his name again, Fesic said, "Don't worry, there'll be a class on it later." with a smile.  But once the gear was moved, the food served and Fesic made comfortable, he asked, "Seriously, what's with the cameras?"  Mikah looked at him and asked, "They're just cameras.  Don't you watch the news?"  Fesic told her he'd only just gotten in-system and couldn't wait to get out of Rhylanor.  As they asked about him, Fesic said he'd just mustered out of the Imperial Navy.  At that, Mikah joked, "Oh, I'm sorry."  Continuing, Fesic said he'd most recently served aboard the INS Khada Imirkii, a Ghalalk class Armored Cruiser.  Aboard that ship, he said he'd commanded the Charlie laser turret battery.

When they heard this, a number of the members of the crew listened up as operating their ship's weapons was one category in which they were "challenged".  Mikah asked him what he had in mind for the future and Fesic said he'd planned on doing some traveling.  Aiden said he was certainly in the right place for that, if not totally by choice.  At this point, Mikah was interrupted as her comms went off and she saw it was Munarshu.  Wondering what else he had found, she answered and Munarshu asked for permission to scan Fesic's luggage with a densometer?  Putting Munarshu on hold, Mikah asked Fesic if he had any weapons and Fesic gave a list of the items he had.  Once she'd been told that, Mikah asked if he minded the fact they'd have to store his weapons in the ship's locker?

As Fesic looked around himself, he noticed everyone had a weapon and pointed that out.  Mikah asked if he'd been granted the right to carry and reminded him they were ship's crew.  She also told him they were all Imperial Knights with the right to bear arms.  When Fesic said he didn't have that right, Mikah said she'd allow him to have a side arm, while aboard, as long as he didn't abuse the privilege.  With that, Mikah made the social distinctions clear between ship owners and crew, so Fesic understood the power structure aboard.  This also included sorting out who did what aboard, in case he needed to report an issue.  At the same time, Terin asked about Fesic's service in the Navy?  Fesic said he spent most of his service in the Flammarion system, but was on a vessel in the Wardn system when the war began.  He said he saw action there, and in the Adabicci system, before they withdrew to the Lunion Naval base.  This added context to his interest in traveling to Lunion now.

Still, all the veterans reflected on the opening weeks of the war, when systems in the sister's reach were hammered by invading Sword Worlds forces.  While the Wardn and Adabicci systems had been hit in order to contain assets stationed there in those systems, places like the Flammarion, Caliburn Gunn and Caldbolg systems had been crushed as the major offensive Sword World fleets had struck towards the Lanth system.  So Fesic's ship had been caught in the secondary moves of the war's opening strikes.  He also admitted his family was of Sword Worlds ancestry.  Nodding, Terin told Fesic most of the crew had been Scouts but chose not to make it a point of contention in the on-going status game between members of the Scouts and Navy.  When Mikah asked if he'd heard of the ramshackle fleet actions, Fesic said he'd heard something like that but only just arrived in-system a few days before.  And the battle had been 17 days before.

Getting back to business, the crew familiarized Fesic with the ship's boats and where to go in an emergency.  As well as the expected crew, Emkir was introduced as the ship's supernumerary, working cargo and port issues and Rol was the ship's cook and security officer.  When jokes were made about Rol being the resident war criminal, Fesic asked about that and someone handed him a datapad with the book on it.  Several people also told him which chapter to read.  As this went on, Fesic began to see the crew were more likely infamous rather than famous.  When it got to formal titles, Mikah introduced herself as "Doctor Dame Lady Mikah Kirlim", but she did it so quickly Fesic stumbled over repeating the formal name and Mikah jabbed back, "There will be a class on that later".  She then said he could just call her Captain and Fesic said to just use his first name, used to the issues pronouncing his last name created.  After that, she said, "You can call me Mikah." as they spiraled down to a first name basis.

After food and introductions, Fesic began to settle into his stateroom.  Rol went into his own stateroom, after a TAS car delivered the video he'd ordered from them to review it.  Because the vid was an hour-long, Rol couldn't watch it straight, so he ran it at high speed.  As he watched, Rol couldn't see details, but did see when Inger must have collapsed and was carried off.  He also saw a period where he had been drinking.  That continued until he wasn't visible and must have been moved.  Still in frame were Emkir, who may have been celebrating, Aali, Mikah, Aiden and Terin, who was looking out of frame with some apparent concern.  He knew Inger was already in the stateroom and was told Munarshu was in the cargo bay watching but retricted from leaving the cargo bay.  That left Zimzod, moving him to the stateroom.  So after Cr 12,000, without watching the playback in more detail, he'd only confirmed what he already knew.

Checking the timemark on the video, Rol scrolled back to the point where he'd fallen over and lost to Emkir.  As he watched the crew cheering, Rol could also hear the commentary of the camera crew filming the event.  It was not complimentary towards him or the crew.  It was apparent, as the crew referred derogatorily to the crew of noblemen, that this had been an independent news crew which TAS had likely hired to cover the overnight shift.  As Rol watched, and as described, Rol watched as Terin and Zimzod both went to move his body.  They visibly struggled a bit and had a tug of war over control of his body, which Zimzod won.  Then Zimzod yelled something at Terin and dragged Rol off.  So that was the detail on what happed to him during that party segment.  Still, he hadn't looked into Inger's collapse and didn't have any way to investigate what happened after the hour chunk of video?

Finishing a scan through the video in the time he had, Rol sparked up a terminal and spent a CrImp to send Inger a message via the port reading: "In my ongoing investigation, right now, it appears that Zimzod is the culprit in our mutual interest.  I'll keep you informed if I learn anything more.  Sorry to see you go."  After that, Rol sent the message.  In the meantime, Munarshu had gotten permission to scan Fesic's luggage before delivering it, based on the breaching charge.  After a good piece of time scanning the gear, Munarshu had a good idea of the dense and loose sections and their shapes, and it certainly seemed they added up the way Fesic claimed.  But there were many small solid items that just didn't resolve on a densometer.

Preparing To Lift And Settling Roles

     As Munarshu finished up, Emkir arrived and helped him before grabbing the gravLifters to move the cargo into the bay for final positioning.  Once they set about delivering Fesic's gear, Emkir said, "Since I'm helping you, you get to help me."  After that, they went into the berth to set a lifter on either side of each container, one after the other.  The electronics of the lifters worked in two directions.  Once activated for carrying, they exerted a gravitic force which helped or allowed the user to lift them and glide them along to the container to be moved.  Once placed against on either side of it, they acted like tractor field creators, pulling each other together.  Then, the user could intensify either the binding side to side force or the lifting force.

Positioning the lifters around each bin in its turn, they moved the two remaining cargo containers into the bay as the third cargo was already sealed in the X-mail safe.  At the same time, Aali was working on the pre-launch engineering and Munarshu joined her after helping Emkir.  Having done his best to get the best data available, Terin was into serious plotting for their jump, using his previous plots as guides.  On the bridge, Aiden had called the port to confirm they had an outbound launch window, and traded answers for questions with port control.  Eventually, they had a window out-system to the zenith Spinward-Coreward jump zone.  That meant they had to burn "above" the orbital plane the system's planets orbited on as they burned away from the world.  Once in the proper zone, they could make their jump, along with other traffic.

