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Last Updated    February 10 2017
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Morning's Light,
        Explosions Bright

The Calm Before The Storm Troopers

Equus      Following his habit, Munarshu woke to his alarm at 5 am and went through his morning routine.  Then, he went to work in engineering, before breakfast was served.  Soon after that, Rol woke, did his morning routine and began cooking.  That morning, Rol decided to try a recipe from the book with some of the local ingredients he'd also bought.  It was close to being cooked when he cycled through people's personal comms to say chow was on, knowing those still sleeping wouldn't answer.  That done, Rol sat down to taste his own experiment and decided it was OK, but not one of his best.

While Rol ate, Munarshu joined him from below decks.  When the engineer tried the dish, he loved it and very enthusiastically gulped down his share of the morning meal.  Fesic arrived while Munarshu was tucking into the food.  When he tried it, Fesic said the breakfast was nothing to write home about.  Aali heard that when she arrived, after she and Emkir had woken.  She planned on having breakfast and going to engineering.  Aali and Emkir both said they liked the food, though it wasn't the best Rol had cooked.  When Zimzod joined them, he thought the food was 'pretty decent', but wasn't overly impressed with it.  While eating, Aali finished and went to engineering.  Emkir thought about looking to fill the four tons they still had open in the cargo bay while he ate.  He planned on researching the likely needs of the Skull system, to compare with the cargoes to be shipped and see what they might want to carry?

With nothing planned, Zimzod and Mikah decided to relax and watch the morning news, and then some entertainment vids.  Zimzod figured he'd eventually plug in and do some stent training after that.  Mikah also liked what Rol cooked, though she also agreed it wasn't his best work, still, she enjoyed the attempt.  Eventually, Aiden emerged from his stateroom for chow and enjoyed it as had most of the crew.  Terin was the only one who found it "not quite" to his tastes, but not bad.  Rol watched the reactions to his experiment and figured he'd work things out some and get more specific ingredients locally after he fixed the recipe.

Done eating, Emkir plugged into the entertainment network they'd bought access to so he could see what he could find out about cargo?  But, as he worked, Emkir realized there was, as was common in other ports, an entirely separate merchant network, which cost a fee to access.  Before just buying access to the network, Emkir called the port, to see if they had any cargo they needed moved?  He was thanked and told they had contracted transport for their cargoes, so they had nothing to ship.  After that, Emkir checked and found it cost Cr 150 for access, and lasted the week they expected to be in port.  With Mikah's permission to pay from the ship's funds, Emkir checked his options.  They were:
       Finding up to four tons of cargo to be carried to any port they planned to visit
       Finding up to four tons of speculative cargo to sell for a profit anywhere.

Digging into the work, Emkir decided he'd connect to the port for a few hours each day until he found a cargo that suited their plans.  While Emkir got started, Fesic got ready for his shopping trip.  He bought an oxy-account from the station after breakfast.  When he was ready, he was scanned at the air lock.  While out for different goals, Terin also bought an oxy-account and crossed to the station, certain he could manage his exertions to keep his costs low.  While Terin had made his plans, Mikah offered him Zach's hoverChair, still in the med-bay.  She figured it would reduce any costs he created, and Terin accepted before hovering comfortably to the shop he planned to buy from.  After Terin and Fesic went shopping, and since Aali was working in engineering, Emkir worked on understanding the port's trade markets.  While looking for deals, Emkir joked with Mikah and Zimzod about things like offering the inflatable sex doll for sale in the Skull system.

When the cargo matrix asked for their planned itinerary, Emkir checked with Mikah.  They didn't want to give a full list of the systems they planned to visit, and decided to list only their next two planned ports.  Unfortunately, while the market for seafood shipments to Rhylanor would likely make a good profit, they were not planning to return to that system anytime soon.  On the other hand, Skull was a near barren world where foodstuffs would likely sell well.  having access to the trading montage, Emkir planned to dig into the trade data until lunch to see what he could find.  But as he looked, the key trade word he noted in the Skull system description was "Poor".  While it was a non-agricultural and food-poor world, the markets there wouldn't likely be able to pay much for imports.

Terin was disappointed but not surprised when he began to return to the ship.  As expected from his on-line shopping, he'd bought Cr 200 of low end spices in a box of tubes arranged 7 by 7.  But, as he walked, Terin saw the most beautiful sword, made of coral, in a display.  He thought it was just an art piece until he saw the sign advertised it as a 100% functional weapon!  Thinking it couldn't be, Terin went in to check it out and see.  When he spoke to the shop's clerk, the man said the weapon was fully able to be used in combat.  Checking the price, Terin saw it was far out of his price range and was about to just walk away when he remembered, Mikah was into gemstones and weapons.  It was a unique way to combine both.  So he comm'd Mikah and told her about the sword.

Mikah said Munarshu had become attached to the doll and Aiden, overhearing the comment, threw in some jokes about Munarshu's "personal inflated air bag".  None of them wanted to talk about how much less sad the jokes would be if the junior engineer didn't react possessively each time the doll was mentioned.  It was this conversation Terin interrupted when Mikah checked out the sword pictures he sent her.  Emkir went back to the trade screens, where he was seeing many opportunities to ship varying cargoes of natural resources as well as seafood and generic novelty goods.  The problem with novelties were that they were a complete roll of the dice if you could find a culture for whom the cargo "clicks", so they were a financial crap shoot.  Eventually, Emkir worked the trading montage until before lunch and posted that the ship had four tons cargo space to fill.

On the call, Mikah wasn't ready to believe Terin out-right, and looked at the pictures Terin had taken on his Ident and sent to her.  When she saw it, Mikah had to admit it was pretty but was still not willing to believe it was combat capable.  As she said that, and the clerk overheard, Terin was invited to test it out?  Asking where he'd test it and if they had a swordsman in the back room, Terin was surprised when the clerk hit a switch and a padded pell was extended from the wall for him to strike against!  Still, Terin was concerned he'd be stuck paying for the blade if it broke, and didn't have the cash for that.  But when he told the clerk that, the man said "If you can break it, it's yours for free."

Surprised at the claim, Terin looked the blade over again and said he'd like to test the weapon.  Getting into the entertainment value, Terin worked up a sweat, and his oxy-account, as he hacked and slashed away at the pell and cut the padding to rags.  Surprised at how well the sword held up, Mikah asked about the price and was told Cr 7,000.  While she asked, Terin took a selfie of himself holding the sword with the slashed pell in the background.  When Mikah asked what Zimzod thought, he said he really liked it.  She liked it too, and decided she was going to buy it.

Her first thought was that she could think of a number of outfits it would go with.  Zimzod told her she could just buy it and have Terin bring it back, since he had the right to bear arms on the station, because it was Imperial turf.  Accepting that, Mikah haggled with the clerk and paid Cr 6,000 as the clerk completed the sale.  While they finalized that deal, Aiden was digging into something that interested him too.  Not something he wanted to buy, Aiden was following up on the mention the local military used grav-Submersibles in their local Cavalry battalion.

Insert Slip 'A' into Trouble 'B'

Prompt on Command Line      Given his history with grav vehicles, Aiden was interested in checking out the gravSubs for personal reasons.  But, searching through the local web, Aiden found he had to dig more and more as he looked for any specs on the vehicles.  He was so locked in his own perspective that Aiden didn't realize the data might not be on a public site because the locals didn't want it to be.  Eventually, as he crafted his searches, a console opened on his screen and a remote user asked him:

Aiden said he was Sir Aiden Radetsky, Imperial Knight and command pilot of the MV Hotel California as he wondered how someone put a console onto his screen?  Aiden's mysterious conversational partner asked him to specify his interest in the hardware of Equus' military?  When Aiden said he was just curious about the hover submersibles he'd heard about the day before, there was a pause.  Then Aiden was advised to tell his Captain to prepare for a customs inspection.  The connection then went dead, leaving Aiden wondering, "what the fuck?" as he pulled himself up and let Mikah and Zimzod know what was coming.  When Mikah asked, "What did you do", he tried to explain the situation from his understanding and Mikah just shook her head.  She said, "Somebody's gonna get a whoopin'."  That got Aiden to cut loose as he angrily demanded of the terminal, "It was basic data research!  On an entertainment web site!  How's that gonna get any notice?"

Zimzod kept a smirk on his face as he stood to get ready and told Aiden, "You were looking up their local hardware on their network.  You had to know something would go wrong."  Not seeing the humor as much as Zimzod, Mikah said, "Something always goes wrong."  Aiden tried to claim there was no way to know what could happen, and Rol acerbically parodied the line, "Yes!  I just wonder if I can take one of your tanks for a ride?"  At the same time, Mikah hit the 'all ship' while Zimzod picked up his comms.  After the word was out, Fesic asked if there was a chance his breaching charge might cause a problem for the inspectors?  Mikah admitted she didn't know, but they were on the ship and in Imperial territory.  Their best understanding was that the base security would be carrying out this "inspection" as a cooperative courtesy with a department of the system's government.  That said, they were sure they'd get out OK so long as they did nothing offensive and there were no trumped-up charges.

Not incredibly worried, Mikah considered breaking out the psi-helmets, but that could raise more eyebrows than solve problems in an Imperial system.  After considering it, Fesic figured he'd just go about business as he'd intended, since there was nothing else he could do.  Mikah was pleased she'd restricted Munarshu so he wouldn't be carrying any weapons.  Bizarrely, when she looked at Munarshu to see his reaction, the junior engineer was suddenly apparently very interested in removing the cover from a vent duct!  She asked, "What are you doing and why are we not delegating this to the house keeping 'droids?  It's a duct."  With a determined but paranoid edge to his voice, Munarshu told her, "I don't want to be anywhere near the inspectors."  Thinking, 'Wow!', Aali answered Munarshu, "paranoid much?" as she activated her comms.  Concerned there was something to the story that could sour everything, Aali asked, "What do we need to know about this story that we don't already know?"  Instead of answering the question, Munarshu said, "As long as they don't bring any inspectors from the government, we're fine.  If not, they'll..."

Aali admitted, "OK.  Maybe you do need to hide.  So how will we know if there are planetside inspectors?"  They then spent a few minutes with Munarshu describing what he knew of the government uniforms the inspectors might wear.  Getting that much, Aali asked, "Why do you specifically want to hide?  Do you have some history here?"  Munarshu answered blank-faced, "I just don't like the inspectors here."  Saying that wasn't a good enough reason to crawl up a vent, Aali said there had to be something more substantial behind his actions.  Munarshu stood firm, saying "Personal preference.  I don't like the inspectors around here!" in an emphatic voice.  Aali said, "OK.  I take it they dislike you too?  Do they have a specific reason to dislike you?" and Munarshu immediately snapped, "No!"  Measuring the intent, and the crazy, in Munarshu's eyes, Aali decided to let her junior engineer climb into the duct.  She also made sure to seal the cover up behind him, since the hiding place wouldn't be even nearly convincing with the cover unsecured and no apparent maintenance under way.  So Munarshu soon found himself in a space too tight for him to turn around, with his only exit sealed behind him so he couldn't even try to get out on his own.

When she started sealing the vent, and Munarshu became alarmed, Aali pointed out the inspectors would find him if the cover were left off.  And after sealing him in, Aali straightened up and loudly speculated how long after the inspection she'd wait until she let him out?  If discovered and questioned about his presence, Munarshu planned to say he was being punished.  Especially when he heard Aali ordering the androids not to release him in an oddly cheerful voice.  While this went on below decks, and Mikah considered things, Zimzod asked her what they should do about the situation?  Mikah said there was not much they could do except relax and wait to see what happened.  So, as far as she was concerned, she was just going to keep watching vids.  Agreeing with Mikah, Zimzod considered changing into a very bright and 'eye-damaging' shirt and a banana hammock, but decided that could be considered assault in some systems.

Switching directions nearly 180 degrees, Zimzod decided to put on a pot of coffee and play the 'friendly and gentrified rich hosts' card.  About that time, Terin, who was already on his way back to the ship, comm'd and suggested someone get into Aiden's stateroom and make sure schematics of the station were clearly visible, including as much as they could find on secure points in the facility.  Mikah had to pause, considering Terin's repeated displays of passive aggressive behavior.  Whenever someone else on the crew stepped in it, Terin could be counted on to join in, dragging that person into the spotlight and intensifying the glare from their misdeeds.  But in this case, his suggestion got laughs out of Zimzod, and anything that made Zimzod laugh was on his "legal list".  So Mikah let it go 'for now'.

So while Zimzod made coffee, Mikah watched vids, Aali 'tried very hard' not to watch the vent cover.  Emkir was working the merchant-net and stopped to ask Aiden what he'd done?  Getting more of the "It's not my fault" waltz, Emkir nodded and went back to cargo hunting.  For his own circumstances, Aiden set about cleaning things up and setting them to right in his space in preparation for the inspection.  Rol had been relaxing and watching vids while thinking about doing some stent training.  So, he announced it was none of his business, and took that as the perfect reason to move into his stateroom and do exercises with his stent training.  When he said so, Zimzod shot him a look and said, "Is that what they call it these days?" getting a laugh from those in the lounge.  Rol responded, "I'll be exercising one of those things."  And after a pause, he added, "I'll be working on my weapon." and got laughs himself.

And Now, A Visit from Our...

     While returning to the ship, Terin remembered he wanted to look into "copy-cracking software".  He wanted to copy Zimzod's stent training holo, to make a verified working version Emkir could try to hack.  Sadly, Terin's day didn't improve when he was repeatedly told that sort of software wasn't likely available in any storefront.  While the shops he checked out had a wide variety of hardware for everything from ship modules to personal electronics, Terin was directed to the station's comp-network to find it.  Disappointed, Terin headed back to the ship.  But, as he came to the end of his glide home, he was stopped in the outer docking corridor.  He saw, coming from the opposite direction, a set of official-looking vehicles.  Adding to the surreal circumstances, they were very obviously heading towards him until they stopped at a docking port he recognized.  Realizing these would be the inspectors Zimzod had sent a message about, Terin brought the chair to a hover and watched as a handful of people stepped out and organized themselves.  Recognizing the off-beige of the port's security uniforms on a couple, Terin concentrated on the folks in civilian clothes as he comm'd Mikah and told her they had arrived.  Terin noticed the vehicle driver didn't step out. and remained ready to follow further orders as he didn't drive off.

Inside the ship, the crew heard the chime of the access request and Mikah made her way to the ship's air-lock.  Opening the lock, one of the port officials opened their side of the docking collar and raised his credentials while Mikah did a scan of his obviously expensive suit.  The port official introduced himself, and gestured to the others with him while saying, "These people would like to have a look around and get a feel for what your crew is doing in-system?"  After greeting them, Mikah simply invited them in.  Not surprisingly, the folks in suits were executives or held rank, while those in the off-beige uniforms were station security, armed with non-lethal weapons.  After they'd entered the connecting passage to the ship, Terin started to advance forward, only to be stopped by the driver who now exited the vehicle.

Being faced by the driver, who had his hand on the bump under his jacket, likely covering his hip holster, Terin announced he was a Knight and a member of the ship's crew.  When Terin offered his Ident, the man checked it over before making a call on his hand's-free comms, still with a hand on his hip where a weapon was likely covered by his service jacket.  Inside the ship, things in the lounge were just settling after introductions.  The initial explanation of what was happening was put on pause when the visiting team apparently heard something on their comms.  With a nod to a security agent, the assistant director said, "Please hold on a second."  At that, the guard returned to the air lock and took a stance, though he didn't draw his weapon.  This man, hand on hip holster, became visible to Terin while they let him glide his seat into the docking tube.

Before they let him board the ship, they checked his meter and charged him Cr 250 on his oxy-account.  After that, they allowed him to glide into the ship with the sword across his lap.  When he arrived at the ship's air lock, the guard there stopped him and requested the sword for inspection.  Terin handed that over, and asked the man, "Would you like to see my side arm too?"  Keeping an eye on Terin's hands, the man asked for the sword first and inspected it briefly, along with the sales data Terin displayed on his Ident.  Done with that, the man asked for Terin's side arm and inspected it too.  As a matter of process, the man checked Terin's right to carry too.

