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Last Updated    May 21 2018
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I'll Raise You 4
       Charges For 1

Setting Jobs And Spilling Secrets

Skull Image from orbit     The crew of the Hotel California entered jump while the order to start cloning Aiden was two days from Rhylanor.  After that order arrived, it would take another 18 weeks cooking until he was ready.  Along with the other duties they had, the crew had to deal with their projects while not spilling their secrets in front of their new passenger.  With Aali and Emkir in charge of the White Star Order research, Sonthert data work as well as the new project to organize the data taken from the Sohturn Behemoth.  Aali also had to handle the ship's engineering on top of everything, and was starting to consider how to get past the Sonthert system Interdiction Fleet?  Given the demands on her time, Aali planned to talk to Mikah about sharing her work.

Mikah planned to have a meeting with Emkir, Aali and Zimzod on handling their work load.  Fesic was looking forward to talking to Mikah about his work with the cargo sealing system.  Having spent some time looking over the full course listing to understand "everything".  Fesic had realized this was a years'-long course of study, and he didn't have years to learn how to use it the way the crew needed.  Fesic reminded himself he'd never asked just what it was they needed?  He only knew he was a gunner and wanted to use his time aboard to make himself more valuable to this or any future crew he served with.

Fesic planned to ask the Captain just what he needed to focus on learning?  Before that, he spent the ten minutes after they'd secured from entering jump, running the diagnostics on all weapons systems after his sensor work.  Zimzod planned to work with the InstellArms rep and and learn about him.  Rol was open to working with him on the crew's current armor repairs and weapons maintenance needs.  This would not only keep Bhreker busy and "contained", but give Zimzod and Rol a chance to measure the man's skills and learn his background.  Also, Mikah told Terin to be the ship's steward and care for Bhreker in his copious spare time.

When Fesic came to talk with her, Mikah was speaking with Emkir and Aali.  Considering the work on the engineering and the other special projects they were handling, Mikah assigned Terin the job of going through the data from the Sohturn Behemoth.  Told that, the navigator realized he could kiss any chance of sleep good bye, since he had to do that, be the passenger's steward, study his computer training and his stent studies too.  Speaking to Mikah, Fesic told her it would take two to four years for him to learn all the classes on the cargo system.  Given that, he asked what the crew needed him to focus on?  Because Fesic wasn't with the crew when they'd dealt with the tattooed man and his lady friend, Mikah had to make some hard choices.

Zimzod was the first to answer, as Mikah considered crew secrets.  Zimzod's answer was simplistic, saying Fesic only had to seal and unseal cargo containers and create customs seals.  That left out making "exactly the same" seal more than once, which they'd have to do if their plan was to succeed.  Quickly accepting the realities, Mikah started explaining their need to smuggle the 1 dTon cargo container into the D'Ganzio system.  Surprised by this, Fesic listened as Mikah told him what they had planned.

First, they'd get a cargo container they could pack the smaller container into.  Then, Fesic would seal the smaller box in the larger one and make a Customs seal saying the larger container was bound for the Lanth system.  Because of that, inspectors in the D'Ganzio system would largely ignore the long as it was a convincing seal.  Now, Mikah had to convince Fesic to follow an obviously illegal order.

That led to more questions from Fesic, and Mikah explained about Zimzod's interest in an FGMP-15.  She told Fesic how that led to them meeting the shady couple, and agreeing to smuggle their cargo into the system to deliver it without customs "inspecting" it.  Considering the earnest and direct explanation, Fesic leaned back on his heels and looked Mikah in the eyes.  He then said, "You know.  Those people didn't tell you, but smuggling is illegal." in just as earnest and honest a tone as he could.  Not able to hold it in, Zimzod burst out with, "The hell you say!" in a tone that was half laughter and half sarcasm.

With those around him braking out laughing at his words, Fesic insisted they were Knights, and couldn't be caught smuggling.  For a moment, Mikah was concerned Fesic might just be a bit too honest to be of use in her crew!  Zimzod just leaned closer to Fesic with a smile and asked, "Did your parents have any children that lived?"  In the slight pause, Zimzod continued, "Being a Knight doesn't exactly pay the bills."  Objecting, Fesic pointed out they'd made quite a bit of cash since he came aboard, and doing good things for which they'd been paid.  But Zimzod pointed out that it was all Zen and they had to balance things out.  That confused Fesic even more, and the gunner asked, "What?"

Zimzod began explaining that they had to balance the good with the bad, to keep things from biting them in the ass.  When Fesic complained that being caught breaking the law would really bite them in the ass, Zimzod only said,"Then we best not get caught."  As he spoke, Zimzod's smile said, 'now you're catching on'.  Switching logic, and hoping it wasn't a gap so large he'd had to worry, Fesic asked, "So what exactly is this, that it's contraband in that system?"  That was an interesting question, because the D'Ganzio system was owned by InstellArms, and operated as their sector depot.  When Mikah bluntly said, "We don't know."  Fesic incredulously asked, "You don't even know what's in the box?"