As they got ready to launch, Zimzod decided to do an external inspection of the ship's weapon systems before checking the internal fittings, controls and couches.  Having learned Fesic was a gunner and battery commander, Zimzod invited the passenger along.  Having nothing better to do, Fesic accepted and the two went to check the California's turrets.  And as they stepped through the inspection, it became clear to Fesic that Zimzod was less trained than he was.  That meant that if the ship was threatened, he might want to split duties with Zimzod, taking a couch in one of the ship's turrets.  He was pleased that all the hardware and software were perfectly serviceable, so they only needed another qualified gunner.

As they walked through the inspection, Zimzod also asked Fesic questions about his experience as a gunner.  He learned that Fesic had spent years in a turret before rising to be a lead battery NCO.  So he had training in both working the weapons, in and out of combat, and maintaining them.  When Zimzod asked about his certifications, the answers he got completely impressed him.  Zimzod was impressed enough that he suggested to Fesic that he might want to man the turret if they got shot at while in space.  This offer made Fesic more comfortable with the coming trip.  Fesic confidently said, "Ok.  If we get into a shooting situation, you let me know what you want shot down."  Fesic then went on to describe how he could do this either in a turret or on the bridge, if they wanted him to integrate the turrets into a battery.

After deciding Fesic would work the turrets, Zimzod said they'd get Fesic set up with an account in the ship's systems after the inspection.  Zimzod also called Mikah to let her know what they decided.  As they continued the tour, Zimzod decided to take a risk and offered, "If you'd like the Cr 10,000 for your passage back, you could even sign on and become part of the crew.  We're heading out along the border and you said you want to travel.  The best way to travel is living on a starship."  Then he waved a sparkly title, "Ship's Chief Gunnery Officer" into the mix, not mentioning the significant lack of weapons.  When Fesic asked, "You say you do a lot of traveling?" Zimzod answered, "Absolutely!"  Fesic asked, "Do you plan on visiting a lot of inhabitable worlds?" and Zimzod said, "Yeah.  More or less."  Of course, even Rhylanor was inhabitable, more or less.

Then, Fesic asked, "Do you have a need for defensive fire a lot?"  Zimzod answered, "Sometimes".  By this time, they had made their way to the interior of the gun stations, so Zimzod brought Fesic to the bridge.  There, he showed Fesic the name plate of the GNS Lilmett kin Vyste and told the gunner the story of their most glorious combat situation.  Working on the bridge, Terin secured his work and asked, "Instead of telling him about it, why don't you show him some news clips?"  Playing his fingers over the controls for a secondary data screen, Terin invited Fesic over as he pulled up a video clip.

Because Terin just did a quick search and quickly grabbed a vid from a site, the clip he ended up with was an "after the fact" piece covering how Lady Mikah and her crew of heroic knights, normally operating aboard the Hotel California, heroically led in a relief force while manning one of Duke Leonard's personal war ships as Baron von Kreden broke his rag tag fleet out of the Sword Worlds and led them on a raid of the Rhylanor system.  The story went on to say the Lady Mikah and her knights challenged and destroyed the 1,000 dTon GNS Lilmett kin Vyste in their 400 dTon Escort!  As he watched the report, Fesic asked, "Is this something the Imperial government approved of?" and Zimzod said, "Yeah, they approved", with a smile and not mentioning everything that happened after the fact.

Terin didn't know any better than to agree and Aiden, working at the pilot's station, darkly muttered "Why do you think most of the crew got Knighted?"  Watching more of the coverage, Fesic realized the battle being covered had only happened 17 days before!  As Fesic started to ask about working for the Duke, Aiden said, "The ship no longer works for the Arch Duke and never worked for Duke Leonard, thank the stars."  Zimzod just said the media was laying they hype on thick.  When Fesic asked how much the position would pay, Zimzod hit the comms as he said "You'll have to discuss that with the Captain."  Mikah answered, "What?" and Zimzod said, "Come up to the bridge." in a tone that made sure she wanted to see what was up.

When Mikah arrived, and heard what Zimzod had set up, she considered what a gunner would make, to the best of her knowledge, and that he had been a senior NCO.  So she offered him Cr 900 a month plus room and board.  Zimzod jumped in, saying Fesic could accept that or take less "up front" and get part of the take on any profit the ship made.  When Fesic asked, "What would be my percentage?" Mikah said it would be one tenth of any profit.  Fesic considered that and the cargo in the bay, that suggested they were making money.  As Fesic thought, Zimzod said the deal could be Cr 500 a month and a one-tenth share of any profit for the length of time he worked aboard the ship with room and board too.  Fesic liked that and agreed to the terms, and Zimzod invited him to the galley for some coffee.  When Fesic asked, Zimzod confirmed he was talking about real coffee!

That got Fesic's attention, as the expense of real coffee was rumored.  Fesic asked and was told Zimzod had just bought two pounds of the stuff!!  That certainly said the ship not only made money but made good money.  Still, as Zimzod brewed the coffee, Fesic just shook his head and said, "You guys are nuts!"  Overhearing, Terin just muttered, "You have no idea."  Once he was given a mug of coffee, Fesic overestimated and guessed he was holding more in the cup than he'd ever earned in a single month!  Taking a sip of the drink, Fesic realized he actually liked it!  The bitter taste bit harder than anything he'd had and he felt it kick once it hit his stomach.  Gaging his feelings and recalling what he knewof the stuff, Fesic decided this was a legal amphetamine.  But one that was so expensive he knew he'd only drink it when given some by someone else.  It cost much too much for him to buy on his own.

As they cut the deal and made Fesic a member of the crew, Mikah agreed to refund the Cr 10,000, which actually came from Fesic's free monthly TAS High Passage.  So Fesic essentially ended up with a Cr 10,000 signing bonus for joining the crew.  With the deal done, Zimzod leaned back after a sip of coffee and said, "Now he's crew, we don't need to be nice to him anymore" with a smile.  After Rol said, "I'm glad we finally have someone in the room who can use the ship's weapons." Zimzod turned and said, "Fuck Off!"  When Fesic turned to Mikah and asked, "Where are we going first?" she told him the ship was bound for the Equus system next.  With that, Fesic got a list of the worlds they planned to visit and went to look them up in the ship's Library Data, as well as the Rhylanor net.

The Road Forward

     Equus:
         See The Description Above

     Skull:
         Chalky white, pitted with oily oceans, mostly dead.  If not for the military uses of the
         gases tainting the atmosphere and complex processing plants that supply them, it would
         just be a fueling stop.  A small, poor, non-agricultural world with a very thin oxygen-
         nitrogen atmosphere(near vacuum) and poles covered in frozen ferro-naphthene
         ice.  The Naval Base supports the 18th Imperial Fleet.