While that dance happened, the assistant director asked Mikah if she could gather all those aboard into the crew lounge?  When Mikah put the word out, Aali and Munarshu both realized all the work his hiding created had done nothing but cause even more work.  So Munarshu waited as Aali actually regretted having to let him out of the duct.  She did ask if Munarshu wanted to come out before unsealing him, but even he'd know the inspectors would see he was missing at the least.  And when this had crossed the junior engineer's thoughts, Munarshu agreed to come out and follow her up to the lounge.  When the cover was clear and Munarshu out of the duct, Aali had one of the 'droids re-seal it while they went up-ship.  While those in the lounge waited for the others, the port executive told everyone to relax and have seats and asked what they were doing in system?

Mikah basically told them the ship was hauling cargo on a course that passed through the system and was next bound for Skull, and then the Resten system.  The executive nodded, and Mikah continued, explaining they were doing engineering resets and looking for cargo that might sell in the Skull system.  Since everyone in the compartment knew that seafood would certainly sell in the Skull markets, that was an easy answer to give.  Eventually, everyone aboard arrived as Mikah and the executive discussed their itinerary.  Rather than wait for the late arrivals at that point, the official inquiry began, starting with asking Rol for his name, job on the ship and Ident.

Handing his Ident over, Rol said, "I am Sir Rol Kaihvos and I am the ship's cook."  After a brief tour through his Ident, they moved on to Aiden.  The pilot looked the man in the eyes and said, "I am Sir Aiden Radetsky, and I am the person you wanted to talk to."  Saying, "Oh really?" to create a pause and organize his thoughts, the executive asked, "And why would you say that?"  Asking Aiden the question, the man made no attempt to hide a slight knowing smirk.  Aiden simply said, "That's the impression I got from the person on the other end of the line."  This assumption, based on knowing more of the moving parts, confused the executive.  The man asked, "At the end of which line?"  Aiden answered, "On the computer search."  Not sure where this was going, the man asked, "And what were you searching for?"

Figuring the man wanted the whole thing dragged out, Aiden said, "Well, I'm from the Craw system, which is a very dry world.  So, one of the things I'm fascinated by is a world that is entirely covered by water.  And, being a pilot of grav vehicles, I noticed this world used submersible grav vehicles in their military.  So, I was curious what kind of vehicles they used?"  The man nodded while Aiden finished up, saying "So I did some basic computer searches and that's when I was told you guys were coming."  Nodding again, the man told Aiden, "As you might have guessed, the locals are a bit picky about people searching for data on their military hardware.  Especially with the current political situation, since things are not yet settled in the Marches."

Taking everyone in the lounge in with a sweeping glance, he continued, "So I can understand why that would have triggered something.  And I can understand why your being offworlders would have made that less obvious to you.  But, let me advise you that looking up the technical data on their armed forces is not advisable unless you are somehow connected to their government."  With that, he passed on to Emkir asking, "And you are, sir?"  Emkir answered, "I am Admiral Sir Emkir Meshrumiikiim.  I'm the ship's computer officer and currently the ship's merchant contact."  Catching the word 'currently', the man asked about that and Emkir said, "At the moment, I am filling in.  We recently lost a crew member in the last system we visited."  Hearing that, the executive offered his condolences and Emkir thanked him.

Turning to Mikah with new concerns, based on the death of a crewman during their last stop, he had to wonder if this crew regularly caused trouble?  So, the man asked, "While we've already met, Captain, can you explain to me the circumstances under which your crew member lost their life?"  Like Emkir, Mikah was not above letting the man have his assumptions and she said, "Well, he was murdered in a dark alley."  When he asked, to be sure, "Not here?"  Mikah said it had happened in Rhylanor, and he said he'd heard Rhylanor could be an interesting place.  After giving Mikah his condolences, the executive turned to Zimzod who said, "I'm Sir Zimzod Egosion, and I am the ship's XO."  While he said that, Aali and Munarshu arrived and first saw one of the uniformed security from the port.  Given Munarshu's warnings about people in uniform, Aali wasn't incredibly happy, but couldn't refuse to join the party.

When they were held up, Aali said, "We were told to gather in the lounge.  May we enter?"  Expecting the worst because of Munarshu's ranting, they handed over their Idents when asked, and Aali said, "I am Dame Eikusdi Piirirshu."  Not sure what she was expecting, Aali was certainly pleased to have their Idents quickly and efficently checked and handed back while she and Munarshu were passed on into the lounge without further reaction.  She considered that she just might have to investigate what Munarshu's issues, real or mental, were before too long.  Still, she was asked to identify herself and again turn over her Ident as she led the junior engineer into the lounge.

Aali said, "I am Dame Eikusdi Piirirshu, the ship's Chief Engineer."  After he had checked Aali's Ident and passed it back, the man turned to Munarshu who said, in clipped speech, "Munarshu Sidigur, Assistant engineer."  When he'd dealt with those aboard, the executive said the station's records said there was one additional crew member who was not aboard.  Mikah confirmed he was heading back to the ship and the executive accepted that, admitting, as they'd guessed, the inspection was asked for by the system government.  That said, he felt he could leave it at a 'verbal warning not to poke the local government' and move on with life.  And since most of the crew were Knights of the Imperium, he said they should let them know how they can be of help?  Mikah, Zimzod and the others thanked him, and the man nodded to his people before they left.  When they were gone, Terin gave Mikah her sword and she was so pleased she paid him Cr 100 for being the delivery service.

Lunch And A Trip

After the Entertainment part of their morning ended, Aiden decided to tune into what the locals referred to as their "Tourism network" and watch vids.  While he did that, Aiden saw coverage of civilian submersibles, similar to the designs he had been interested in.  But he chose not to dig into those, since he'd had enough surprises for the day.  Despite Emkir's offer, just before the port crew left, no one took them up on the coffee.  That was just fine for Mikah, who said, "More for us!"  She then told the others they had a pot of black gold to share!  Pouring cups, Zimzod was surprised the Port's executives had left and he didn't feel violated!  Aali enjoyed a sip or two while considering the difference between what the port officials did and Munarshu's radically out of scale reactions.  That was another thing to tuck in her mind for the moment.  Mikah and Zimzod returned to watching vids and relaxing while Aali and Munarshu went back to engineering until lunch was served.

Rol started to plan what he'd cook for lunch while Emkir finished up with his day's work looking for cargoes.  On the station, Fesic had shopped for a HUD and the elements needed to integrate his laser rifle and snub pistol to it.  Having checked the shops on the station, Fesic knew there were four weapons dealers, though some specialized in weapons for water sports.  Having done the foot work, Fesic found there was a HUD which was in line with his needs, but only found a bulky klugey looking wrist suit interface.  He was also only able to find an integration kit for his laser rifle, none for his pistol.  And while he didn't like the looks of the wrist interface at all, he was also not impressed with the rifle integration kit either.  To add injury to insult, the price of the HUD was KCr 25, which was easily two to three times what he'd expect to pay.

Not impressed with his choices, Fesic shrugged, went to pay his Cr 125 oxy-account bill and returned to the ship.  When he'd gotten back to the ship, Fesic asked if the inspectors had taken the breaching charge and was happy to learn they didn't.  He was even happier to find there was still some nice warm coffee left for him to share.  Having had a cup, Fesic silently promised himself he'd always drink any free coffee he was offered.  When the pot was drained, Rol asked for the tailings, to cook with later, and was told he could have them.  Fesic was also happy he'd apparently arrived just in time for lunch, which he ate while looking up an FAQ on Customs procedures.  After he ate, Fesic went to the cargo bay to spark up the holo-classes and work on learning the customs system.

Aali decided she had enough tech supporting her work, as well as Munarshu, that she could relax a bit.  So, she decided to dive into the genealogy data she'd gotten from Duke Leonard's library.  Digging out the datapad the information was put on, Aali also found the fob she'd bought from "Frank's" on Mora.  Rather than return to his work, Munarshu asked permission to comm the planet and see if he could contact any friends he still had in-system.  He had to admit, the last time he'd been in-system was for training in 1109, which was five years and part of a war ago.  But he was still curious if there was anyone left he knew?

Seriously doubtful Munarshu would find anyone who he knew, Mikah also recalled that she'd said he could have a day's liberty when they went downwell.  And since he'd chosen to stay with the ship and crack water, she figured he could waste his time how he liked and let him use the ship's comms to do directory scans and look for people he knew.  After a bit of a search, Munarshu thought he'd found two contacts he might say hello to.  One had worked in base services and the other had been an instructor.  Pleased, Munarshu comm'd the former instructor, named Mak Ilusur, who was damn surprised to hear from one of his former students.  They talked, and Munarshu learned the man had changed careers.  He was now working as a tour guide and "deep sea experiences" guide.  While they talked more, Munarshu learned the man had been a spotter, locating wildlife so tour guides could keep tourists happy.

That gig had been a good challenge he'd enjoyed.  It made sure the guides found wildlife and got good tips, which they'd share as part of the deal.  The work was fun and the pay was good enough that Mak eventually decided to cut out the middle man.  He said he now lived comfortably in one of the seabed cities.  When Mak asked what Munarshu was doing back in system, Munarshu said, "Oh, I'm aboard the Hotel California.  We're in system for reset, resupply and refueling, and I was wondering if you'd like to get together, pending approval from my captain for shore leave?"  Mak was agreeable and said, "Let me know what you have in mind and I'll see if I can fit it in."  With the call done, Munarshu asked, "Captain, may I have my day of leave?" and Mikah said, "So long as you're back in 24 hours."  When Munarshu agreed, she sharply said, "If its 24 hours and one minute, you're fired."

With that permission, Munarshu called Mak back and told the man he'd be planetside in a few hours.  After that, Munarshu considered "how" he'd get planetside and asked if he could borrow the ship's boat?  When Mikah said, "Not unless someone goes with you", Munarshu looked around the compartment and asked, "Anyone need to go down to the planet?"  Aiden quickly said, "Not now."  Rol said, "you're phrasing it wrong." and Munarshu asked, "How should I phrase it?"  Rol suggested he ask who 'wanted' to go down to the planet?  When Munarshu did, Rol first said he'd go down and play chaperon, but then withdrew his offer to a number of laughs.    At the same time, Emkir scanned the port directory for spacer bars, intent on listening for leads on cargoes?  While he didn't offer to help Munarshu he found a likely section of concourse bars to crawl in his search.

Munarshu waited for anyone to step up while Emkir asked Aali how she felt about a sleazy night out on the station?  Aali said she could take the time, even with Munarshu off-ship too.  Mikah suggested they take the hoverChair and Emkir said he didn't want a ticket for drunk driving.  Aali asked if the idea was worth the oxy-account bill and Emkir said it could help fill the remaining space in their cargo hold and make money.  After she agreed, Emkir asked Terin if he wanted to join them but the navigator said he wanted to go downwell with Munarshu, letting the engineer off the hook.  He did ask if Munarshu was going to an actual city or a tourist site first?  When Munarshu said he was going to Ulir city, Terin turned to Mikah and asked, "Permission to escort Gladys to Equus Captain?"

The look on Munarshu's face, when Terin used the nickname the crew stuck him with, got almost as many laughs as his using the name did.  Still, that meant he could borrow the cutter to get downwell and he started making plans with Terin about where to land.  When Terin made it clear Munarshu was going to be responsible for all Terin's fees and costs, Munarshu wondered how close the city was to any scout facilities?  He figured, being a retired scout he could use them while he called the base to ask what facilities they had downwell?  The tech answering the call first asked why Munarshu wanted to know, and what his military status was?  Munarshu said he was a retired scout, and was looking for a cheap landing spot since he was flying down-well.  After his status was checked, the tech checked near the city Munarshu was visiting and said they had no facilities there.

Checking further, Munarshu was told there were two facilities where he could land if his vessel was submersible?  And if not, they could allow him to use Scout-reserved landing space at the world's official downport.  He'd still have to pay to land, but he'd pay a discounted fee.  He'd also have to take on-world transit to where he was going.  Hearing that, Munarshu and Terin both realized no one had ever told them if the cutter was or wasn't submersible?  While Munarshu looked for anything on the pressure limits of the cutter, Terin called the downport to ask what the landing costs were for 24 hours?  When he said he had permission from the IISS, they said the charge was Cr 100, instead of the regular Cr 200.

Taking more time, Munarshu spent half an hour checking the limits of the cutter to find it could submerge to a depth of 1,000 feet.  Munarshu reconsidered his options and Terin reminded him time was running, but Mikah was gracious.  She said she'd wait to start Munarshu's clock until they actually left the ship.  At that, Munarshu decided taking a sub from the downport was his best option.  Time-wise, it would take them 45 minutes to land after they undocked with the ship.  Because he didn't have access rights on the ship, Munarshu accepted that Terin would pilot the cutter downwell.  After they landed, and paid the Cr 100 fee, they learned it would be a five hour ride to Ulir City that would also cost Cr 45 one way.  Both Munarshu and Terin were surprised and grateful how inexpensive that was.  After buying tickets, Terin took a nap while Munarshu studied.

A Star Shining Inside

     After Terin and Munarshu left the ship, Mikah joked that it was their chance to slip out of port quickly until she realized they'd also lose the cutter.  Fesic went below decks to work on the cargo sealer/customs system for five hours.  In the lounge, Zimzod was happy since everything he had to do, except his continuing stent studies, was done.  With his free time, Zimzod decided to try violating Mikah's morals again.  When he made his interests clear, Mikah decided she had nothing better to do and they went to her stateroom.  There, they experimented with the gravity controls and did their best to join the "three dolphin club" with only the two of them there.  Considering the work in engineering, Aali decided to check out her expanded genealogic collection.  But she decided to do it in engineering, where she could monitor the working androids.

Getting comfortable, Aali first pulled out the fob she'd bought weeks before in Frank's armory in the Mora system.  Examining it closely for the first time since she bought it, Aali again saw it presented the family background of one "Sir Kaleo Dechomai", back to seven generations.  Checking the surface of the fob it was obviously electronically coated with gold.  There were also two crests on the Fob, one of which was designated as the Arms of the Knight and his family.  The second seemed to be organizational in nature, and not necessarily related to the man's family.  Working to make out the design, Aali could just see a big round object that might be marked with stars, from what she could tell.  Not familiar at all with any order using six pointed stars, Aali sparked up the ship's library data.

design on FOB During her time investigating and monitoring the 'droids, Aali also used some engineering tools to get a better idea of the full image.  While she worked, she realized the round object was looking like an Imperial Starburst!  Only it was partly covered by a sword, drawn vertically over the center of the star.  The work was more difficult for her because the fob had been well used and worn.

Finally, Aali revealed a background of smaller, thinner six-pointed stars spread behind the Imperial Starburst.  Having that, Aali searched the ship's library data for those, and found nothing.  The most telling discovery she made, after an hour's search was a file detailing the Chivalric Orders of the Imperium.  But no matter how she searched, the closest crest she could find had an Imperial Starburst with two swords crossed over it.  Beyond that, she had nothing more than a mystery after searching until nearly 2 pm, with pauses to work the ship's systems or for lunch.

Turning back to the fob from the ship's records, Aali wondered if the device might have a crystal with hidden files on it?  Finding a port and jacking it into the ship's computer, she worked into the afternoon, examining its storage for something hidden.  After all that work, Aali couldn't find any hidden files on the device, but also couldn't account for what appeared to be missing storage space.  When it got close to dinner, Aali was certain there were files but just as certain they were beyond her skill to find.  Deciding she needed someone with more skill than she had at hacking, Aali reached for her comms and called Emkir.

Meanwhile, More Of The Same

     After lunch, Emkir accepted that he'd seen what the port had to offer for cargo until something new arrived.  That done, he started looking at the ships in port and their home ports and itineraries.  He hoped to possibly learn something from what the ships were buying.  Emkir planned to do that and watch the news until dinner.  The station news was as expected.  Local news covered the health and community of the station, which was a small city in space.  Emkir listened to the mercantile news, old to those on-station but new to him, and ignored reports purely related to port operations.

Local stories were followed by events on-station, which seemed heavily canted to locals and threatened to jack up the oxy-accounts of any spacers joining in.  After a second segment reporting on news from the gas giants and station concessions orbiting them, the third segment carried planetside news.  Those included major stories, such as emergencies under-sea like lost submarines and rescues, new construction, etc.  It also included all the criminal, human and other stories that would be expected from the many communities of an entire world.  Finally, there was the interstellar news, which were stories familiar to the crew from Rhylanor.

Their business news taught Emkir a bit more about the world.  From their mining and raw material markets to their under-sea fabrication plants and their worldwide food and spice harvesting.  Under-sea mines produced quantities of ores and raw materials.  Sea-bed refineries and fabrication arcologies would smelt, cut and polish the goods to usable material for construction or salable goods and novelties.  Canneries and food concerns created food stores able to be loaded as cargo onto ships, for sale and export.  They also made all the goods they could to support their own world.  One negative that jumped out at Emkir was that there were not multiple down ports.  And global travel and cargo shipping was a fairly simple, if cramped and uncomfortable process.  That meant one could not make money buying cargoes from one port and selling them at another.  And as he watched the traffic reports, Emkir saw competition arriving.

Merchanters carrying finished and tech goods, bringing cargoes which couldn't be made locally.  And, as they delivered cargo, they bought the goods being sold, taking away those things the California might want.  After Munarshu and Terin left, Aiden watched vids for a bit and relaxed.  He actively ignored any mention made of the civilian grav-submersible models.  Quickly hearing his fill of the jokes, Aiden went into his stateroom to work on his stent training until dinner.  After cooking lunch, Rol looked up the rules and procedures for renting an oxy-account so he could understand the station's billing schedule.  He also checked on the rules for wearing a vacc suit to visit the station, but found that was banned out-right.  Feeling he understood the process, Rol bought an account and went onto the station, hoping to enjoy time in public where he wasn't famous or infamous.  Trying to feel like "John Q Citizen", Rol window shopped and considered watching a vid in a public theater, while sitting and relaxing.

Wandering, Rol saw a 'big sale item' category in the shops on-station was jewelry.  Especially gem-encrusted jewelry made from the stones and natural materials harvested from the sea bed mines of Equus.  When he checked, Rol confirmed his assumption that the jewelry was all locally made.  The stones were mostly pearl-like, opalescent or even their own brand of ocean-bed translucent stones.  And all of it outside the range he wanted to spend, because he wasn't a collector like Mikah.  Another happy discovery for Rol were the food markets, where he tried more local recipes and even bought some ingredients fresh for that night's dinner.  Eventually, Rol started heading back to the ship after spending Cr 50 on samples and food items and Cr 225 for his oxy-account.

Rol was heading back while Aiden worked and studied with his stent, Mikah and Zimzod "studied" zero-g sex, Fesic played with the cargo sealer and Emkir worked the traffic and port matrices.  It was then, Aali comm'd Emkir saying, "Oh, dear?"  Answering, "Hi beautiful, what's happening?"  Emkir listened as Aali said, "Well, I've got a little bit of a computer conundrum here."  When Emkir asked, "What would that be?"  Aali said, "Remember that fob I bought on Mora at Frank's?"  When Emkir said he did, Aali continued, "Well I finally got around to looking at it and, while I can't find any hidden files on it, I get the feeling there ought to be hidden files.  And, I think I need a bit more computer prowess and power to detect and, or, crack them."

Genuinely pleased at the gift Aali found for him, Emkir said, "Oh!  What fun!"  Then Emkir cleared and secured his terminal before heading to engineering to check out Aali's toy.  There, Emkir saw the fob was a basic gold-plated metal affair with a display screen beneath a flip panel.  Embedded into it, the fob had a data crystal and device port.  While time moved toward dinner and Rol actually paid his account and re-boarded the ship, Emkir managed to find there were file handles in use without related files represented in the directory listings.  Activating some programs loaded on the ship's computer, Emkir created a firewall to secure the data-port connected to the fob before he did anything else.  Emkir then dug into the drive.  Lowering the boom, Emkir was quickly able to use the bread crumbs already there to find three hidden files.  He both pointed them out to Aali, and saw the first was a schema file.  That did no more than define how another file would be set up.  It would explain how the fields inside a file were organized, inter-related, limited and filled.  These most usually defined databases.  Not surprisingly, the second file was a database, and the third appeared to be a straight text file.

When Emkir asked, Aali said, "Let's look at the text file first."  Saying "OK", he opened the file and read 'officialese', which said the file had been compiled by the Imperial Intelligence Ministry in the year 716 TI!  The header also stated the data was for official access only and should not be misused.  When she read that, Aali laughed and said, "Well, it's 400 years old so good luck with that!"  Aali said to Emkir, "I'm sure, after four hundred years, this stuff is sufficiently dead and we have nothing to worry about."  Emkir didn't really care about that, and just opened the database.  The software opened and a splash page flashed to remind anyone the data in the file was restricted by order of the Imperial government.  Clearing that, the couple found themselves presented with a comprehensive study of the "Imperial Order of the White Star".  This set Aali back since, despite her passion being following the Nobility, she'd never heard of this order!  Aali said so while also pulling up the earlier captured images she had of the crest on the fob.

Emkir asked if she thought it was a good idea to secure another terminal and research the Order?  Considering what she'd just learned, Aali absently said that might be a good idea.  While the image was interesting to Emkir, heraldry wasn't his thing, so he didn't recognize it at all.  Not that he followed genealogic information.  While he'd asked that question, Emkir also logged into a terminal and connected to the port's entertainment network.  He planned to look for libraries which might be connected.  The search for libraries took half an hour while Aali hit the bathroom before returning to dig into the database looking for names she could research?  What she found was an organized investigation of the assets of the Order.  It included a list of the membership, lists of Order facilities and the services they provided 400 years ago.  And while the people would have been long gone, it was possible some of the ships listed might still be in operation.

So, with Emkir researching off-ship libraries, Aali started researching ship names.  By the time Emkir had his results, he'd found six member-accessed libraries, with no guarantee any of them had data that would help them.  Checking the costs, the first library ran Cr 60 for a day's access and a second was Cr 300 for a week.  The most expensive was a Cr 7,000 membership for full access to the research library of the University of Rhylanor at Equus.  Emkir reported his results, and Aali said she'd found the first four ships she checked on in the ship's library data.  They were listed as "lost between 800 to 825 TI".  That caught at her memory.  Thinking about it, Aali realized the time period coincided with the Psionic suppression wars!  Aali then leapt to the assumption this had been a Chivalric order of psions.  She also realized just how dangerous it might be to even investigate the question?

When Emkir suggested using off-ship libraries, Aali explained her thoughts to Emkir, and showed him the dates the four ships were lost.  Concerned and intrigued, Emkir decided to figure out how many ships they were dealing with?  He opened the schema file to figure out where fields naming ships would be before he ran a basic query against the database.  What he came up with was nearly three thousand ship names!  He then ran a query against the ship's library data to find a number of the ships listed in the library as either "lost" somehow, or last mentioned during the period 800 to 850 TI!  Deepening the mystery, none of those listed as destroyed had any details regarding the circumstances surrounding the loss.  Many were simply listed, "No further contact, presumed lost."  That wasn't "Missing, presumed lost", which would have suggested a search was conducted.

While they didn't have status on all, or even half, the ships, they had enough data to suggest "something" had happened.  And it appeared to affect most of the ships they'd searched for during a very small period of time!  Realizing this could be very dangerous to research.  Aali and Emkir agreed they shouldn't be researched off-ship.  They also realized the only other source of data they had "on-ship" was the genealogic data Aali had gotten from Duke Leonard's library on Rhylanor.  Aali said so, and they hoped there might be more included there than in public records, because it came from the Duke's personal library.  Aali nodded and grabbed the datapad with that download while they went to dinner.  There, they joined Rol.  Fesic was there, having finished studying the cargo sealer for the day.  Aiden set aside his reading when Rol put out an "all ship" message food was ready, mostly for the benefit of Mikah and Zimzod.

Food, Fish And Confusion

     After a descent which took roughly an hour, Terin broadcast the IISS authorizations and settled the cutter at the downport.  Munarshu paid the Cr 100 fee, and they went to the on-world transit terminal.  That was little more than a large sturdy building with "berths" into which the submarines would surface to dock and carry on loading or unloading.  In the ceiling, there were large cranes to move cargo pods to and from the docks, lifting them from or placing them in the opened cargo holds of any given submarine.  There were also a large number of transfer belts and even drive-in bays for the delivery and removal of cargo pods.  Terin had been there the day before, with the rest of the crew on their way to the Kekmazedia entertainment center.  After Munarshu paid the Cr 45 each, the two settled to wait since the next scheduled sub to Ulir City wasn't due for 30 min.  Still, that was included in the five hours they knew their trip would take.

Sparking up his datapad while Terin napped, Munarshu read until the sub arrived, and it was time to board.  The passenger cabin of the sub was fairly crowded because people were crammed in, explaining some of the low cost of transport.  Settling in, Munarshu continued to read while Terin took the opportunity to sleep.  Under way, the trip was nothing special to Munarshu, who had ridden submarines the last time he'd been on-world.  But he did spare a glance, from time to time, at the ocean-scapes visible through trans-steel panels.  During the trip, a meal was served, which was slightly better than military grade.  Terin had his and then went back to sleep.  When the sub finally arrived, they debarked through the city's customs, health and immigration controls a bit later than dinner time.  Munarshu then called Mak to see where they should meet?

With directions using public transit, Munarshu led the way and paid as they used the city's automated grav-people movers to get to Mak's residence.  When they arrived, Mak greeted them and invited them in.  Sitting down, they talked about their lives after Munarshu got orders out-system.  Mak had stayed with the program, teaching until the war ended and military cutbacks began.  So now he spent his time hanging out with friends, both human and dolphin, and worked the tourist trade.  When Munarshu asked, "Why tourism?" Mak pointed out "it paid" and Terin looked around the apartment nodding and said, "Pays well." in an impressed tone.  When Munarshu asked, "Why didn't you go prospecting?" Mak said, "Because prospecting, son, is work."  Mak emphasized the word 'work' and ignored the fact that prospecting did not guarantee "any" money, much less actual pay.  When Munarshu said, "Ah!  You were looking for a job", Mak had to wonder how Munarshu could even compare what he did to prospecting?

He told the pair of spacers, "Right now, my desk is sitting in front of 20 to 40 people per submarine, telling them the history of the sea beds here.  And having my friends the dolphins do tricks the idiots who visit haven't figured out we set up in advance.  And I get paid to do that."  He didn't think he needed to verbally compare that to living 'hand to mouth' at best, while killing yourself in a deep dive suit hoping you'd find something to pay for your current bills, much less the ones for next week.  Mak did say, "And when they ask for something difficult, I lie.  Say, 'I don't know if I can get the dolphins to do that' and use hand signals.  Then, when the dolphins, who hear pretty well for themselves, do what's asked for, we get applauds and extra tips."  With that, he leaned back figuring Terin and Munarshu would see how sweet a deal he'd set up for himself.  Munarshu replied, "What a racket.  While I get stuck sucking vacuum " in a tone of admiration.  Mak answered, "Well, we all rise to our potential."  Mak found it hard not to laugh when Munarshu agreed with him, given the spacer had just been looking down on being a tour guide.

Getting hungry, and hoping to keep Munarshu from sticking his foot in his mouth again, Terin suggested they head out to eat and Mak asked what they were up for?  He was a guide and knew all the places.  Putting real desire into his voice, Munarshu said, "Real sea food."  Terin said, "The last time I was in-system, which was many years ago, you could get this smoked Khallabuche, something or other.  I can't remember the exact name of it..."  Mak interrupted, since he knew just what Terin was talking about and knew a place that would suit them all fine.  Terin was pleased, saying, "Yeah, I remember that shit was really good, so I'd like to get a big hunk of smoked fish steak like that."  Looking at Munarshu, Mak said, "Well, I see your chaperon has more money than sense but we can do that."  When Terin complained he'd not had one of those steaks in eight years, Munarshu said he could pay for it himself, which Terin said he'd planned to.

Mak said it should be an interesting evening as he rose and led them out to go.  Terin asked if Mak could perhaps find a place that would not "ass rape them on prices" and Mak said he had no problems 'guiding them' to a place if someone paid?  When Munarshu started to react to that, Mak laughed and told the engineer he was only joking.  Munarshu just muttered, "You know what we used to call tour guides here?" but Mak came back with, "Yeah, but you know what us instructors used to call students too."  Terin had a healthy laugh watching Munarshu get backed off.  Then they were off to dinner.  At the restaurant, the men placed orders and were asked if they wanted a drink?  When Terin said he'd have "one" drink with dinner, the waiter offered a fermented fish oil-based cocktail.  When Terin refused, Munarshu teased, "But it's a delicacy!" and Terin said, "You drink one then."  The face Munarshu made spoke volumes while the waiter stood for their drink order.

Terin ordered the house wine while Munarshu, aware he'd been up late the night before and was likely to be up late that night, ordered a local non-alcoholic drink.  Mak ordered a beer.  With the orders in, Terin settled in to get to know Mak better while Munarshu decided to ask about cargo.  This despite the fact the cutter was five hours away and they'd have to pay cargo transport to move anything they'd buy.  And they had no authority from the Captain to do so.  When he started talking about the four tons in the ship's cargo bay, Terin reminded him they only had two tons in the cutter.  Undeterred, Munarshu started asking about herbs and spices on Terin's behalf.  Munarshu said, "He went to the Kekmazedia entertainment center yesterday, and they ripped him for two hundred."  This despite the fact Terin had shopped for the spices that morning on the highport and Munarshu had little idea what he was saying.  Munarshu also ignored the fact he was ignoring Mak's feelings as a local while he talked smack about local pricing policies.

Mak interrupted Munarshu to ask Terin what he'd gotten and Terin said "I ordered in bulk", in a comfortable tone that said he didn't feel his purchase was a rip off.  When Mak was interested, and asked for details, Terin listed what he'd bought.  After considering that, Mak told Munarshu, "They didn't rip him.  It's unfortunate you would characterize it that way but it sounds like that's the going rate."  Terin admitted, "Yeah, it's cheap bulk herb stuff.  I would probably have saved money if I came down here to buy it, but the transport costs, docking costs and all that, I woulda just spent it all or more."  Munarshu tried to recover, saying "Yea, but you would have had more fun.  Get some local flavor instead of 'Buy Here!'", shouting the words 'Buy Here' and getting the attention of other diners.

After Munarshu was done, and ignoring his outburst, Terin said to Mak, "But anyway, as I was saying before.  Probably, the one thing we would like to find is a good fish market.  We could get some good food stocks for ourselves and the crew."  Mak said that wouldn't be a problem, but asked how much time they had, because they'd have to keep the fish fresh.  Plus, they would have to transport it and load it in their ship.  Terin estimated it had been nearly eight hours since they'd left the ship and were downwell for a maximum of sixteen more.  That included the five hour ride to the port and an hour lift.  That meant they realistically had ten more hours of liberty.  Mak nodded and said, "So, anything you buy here you have to have transported five hours to your cutter and stored there until you reach your ship and cold storage."

Terin agreed, and pointed out they didn't have to buy the fish right then, and could look into cold storage transport.  He did admit that would jack the prices up.  Mak nodded and asked how much they wanted to spend?  Terin said the cost would have to be decided by their Captain, since the ship would pay for food.  Terin also said they could buy smoked fish, which would remain preserved for a long time.  When Munarshu suggested bringing the ship down to pick up the delivery, Terin derisively said, "No, we'd use the cutter."  When Munarshu said he was talking about the cutter, Terin snapped, "It's already down.  You can't bring it any lower."  That led to a pause while Mak and Terin tried to make some sense of Munarshu's comment.

When Mak suggested Terin call his Captain, Terin ignored the guide's advice and said he wanted to see what prices were available before calling and bothering her.  Mak considered that while Terin pushed for a shopping run and they headed out.  Terin suggested they spend no more than two hours at the market, unless they needed to spend more.  So, eight and a half hours down their time line and nearly sixteen hours into Munarshu's personal day, they arrived at the market and started looking around.  Some stalls sold 'sushi grade' meat, and would cut small samples for serious buyers.  Terin flashed his ship's credentials and suggested he was buying bulk supplies for his crew.  Very few stalls accepted that while others asked him to prove he was the ship's steward, or had a purchase authorization from the ship's Captain.  When Terin represented himself as the "Lead Scout", most were not impressed, having sold in markets for decades, and held out for real credentials because they were educated on fakes.