         Noted cities are Skull Startown, Ukar, Rashge, and Shaar Town.  All planetside settlements
         are in major or minor domes or below the surface, with all transportation on sealed
         vehicles.

         The dry and mountainous planet can't produce enough food for its population.
         Inhabitants concentrate on service industries in and around the base and port or in
         resource recovery.

         The main corporation in-system is the 'Skull Exports Syndicated', the local Oligarch's
         ruling party.  Profits are made distilling chemicals filtered from Skull's tainted atmosphere,
         to use in plasma weapon and military power packs.  Oil and other distillates are also
         recovered for lesser product lines.

         In addition to the support of interstellar traffic and the local military bases, the chief
         industries were atmospheric and surface chemical recovery, refinement, containment, sales
         and shipping.

         Skull is also home to some fairly hard-bitten colonists maintaining independent gas
         ranches out in the Styx.

         The Imperial Marine corps use the world as a 'safe' vacuum-operations training site.

         Be aware of the local wildlife, as it likes to hide under the ash-tundra and pounce on
         the unwary

     Resten:
         A low-population world, Resten contains a Scout Base; the population consists solely of
         Scout Service personnel and their dependents.  The world's primary importance is as
         an Xboat link to the Mora Subsector.

     Lunion:
         A Class Starport supporting Starship Construction and Overhaul Lunion is a high-pop,
         high tech, industrialized planet with a garden world environment.  The naval base is
         home to the 43rd Fleet.
         Its IISS facilities rival any in the Imperium.  As a major trade hub several
         Megacorporations and numerous smaller companies have offices located in the starport.

         The Ling-Standard Products shipyards at Lunion are one of the major shipbuilding points
         within the entire Spinward Marches Sector.  The Lunion University and the Joint
         Darrien / Imperial Science Research College insure the system is known for education.

     Rabwhar:
         A garden world economically tied to harvesting and processing compounds derived from
         its incredibly abundant plant life.  Unusual properties of the plants, such as hyper-
         oxygenation, are useful in life-support system manufacture and chemical synthesis.

         There's also considerable income from serving the Scout Base that acts as a starport for
         the world.

         On the interstellar plane, Rabwhar has a tourist brochure for their equinox festivals, their
         music and their amazing irulper, on a planet with farmers who think spreading fertilizer
         is an excuse for a party.

         Sternmetal Horizons has a lab in the Rabwhar system, in a hollowed out asteroid

         Ruled by a hereditary monarchy, the unpopular king was overthrown in a coup in 1095
         and forced to abdicate as revolutionaries seized the capital city.
         The new government, led by the king's popular niece, ruled for nearly three weeks before
         the army regained control.  The leaders of the Seventeen Day Democracy were forced into
         off-world exile.

         By 1105 the "Democratic Government in Exile of Rabwhar" (DGER), based in Shirene still
         claimed to be the legitimate rulers But the organization has largely degenerated into a
         band of pirates and raiders.

     D'Ganzio:
         Located within the Lanth Abyss, D'Ganzio is controlled by the Instell-arms corporation.
         The main world is a regional depot and support base for Instel-Arms' operations in the
         sector; but is otherwise a poor, non-industrial world with a small but high technology
         population and a desert climate.  There is an Imperial Naval Base in-system.

         The Highport serves as a hiring hall for mercenary units and individuals, and
         the administrative complex has an extensive contracts section.  Several banking
         establishments are in-system, ready to issue repatriation bonds.

         During the Fifth Frontier War D'Ganzio was attacked by the Sword Worlds' Gram Fleet.


Last Minute Goodbyes

     As Fesic looked up the systems the ship planned to visit on the way to the Lanth system, the others went back to their pre-launch work or personal interests.  Soon enough, the berth entrance chimed as the TAS driver arrived to pick up Zimzod, Rol and Aiden.  Mikah joked, "See you in five minutes!" as they left and Terin threw in, "or less", actually getting more of a laugh from the Captain.  The three Knights were taken to a facility where their brains were scanned and the data placed in storage, in case of their death.  Once things got started, Rol went first and Aiden went last.

As Zimzod and Aiden waited, they were surprised when Lord William arrived.  Standing as he greeted the Duke's brother, Zimzod shared a Solomani-style hand shake and Lord William said, "I see your plans have changed."  As Zimzod nodded, Lord William said he was looking forward to getting the scans of the books they had entrusted to the University services.  Zimzod agreed that he was too, but wondered why William just happened to show up while they were there?  Looking around, Zimzod decided to see what he could get and asked, "Once we leave the system, is our list of numbers and emails going to work for us?"  Lord William said, "Regretfully, that was part of the deal you had with the Arch-Duke and that deal has ended."

When Zimzod's disappointment showed, Lord William said, "However, when you get to the Skull system, you might want to look up a few of my friends."  He handed Zimzod a data crystal as he said that.  Taking the device, Zimzod said, "OK!  Outstanding."  Once that was done, Lord William said, "If you'll excuse me, I have other business" and he left.  As this exchange happened, Aiden just sat watching and waiting for chemical tipped darts to fly in, or Lord William to pronounce they had a mission or some other dire outcome.  Even as the man turned his back on Zimzod and left, Aiden was certain the axe on the guillotine had been released and was coming, even if they couldn't see it.

Once the work was done, they were told one copy would remain on file there.  Other copies would be replicated out to all their facilities in the event of a death report arriving there.  The Knights were reminded they should have their brain scans updated frequently.  If not, they would suffer a loss of memories should they be cloned.  They remind the three the insurance was only valid in Imperial space.  Once the Knights had each been scanned and given a copy of their crystal, they were brought back to the ship by 11:15.  Aiden returned to the ship and secured his crystal, seeing Terin had completed his nav-plot and loaded it to be run when needed.

As they returned, Mikah checked with Aiden and made sure everything was set as far as he was concerned.  Once Aiden said everything was good, Rol asked, "Captain, if I may have a moment of your time?"  Sighing because it couldn't be good, Mikah asked what Rol wanted?  He said he'd realized they had bought the cargo sealing system.  When Mikah said, "Yeah?" Rol asked, "Who's supposed to operate it?"  Realizing Inger had been the intended operator, it was clear they'd need to find someone else who could figure out how to make it work.  When Mikah said they had no time to deal with it at the moment, Rol said he'd only wanted to mention it to her.  After that, they joined the others and went about their tasks and preparations.

As the word was passed to gear up and be prepared for anything, Rol hit his stateroom to get into his vacc suit and set up some weapons, just in case.  Mikah asked if Fesic had a vacc suit and he said he did, so she recommended he wear it "just in case."  The time wound down, while everyone got into a vacc suits except Terin, who donned his sealed combat armor because he didn't have a separate vacc suit.  Rol distributed meals in tubes from the ship's stores of rations leading up to noon.  The port shifted the California to a transport cradle when they were ready.  The grav-assisted platform on which the ship rode moved the California to a bay for depressurization before the launch portal opened.  Fully powered up, Aiden used the ship's SMS thrust systems to maneuver the vessel out of the bay before engaging the main thrusters.