Terin tried to claim he'd been assigned to survey the prices and get an authorization from his Captain, but most ignored him, tagging him as 'not a serious buyer'.  Finally, Terin decided it would be best to call Mikah and get an authorization.  But when he called her comms, he got Mikah's voice mail.  Terin decided to leave a message, saying "Lady Mikah, I am attempting to call you to get an authorization for me to buy some fresh fish for the ship.  In order to make a deal down here, I'm gonna need authorization and you gotta give me a spending limit, etc...  etc.  Give me a call back when you can, let me know what's going on?  I'll call you back later."  Realizing he was not getting anything from Mikah soon, Terin told Mak and Munarshu they'd have to come back to the market later.

After that, at nine and a half hours down their time line and over seventeen hours into Munarshu's personal day, Mak said, "Let's go to a club or see a show!"  Putting themselves in Mak's hands, they let him recommend a show.  They then spent twenty minutes getting to something called "Quantum Maneuvers", which started at ten.  The two hour show turned out to be a thrilling display of submersible piloting.  Daredevil pilots and crews performed a large number of coordinated and interconnected stunts, forming patterns and constellations as they risked collisions while altering their craft configurations and running light patterns.  And while this thrilled the crowd, watching from a trans-steel viewing bubble extended from the city's structure, it also left the amazed viewers drained as they came down from their highs.  Despite that drag on Munarshu, now awake for twenty hours, he embraced the 'never say die' ideal when Mak suggested a club.  Terin was feeling it a bit, but less so because he slept on the submarine.  Still, they had some time at the halfway point in their twenty four hours.

A Sudden Detour

     Aboard the ship, Mikah and Zimzod had spent all afternoon experimenting with intimacy while the gravity was either on or off.  They had only made a brief appearance for dinner and some coffee before disappearing again into a stateroom.  When Zimzod suggested they might bring the vargr juice, Mikah shut that down, reminding him it was a knock out drug.  He suggested they could each take a sip when they were ready to sleep, but Mikah said, "That stuff's dangerous!  I only give it to other crew members."  Zimzod laughed and said, "It is funny to watch" while imagining giving it to members of the current crew.  Mikah laughed and remembered Inger dropping, but still hadn't told Zimzod what happened that night at the Rhylanor highport.  The laughs started to trail off, and Zimzod said, "That's what I like about our crew!  Hire the handicapped, they're fun to watch." and he and Mikah laughed even more.  This faded into intimacies during which Mikah's comms began to buzz.

She ignored it, thinking the rest of the crew were grown adults and should be able to survive one night without her help.  Eventually the sex faded to cuddling and relaxing, then watching a vid before fading off to sleep without setting an alarm.  Terin's message went unnoticed until much later.  Rol eventually returned to the ship after his wandering and began to prepare dinner.  Aiden had been working on his stent classes.  Significantly drained from the session, Aiden could feel "something", and even got the feel of the device's presence.  But he hadn't yet fully connected to it with his mind.  When Rol started cooking, he hit the 'all ship' to say he'd start dinner and Aiden decided to relax and wait for chow.  The message played out while Aali and Emkir were working on their research, and they kept at it while Rol cooked.  They eventually came to dinner a bit late.  Given the many ships which simply disappeared from history, they started looking up people too.  They found no mention of the names at all.  Realizing how dangerous this was, they agreed not to even tell the rest of the crew about it.

On-world, it took the three men twenty minutes to get to a club.  Terin, who'd slept on the submarine, was doing a lot better than Munarshu as far as energy.  But they only had five hours until they had to start heading to the terminal, so Munarshu pushed on.  He said he planned to sleep on the sub.  Terin and Munarshu both felt OK with a Cr 50 budget.  In the club, Mak and Terin wandered off to have fun leaving Munarshu to "guard the table given his level of energy."  Nearly two hours later, over twenty two hours into Munarshu's day and twenty into Terin's, Terin returned to the table and found Munarshu had fallen asleep!  Clapping his hands near the engineer's head, Terin said "Come on!  Wake up!"  Munarshu came to groggy life and Terin asked, "What are you doing sleeping?  We've got partying to do!"  Munarshu just glared at Terin muttering about how he was a young man.  Terin said, "Not a young man but younger than you!"

Terin flagged a waitress to the table, and told Munarshu the next round was on him for having fallen asleep.  Munarshu decided not to fight it since he struggled to wake up again.  While he and Terin ordered the next round, Munarshu reached for his Ident to find it was missing!  The realization he'd been pick pocketed did its best to wake him up more.  Terin realized what had happened and asked the waitress to get the club's manager, and he eventually came over.  Terin took control saying, "My friend's been pick pocketed.  Someone grabbed his Ident."  The manager had certainly seen this before, and he said, "Well, that's unfortunate.  We'll call the police."  His response was very straight forward and didn't suggest the issue was uncommon or would be solved quickly.  After the call was made, officers didn't take long to arrive and take statements.  But they couldn't do much more than ask the club manager for his security videos.

Since the cameras were all "Point of Sale" or at the entries and exits, there wouldn't be coverage of the crime scene.  Still, after checking those in the club, that would reduce the suspect pool down to those who'd left if the Ident had not been hidden somewhere in the building.  When Munarshu and Terin explained their itinerary, the senior officer said they'd need someplace to stay until the police did what they could.  He held out no guarantee they'd even find the missing Ident, much less "on time".  Still, from what the two men knew of the society, there were enough officers and wall to wall video they could track a suspect if they could identify one?  When Terin suggested Munarshu stay at the table and not get in any more trouble, the lead officer noticed their state and suggested they go to a place where the men could get sleep.

This was especially important since Munarshu now had no Ident.  Should Munarshu end up involved in any confusion, without his Ident, things could get very bad fast.  The two agreed, and Terin started looking for Mak, to flag him over and discuss where to go?  When Mak was told what happened, he said they should go to his place, at least until he had to work in the morning.  Terin thanked him and gave the address to the police, along with his comms information.  At least, as they were settling up their bill, the club manager waived off the last round of drinks, so Terin eventually spent Cr 20 and Munarshu Cr 15.  Mak grabbed them a transport and they headed back to his apartment.  While riding, Terin and Munarshu did the math and saw they had three hours to solve the issue if they wanted to get back to the ship on their intended timeline.

To add to the complications, the Imperial Embassy was near the downport, where the cutter was waiting.  But Munarshu couldn't do anything, much less leave the city, without his Ident.  Realizing this would take some time to solve, Terin confirmed Munarshu still had his comms.  He then said, "You might want to call the Captain, 'cause I sure as hell ain't gonna call her and tell her this."  Munarshu initially tried to use his glasses to connect to a network but the network they were configured for was on the ship, in orbit.  When he searched for a local municipal network, he found he'd need to buy an account, which he couldn't do without his Ident.  By the time he finally reached for his comms, Terin was wondering what the delay was all about?  But Munarshu eventually made the call.

The Evening Before The Storm

     After they ate, Emkir and Aali had found a run of spacer bars in the port directory and decided to go carousing to scout for any interesting chatter?  Still, Aali was feeling a bit amorous herself, so she and Emkir slipped into a stateroom for an 'hour plus' quickie before cleaning up and going out.  Mikah and Zimzod had disappeared back into a stateroom for fun and perversion.  After Emkir and Aali left, the couple planned to be off ship for three to four hours.  At a point during their outing, they met up with a group of spacers who seemed to be discussing serious matters over beers.  Listening in, it seemed their ship, the MV Illiesh Shakhik, had a regular contracted run and drive problems.  But they were still contracted to move government records to the Lanth system on schedule.  The couple found a way into the conversation, and learned the records "had to be" delivered in the next six months, which gave time for officials in Lanth to send a warning and have a second copy sent.

When Emkir asked, he learned the cargo were multiple single-dTon sealed and certified containers of data and reports, from every system in their subsector, and required by the government on Lanth.  If the crew agreed to carry some of the cargo, they could fill the four tons the Hotel California had open.  While talking, Emkir learned they'd get Cr 2,000 per ton shipped which, while not much, was what Dame Ashlee was paying for her two ton shipment.  Nearly half past nine, Emkir decided to call Mikah, and pulled his comms.  But Mikah and Zimzod were a bit entwined and Mikah ignored the buzzing comms because something else was buzzing more intensely.  The call went to voice mail, and Emkir said, "Emkir here.  Looking for authorization to contract for four tons of transport tonnage to Lanth with an SLA of six months.  If I don't hear from you..."  Emkir quickly covered the comms and asked the spacers, "Can I contact you tomorrow?"

The senior crewman, who it turned out was the ship's XO, named Kameh Viih, gave Emkir a contact number and said he'd be glad if they could carry some of the load.  Emkir then finished his message to Mikah saying he had their contact information and would talk to Mikah as soon as he could.  With the message done, Emkir promised to call the crew of the Illiesh Shakhik the next morning.  Happy with that, Emkir and Aali continued their carousing for more possible contacts.  But after three hours total, they headed back to the ship with the evening's haul.  Having spent Cr 45 on drinks, they were each charged Cr 250 each for their oxy-accounts and got back aboard by 11:30pm.  Back home, Emkir made sure Mikah wasn't in any of the ship's public spaces before they hit their stateroom to relax more and plan for the next day.

After Aiden finished dinner, he grabbed a book and relaxed.   Rol did some calisthenics before relaxing in the lounge to watch vids.  He racked out at ten.  Before dinner, Fesic estimated he'd covered two percent of the classes loaded on the cargo sealer.  He'd gotten into the basics of mating the device to a cargo pod and sealing it.  After dinner, Fesic looked around to see Rol watching vids and Aiden reading in the lounge.  When Fesic asked them if they felt like playing cards, Rol asked "What kind of card game?"  Fesic said, "Low stakes.  Low stakes poker."  Turning to Aiden, Fesic said, "We need a third.  Aiden, are you in?" but Aiden said, "I'm not good at playing games."  Fesic prodded that, saying, "Neither am I.  This is just to pass time." but Rol and Aiden had both heard that enough times from Emkir and Aiden stood firm.  Fesic accepted that, saying, "Maybe another time." before settling in to watch vids too.

It was finally 4 am when Munarshu called Mikah to report on his Ident and situation.  When the comms woke her, Mikah realized it couldn't be anything "normal", and decided to drag herself from bed to answer it.  Seeing the call was from Munarshu, and not really surprised, Mikah answered to ask "What?" in a hard, flat tone.  Munarshu said, "I've been robbed, and they took my Ident.  We've already reported it."  Forcing herself to relax, Mikah asked, "Where's your chaperon?  Where's Skippy?  Put him on", in a more tired and resigned voice.  Mikah and Munarshu both put their comms on speaker, and Terin said, "Hello Captain", in a voice more chipper than he felt.  Mikah said "Hello" as Zimzod said, "You're in deep dooty."  When Terin was on the line, Mikah asked "What happened?"  Terin explained, "We went to a club for the last few hours, I was dancing with the lovely ladies, I came back and Skippy here was passed out on the table."

Mikah interrupted him, saying "You're Skippy, he's Gladys."  Shrugging that off, Terin tried to pick the story up, saying, "He fell asleep at the table." and Mikah said, "Wow!  We've been through this before."  The comment mystified Terin and Munarshu, who had not been with the crew when Zach fell asleep in New Port Dunslade.  Terin again picked up the story, saying "He went to buy a round after I woke him up, and realized he had no Ident.  So, I immediately got the manager and called the police in.  They're reviewing the club's security tapes now...  Um, I'm pretty positive I can make it back on time, but I'm not sure if Gladys is gonna be able to make it back on time."  Mikah considered that as she asked, "Where are you now?"  Terin said, "We're at Munarshu's friend Mak's apartment, chilling out and waiting for the police.  So, we need to leave the city in three hours to get back in time and I don't know if the police will solve this so we can get back within the 24 hour time limit?"

When Zimzod asked if they'd contacted the Imperial Consulate, Terin looked to ask if there was one in the city but Mak had gone to sleep.  When he said he didn't know, Zimzod took him to task for not immediately calling the consulate to put a freeze on the Ident.  Terin gave the call back to Munarshu while sparking up his own comms to call the number the police had given him, so he could ask them.  Getting a phone staffer at the precinct, Terin said, "Hi.  This is Sir Terin Yundis.  My friend was pick pocketed at a club earlier and your officers are reviewing the security vids."  After asking for the police report number, the officer looked up the file and told Terin there had been no reported progress yet.  Disappointed but not surprised, Terin asked if there was an Imperial consulate in the arcology?  Correcting Terin, the officer said there was one in the city.

Terin then asked for the address or contact data and the officer gave him the contact information.  After that, Terin thanked the officer and said they shouldn't hesitate to call if they found anything in the investigation.  Terin ended that call and called the consulate number.  When the call was answered, Terin explained that his friend's Ident had been stolen and he needed to report it.  The person who'd answered the call said, "That is truly terrible.  I will take the information and report it to the Consular Aide when he arrives in the morning."  Before Terin could ask anything else, the woman asked, "Do you have a place to stay, available food and other nourishments?"  Terin said they did, since they were staying in a friend's apartment.  Then, Terin asked if they could put a hold on Munarshu's Ident or if they needed to wait until the Aide arrived?

The woman on the comms asked what he meant by a "hold" and Terin said, "Can you stop anyone from using his Ident?"  She admitted, "Well, the Consular Aide can do that, but I do not have those powers."  Terin accepted that, because there was nothing else he could do, and asked if he could leave his number to be called back when the Aide arrived?  She said he could and took the data before Terin thanked her and finished the call.  Off the line with her, Terin speculated they had about four hours before the Aide got in.  That meant someone would be running around the city for four hours with Munarshu's Ident and no idea what might result?  Still on Munarshu's comms and speaker, Mikah said, "OK, I'll tell you what I'm gonna do."  Zimzod broke in saying, "It looks like they got no choice but to miss the curfew."

Mikah agreed with that and continued, "Terin, keep us informed.  And you may inform Gladys that he will not be fired, but he will not be paid for the time he is not on the ship, from the appointed hour."  Terin said, "Gotcha, Dock of pay."  Mikah finished up, saying, "And get back as soon as you can."  Terin said, "Yes Ma'am, working on that right now."  Before they finished the conversation, Mikah had checked her Ident and said, "Oh, you left a message?  What was that message?"  Terin answered, "Oh, um, I was at the fish market, and tried to get a price on a fresh supply of fish and all that stuff for the ship.  And I can't do that unless I have an authorization from you to buy anything."  Mikah agreed and said Terin could spend up to Cr 1,000.  When they discussed how to get the fish to the ship, Terin said he could get smoked fish and have it boxed, saying they made very tasty smoked fish on the world.

Mikah figured any fish products would be cheaper on a water world, and told Terin he could pay some minor charges if they asked him to buy another seat on the sub for the box of fish.  Terin said they'd find a market and stop at a stall on the way home.  After that, everyone racked out with Terin on Mak's couch and Munarshu on the floor.  Before she went back to bed, Mikah checked and listened to Emkir's message.  After she heard what he left, Mikah asked Zimzod if she should wake Emkir?  When Zimzod said she should, she opened a channel and comm'd Emkir.  The Admiral dragged himself to something like awareness as he grabbed the comms and dragged out a long "Hellloooooo?"  Putting all the chipper she never felt into her response, Mikah asked, "So!  What's up?" with a perky happy she'd never felt.  Trying to connect neurons, Emkir asked, "What's...  Who's this?" and Mikah continued to pour the perky, saying, "Your Captain."

Moaning as he pulled himself from the cobwebs, Emkir muttered, "I called you.  That's right.  There was a cargo.  Oh, that's right.  Here's the deal.  There was a government data transport contract going to Lanth.  It has to be there in six months.  We have six jumps ahead of us, so I figured we have enough time.  The ship with the contract has a drive problem, so they're hiring others because they'll be late.  So, I told them we have four tons space in the cargo bay and they'll pay Cr 2,000 per ton.  I figured, if you want to do it, we can help someone out and improve our reputation."  When Zimzod heard that, he joked, "For once."  As Emkir continued to ramble, Mikah cut him off and said they could help.  So Emkir said he'd call them in the morning and set things up.  He rambled some more after that, and Mikah let him run down before they both said goodnight and broke the contact.

Off To The Consulate

     At 8:30 local, Mak woke Terin and Munarshu and asked, "I guess the police were not a fast answer?"  Terin said, "It doesn't appear so." while checking his chrono.  He was surprised they hadn't gotten a status call yet.  Terin then checked his comms to see if they'd slept through a call and Mak said he had a bit of a problem because he had to go to work.  He was glad to be of help, but he didn't know them that well.  Mak let the words trail off, and Terin said they could go to the consulate to see if they could provide a room or something?  Mak called them a cab and the pair headed out with Terin offering to pay, and getting a bitter laugh from Munarshu.

On the ship, Fesic's and Rol's alarms went off and they began their morning routines.  In Fesic's case, that meant a workout, shower and jerking off if he had morning wood.  That meant, both he and Rol got to the lounge about the same time.  Rol greeted the gunner before looking around and realizing something was missing...or someone.  Fesic asked, "Who?  Munarshu?" and Rol, said, "Yeah."  Then Rol recalled the pair were dirtside and not due back until later in the morning.  After a half hour, Rol served out the food and he and Fesic ate while Aiden joined them.  For some reason, Rol found the morning a bit more enjoyable while he relaxed and ate.

On-world, Terin and Munarshu arrived at the consulate and Terin paid the cab.  At the same time, Terin's comms began to ring and he saw it was the police.  Answering, Terin said, "Ah!  Good day Captain, how are you?"  A bit non-plused, the man calling said, "I'm just a detective sir."  Terin corrected, "Detective, sorry", and the man asked, "Sir, you reported that your friend's Ident was stolen?"  When Terin confirmed that, the Detective said, "Interesting, because our records show three hours ago your friend left the planet."  Stunned at first, Terin asked, "Is there any way you can trace him and find out where he went?  'Cause my friend is right here next to me and it wasn't him.  So, whoever took his Ident is the one who left."  The detective paused and then said, "We can get in touch with the port authority and investigate that, but our best guess is that he hired a vessel capable of launching from here in the city."

The man said their best information would place the thief on one of the three high ports.  He also agreed to contact the high ports and spread the word to see if they could lock the criminal down?  When Terin asked him to please do that, the Detective said they'd contact him if they learned anything more.  Terin thanked him as the detective turned to start working and the line was cut.  After that, Terin called Mikah, who was still asleep as was Zimzod.  Waking up to the comms, Mikah moaned, "Oh my God!  Seriously?"  Grabbing the device, Mikah asked, "What?" straight out.  Putting all the chipper he could into his voice, Terin said, "Good morning Lady Mikah!"

Mikah slapped her forehead with her free hand as did Zimzod, who'd heard Terin, thanks to the volume of his voice.  She answered Terin in a growl, "No, it's not."  Nodding, Terin said, "Yeah, it's gonna be a lot worse too, once you hear this."  Mikah again asked, "What?" and she braced herself for what might be worse?  Terin answered, "Whoever took Munarshu's Ident used it to leave the planet.  Right from this arcology.  So he has to be at one of the high ports, right now."  When Zimzod asked if they had a trajectory or flight plan, Terin said the police were getting in touch with the ports about that data.  Terin told them that was all he knew about it since they were just arriving at the Imperial Consulate in the city.

Interrupting Terin, Mikah confirmed he'd been a scout and suggested he call the scout base for help.  When Terin said he was about to do that, after speaking to her, Zimzod said, "Liar!"  When everything paused and Mikah looked at Zimzod in surprise, Zimzod shrugged and said, "No, he would have done that first."  When Terin said he'd have called Mikah first as he did, Zimzod wasn't buying it.  Off that call, Terin did call the scout base, and introduced himself formally, offering his post-military credentials.  When that was acknowledged, Terin said, "My crewmate off the Hotel California had his Ident pinched and the thief used it to leave the planet.  I was wondering if you might be able to help us track the trajectory and all that stuff?"

First, the woman asked if his "friend" was a former Scout too?  Terin said he was, and had retired from the service.  She asked if he was wearing his belt buckle, and Terin said he was not.  Disappointed, she said it would have sped things up if he were.  But she moved on, asking Terin to connect his Ident to his comms so they could verify who he was.  When Terin did that, there were a few minutes for the process to work through before she thanked him and apologized for the delay.  She then said, "Unfortunately, there is not much the Scout Service can do in situations like these since this is considered an internal matter to the world.  It is only an Ident theft.  However, are you aware of the Imperial support resources on-world?"  Terin told her they were arriving at the consulate as they spoke.  She offered to call the senior minister directly, to let him know Terin spoke to them and tell him they'd verified his identity.

Terin thanked her, and she told him, "If the police can't provide you some help in the next twenty four to forty eight hours, call us and we'll see what we can do to provide you some advanced support."  Terin told her he appreciated her time and support and told her to call him if "something happened to pop up".  She then left him so she could call the minister.  Realizing he'd never gotten a ship name when they learned the thief had gotten off world, Terin called the police again to ask?  But when he got through to the detective, the man said he'd been about to call Terin!  Surprised, Terin said "Perfect timing," and the detective told him they'd learned the thief had booked passage out-system!

Terin said he wasn't surprised and the detective said the ship was scheduled to leave in an hour and a half, so they'd put a hold on the undock.  The detective continued, telling Terin the ship was actually docked in the same highport as the Hotel California!  When Terin said, "Oh!  Wonderful." the detective said, the port authorities were hoping he could keep his crew from doing anything "rash".  Terin pledged, "I will do whatever is in my power to make sure my crew does not do anything rash" while privately realizing they'd read up on his crew!  When Terin still asked for the names of the ships involved, he was told they'd rather not say, to keep his crew from acting.  In fact, they had released what they had so Terin would understand progress was being made.  Accepting that, Terin asked if, when they were done at the consulate, the city police could make some arrangements for Munarshu to get back to their cutter?

The detective regretfully said they could not do that until the Ident issue was dealt with.  Disappointed, Terin thanked the man again for his work and ended the call.  That done, Terin updated Munarshu while they walked into the atrium of the consulate building and found it locked up.  The day staff hadn't yet arrived.  Checking his chrono again, Terin confirmed it was just after 9am and muttered about government employees and being on time.  Stepping back outside, to a bench in front of the building, the two waited until they saw a very well dressed and official-looking man approaching.  He was accompanied by two apparent aides, who were fluttering about him updating him in a constant stream of words.  All this happened while he was apparently on his comms, talking with someone else.  Terin and Munarshu figured that was who they were waiting for.  Especially when they heard him say, in a very commanding voice, "OK, I will let the base know when I have further information on the situation."

Terin stood while the man cut the call on his comms and the cluster approached.  One of the man's aides alerted on Terin's movement and drew a hand gun to take him under cover!  Terin stood in place, doing his best to relax and wait.  Aiming his weapon, the aide asked, "Do you have an Ident?" and Terin said, "Of course I do."  Saying that, Terin also very carefully reached for and presented his Ident.  Seeing that, the aide lowered and then holstered his weapon, and apologized because events on the world could sometimes be turbulent.  When that was over with, the minister introduced himself and apologized for being late, since he had early meetings to remotely attend that day.

When Munarshu said, "I wonder why" the man checked his notes and said, "I'm sure you wonder a number of things.  I would take it you are the victim of the Ident theft?"  Munarshu said he was and the minister repeated, "Yes, I'm sure you wonder a great many things." in a disapproving tone.  After the Minister unlocked the offices, they found the woman Terin had talked to earlier locked deep within, finishing her work shift.  The staff had Terin and Munarshu sit while they signed in and prepared for their business day.  This took another half hour before they could begin to investigate the red tape Terin and Munarshu needed to cut through.

By the time the Minister was ready for them, on the ship, Rol, Fesic and Aiden had eaten breakfast and Mikah and Zimzod were just out into the lounge.  Aali and Emkir were just waking up.  After he'd cleaned up, Rol went into his stateroom to work on stent classes.  Fesic went to the cargo bay to spend the morning taking more of the cargo sealer class.  When Munarshu was called over, the minister said, "So, you've lost your Ident." and Munarshu corrected, "It was stolen."  Pausing to make that face that very official people have when disapproving of being corrected, the Minister said again, "So, you've lost your Ident."  This made it clear to Munarshu that the Minister considered the two things the same.  And that Munarshu must have "made it possible" for his Ident to be stolen.  This man was important, so he obviously felt qualified to judge Munarshu, and seemed to judge him negatively.

The minister continued, "How you lost it does not matter, since you are now in a foreign port.  No one knows who you are and you have no ID with which to get off world."  While he spoke, both Terin and Munarshu got to see this was one of those stuffed shirts who liked to hear himself talk, and felt everything he said was of the utmost importance.  Still, the minister said Munarshu was lucky, because his ship was in orbit and they could have Lady Mikah confirm his identity.  If that was not the case, they'd have had to put him to work to pay his fees while they'd sent a request to Rhylanor, the last system he'd been in, to confirm Munarshu's identity.  So, after Mikah confirmed his identity, they could proceed with the steps needed to get him a new Ident more quickly.

Still hopeful, Munarshu's stomach dropped when the man said they would then fill out the requests and send them to Rhylanor while the Hotel California provided him "meaningful support" until a new Ident was sent.  That meant he would be stuck in this city for at least two weeks plus processing!  Terin said, "Well, from what I understand, the person who stole Munarshu's Ident has booked passage on a ship and is on the same highport as the Hotel California.  The police have placed a hold on it right now, while they investigate this further.  So..."  The Minister nodded and said he understood that, and was waiting on word from the police as they were.  But he could not act based on their actions.  He could only do what his office permitted him to, regardless of the other events which were in motion.

Munarshu pointed out he had his scout buckle in his gear aboard the Hotel California and the Minister got a bit more officious.  He said, "I understand that, however we, the Imperial government, cannot give you permission to violate local laws in order to go to the ship to retrieve the buckle.  And once you have retrieved said buckle, it would provide credentials to the IISS, but not to us.  Therefore, that would be an exercise in futility while breaking the planetary laws would have consequences."  Munarshu let the minister run out of steam on his own before he pointed out he wouldn't have to leave, earning a glare from the minister.  The man expanded on his earlier point, saying "Either way.  It would allow the Scout service to identify you but would not help us." with a look of deeper disapproval.

The Minister began in more officialese, "We do apologize...", but was interrupted by Munarshu.  He asked, "Would it allow me to move to the Scout base?"  After a pause to gather himself, the Minister pointed out that would require him leaving the city and the planet.  When he said this, Munarshu started to suggest going to an on-world scout base which he knew didn't exist.  The Minister shut him down, becoming even more blunt, and said his office's procedures allowed for them to get his identity vouched for by his Captain.  Then, they could make him more comfortable while the rest of the process was worked out.  This allowed them to treat him better, while he waited, then they'd be otherwise forced to.  But none of this sounded like it was reasonably fast to Terin or Munarshu.

Getting off the idea of leaving, and hoping to cut the tension in the room, Terin asked, "So, are we going to be set up in a room?  Or will we have to rent a room somewhere?"  Relieved one of these men was reasonable, the Minister said they could stay in some of the rooms in the office until they heard back from the authorities on what was happening in orbit.  If the police did not stop the thief from leaving the system, then they would discuss other options at that time.  He again apologized that they could not be of any greater assistance but they were restricted by the role of the office.  Trying to recoup some respect, Munarshu said, "You've done more than enough."  Terin asked, "Now, he's kind of stuck here.  But, can I go out into the city?" and was told that, with his Ident, he was free to do as he pleased.

With that, Terin planned to head out and spend an hour shopping and wandering the malls while Munarshu enjoyed his room.  Munarshu was settled, and his key concern was entertainment, showing he'd missed the point nearly entirely.  Led to where he could relax, Munarshu saw the room appeared to have all the amenities of a well-appointed lounge with a full entertainment console.  They also showed him where the bathroom was.  In the meantime, Terin went to peruse the herb shops, while he recognized that anything he bought would be for novelty use only.  It couldn't be included in his actual research.  Seeing that, Terin broadened his interests to checkout novelty and other consumer goods.  Eventually, while shopping, Terin wandered into a numismatist's shop and checked out the collection for offer.

Checking the offerings, Terin saw a wide array of metal coins and an array of other valuable materials.  There were also some bills including "paper" money.  All the pieces were vacu-stabilized for protection, and certified to be of the period and origin apparent.  The places of origin represented a large selection of worlds and governments including even Zhodani and Sword Worlds currency.  But the center-piece was a coin presented as "Terran" currency!  Terin looked at the metal, and realized the coin would need to be over 3,000 years old!  The datapad next to the display explained the coin had been "liberated" from a museum in the Sacnoth system during the end of the Third Frontier War.  It suggested the coin had been an artifact brought to the Spinward Marches aboard the Earth Union troop transport Gram, on which the founding settlers of the Sword Worlds fled the Second Imperium.  Still, the coin would have had to predate that by 1500 years!

Obviously, that was one of the prize pieces of their collection, however Terin realized that almost every piece in the shop was marked, "Ask for pricing", which meant he couldn't afford anything they sold.  The actual prices he could see were suitably impressive.  Looking around, Terin also saw a number of prominent signs reading "No Photography Allowed."  Still, after two hours spent wandering, Terin enjoyed ptending the shop was a museum.  He'd so far spent Cr 40 on a cab and snacks while he wandered.  Preparing to return, Terin went to a sandwich shop to pick up food for himself and Munarshu.  But when he arrived at the shop, his comms began to buzz.  Stepping from the ordering line and answering, it was the police, and they asked Terin to connect them to his ship's Captain.

When Terin conferenced Mikah into the call, the commander of the police admitted they'd hit a problem.  The port couldn't stop the starship the thief was believed on from departing!  The ship apparently undocked ten minutes before the call, and appeared bound for the gas giant to refuel.  When Mikah said "OK", the police official asked, "We understand your ship is armed?"  When Mikah said it was, and wondered what the hell that had to do with anything, the officer said they wanted to deputize the Hotel California to pursue and apprehend the ship!  Mikah couldn't stop the cheer she let out when given that news.  And that prompted the official to restate, they were to disable and capture the vessel.  Mikah confirmed the order while the police official thanked her and cut the line to update the port and Imperial authorities.  While Mikah made the rest of the crew aware of the situation, and ordered everyone to gear up, the objections of the port were knocked down.  Mikah had been told the ship broke dock, destroying and dragging part of the docking bridge with it.

The call went out on the all ship while the crew were busy at their various morning activities.  Emkir had called the crew of the Illiesh Shakhik and told them the California would contract to carry four tons of their cargo.  After Emkir had agreed they'd sign the paperwork later in the morning, he had to call them back to say they had to delay the signing.  So, Emkir called and said, "We have to leave the port for a bit but will be back soon enough to sign the contracts and move the cargo."  When they asked what was up, Emkir said "Nothing much.  We just pulled a mission, so once we get that done we'll be back to sign the papers."  That caused a pause on the end of the line before the crewman asked, "What do you mean, 'mission'?"  After a quick pause, Emkir said, "Just something that came in and we have to take care of.  We'll call you when we're back in port."

Beat To Quarters!

     Mikah moved while talking, and took questions from the crew.  Fesic sparked up first, asking for information on the ship they were after.  Aiden jumped on that bandwagon, asking for any information they could get.  A call to the port said the ship was listed as a 300 dTon private vessel.  But they had no data on its weapons systems since that wasn't required to make port.  Little engineering data was available, since it only took a one parsec jump to reach the system.  Reviewing the Customs, Health and Immigration report, they arrived without cargo and took none on during their stay.  When he heard that, Emkir said, "That sounds bad already." in a grim tone.  When Mikah asked if they could count on any scout or naval vessels to back them up, the official said they had no pull with the Navy and Scouts.