Once clear of the bay and burning their own main thrusters, Aiden gave the port his thanks, announcing to all, "We are free and flying."  From there, it was time to lock systems down and burn out-system to the designated jump point.  As Aiden worked flight systems with Emkir relaying data as the backup pilot, Terin confirmed coordinates and plot while confirming his loaded jump-nav plot.  Soon, Terin was able to relax so long as the outbound flight path continued to be followed as planned.  This meant they would reach the designated point in space at the planned-on time and with the expected velocity.  Soon, all the moving parts went as the plot expected, and the forces seemed to come together at the jump point as planned.  Then, Aiden announced they were ready as he dimmed the lights in a bow to tradition before opening the circuits to pour generated energy into the ship's jump systems.


Jumping To The Equus System

     Once the ship settled into jump, the crew prepared for a week in transit.  For Fesic, this meant familiarizing himself with the ship, his new crew mates and their patterns.  His job, as Chief Gunner, meant he only needed to do a few things.  He regularly checked and tested the ship's weapons systems.  He also worked with Aiden, who would be operating the sensors in the event of a combat situation while Emkir took the flight controls.  Finally, Fesic would work with Zimzod, to teach him some tricks and tips and look for any chances in the future to actually test the systems.  That would have to wait until they were out of jump space and in a location where they could get permission to do some target practice.  Nearing the end of the week planned in jump space, Fesic provided a report to Mikah on the state of the weapons systems and gunnery crew.

Rol reminded the others his "in-jump" armory was open and they had to bring projects they wanted done to him.  Rol also planned to study his stent class.  As he went from person to person, Rol explained his offer to Fesic, so he knew what was available to him.  Since Fesic had never been part of a hard-core tactical combat team, he wasn't sure what Rol could do for him.  So when Fesic asked, Rol agreed to go over his gear with the gunner.  After Fesic pulled out his weapons and combat armor for Rol to inspect, the first thing Rol saw was that Fesic had no HUD.  Rol made recommendations on what Fesic could shop for.  Other than that, he couldn't do more than inspect his gear to make sure it was in good order, which it was.  With it being mentioned, Fesic wanted to by a HUD kit for his combat armor and integration kits for his laser rifle, snub pistol and accelerator rifle.

After spending half an hour advising Fesic, Rol met with each of the others in the crew before settling in to his interests.  Aiden set himself a schedule for his stent classes before asking Rol to advise him as he also didn't have a HUD on his unsealed armor.  He also suggested Fesic consider backup armor ideas, including executive armor.  Rol did get to examine Aiden's snub pistol, once the batteries had been removed.  Securing his positions on the bridge, Aiden made sure to remind Mikah and the crew he had the toy laser tag set.  He suggested they use the gear, enough for four people at a time, to practice zero-gravity combat drills.  Mikah agreed the idea was good and said they should hold drills during the week.  As the talk spread through the crew, they decided what configurations they could set up with only four units?

In jump, Mikah planned to do a number of things including keeping an eye on those who'd rushed through having their stents installed.  Because the normal time requirements were not observed, she wanted to make sure to watch for any issues.  Those could be as basic as infections and as deadly as neurologic damage due to mistakes made in training or in connection to a ship's system.  She set up times with each of the men to check them out and run some tests.  While Mikah tried to do all the work in the med-bay, Zimzod insisted on having his "check-up" in their stateroom, in bed.  As the most skilled in Zero-G combat, Mikah discussed running some classes for the rest of the crew with Zimzod helping.

In port, Terin had realized quickly that growing plants in his stateroom wasn't going to happen.  So he decided to hit the stent training hard.  As he had the chance, Terin compared notes with Aali, who had set aside some time each day to work with her stent.  Aali was surprised at the early progress Terin had made, and they discussed the goals he had reached thanks to the methods the instructors used.  Aali admitted Terin was further along than she was at that point, but she was now integrating connections beyond port communications.  Each computer "port" was managed by a sub-processor built into its hardware.  That "mini-computer" was only and entirely responsible for managing all the data passed in and out of that port.  A major mental challenge Aali said she had faced was being able to intellectualize what she was encountering via the stent.

Once she worked her way through those visualization issues, Aali was able to reach the first actual internal connection with the ship's computer.  And with a great deal of work, Aali managed to reach the main BUS of the system she was connecting to.  Having done that with a computer aboard ship, Aali tested her understanding of the process with a computer in the berth while they were in port.  The results were mixed at first, showing Aali each computer would be different and require some work familiarizing with it.  So a stent was not a an auto-connect to any computer.  She could expect to spend at least an hour working on "understanding" the port sub-processes.  And after she managed to get into a port, Aali also had to deal with understanding computer access security.

Also, plugging into a system and connecting one's mind to it didn't get you unfettered access.  Aali still had to have an account on the system, and her class taught her that advanced systems even had software designed to attack a cyber-jacker's mind with the potential to do serious mental damage.  Aali had mistakenly encountered that when she started testing on the port system and unknowingly tried to reach connections behind firewalls until she opened an account giving her access to those addresses.  Her explanation of the issues she faced showed Terin there was a fair bit she was learning from her TAS provided holograph more than was even mentioned in his workbook.  Not to mention the Holo-instructor she could launch with an AI that was able to deconstruct and answer questions and provide help.  The more he learned of the abilities of the TAS class, the more Terin wondered about using it.

While he'd been told each class had been engineered to fit the person being taught, Terin wondered if Emkir could hack one of the classes and jail break it?  When he asked Emkir, the Admiral was certainly willing to give it a try.  But none of those who had the classes wanted to let Emkir mess with theirs.  So if Emkir was going to get to try and jail break one of them, it wasn't going to be until one of the owners felt they were done with the class.  That left Terin with the choice to either try one, to see how things worked, or wait until one of the others thought they'd no longer need it, even as a file copy.  Eventually, they did talk to Zimzod, who was OK with Emkir trying to make a copy of his crystal.

But because there might be anti-copy security, Emkir wanted someone to try it and confirm it worked before he spent time trying to jail break it.  When Emkir said that, and asked him to try the copy, Zimzod pointedat Terin and said, "He wanted the copy.  Let him try it."  Of course, this was because Zimzod wanted to see if something bad happened to Terin more than anything else.  Still, if there was a risk, Zimzod figured Terin should take it.  Terin also thought about possible anti-copy security software, and thought they might find a cracker in the Equus system, because it was close to Rhylanor.  Terin told Emkir he'd look for a cracker in Equus.  And if he didn't find one, he'd decide if he'd try the raw copy, to test it before Emkir tried to hack it.  Terin also devoted some time to gear maintenance.

In addition to gunnery work with Fesic, and his stent work, Zimzod worked on gear maintenance.  He also increased his PT while in jump space.  Emkir asked Mikah ifthey could take a day's liberty and visit the world itself since she decided to visit the main highport?  He had been raised on a water world and wanted to show his wife a day of fun and pleasure on the global ocean.  Figuring they'd have to spend five to seven days in-system while the engineers worked on the ship, Mikah said why not?  So Emkir began doing basic research from the ship's library data, to see what he should look for when they got in-system.  He also devoted some time to continue working on the Risek glyphs.