Mikah accepted that, saying she would call the scouts and navy directly, to see what they could do to help?  In his stateroom, Rol secured his stent course-ware and got into his combat armor.  Not sealing it up until necessary, Rol also prepared his gauss rifle and pistol.  Aiden didn't have sealed combat armor so he donned his vacc suit and grabbed his snub pistol and gauss rifle.  While he geared up, Mikah told Aiden to call the scouts and see what they had for support?  When Aiden called to ask for backup, he was told they had a 200 dTon vessel that could react.  They then asked for sensor, course and other data on the rogue vessel.  All Aiden could do was promise them a feed from their sensors once they had anything to share.  Thanking Aiden, the scout said she'd route his data to base command and reach out to the starport for more data.

Mikah called the naval command, who took her information but had no vessels.  They also made it clear this was a local issue, and they were not permitted to override local authorities.  Unofficially, they promised to notify their forces at the gas giant.  When Mikah asked if they could be ordered to engage, she was told that any aggressive or unauthorized approach of that planet could quickly become a shooting incident.  And the rogue was currently unauthorized.  The naval tech also gave Mikah the direct contact data for the command officers of the lead destroyer in the garrison force.  Mikah thanked them and they ended the conversation.

Emkir and Aali both got into their combat armor.  After Emkir armored up, he grabbed his pistol and rifle before reporting to the bridge, where he was part of the combat flight crew.  Emkir would fly while Aiden either second-seated or operated the sensors.  Aali grabbed her gauss rifle and semi-auto snub pistol and went to engineering.  Fesic got into his sealed combat armor and layered his blade and machete scabbard over scabbard.  He holstered his snub pistol with tranq rounds and brought his accelerator rifle, taking position in one of the ship's turrets.  Fesic also stowed his breaching charge near him, not knowing what they would face?  Zimzod manned the second turret after snapping into his battledress and belted his cutlass.  He carried his gauss rifle and holstered his gauss pistol.

Mikah geared up in her combat armor, with her laser carbine, laser pistol and laser sword, before returning to the captain's seat on the bridge.  In engineering, Aali began re-ordering the instructions to the androids.  She made sure they were properly spaced and locked down to the deck.  She thanked the stars they'd gotten the gravBoots fixed.  While she did that in engineering, Aiden was on with the port getting priority departure services.  The only delays in the way were due to the on-going response to the voided dock sections caused by the rogue.  In his turret, Fesic did his best work to see if he could learn anything about the rogue, hoping for intelligence on where it would be most vulnerable.  Since it was a smuggler and a civilian design, the many possible classes worked against him.  It could be any one of tens of thousands of designs across known space.  While he worked with the port, Emkir began to maneuver the ship after they were freed from the umbilicals and grapple.

By 10am, while burning in closer, Aiden finally got a chance to run his first scan of the fleeing rogue.  She'd gained significant distance on them, after ripping away from the station.  But not far enough, and their engines were powerful enough to close on her.  Disturbingly, what the sensors reported back was so confusing Aiden ran his scan again and ran a diagnostic beneath it.  When everything came back good, Aiden told Mikah to contact the navy and scouts, because his scans said the ship was a 500 dTon ship!  It appeared the port folks had been very lax in their work, and not verified the ship's claims when they'd arrived.  So, they actually had no idea what they were facing?  In his turret, Fesic plugged in the new data from the scan but wasn't a happy gunner.  And the scan still didn't tell them a lot, because of the significant distance between them.  The rogue was apparently burning her engines very hard.

There was also an even chance they were making for a la grange point between Equus prime and the gas giant, to make a pirate jump!  Still, that only cut the run from "five days" to "two and a half".  The crew reacted to the update from the sensors, and Emkir suggested someone on the station had gotten a payoff, which was certainly possible.  At Mikah's station, she'd looked up the name the ship was listed under.  But since the records were falsified, she wasn't surprised to get nothing on that.  While she worked at that, Aiden started regular pings to see what improvements he could get on the data they had?  Suddenly, he let out a priority alert!  Mikah asked while the others listened, and Aiden said he had two "small blips" moving from the ship towards them while the rogue continued away.  He was betting they were missiles!

Mikah raised the crew to full alert while Fesic and Zimzod abandoned any other things they might have been doing to sharpen up their targeting systems and gun scans.  Aiden immediately began working on evasion numbers to feed to Emkir while he waited for Mikah's order.  Mikah knew the missiles could track, and evading would screw with their counter-missile fire solutions, making it harder for the gunners to take out the missiles.  The gunners opened fire at range and Fesic was satisfied his aim was true even though the missiles were not within range.  Still, he was certain his beams struck, but did no damage because of diffusion over range.  Zimzod wasn't that skilled, and only realized he had not necessarily missed when Fesic said the missiles were, as yet, still out of range.  Doing this, Fesic also worked with Aiden to set a count that would let them know when the missiles were in range.

Twenty seconds later, the gunners opened up again, pouring fire down on the inbounds before they might hit the ship.  Aiden said the missiles didn't seem to be powered, which meant they had been armed and pushed out a bay to be used as mines.  Discussing that, they realized they could've just avoided the explosives.  But that would leave navigation hazards to others who might not expect them.  Also, it was good practice.  Still, Emkir was ordered to evade to protect the ship.  The result was that they swung wide while the gunners opened up, costing them time and speed in catching the rogue.  But it provided a margin of safety.  This was, sadly, a win for the rogue, who had likely used this tactic to slow the California.  Mikah called the navy to say they were under direct attack and the rogue had begun using mines in the vicinity of the starport.

The naval captain she got confirmed they could work to reposition vessels and counter any navigational hazards the rogue deployed.  They still didn't have any vessels that could do more than wait for the rogue to arrive in the region of the gas giant.  He did ask that the gunners on the California try to take out any mines they were able to.  Mikah said they were happy to comply.  Thanks to the recycle requirements of the ship's lasers, Fesic and Zimzod could only get two shots off before they passed the mines.  And unfortunately, Emkir's maneuver to avoid them spoiled the first shot, meaning the mines still could damage the ship if they were close enough and the warheads were proximity set.  Something that was very likely.  Everyone aboard tensed, but the second round of shots were true and both mines died to defensive laser fire.

During the exchange, Rol took the time to prepare and serve foil pack meals to the crew for lunch.  Still closing on the rogue despite the loss of speed and vector correction, Aiden ran new scans to see two more mines launched and got his first densometer readings.  From the data displayed, he expected to see a rough layout of voids which would be the internal compartments of the ship.  What he saw was much more solid than he was expecting.  Any ship should have had a much higher ratio of open space unless they were heavily armored or had even filled their companionways with supplies.  The only ships Aiden and Emkir knew of which operated under those conditions were blockade runners!  But, if this ship, in the system under false transponder data and not handling cargo, and which had left as soon as the thief reached it, was a blockade runner, then she could well have been sent there to wait for the thief!  This suggested the situation they faced was much deeper than the simple theft of an Ident.

While they continued to burn after the rogue, Mikah kept updating the navy and scout commands and the civilian authorities.  While Aiden was work, he got a new alarm warning they were no longer getting transponder data from the rogue!  That upped the danger, and suggested the rogue's crew had rigged a control to their transponder, from either the bridge or engineering.  It was also very illegal, and was added to the stream of reported data to the authorities behind them.  Preparing to engage the new mines, Fesic speculated the rogue could have three more turrets than they did.  Since the California's turrets were triple-loaded with laser barrels, they had six laser barrels organized into two batteries of three.  The rogue had shown it had at least one missile tube and the rest were a mystery.

But the math said the rogue could have a total of five turrets with three mounted weapons each. So they could have up to fifteen "tubes", which could be either lasers, missiles or devoted to defensive sand casting.  How many of each they had, and how they were organized into batteries, would tell how much stronger they were than the Hotel California.  And the two ways to learn that were to get a good sensor read on the ship or to get them to fire all their weapons.  Aiden advised that they not close with the rogue until they had backup.  Mikah tartly reminded him they were told only one scout could intercept them, and they were deputized to disable and capture the ship.  So they didn't have the luxury of hanging back to monitor the ship until someone else engaged it.  Especially if the rogue managed to make a pirate jump and the crew were blamed for the ship's escape.  That could end very badly for them all.

They finished their vector correction, and Aiden calculated the time to intercept at 95 minutes out.  He said that might be delayed if they had to dodge missiles from the rogue, but wouldn't change much unless something unpredictable happened.  The good news was that the California heard from the scout they'd been told about.  The commander of the IIS Skygge Sturek said she was three hours out from intercept on the projected course of the rogue.  So, help was on the way, but three hours was a long period during which much could happen.  That and the hope a naval destroyer in the region of the gas giant could be in position to block the rogue on its approach there.  When the timer brought conversation back to the approaching mines, Mikah made the decision to evade again.  Only this time, Emkir warned the gunners, helping preserve their firing solutions.

Thanks to the warning and sensor data, the gunners could pour out more fire to take this wave of missiles out.  Luckily, they didn't need that, since the missiles were both taken out in the first wave of counter-fire.  When they happily reported this, Rol muttered, "Don't get cocky."  While time passed, they reached the "sixty minutes to intercept" point while Aiden worked to refine the sensor data.  The crew speculated on why they were able to so easily catch up on a much larger ship?  Options ranged from the rogue's crew believing they could easily destroy the Hotel California to a design flaw, such as engines too small to move the mass of her added armor, to some unknown technical problem aboard.  Either way, they were less than an hour out from things getting real sticky.  Aali speculated they may have added armor and buffering to a design whose engines were not upgraded to move the bulk.  Zimzod suggested such an upgrade might have eaten away their fuel storage, forcing them to limit their engine burns to conserve fuel.

Mikah considered all the data she was getting, and ordered Emkir to bring the ship up to pace the rogue at a point where they were thirty minutes out of intercept.  She wanted to keep them at that distance until the Skygge Sturek could close and support, bringing their weapons closer to even with the rogue.  Aiden worked it out and said they'd reach the "thirty minutes out" mark when the Skygge Sturek was two hours out on her vector.  Mikah was comfortable with that, and ordered the crew to do their best to get better scans, maintain defensive maneuvers and fire against any further mines dropped by the rogue.  This sparked another conversation when Aali asked if they shouldn't alter their vector so any mines dropped drifted too far wide of them to do any damage.  But Fesic said he and Zimzod could use the target practice.  It was pointed out, each of the mines dropped was no more than a missile activated and pushed out a port.  So each missile they pushed out was one less they had to fire when they closed to encounter range.

If they pulled off vector, the rogue might not continue pushing missiles out at them.  If they stayed on vector, they might see when the rogue crew started running low on missiles because they'd stop using them as mines.  Adding emphasis to the point while closing, the rogue started firing missiles at them using their turret-mounted launchers.  Aiden could immediately track the difference, and warned the gunners they'd have less of a chance to knock them down because they came in hot.  The decision was made to evade just enough to avoid a direct hit, but not completely.  So warheads triggered by proximity devices could do damage, but the move would less disrupt counter-missile fire.  When the missiles came in and the gunners fired, one of the missiles got close enough that a proximity trigger should have detonated!  When their range on target became that close, the gunners had their last shots to take them down.  Mikah ordered Emkir to draw them back so they were "forty five minutes to intercept" at full thrust.

To The Sticking Point

     Around the point the California stabilized at forty five minutes out, the rogue fired another pair of missiles in their direction.  With more time to lay down counter fire, the gunners handled this pair just like the last two, taking the missiles out before they could get close enough to proximity trigger.  Skygge Sturek reported themselves an hour from intercept, which meant the battle could start approximately forty five minutes from then, unless the situation changed unexpectedly.  Crunching the numbers, the 200 ton scout would bring its two turrets to join the California's.  But, at 500 tons the rogue could still out-gun both ships if they had all five possible installed turrets.  So, even making the assault they were committed to with the scout, it was going to be a throw of the dice.  Still, they missed the fact they were at 100%, which would change if they gave the rogue the time to keep up its one-sided attacks on them.  That math guaranteed a missile or two would get through sooner or later.

The speculation aboard the California was soon helped as Mikah got a comm from Scout Nekkairiig, the lead scout aboard the Skygge Sturek.  Nekkairiig thanked Mikah for her invitation to join the party in that tone only ship commanders shared before a battle.  He did say he hoped they'd get to share a drink after the fight, if one or both of them were not pasted.  The man certainly gave Mikah the impression he knew what was coming and had no illusions of grandeur about glory in battle.  Mikah said, "Sounds like a plan", and asked about Skygge Sturek's capabilities?  She learned the ship's two turrets were armed with a mix.  One laser barrel, one missile tube and one sand tube each.  That added a total of two laser barrels to the mix, but also added two offensive missile launchers, which California didn't have.

Discussing tactics, Scout Nekkairiig recommended the Skygge Sturek take the lead when they moved to engage.  His ship could then fire sand to create whatever defensive screen was possible.  Over the next half hour, as the Skygge Sturek closed and began maneuvering into position, the rogue stopped firing missiles, leaving the crew to guess at their reasons.  Then, the order was given, and the two-ship flotilla began to accelerate while Skygge Sturek began computing launch times for an effective sand barrier.  Finally, Skygge Sturek started firing sand while also launching her first salvo of two missiles.  At the same time, Aiden watched his board and sang out when he detected six missile launches from the rogue!  This meant the bogie had the equivalent of two entire triple turrets devoted to missile tubes.  The other three turrets remained a mystery while the rogue rolled vector nearly 5 degrees.

That suggested she might not be bound for the gas giant, and could be burning to a La Grange pirate jump point.  That, or the move was made in hopes they would lose the sand cover the Skygge Sturek had launched.  While the first wave of defensive fire went out, two of the six missiles were knocked down.  The second, and last wave of defensive fire took out three of the four remaining missiles, but the last missile locked onto the scout.  Lucky for them, the missile detonated ineffectively.  Everyone on the California hung on Aiden's words while he read the sensors and updated them on the strike.  Everyone started breathing again when they learned their comrades were still there.  Still, someone saw enough humor in the situation to say the rogue must have bought their missiles from a discount supplier since the miss was likely due to a malfunction.  Hard scanning the enemy, Aiden announced they'd rolled "nose on" to the flotilla and now continued drifting along their travel vector.

This meant they'd either decided to turn and attack or were bringing a different configuration of weapons to bear.  After executing the roll, they again fired six missiles.  The flotilla again fired defensively, and first took out two, then three, so another missile got through the salvos of fire.  Just like the first missile, the second also locked on the scout and detonated without effect.  Of the missiles the scout fired, one failed to lock and scooted out to deep space while the other locked on and detonated danger close to the bogie.  Aiden read the data from the scanners, and guessed the blast was close but likely ineffective.  And they now knew the vessel had at least four laser barrels.  This said the ship had at least two triple missile turrets and two double laser turrets.  Adding this to their knowledge, Aiden asked if perhaps he should take over the command pilot's chair, and let Emkir handle the sensors?  Mikah asked him for another scan of the rogue before deciding.

Closing with the rogue, Aiden was able to finally get a full power grid reading off the ship.  He was able to confirm they had five turrets mounted, which was bad news shared.  And all five turrets showed three mounted weapons.  This news was both bad and good, since it meant none of the turrets mounted particle accelerators or meson weapons.  Still, the news was bad enough because it meant the flotilla were heavily out-gunned.  But both Mikah and Scout Nekkairiig were better warned than unaware.  It was ironic that Aiden's latest update was punctuated by another salvo of six missiles.  They prepared to defend and four of the missiles locked onto targets while the gunners fired.  After a first wave of defensive fire, two of the missiles were knocked down because Emkir's maneuver affected Fesic and Zimzod's aim.

Recovering quickly, all the gunners concentrated on the remaining missiles and took them out to the cheers of the rest of the crew.  Still, only one of the missiles the scout fired locked on the rogue, and they filled space with counter-missile fire.  Aiden confirmed the rogue had at least six lasers, likely organized into two batteries of three, and six missiles similarly configured.  With this news, Aiden was all for pretending they could ignore the mission they'd accepted and insisting they couldn't win the fight.  There was also a lot of chatter regarding the rogue's fifth turret, because its weapons had not yet fired.  Zimzod suggested the two ships break wide and try to circle behind the rogue.  But he was told the rogue could simply continue to drift at its current velocity and spin to face whatever angle they approached from.  Still, Mikah did order Aiden to take the command pilot's board, switching Emkir to sensors.

They continued, and the rogue fired another missile salvo, of which five locked on.  Between the four defensive gunners, four missiles were knocked down as the remaining one augured into the Skygge Sturek.  Emkir reported, the Sturek had taken a direct hit aft, in her engineering spaces.  She was also starting to show a vector some degrees wide of the flotilla's course in on the rogue.  But she was still in the fight and had fired two of her own missiles with one getting through the rogue's lasers!  The sensors showed a strike at "center hull", but Emkir couldn't get any more detail from the rogue.  So, they had no idea what affect the strike had?  Emkir shared this out and Scout Nekkairiig reported one of his engineer's wounded and said their jump core was dead.  This was better news, because the jump systems were meaningless damage in this battle.  They were updated, and also saw the Skygge Sturek correcting her vector.

Countering that, they also got alarms when four of the six new missiles fired by the rogue locked on targets and the gunners went back to work.  They swept the inbound missiles from their sky while the rogue did the same with the two fired by the Skygge Sturek.  The next salvos worked the same while the flotilla continued to close.  They closed on the rogue but Emkir couldn't get any more data from the sensors to help guess what the rogue was doing?  Failing to reveal any new data, Emkir wondered out loud how many more missiles they could have?  Heating up foil packs for dinner, Rol said that blockade runners weren't usually rigged for the long fight.  Their usual strategy was to blow through a siege and burn hard to get away.  So, the rogue to have a breaking point which they had to find.

They also filled the time speculating on why the blockade runner would be there to take on their "Ident thief".  The working theory they came up with was that "someone" had sent the ship to get the thief.  So the ship had just been waiting on station for the thief to find a way off planet.  Building on their earlier guesses, this would mean they were right that it was much deeper than a simple Ident theft.  It also meant there were more moving parts in the situation than they were aware of.  They only became involved because Munarshu overestimated his ability to stay awake.  Whoever "they" were, Munarshu's failure gave them the key to set events in motion.

But soon, speculation had to take a break for food and missile exchanges while the flotilla continued to slowly make gains on the rogue.  Sadly, the drawn-out exchange favored the rogue, because the choice to move in slowly gave her more time to pour out her excess firepower.  The simple math said she would get lucky sooner than the flotilla, unless the smaller ships rushed her and they hammered it out.  And no one suggested that.  In fact, Sir Aiden repeatedly showed his cowardice by suggesting they ditch the mission all together.  But, they had accepted deputization, and that was a choice they couldn't go back on.  They had to bring the rogue down, despite his unwillingness to recognize that.

Finally, Emkir got more out of the sensors than he had before.  Emkir confirmed the missile hit did damage the rogue's armor at the least.  He couldn't tell more from what he saw.  while Emkir reported, Aiden caught a flash of "something" from the data from the corner of his eyes, but couldn't make it out.  Still, Aiden was sure they couldn't win, no matter what the sensors said.  Because of that, he stayed in the role of command pilot, working to possibly evade enemy fire.  He had much to do while the ships exchanged missile fire, and word came from the Skygge Sturek they were running low on missiles.  That certainly put the rogue in a position of greater advantage.  When Mikah asked for details, Scout Nekkairiig said they had supplies for five more fire missions before they were down to sand and lasers.  Fesic said the rogue had to be running low but was told the IISS rarely went out with full missile loads unless it was a war mission.  And he was reminded they thought the rogue had been sent to pick up the thief, and was loaded for bear.

Realizing that intelligence on the enemy meant more now than a hot stick jock, Aiden switched roles with Emkir and refined the sensors while he got to work.  Emkir slid into the flight plan, and Aiden confirmed the damage Emkir had reported, but also found a void in the densometer data which wasn't there before.  The void didn't appear to be open to space, so it was not likely to be damage.  Aiden's best guess was that it meant they'd been using up their stockpiles of missiles.  Emkir didn't have time to talk about that, because five of the rogue's most recent missile salvo had locked and were in-bound.  Despite Emkir's sudden moves to evade, Fesic and Zimzod were getting used to that messing with their aim and they and the scouts knocked out the missiles as the Skygge Sturek's two missiles missed their target.  And with nothing really changing, Aiden's scans simply confirmed what he had seen before.

Over the next two salvos, Aiden picked up data from the densometer that a fuel tank had been voided.  Working on that, he saw it didn't appear to be missile damage, so it was likely engine use!  Checking his other sensors, Aiden reported the rogue appeared to be slowing to force an engagement!  Recognizing this, the numbers said the ships would be close enough very soon to engage with lasers.  Because of that, Aiden took the command pilot position and Emkir backed him up while the rogue and scout let loose yet another salvo.  Aiden also made another bid to ignore the mission and disengage, but Mikah said they could only fall back out of laser range.  He was reminded the scouts were down to two more fire missions, and then they'd have to close and engage with lasers.  Still, when Mikah gave the order, Aiden calculated and saw they'd be in laser range for some time before they could back off fast enough to open the range.  Ignoring him, Mikah echoed her orders to the Skygge Sturek.

But while the flotilla responded and the enemy fired, a lone missile made it through their defensive fire and locked on the California!  When the warhead hit, Rol, who was the only crew member not strapped into a station, was thrown in his combat armor.  Aali was also thrown, since her station was "all engineering", and she'd been moving about to handle any system needs that came up.  Lucky for the crew, Aali was a combat vet and managed to grab an "Oh Shit!" hold to stop herself flying into the ship's engineering electronics.  Rol wasn't so lucky, and he managed to grab something but still flew a bit of the distance across the cramped ships lounge.  Picking himself up, Rol saw he'd been thrown against the lounge wall and only managed to slow himself slightly when he'd grabbed and lost hold of a seat.  Still, he could find no damage more than the bet he'd have some bruises for the next week, so he was good.

On the bridge, Emkir went through his diagnostics and found his sensor array had taken a lot of damage.  He didn't know what percentage he'd lost, but a good amount of his external sensor grid had been fried.  From what they could see, the missile didn't hit them, so a proximity fuse set it off.  That spared them from more than hull and sensor damage.  The rest of the board was green, so they confirmed the rest of their systems were still on line and they hadn't lost containment in any compartments.  Checking with the other ship, the Skygge Sturek reported no damage from their most recent salvo and they were loading their last volley of missiles into the tubes.  Reaching out to see the rogue's status, Emkir was having issues making any sense of the data.  From his board, Aiden could tell the enemy was starting to advance hard, which should have been no surprise.

They'd let the rogue poke and damage them with its missile advantage rather than rushing early, when they were all in their best condition.  Since both the scout and California were now damaged, it was time to move in and finish this fight.  Whoever commanded the blockade runner was certainly showing all the marks of battle hardened experience.  Zimzod guessed this also meant the rogue was running out of missiles.  Still, it didn't comfort anyone because they knew the rogue had at least six laser tubes.  And, she hadn't even used one of her turrets yet in the entire battle.  That mystery turret made the situation that much worse.  Despite Zimzod's speculation, the rogue just kept pouring the missiles out.  Fresh alarms sounded when five of the six new-launched missiles got locks and burned towards the flotilla.

Despite the hard and valiant fire put out by the gunners aboard Skygge Sturek and California, they could only take down four of the five in-bounds.  And, while they did their best to save themselves, the missile closed in on the Skygge Sturek and impact-detonated!  At the same time their last offensive salvo failed to lock and flew into the star field, the incoming missile took the scout on her aft turret.  Those who saw the hit from the California realized the explosion was visibly muted, meaning some of the explosive force was vented inside the ship!  What they couldn't know was that the warhead had penetrated under the turret and into the ship before detonating.  The only thing they could see in the after effects was the turret, which had been peeled off, spinning away from the ship.  Everyone on California's bridge knew there would be massive internal damage and fatalities.

When Mikah called to the Skygge Sturek for status, she got a rather younger sounding crewman instead of Nekkairiig.  The kid also sounded rather panicked and out of options.  He reported that the ship's power plant was badly damaged.  Settling into a sort of battle shock, the glassy eyed kid said they only had one option left.  When Mikah asked if they could move into a position for rescue, the scout said no and wished them good luck before signing off.  At the same time, Aiden caught a read from his board when the Skygge Sturek's engines flared!  They suddenly realized the scout intended to ram the rogue, and Mikah ordered Aiden to pull them back.  The pilot hit the OMS thrusters to flip the ship before burning hard as he could.  Around the ship, everyone felt the jerk and had to wonder if it was another hit while the gunners spun their turrets back to their target.

Still close enough for laser engagement, those of the crew who could see watched when the rogue also seemed to realize Skygge Sturek's plan.  They reacted by turning all space white with light and explosions!  The only response from Skygge Sturek was physical, after a brief coast during which she'd even lost her engines.  People started demanding where the scout hit the rogue, and what damage they could see while Aiden pushed the flight controls to Emkir and tried to make sense of the California's data.  What he was getting was a power reading from the rogue, so she wasn't dead.  He could also see the vessel was spinning off her vector, and didn't appear to be using their engines to right their flight.  Fesic and Zimzod tried to target the ship, but the impact had thrown the rogue so they couldn't fire while the range suddenly opened between them.  Being cautious, Mikah ordered Aiden to pull them out of laser strike range until they knew more.

A Leap Of Faith

     They began their burn while Emkir did his best to get any data from the sensors.  Zimzod tried to recall the other's gear and asked if they had EVA modules aboard at all?  Of course, he asked because his battledress had that sort of system in-built.  Looking for options, Mikah asked Zimzod why he was asking?  She worried he saw the rogue starting to move toward them despite the sensors.  Zimzod said he could maneuver his battledress and suggested they get him and a few people on the nose of the California while they pulled away.  Then the ship could turn and kill their vector before first sharply up-thrusting and then back thrusting out of danger again.  That would "throw" those in armor at the rogue, who's sensors might be damaged so badly they wouldn't see the suited figures coming.  Mikah realized he was talking about a good, old fashioned boarding party!

They quickly filled in the plan with details, and Zimzod said he could use some cable and his suit's thrusters to make sure the team got to the rogue's hull.  He then said they could take Fesic's breaching charge with them, and use it to force access to the internal spaces of the ship.  When Aiden said they still had to figure out the status of the rogue, a comms came in from the Navy.  Responding to one of their earlier requests for permission to break off, the message said they had to maintain active pressure on the rogue, and prevent it jumping out-system at all costs.  The signing Admiral reminded Mikah and her crew they had accepted the job to disable the ship, and were stuck with the situation as it had played out.  Sending an acknowledgment, Aiden confirmed with Mikah they were still pulling clear of laser range while he worked out the course.

Realizing they had to do "something", thanks to having volunteered, the crew had an on-comms meeting to decide who was needed where?  Aali had to be in engineering because Munarshu was stuck on-world when his actions started the current set of events.  Fesic had to control both turrets from the bridge since he was the only gunner they had left, with Zimzod going.  And while Mikah was the Captain, anyone could command while she had zero-gravity training and experience.  Aiden and Emkir were needed as a pilot and sensors team, which left Rol.  And this sort of action was right off his resume, though he'd usually be in an advanced design battledress suit.  And the worse the situation got, the better this mission looked.  They decided Zimzod would be their pilot and Mikah would be there to help control Rol's flight.  He had little zero-g combat training so they'd have to get him to, and keep him on the rogue's hull until they got inside.  And for that, they'd take Fesic's breaching charge.

Beginning to prepare for the assault, Mikah ordered Aiden to get the ship into position, which he said would take about an hour.  While that happened, Emkir did his best to get any data from the badly damaged sensors.  They dug a cable out and found some carabiners to secure themselves to the cable.  Zimzod would be the center-point on the cable with Mikah and Rol on the ends, preventing them from stringing out too far.  It also reduced the chance the cable wouldn't come up against sharply broken metal edges which could cut it.  Rol asked for regular reports from the bridge if the rogue used any thrust or systems, and got back a regular stream of "nothing is visible".  When they were nearly ready, Zimzod ordered an equipment check and went through his own gear.  When he announced, "I got my breaching charge", Fesic argued, "That's my breaching charge!"  Zimzod said, "Well, it's mine now, bitch!", making it clear the needs of the ship were paramount.

Fesic gave in and moved to the bridge to handle the guns, and Zimzod said, "Just don't shoot us.  OK?"  The last order Mikah gave before gearing up was to make Emkir the acting Captain.  When Aali heard that, she remembered some of the maneuvers he'd pulled during the war and said, "Oh.  We're screwed."  The move was a slap in the face for Aiden, but Mikah wanted to make sure Super Chicken didn't turn and flee, leaving them stranded.  The others reacted while Zimzod started moving to one of the hull hatches saying, "Rol, you're with us."  Rol answered, "You bet I am.  You think I'm staying with him in command?"  As Aiden moved the ship to a safe distance, he brought her about after nearly an hour.  During that time, the rogue appeared to correct her tumble, but not her drift, so her vector had changed due to the impact.

Aiden pointed out that meant someone was alive and they had some systems working.  Their guesses ran from "survivors working on damage control" to "conserving fuel because the Hotel California was backing off".  But they could only guess until they did something to find out.  Zimzod said, "Well, we're gonna find out."  While preparing, Zimzod, Mikah and Rol talked about how to breach the ship.  Zimzod suggested getting in through the turret but Fesic said that wouldn't work, reminding Zimzod the interior of a turret didn't give access to the gunner's station or the ship's interior.  Gearing up, Zimzod had grabbed his collection of grenades to share out.  Sharing out his twenty HE and ten HEAT grenades with the others, ten apiece, he kept four of the anti-tank grenades while Mikah and Rol had three each.

When the away team were ready on the California's nose, Aiden began the forty minute burn that would boost them at the rogue.  They only hoped the rogue's sensors were trashed badly enough they didn't see the move and guess what was happening.  Aiden up-thrusted while Emkir squared away his jury-rigged repair work and ran scans of the rogue.  What he got back came with clean enough densometer data to confirm internal damage because of the crash.  Emkir worked to figure out more while Aiden got an alarm when the rogue began to roll.  Letting out a warning, Aiden watched as it became clear the rogue was using the roll to turn.  This suggested damage to their engines and OMS systems, but also suggested they were turning to run.  Aiden whined that the crew was in control of the rogue and it was too dangerous, but Mikah ordered him to continue with the plan in a demanding voice.  Aiden persisted and nearly everyone on board started shouting that the rogue was running.

They recognized this wasn't just their best chance to take the ship but their only chance.  Aiden reluctantly brought them back to an assault vector with the damaged rogue, they confirmed the fleeing ship was up-thrusting to run.  Still reluctant, Aiden continued to accelerate while doing the math and figuring it would take sixty minutes to "shoot" the team at the rogue.  And if the rogue accelerated until they couldn't catch up, Aiden could just follow behind them and pick them up while continuing the chase.  Out on the ship's nose, Rol mentioned the danger of being thrown into the rogue's thruster plates.  Zimzod said he'd use his suit thrusters to bring them to a vector above the rogue's, and out of their thrust blast.  Rol also asked about the fuel to make the maneuvers, and Mikah said, "If you don't want to come, you can detach."  Zimzod added, "Yeah, you can crawl back into the ship on your own, like a little bitch."  That seemed to silence Rol as they waited and Aiden up-thrusted to chase down the rogue.  Sensors counted down the distance and gave the estimated closing speeds telling Aiden when to have the team jump for the rogue.

The good news was the rogue hadn't fired anything to slow them down.  And while Emkir worked on the sensors, to get more data, the closing range seemed to be his friend.  A good read from the suite showed that the bow half of the Skygge Sturek had not only struck the rogue, but had been "blasted into" the fleeing ship!  Comments ran from the change in the rogue's "engine to mass" ratio to possible weapons and sensor damage.  The speculation was broad because the sensors still hadn't answered enough for Aiden and some others.  Voids told Emkir some compartments were exposed to space and included a large number of fuel tanks.  Still, when the California reached her closest planned approach to the rogue, and Aiden hit the retro-thrusters hard, the rogue hadn't opened fire.  The boarding party were launched from the nose of the ship.  Fesic held his fire while they were thrown into the space between the two craft.  The computer in Zimzod's battledress tracked a point, not visible to him, which was the rogue.  Thrusting as planned, Zimzod angled their vector to keep them out of the line of fire should the rogue open up.