When Rol spoke to Munarshu, he asked if Rol could integrate his "new - new" shotgun to his HUD.  While that weapon didn't have the PDW-1120, Rol felt he could put together an integration kit for it.  Still, that would deplete some of Rol's spare parts and he'd get back to Munarshu on that.  Along with his engineering work, Munarshu spent some time studying robotics.  Munarshu and Aali both worked at advancing the repair of the androids, to get more of them on-line as well as working engineering.  Due to the amount of work they could only do on the ship's maneuver system when it was shut down, this wasn't much time.  Still, by the end of the jump, they had the two engineering androids working at 100% as was WALL-e.  Of the housekeeping androids, three of the five were fully working.  And all brains had their software updated thanks to Emkir's work.

As the week passed, Fesic not only learned most of the crew had their own sets of combat armor, but Sir Zimzod had a full-on set of Battledress!  This was a huge surprise, given the extreme limits put on access to that system by the Imperial Military.  Fesic also was educated on the other quirks of the crew, like explanations of the screen saver videos showing on ship-board terminals.  Another thing Fesic found was a device set up but apparently completely ignored in the cargo bay.  When he asked about it, Fesic was told they bought the cargo sealing and customs system to help deliver a cargo to the D'Ganzio system.  But Dame Inger had been the person slated to operate it because only she had the training.  Now that she had left the ship, no one in the crew knew how to operate it.  When Fesic asked if there was a manual for the system, Emkir recalled that, when it was delivered, they said there was an in-built user training system.

Figuring he didn't want to be a "one trick pony", Fesic volunteered to start trying to learn the system.  Given that he had some skill with computers, he thought he'd at least be able to figure out how to do the basic operations soon enough.  When that was accepted, Fesic started spending some time each day in jump working on learning the system.  It did take him almost an entire day to figure out just the manual.  As Fesic worked on figuring the device out, he puzzled through the holographic training subjects.  And while the classes were exhaustive on their subjects, the learning was not necessarily organized for someone who wasn't familiar with the subject.  So the training was slow going, even delayed as he had to work out his own interpretations of some items.

In addition to the other shipboard activities, Mikah planned to hold three zero-g combat training sessions and three sessions where they would set up a small firing range in the cargo bay and hold zero-g weapons training.  Bringing it up with the crew, they decided to hold three sessions of each, though they only had four zero-g weapons tag systems.  So only four people could play at a time.  Emkir, Terin, Fesic, Rol, and Aiden took part in the zero-g combat classes Mikah taught with Zimzod helping.  The classes were more of an orientation as it would take a lot more time to properly teach the skill.  So they focused on teaching the others what "not" to even try.  At the same time, Aali worked in engineering but allowed Munarshu to take part.  When asked, Munarshu wanted to take part in the zero-g tag training more than the hand to hand combat.

Fesic started off haltingly with a few mishaps while Rol and Aiden did fairly well throughout the session.  Terin pushed to learn to handle himself in null grav.  But Mikah and Zimzod had to teach him and the others.  Not as experienced as the stent teachers, his pushy questions, help requests and needs got him swung into a few bulkheads and bruises.  Still, he managed to straighten out for the rest of the class rather than end up in the med-bay.  Emkir had some interesting mishaps but still decided to come back.  In the second session, Zimzod "encouraged" Fesic to pay attention by slamming him into a few bulkheads as the knight felt Fesic wasn't paying attention.  Rol got a few bruises for being overconfident as did Aiden.  Emkir had more mishaps in the second class than the first and bowed out while Terin managed to avoid more major incidents.  In the third class, Fesic was catching on and, while Rol had some missteps, Aiden recovered as had Terin.

As they set up the tag game, Mikah wanted it to be a real challenge.  Especially since they only had four units.  So she and Zimzod set the whole ship as a battleground.  They outlawed engineering and the bridge, and Emkir volunteered to man the bridge after his first zero-g combat class.  Mikah had him working the ship's grav plates as she wanted some "surprises" to be found as those participating tried to make their way around the vessel.  The only ways into the cargo bay were an aft-starboard hatch and the lift, which they bottomed out and disabled.  As they decided who would play, Rol bowed out saying, "Munarshu can have my place."  When Munarshu asked, "But, don't you want to teach me to dance?" Rol answered, "I will.  But I'll need a harness for that."  And while Munarshu did not understand the reference, he knew it couldn't mean anything good for him.

For the first run through, Mikah selected Munarshu, Terin and Aiden to try, as a unit, to beat her.  As that bout got under way, Aiden got eaten by Mikah.  Terin did just slightly worse than Aiden, but served as more of a distraction for Mikah.  But she still took him down in turn.  And Munarshu never got out of the gate, having issues with the null gravity to begin with.  So Mikah was able to deal with the first two before hunting the engineer down and finishing him off.  For the second battle, Mikah gave her gear to Fesic, to see how he'd work?  The other three reset their units and waited for the game to begin.  Once things got started, Fesic had the most issues just getting started.  Munarshu wasn't doing much better than Fesic and Aiden just marginally better than them.  Despite his earlier performance, Terin actually managed to grab a handhold here and there.  And after a short fight with Aiden, caught and finished off Fesic and Munarshu.

As a result of his surprising action, it was decided Sir Terin would try his skills that night in a "cage match" against Sir Zimzod.  When that was announced, Emkir cheered, "One goes in!  One comes out!  Because Terin doesn't matter!"  In preparation, they moved the cargo in the bay to create as much space as they could for the match.  After dinner, Mikah even made snacks for the crew.  Despite the snacks, once the word was given, Terin was too slow off the mark as Zimzod used skill and experience to take the navigator apart.  Lit up like a damage control board in three out of three bouts, Terin didn't even get his weapon out of its sling once.  And with that, the training runs were over and the crew settled in to lessons learned and the last bits of the work they needed to complete.

On the seventh day in jump, everyone kept an eye out for warnings from the computer.  And forty minutes from when they projected it, the emergence warning came.  They were coming out of jump space.  As Fesic realized must have been tradition aboard the Hotel California, the crew all put on their vacc suits, or combat armor in Terin's case.  So as Fesic geared up, the crew took their stations with Aiden on the bridge, Emkir backing him up and Mikah supervising.  Terin was at the navigator's station and Fesic and Zimzod in the gun turrets.  Aali and Munarshu were in engineering and Rol in the ship's lounge.


Equus - Above And Below

     Once they emerged into real space, the bridge crew set about confirming their location and the ship's status.  Rol relaxed a bit, as there were no immediate alarms while those on the bridge and in the turrets waited for the sensor shadow to fade.  Once the sensors could see again, the gunners had no threats to target and were able to stand down.  Soon after that, Aiden and Terin locked down thier arrival point in the Equus system, several-hours flight off their intended mark.  But they were in the space the system designated for jump arrival and soon started getting data from the system's outer beacons.  Doing the extra scan work as they received the port frequencies, system notifications and early advertisements, they started the burn in-system.

As they flew, Mikah set the priorities for the crew.  First, they would hit the main port to check mail and stock up on food and consumables, because they'd be spending a lot of time scooping fuel.  Then they would spend the five days burning to the nearest gas giant.  After scooping and refining their fuel, they would make the five day burn out to the 100d limit so they could jump to the Skull system.  Mikah had also agreed to one day of crew liberty, except Munarshu who was still grounded.  Beyond that, Mikah reminded everyone they wanted to stay on the ship.  They did not want to run into any issues the locals could create.

The ship joined the rest of the traffic as they burned in-system.  While Equus was a main feeder system to the Rhylanor system, there was less traffic in-system.  There were three points designated for vessels to arrive in and they were going to the primary highport.  There were six archologies orbiting the world, but two of those were owned by Mega-Corporations.  When queried, they were told that only ships flying the corporation's registry could dock there.  A third station was operated by the Equus military, and the space around it was restricted.  Of the three others, a survey of the stations showed they were all operated more or less equally by the Starport Authority.

They called one of the SPA stations and were able to ask for a schedule of docking prices.  Docking externally, with an arm extended to their airlock and supply umbilicals extended on gantries, was available.  They could also rent an internal bay that had pressurized doors, sealing the atmosphere in or they could land in an arrival bay and have the ship shuttled into the station's interior on a crawler/cradle.  Those berths were the closest to all station services and the most expensive.  Going over the prices, Mikah and Zimzod agreed they could tie up to an external gantry at Cr 100 a day plus consumables and atmosphere.  As they docked, Mikah chose not to connect to the station's comp-net or entertainment systems, saving an extra fee.  An advertisement connection was connected for free, though that would be constant ads, 24x7.

Maps of the station showed it was organized into three circular concourses set between docking rings, station's services sectors and other offices and venues.  Once inside the boarding ramp, a spacer would find the first "ring" within the station's skin filled with berths, bays, service compartments, quick buy venues and bars.  Inside these, Customs Health and Immigration stations allowed security to interface with crews and travelers who didn't need to cross the extrality line.  Inside the security ring, more shopping and tech venues mixed in with communications and service stations, IISS and corporate locations as well as restaurants and bars.  Inside these, short stay hotels and motels were added into the mix as the quality of the venues increased.  Finally, in the center core of each level were the restricted station services and management systems as well as engineering.  Outside the station, in modules of varying shapes and sizes, were fuel pods and other engineering needs.

As Mikah worked with station authorities, she was told a consumables refresh would cost Cr 500, and agreed to that.  When they asked how else the station could help the crew, Mikah said they only needed to order supplies from food services and could use their comms to contact a vendor.  Mikah was told anyone planning to visit the station needed to individually purchase oxy-accounts.  These accounts would cover a basic amount of oxygen used, but would track the additional resources used by those boarding the station, to offset the costs of shipping resources from the planet below.  Mikah thanked them for that information but said none of the crew would be boarding the station so they wouldn't need any oxy-accounts.

Finally, when asked how long the ship would be in port, Mikah said two days.  She expected to load more food and spend a day downwell before burning out to the gas giant.  Once she paid Cr 200 for the docking, the connection was cut and Mikah did a directory search on the "advertisement-net" for a food seller.  Connecting to one of the many vendors, Mikah cut a deal for two weeks' worth of "actual meal" servings, rather than protien packs, for Cr 540.  After Mikah agreed to that, an agreement to deliver those was worked out and the vendor offered to connect Mikah to other partner firms offering items hard to get in this region of space.  Some of those were goods made in the Glisten system, Darrian and Sword Worlds space as well as curio items and novelty goods said to be made in the Foreven sector.  Mikah said no thanks to that offer and cut the line.

With no services from the station, Rol saw no reason to do anything more than continue his work and relax a bit.  He did do his best to look into what broadcast advertisements were beaming up from the world below to decide what to do with the planned liberty Mikah had planned downwell?  Fesic started hitting the ship's Library Data to check out the horticultural data for the oceans of Equus.  He soon noticed several others trying to monitor and identify broadcasts from downwell and joined them to see if any channels could help his research?  Aiden sparked up a comms set and contacted the Scout base mail offices, to check for crew mail.  Mikah checked in with Aali in engineering to find the engineers and androids had been leeching residual power from the jump systems and were beginning post-jump tests and resets.  While she did anticipate five more days of work, Aali said this allowed for the planned liberty the following day.

Zimzod had no specific needs, so he worked with Mikah to help "the little woman" with her work and getting the ship set up.  Part of this was following her orders to supervise the food delivery.  Emkir was searched for broadcast sources from the world below, to set up a "special day" to show Aali, since the Captain agreed to a day's liberty.  Terin was also interested in trying to see what news was being broadcast from the surface of Equus.  He ended up working with Emkir, Fesic and Rol to track and acquire broadcast sources from the planet.  He also researched data on the Equus system's herbs, spices and active minerals, from both his research and the ship's library data.  While Mikah worried what witch's brew of technology the four men were cooking up, they did manage to lock onto a number of surface channels and add them to the ship's entertainment system.

Once he had a source, Emkir looked for tourist data so he could offer Mikah ideas and any direction on tourism opportunities for the crew.  He also looked into details for renting a boat and various other "special" activities to show his wife a good time.  This was the second water world they had been to since Aali joined the crew, but they didn't have time to relax in the Mora system.  So he wanted to share a special time with Aali and show her some adventures on a watercraft.  What he found was that most tourism opportunities began with a paid trip, via the world's only downport above sea level on Mount Bellis.  From there, tourists debarking port shuttles or personal vessels would board submarines to an undersea facility on the edge of the continental shelf.  Once in the "adventure complex", visitors would have a huge amount of secondary experiences.

Equus was a world of seabed settlements, underwater archologies and stations.  These communicated with cargo and commuter submarines and seabed hugging sealed maglev transport systems as well as sea floor communications links as water seriously degraded radio signals.  Still, there were above surface beacons and broadcast systems as the world was constantly traveled by surface and sub-surface trawlers and commercial vessels ranging from small fishers to monstrous seafood trawlers, processing and packaging factories.  When Rol finally got hold of several channels which seemed public information venues, he listened to stories about the issues facing the various communities.

Rather than national and international news, Rol heard commentary on relationships between cities.  Stories covered city interactions which included competitions, conflicts and cooperation.  Stories outside those related to the cities fell into legal reports, cultural commentary, financial and fishery news, sub-surface "weather" involving currents and alerts on missing vessels and SAR operations.  It was remarkably similar to the news one would get from any system's mainworld.  There was also interstellar news, mostly regarding shipping data along with financial and trade news.  As Rol listened, he realized there seemed to be remarkably little discussion of dissension between cities.  It also seemed, to Rol, that each city seemed to behave almost like a separate city-state or petty princedom, though he admitted that could be his perception.