Having fired the thrusters, Aiden handed control of their withdrawal to Emkir while moving to alternatively operate and repair the sensors.  Admittedly, most of the damage was either external or due to feedback-fried components in the avionics compartment, but the trained scout did what he could.  Burning to pull outside laser range, those on the ship couldn't do anything to help the drifting away team.  Twenty minutes in, Aiden confirmed the rogue had stopped accelerating, perhaps misreading the California's move and assuming they were changing tactics.  So, they could assume the rogue was waiting for the California's next move before they spent any of their remaining fuel.  Despite the apparent wisdom of the move, the choice helped Zimzod's team catch up even faster.

Those on the ship waited while Zimzod soon said his battle computer had begun feeding passive sensor data of its own.  He didn't move to active sensors because he didn't want to warn the survivors they had company.  In his first report, Zimzod said he had twenty to twenty five minutes more until having to make some active burns.  This was the second most dangerous part of their maneuver, because they didn't know what the rogue's surviving crew could see?  They also didn't know how the extra mass of Rol and Mikah's connection to Zimzod might affect his maneuvers?  They started to prepare for that phase of the leap while Zimzod hyped his voice up as he asked, "Isn't this fun Rol?"  Zimzod was also working his sensor data, hoping to find some signs of pre-made breaches which would get them inside the ship.  But while drifting toward their target, there didn't seem to be any breach which hadn't been sealed by wreckage.

Having A Blast With The Neighbors

     Zimzod worked his thrust controls and slowed, so Mikah and Rol appeared to shoot out to the limits of their cable strand.  Zimzod was ready for that, anticipating and countering the tugging when they reached their limits, keeping them from spinning wildly or getting tangled and or crushed by the cable.  At the same time, Mikah grabbed Rol, to keep him under control when they were jerked hard.  Just as Mikah and Rol were hauled back slightly, Zimzod was making stability burns, working to maintain control while he slowly started catching up on the pair.  On the California, they were relying on Zimzod's words because the sensors couldn't pick them up.  At the same time, Aali asked Emkir about sending one of the androids onto the hull, to try repairing any of the sensors?  While they didn't have spare parts for the external sensors, Aali hoped WALL-e might be able to identify some repair opportunities.

Emkir asked for a time estimate on any repairs and Aali had to admit it would easily take the android forty minutes just to make an initial assessment.  There would be no quick fixes.  Emkir didn't expect any but said it was a great idea.  When Emkir approved her idea, Aali began sending commands to the 'droid.  Making a last bid to get Zimzod's team any information, Aiden had worked on, adjusted and repaired the sensors to do one more scan before they landed.  And the data that came back proved the rogue still had internal power and positive attitude control.  More concerning, there was the glimmer of power from at least one of the rogue's turrets, suggesting she still had some weapons.  They shot that information to Zimzod just during his last burns, before Mikah and Rol would be grabbing for hand-holds.  Zimzod would blast with his thrusters until they could slow enough to use the mag-grabs on their boots to secure themselves to the hull plating.

When they came in, Zimzod did his best with his thrusters before abandoning them for the enhanced strength of his battledress.  Deciding the grab might be more powerful than the burn, Zimzod used his HUD and Mark-I eyeball views of the ravaged blockade runner while Mikah and Rol scrabbled for some kind of hand-hold ahead of him.  Making that eye-hand coordinated snag at his best judgment, Zimzod also tried to plant one or both of his boots.  Suddenly, he felt a slight tug at his suit's waist-ring, where the cable was secured, when Mikah and Rol were jerked back.  Zimzod watched Mikah control Rol's position so they couldn't draw themselves to him.  Zimzod made sure he was secure, then said "Come to papa" while reaching with one arm to grab cable and slowly draw the pair in."  Rol and Mikah just waited until Zimzod wanted them to lock boots to plating so they could begin operations.

Secure on the ship's hull, they to see the massive amount of damage done to the blockade runner.  The collision had driven the front half of the scout ship into the rogue!  Surveying the wreckage, they were momentarily silent after reporting their landing.  The California then got a call from the commanding Naval Admiral in-system!  Emkir read the message, which had to have come from light-hours away, and saw it was good news.  It briefly explained something called an Interleave System Defense strategy, which had naval ships jumping from system to system using pirate points.  They hoped the ships might catch vessels improperly using those points by arriving to surprise any local target vessels.  After that brief description, the Admiral said, under the strictest security, an Imperial cruiser had just reported in-system ahead of them.

The ship was thirty six hours ahead of them at a drift, but could reduce that at full burn.  Even at speed, the math said they wouldn't arrive for twenty four hours.  On top of everything else, the Admiral included the comms data to contact the in-bound cruiser.  Knowing his answer wouldn't get back to anyone for hours, Emkir crafted a response saying they had landed a boarding party on the badly damaged blockade runner but the ISS Skygge Sturek had been lost, and they had taken minor damage.  On the hull of the blockade runner, Zimzod, Mikah and Rol made their first assessment of the damage.  They estimated that what could still be identified as the aft third of the Skygge Sturek had been driven into the rogue, just aft of where they believed the bridge to be.  That suggested the bridge could have survived and might be serviceable if data, power and other connections to the engineering compartments survived?  To find out if that was the case, they had to transit around the remains of the scout.

The better news was that every turret they could see on the dorsal side of the ship was damaged somehow.  There were two turrets on the ventral side they couldn't see, without taking a walk to see the sights.  The bulk of the impact damage showed the scouts, to their credit, had hit the rogue right on its central line, which promised to undermine main structural spars.  Zimzod was again looking for any rents or tears that would let them just walk into the interior of the ship.  Rol said that wasn't a good idea since the sharp torn metal from jagged edges could even snag at armor.  So, the amount of time they spent trying to safely get in a hole would be huge.  And they might only reach a dead end, forcing them to retrace their steps out.  Rol recommended using the breaching charge to make a safe hole.  Mikah said they should see if the bridge was still manned and, if it was, put the breaching charge right on top of it.  Zimzod liked that plan so they started off to transit around the hull puncture and remains of the Skygge Sturek.

Zimzod and Mikah led Rol around the impact site, and they could see the bridge appeared powered and in use.  When Zimzod said, "Good plan sweetie!", Mikah answered, "I'm a doctor.  I know how to kill people."  Coming up behind the "hull bump" that was the roof of the bridge, they made a quick plan before backing off.  First, they connected Rol to the hull by a carabiner.  He would be their anchor.  They would then carefully move up to place and set the breaching charge.  After setting the charge, Rol would tug them back using the cable and they would take cover until the charge did its work.  After they set the plan and communicated it back to the California, Mikah and Zimzod moved forward.  Trained in demolitions, Zimzod worked with Mikah helping, and set the charge.  When he was ready, Zimzod bared and grabbed the arming tab with one hand while he gave the high sign with the other.  Seeing that, Rol pulled on the cable.

The action pulled the couple and Zimzod pulled the tab, activating the charge.  Grabbing Mikah around her waist while they flew, Zimzod used his thruster system to prevent them being driven into the shattered metal of the wreckage.  They closed and slowed, while Rol, who was magnetically sealed to the deck by his boots, pulled them in and the three pulled in on Zimzod who grabbed hold of the carabiner connecting Rol to the ship.  This created an "armored turtle defense" as they also pulled down low to the hull plating.  Crouched down, Zimzod checked a timer he'd set on his HUD, linked to the fuse on the charge.  When the timer went to zero, they felt a minor shudder as the vessel shook from the blast, and Zimzod joked, "I think that's the signal."  After confirming everyone was OK, they each deployed their primary weapons and moved up on the new hole in the hull.  While approaching, they could see there was still an amount of light coming from the bridge, mostly bright red.

Just in case, while moving up, Zimzod pulled a pin and threw an HE grenade into the hole.  After another shudder and alert from his battle computer, Zimzod edged to the lip of the hole and peered inside.  What he saw had to be played backwards in his mind while Zimzod worked to understand what happened?  Eventually, he figured there had only been one or two crew in the small space when the bomb blew.  If there was a second person, there was no sign of them anymore.  The way he saw it, the shredded body of the one visible person had been the pilot.  When the breaching charge had gone off, "something" from the shrapnel had actually driven through the body, pinning it to the command chair.  Whatever expression had been forming on what now remained of the face had been frozen in time when the compartment was voided.  Then came the grenade, which actually did less damage than it should have, because there'd been no air waves to spread the concussive damage.  Still, the grenade shrapnel had ripped chunks out of the now dead body, which was also missing its left arm completely.

The only real suggestion there had been a second person were the large amounts of fragmented body armor that littered the compartment walls thanks to the blast.  The foot and ankle sections "may" have still been filled with human remains, but it was hard to tell.  The others joined Zimzod at the edge of the hole, and realized the grenade, while a good precaution, caused nothing more than extra decoration.  All the still active panels were filled with angry glowing red lights as system indicators almost entirely showed significant damage alarms.  Holding his hand up, to keep the others where they were, Zimzod made his way into the now exposed bridge and did an initial survey of the space.  The first thing he saw was a closed and locked IRIS valve at the aft end of the very small bridge.  The space was crowded with what was left of three seats.  He quickly tried to scan the boards but they were badly enough shattered to make that impossible to solve, even where lights were still active.

Zimzod could see the language was GalAnglic, which meant little because the crew seemed to be human, as had been the "thief".  Calling out to his team and the ship, Zimzod said, "OK, these people ain't going nowhere." though that was not 100% true.  Someone could still be in control in the engineering spaces.  Mikah asked if they could blast the IRIS valve and hopefully vent more of, if not the rest of, the ship?  Zimzod looked the situation over and said they'd have to have someone press a grenade against the valve, and be pulled from the hole by a cable.  Just like they'd done with the breaching charge.  But, it would take more than one grenade, one after the other.  And the person being pulled out would have to be pulled clear of the mangled and sharpened edges of the blasted hole that was the roof of the bridge.  He did think two HEAT grenades would do the job though.

The real challenge they faced was getting the "grenade planter" out of the hole safely without letting the grenade float free.  They had nothing to secure the grenade with.  And the person pulled from the hole would be flung up and need to be pulled back down, possibly striking the hull hard.  They could even accidentally hit some mangled metal from another hull tear.  When they looked for ways to stick a grenade to the valve, they could find nothing.  Even Mikah had to admit the guts of the dead man had frozen and would only shatter to crystal-dust if grabbed and squeezed.  When they sent a situation report back to the ship, Aiden asked if there were any other undamaged airlocks elsewhere on the ship?  He was told there could be, but they hadn't explored the hull of the ship.  And, if the locks were in security lock-down, they would need another breaching charge to get in through one.

Zimzod considered the issue, and Mikah said they should check the two other turrets and use HEAT grenades to disable any that could still be operational.  With the bridge destroyed, anyone inside the ship was screwed without guns.  Mikah suggested using five HEAT grenades on each of the turrets, to try putting them out of action.  Zimzod and Rol agreed they could use one HEAT grenade to punch a hole in each turret and then toss one or two more inside the turret to destroy the turret's internal systems.  That would guarantee the weapons were unusable.  With that plan settled on, the three slowly made their way across the hull, locking Rol down from point to point as an anchor.  Then Mikah and Zimzod would move forward to set another point to which Rol would move as they drew in his cable.

The three raised a salute to the now dead Scout crew and moved on to check the turrets.  When they crossed the horizon of the hull's ventral side, they saw one of the turrets had been damaged badly by their lone missile strike.  They then moved to the last possibly working turret and set to work.  After twenty more minutes, they'd blown the workings of the last turret and reported it safe to bring the California in.  Talking with the crew on the ship, Aali suggested they use a HEAT grenade to damage the ship's thruster plates, "just in case."  When they tried that, the grenade left a small pockmark on the relatively large and simple plate.  Aali asked if the blast made a hole and Zimzod said it hadn't.  Mikah and Rol were looking about the ventral side, which suffered much less damage.

Suddenly, Mikah said, "Guys?" as she spotted a human figure near the ship's horizon!  Bringing up her laser carbine, Mikah sighted in on the figure and examined it, to see he was dressed in an Imperial Scout uniform with red piping!  While she had no idea what the red color meant, she also realized the figure was waving at them.  Pointing to her helmet and making the Imperial military hand signals for communications, Mikah saw the figure respond with hand signals for helmet to helmet contact.  Mikah, Zimzod and Rol then talked about who shouldd talk to this person?  Mikah said Rol was their interrogator, and she and Zimzod were the best shots, under the circumstances.  Rol accepted the assignment and walked over while the two others readied their weapons and covered him.

When Rol reached the scout, he leaned in to make contact and identified himself.  The scout said he was Scout Unar Lakminer, of the ISS Skygge Sturek!  Beyond all hope, it appeared one of the Skygge Sturek's crew had survived.  Deciding to go with "reassuring", Rol said "I'm sorry to hear that.  You made a mess out of this ship though."  When the man said there wasn't much to say about that.  Rol asked if he knew of anything that could help them force their way into the blockade runner?  Perhaps some equipment on what was left of the scout ship?  Unar said he was impressed with what they'd done to the bridge, but that wasn't something he'd been trained for.  Rol reported Unar's answers back, and they speculated on anything standard on a scout vessel that might help.  Sadly, the aft section of the Skygge Sturek was badly damaged, and its machine shops and tools, were blasted.  Somehow, Unar survived in an intact compartment aft of the scout.

Seeing this wasn't going to turn into a shooting situation, Mikah and Zimzod moved over to join the conference.  Still, they passed his name and information back to Emkir.  And he sent a message to the Scouts, to confirm he was who he claimed to be.  The group gathered, and Rol asked the man if he had a working comms.  When it turned out he did, Rol gave him their frequency.  After a moment's adjustment, Unar could talk with the entire crew.  When they asked, Unar said he'd been the ship's navigator and Mikah joked, "Good, we need a replacement navigator."  After everyone shared a laugh, Unar continued.  After the command pilot was killed, the senior scout took the helm and sent Unar aft to help the engineer.  He'd been wounded in a missile strike.  After finishing his work in engineering, they were told a the crew had loaded the last missiles.  They had to prepare to engage the blockade runner directly after they fired, because there were no other options.

Unar was scrounging for material, and made it amidships before the pilot hit the alarm and all hell broke loose.  Lucky for him, Unar's vacc suit had been undamaged, and he survived when the ship lost integrity.  He couldn't explain what happened, because he wasn't on the bridge or in engineering.  All he remembered was that he'd been thrown about, blacked out.  When he'd come to, he was floating free in the wrecked compartment.  When he worked himself free, he'd seen the three of them doing "something" near the bridge, and though they were a damage control team.  He joked that they were lucky he didn't have a weapon at the time.  Of course, when they blew the bridge, he realized they weren't the rogue's crew and followed them until they took out the turret.  The one thing he couldn't understand was where they'd come from?  When he asked where their ship was, they pointed off into space and Mikah tartly said, "They're cowering back there."

When they asked about his condition, Unar said he knew he had aches and pains but, as far as he knew, he didn't have any real injuries.  Mikah said, "When we get you back to the ship, I'll take a look at you."  With that, Mikah ordered Aiden to move the ship in to join them.  Mikah told Aiden the rogue's weapons were taken out, and Aiden suddenly grew back his balls, agreeing to join them.  After calculating a vector to meet the wreck, Aiden up-thrusted and the four on the wreck waited.  They kept an eye out in case any survivors from the blockade runner decided to come out and play.  And with light-hours before they'd have any word back from the scouts, they didn't offer Unar a weapon.  Unar didn't ask for one, and sat, trying to relax while they waited.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

     Munarshu: In a lounge in the Imperial Consulate in Ulir City because of his stolen Ident.
    Terin: Buying lunch sandwiches in Ulir City on Equus prime

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

     Second Timeline:
    Aiden: In the California's bridge as it approached the blockade runner
    Aali: In the California's engineering as it approached the blockade runner
    Emkir: In the California's bridge as it approached the blockade runner
    Fesic: In the California's bridge as it approached the blockade runner
    Mikah: On the wrecked Blockade runner's hull with a surviving scout
    Rol: On the wrecked Blockade runner's hull with a surviving scout
    Zimzod: On the wrecked Blockade runner's hull with a surviving scout

Next: Assaults By Land And Space