Despite this, Rol knew from the ship's library data that five of the cities had been "taken" by the Rugerio family during the closing months of the Fifth Frontier War.  On the Imperial side of things, the world was the fiefdom of Count Marquis Corven Haflore, who spent much of his time at the court of Duke Leonard of Rhylanor.  This was good news, because he was apt not to have taken sides between the Grand Duchess and the Arch Duke before his elevation.  There was no clear data on the situation between the Count and the Rugerio family over the past two years since the war's end.  This suggested, to Rol, that there were issues and someone was working very hard to keep them quiet.  Rol wondered just how stable things were "behind the curtains", but was glad to know the crew were not at all involved."

Aiden's main concern was checking with the IISS, to check for any x-mail for the crew.  Once he identified himself, Aiden was told there were no mail items for any of them.  He then connected to the port, to set up a complete refresh of the atmo and other environmentals.  Aiden was told that would cost Cr 1,500.  Checking with Mikah, he got authorization for that from ship's funds.  When he asked Mikah, she asked him to check on fuel prices as a curiosity.  When Aiden asked, he was told they could pump water for them to crack for only Cr 6,000!  Given how inexpensive that was, Mikah decided to say the hell with the gas giant and cut the ten-day trip plus refueling down to the five days in-system.  When she told Aali, the chief engineer turned to Munarshu and said, "Well, while we're having fun tomorrow, I guess you get to crack water."  After checking with Aali for her time needs, Mikah called the station and paid an additional Cr 500 for docking for the rest of the week.

So Munarshu had a fun filled day monitoring the fuel purification systems ahead of him.  When he asked for access to the bridge systems, Mikah said "no" after confirming with Aali that access would not be needed.  During that chat, Terin poked in that the only reason Munarshu would need nav access was if he were going somewhere and asked if Munarshu was planning on leaving the system?  Munarshu pointed out that, with the entire crew on the surface, if anything went wrong, he wouldn't be able to help.  Overhearing, Rol said, "Call the station and ask for help." in a tone that made it clear he thought Munarshu was letting his paranoia get to him a bit.  Terin comedically suggested Munarshu take the air-raft down if needed, knowing it would take eight hours to do that.  When it seemed Munarshu might protest more, Aali said, "That, my dear junior engineer, is when you go to the proper authorities."  Munarshu simply shrugged and gave it up.

As they started tanking fuel, Emkir's time was spent productively, and he let them know about the details that evening.  He found they could ignore the highport services and shuttles by flying the cutter to the downport and pay field fees there.  Once dirtside, the crew would board a submarine to the "adventure complex", Ackles Tenbrook station.  Then, each of the crew could book whatever other excursions they preferred.  A menu of excursions and prices would be available if they were tied to the station's data-net.  What they did know was that it would cost them Cr 700 to land at the downport.  Once there, it would cost Cr 500 per person to take the submarine to the station.  There, they would get vouchers for two meals, from the food available on-station or while on the excursions, and full access to the public spaces of the station and its attractions.  According to what Emkir had learned, there were quite a number of free things to do there as well as the value-added excursions.  One of those was to gear up in an exosuit and spend a day swimming and traveling with a dolphin pod!

When Emkir asked who was interested, Rol was first but everyone else joined in except Munarshu.  because they'd now be docked for the whole week, Mikah had offered him a day of liberty to join them.  But he chose to stay and monitor the ship's systems, saying, "You've seen one water world, you've seen them all."  After who was going was set, the crew settled in for the night and set alarms after figuring out how early they'd need to get up to visit the complex.  Because submarine shuttle services were fairly constant throughout the 24-hour day, they only needed to factor in the descent and docking particulars and all to make sure they had the time to do any tours they wanted.  Then, the crew settled into bed.


A Day Touring And Exploring Equus

     As was his normal habit, Munarshu was awake at 5am and out into the ship before the others.  From that point, he started setting up for his day managing the fuel purifiers and engineering systems while also overseeing the androids.  One thing he regretted was that he'd be cooking his own meals, as Rol would be downwell with the rest of the crew.  Still, Rol did wake early enough to cook breakfast which Munarshu was allowed to share in, even after having shot him in the Rhylanor system.  Rol was so forgiving, he didn't even add laxatives to Munarshu's plate.  Soon enough, the crew were fed, ready and boarded the Probe for the ride downwell.  Once they'd contacted the downport control, they were given landing authorization and directed to a space of flat concrete at the edge of the field, beyond which some of the very rare solid and dry ground was given over to above-water farming.

Charged Cr 700 landing fee for the day, the crew began heading for the subarmine boarding station when Emkir led Aali off and wished them a fun day!  It turned out Emkir had connected with another firm and rented a power boat for the day, with plans to show Aali how much fun a day on the oceans could be.  Once they were aboard, with their own food supplies provided, Emkir drove them out into the ocean as he told her about his plans.  During the day, he planned to run along the artificial coast, along the edge of those local archologies extending above the surface, to show her views rarely seen by non-water worlders.  Making the most of available technology, these coastal facilities specialized in reflecting light below the surface while also drawing in clean atmospherics to supply other seabed settlements.  Because of their purpose, the towers extending into the sky were like gleaming glass and steel sculptures.

Once done running the coast, admiring the towers, Emkir turned the boat away from the immediate coast to connect up with pods of dolphins who worked either in port to subsurface interfacing or in various jobs like emergency search and rescue.  After spending some time meeting and getting to know some of the dolphins, and even slipping out of the boat to swim with them, the couple went out to the open sea to enjoy the adventure.  Eventually, when evening came, Emkir served dinner drifting in an ocean glowing with lights of a sub-surface archology before some relaxing time spent cuddling before they returned to the port to meet up with the crew for the return to the ship.

The rest of the crew paid their Cr 500 each and boarded what turned out to be a cruise ship built into the core of a huge submarine.  With panels providing visibility outside the vessel, the hour and a half trip to the undersea archology had its own opportunities to sightsee and check out the tours available from the center.  The sights even included a shallow depth synchronized performance of dolphins, to drive interest in ticket sales to visit the dolphin pods.  Space was available to look at vids of all the excursions available to visitors once they got to the complex.  And once docked to the complex, the crew joined the others moving into the center.  Exploring the space, they were treated to a huge open space supported by massive curved pillar structures.  Thanks to the advanced tech used, the engineering allowed for the pillar system to curve and twist while providing secure support to the structure.  Even the massive cross beams providing integrated and distributed support were manufactured in such a way to not obscure.  So you could see anywhere from anywhere when inside the complex.

As they arrived, before splitting up to take separate excursions, Terin talked the crew into taking a group picture.  Even Mikah agreed to stand with the others as they used Terin's Ident to snap shots.  Terin then spent Cr 500 to take a general tour of the undersea world as his homeworld had fairly small and very shallow seas and lakes.  From the moment they set down, the simple vastness of the oceans was overwhelming to him.  To be able to descend into the depths was something he'd never experienced in his childhood.  And while he'd seen more of the universe since leaving home, this was still something new and unusual for him.  So Terin signed up for his tour, bringing visitors to one of the local archologies to show how people lived and worked on Equus.  Once the tour was over, Terin spent Cr 200 on an e-book herbal of native plant-life.

After just under an hour touring the local archology, the cruise took them to see a number of the undersea plantation and seafood farms.  Some of these had opportunities to stop and see how things were done while others were simply the chance to view the landscapes, colors and even the schools of sea life.  Travel was easy, aboard a "Comfort-class" touring submarine with many large area windows with built in data grids so information about anything visible could be called up on the windows themselves with one's fingers.  While the tour took much of the day, Terin was pleased as they stopped or viewed nearly every aspect of activity in the local cities.  They even stopped at undersea manufacturing facilities.

Fesic also spent Cr 1,000 on a tour that was much more botanically based.  Those on his tour were actually brought into some of the farms to get to see the botany, hands on.  The views from his submarine were just as majestic and awe inspiring, if more so for the closer approaches as the tour ignored the more industrial and sociological sites.  Rol jumped in to learn as much as he could about the foods, spices and recipes.  This meant Rol spent the entire day touring the free sites and experiences of the center while spending a few credits at each dining experience.  Rol would eventually spend Cr 150 on snacking his way through the complex.  He then spent Cr 30 on some supplies to try a couple of recipes aboard the ship.  In addition, Rol picked up a cookbook which was fairly comprehensive and also contained cross-referenced comparisons of ingredients from other systems, making the recipes more generically usable.

Aiden was most interested in mechanically constructed underwater weapons.  And to his delight, the facility had what was termed a "museum" of man-portable weapons systems.  They not only displayed lines of deep sea weapon systems but promoted the idea these could be bought and exported for use in other systems.  In fact, there were even displays showing what weapons had successfully become standard weapons in other systems.  The museum also had exhibits covering the growth of the society established on modern Equus, as well as covering each of the various wars and tragedies through that history.  Aiden was pleased to spend much of his time examining the parts displays and vids covering the many hand weapons of the system.  Still, after half a day wandering these displays, Aiden had done them completely and moved on to take an excursion to the complexes submarine harbors, to see and tour the different submarine classes.  From security to tourism, they saw every class of submarine and deep sea vehicle and visited the mechanical and other shops supporting the fleets.

When they arrived, Zimzod was happy to follow Mikah as she went looking to learn about the gemstones which came from the system.  The display of gems ranged from the biogenic, like pearls, to more traditional minerals and crystals.  From the biogenic side, there were many translucent and more opaque materials which had been named as varieties of pearls.  So there were a great number of so called "Equus Pearl" class gemstones for display and sale.  Displays also had a huge amount of water-polished stones that were both gemstone and non-gemstone quality, but whose polished surfaces made them worth purchase.  Finally, they had a range of 75 to 80 gemstones which ranged in rarity from fairly easily acquired to extremely rare.

As Mikah browsed the selections, she found a stone called the "Suspended Opal".  This gemstone was the product of the unique geology of Equus.  Because tectonic and volcanic activity on Equus was vastly different than other worlds, and mostly undersea, diamonds were almost unheard of in-system.  So one of the most unique stones available was a base quartz which had, under deep sea pressure, seen silica intrusions which formed internal opalescent veins.  This gave the appearance of extremely fiery and brilliant opals, which appeared to "float" within quartz stones.  Furthering the name, a qualified and talented jeweler could actually make the quartz surrounding quarts fade from notice, so the opal seemed to float in the space of a setting.  Of course, Mikah was instantly interested in the one example on display but also instantly noticed the cost KCr 100.  Still, she wasn't ready to walk away and started to talk to the manager the salesperson called over.

Soon enough, they agreed to sell her the piece for KCr 80, and they had a secure courier deliver the stone to their cutter.  With the sale done, they even broke down the sales display and replaced it with more generic stones as they didn't have a second suspended opal to put in the cabinet to sell.  That, too, pleased Mikah despite the amount of cash spent.  Especially when the salesperson confided in her that might be the only one to sell that year!  After shopping, Mikah took a look at the still available excursions, as some were already leaving.  She eventually settled on a general tour that was more scenic than the one Terin had taken.  It had amenities and food service more than a step above Terin's tour.  While more expensive than the others, economic sites were replaced on this excursion with scenic undersea vistas, geologic formations and other visual experiences.

Once those on-world embarked on their excursions and the day progressed, the crew members enjoyed their experiences and eventually were brought back to the complex for a large communal dinner.  This was the end of the day, as time was winding down.  The crowds were encouraged to return to the shops which linked the interior of the complex to the airlocks which connected to all submarines.  This guaranteed people were constantly moving back and forth between them.  The meal was served and everyone was seated in a place where they could almost see the entirety of the central core.  Holographic entertainments were played throughout the open spaces, showing off the living monsters of the seas of Equus.  When the meal and entertainment were done, the guests were all eventually escorted back to the transport submarines and back to the downport.  There, the crew met up with Aali and Emkir and returned to the Hotel California.

When he was called by the returning crew, Munarshu was pleased to say his day had been very boring.  No crisis or issue had made his day "more exciting" as he oversaw the operations aboard.  As they called the highport for clearance and ascended back to orbit, Mikah extended their stay at least one more day while they processed the unrefined fuel.  The port was happy to bill them Cr 100 more and asked if Mikah was certain she didn't want to subscribe to some port services?  As Terin reminded everyone they had to spend the balance of the coming week in-system for engineering work, Mikah agreed to pay Cr 500 for a week-long data access package.

Fesic and Terin compared notes during the ascent, and Fesic was impressed with the adaptations of flora at depths due to the challenges of environment, especially pressure.  Terin planned to shop on the station once they returned to the highport.  When he said this, Mikah suggested they go to Astroburgers for dinner the next day.  Fesic said he'd check out the port directory now they had access to it, to see where he might want to shop.  When they got back to the ship, Fesic found ten venues that sold weapons as he started following up on Rol's advice.  But some of them were clearly geared to sports or water-based activities.  Other, more mainstream, venues carried products which were sold at a significant premium, due to import costs.  Or they were being dumped at a loss because they were not salable in-system.  One of the other stations maintained an Instel-Arms facility but it wasn't on the same station they were.  So Fesic planned to shop the next day.

Terin searched the port directory for fresh fish and herbs or spices for cooking.  He did find he could order the fish to be delivered without even boarding the station.  Terin found four or five venues, based on their descriptions, which might suit his needs.  When he looked deeper into their products, none of them were anything he had experience with.  As he looked deeper yet, Terin saw that some items were listed as analogs for those herbs and spices he was familiar with.  But there was no guarantee they could suit his research or didn't have significant botanical or pharmcologic differences.  While buying some samples might be fun for himself, Terin realized buying stocks of any spices or herbs could only be of value as a trade item.  Willing to take the plunge, Terin considered ordering Cr 200 of generic goods.  This got him a box loaded 7 tubes by 7 tubes, full of low end product.  As a result, he also decided to go to the station the next day.  With that, Terin racked out.


Where everyone is at the end of the session:

    The crew have all bedded down for the night.

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Next: Morning's Light, Explosions Bright