When Mikah happily said, "Nope", Fesic started talking about looking up the maximum penalties they could face if they were caught with various things.  Zimzod said, "Why don't you learn how to seal the container so we don't have to face the penalties?"  Fesic saw he only had to create and re-create the same seal for the Lanth system twice.  So long as the time and other cryptographic data were the same, it didn't matter what was in the sealed container and he'd not get caught.  Especially since the others present said the maximum penalty for smuggling, depending on what was in the box, could be death without even questioning.  There were few things where the Imperial reaction was, "Shoot first, and question any survivors before killing them."  If this was one of those, they were all dead.

Mikah kept it to herself that they'd already survived involvement with one of those substances.  It wasn't an important part of getting Fesic to work with them.  Fesic agreed to see what he could learn while also being up front that he wasn't very happy being put into the situation.  When he said he wanted to check and find out what was in the shady couple's box, Mikah told him bluntly that he and they couldn't do that.  He asked why and she told him that was another part of the deal they'd agreed to.  Fesic 'told them' he'd abide by that limit while privately deciding he'd do what he planned when they were not in the cargo bay to stop him.

After telling Mikah and Zimzod he'd do only what was needed, Fesic left them while he made his own plans.  He wanted to get an idea what could be in the container.  Beyond that, he'd do what he could with the information, like working out how bad getting caught with it could be?  Fesic decided the first thing to do was do a densometer scan.  That meant he had to meet up with Munarshu later, after he'd given time for the conversation to be dismissed and he was drawing less attention than he'd just created.  It seemed Munarshu wanted to have a densometer installed on his shoulder, thanks to his raging paranoia.  He didn't want to ask Aali, because he figured she'd tell Mikah and Zimzod about the conversation.  So, he went to learn about duplicating seals, using those existing seals in the cargo bay as examples.

The Week Jumping to Skull
     The week passed as Rol worked with Bhreker on the admittedly limited amount of armor and weapons work for the crew.  While working together, Bhreker not only took his chances to show off weapon and armor offerings from Instellarms but also talked about some upgrades in tools Rol might be interested in.  Rol was certainly interested in trading some collections of tools for a single multi-tool.  During the jump, Rol also started to offer his morning hand-to-hand classes and Mikah offered her Zero-g combat exercises.  When Bhreker asked if there might be something he could help them with or offer, Fesic joked that the crew could use a throwing dummy.

More seriously, Bhreker said that he could play 'OpFor' against the crew in their exercises.  When some in the crew started making jokes about the InstellArms man trying to take them all on, he clarified.  He suggested he could come up with scenarios they'd have to react to, hand them situational surprises and the like, while observing from outside the game.  Making his suggestion, the jokes stopped and Mikah, Zimzod and Rol started to take him seriously.  When Rol brought up zero-g weapons practice, Bhreker asked if they had a zero-g target shooting simulator?  Rol admitted they'd had, but it was lost without saying anything else about that.  Bhreker noted that for a future sales opportunity and also suggested they could set up a contract for a continuing consultancy if they liked his work.

Eventually, Bhreker would provide three exercises over the week as each of the crew handled their group or individual projects.  The week began passing while Fesic spent time examining the container with the tattooed man's cargo.  From the outside, Fesic wasn't surprised to be unable to tell anything.  After spending a day examining the container and its seal, Fesic decided he had to ask for help.  Beginning to plan, he went to engineering late enough he hoped Aali would have moved on to her other work and Munarshu would be alone.  But Fesic ran into Aali while she was handing things over to Munarshu and leaving the compartment.

When Fesic saw Aali, he knew she'd ask why he was visiting engineering and figured to just lead with her.  So Fesic told her he was interested in trying to work out what was in the restricted cargo pod?  When he said he wanted to get a densometer reading on the container, Munarshu began to reach for a portable device but Aali stopped him.  She told Fesic they were under contract not to scan it, and told him he wasn't allowed to scan the container.  Fesic apologized for not having known they were contractually bound against that, despite having been told so by Mikah earlier.  Fesic just walked things back, saying he'd use the system's library to gage the risks smuggling an unknown cargo.

The week proceeded with Fesic not getting much further in his legal research than, "The worst punishment was a sentence of death."  Because of that, he also worked hard on copying cargo seals, and didn't eventually get far over the week.  Still, he managed to do some good research into the basics of the work.  While he did that, Terin split his time radically between being the ship's steward, studying his computer work, stent studies and finally breaking down the basic blocks of data from the freighter into key categories.  Over the same time, Aali worked even more to find if there were easier ways to access systems with any hint of a White Star Order facility.

Aali also went to collect what she could from the ship's library on the Sonthert system and add to her knowledge of interdicted system blockade fleets.  Especially since she remembered those fleets she'd run into during the Fifth Frontier War.  Of course, those were war fleets and likely differed from peace-time fleets.  In their library, Aali first found what she'd call the Imperial party line on blockade fleets.  Aside from finding it a good laugh, Aali read commentary on the Imperial policies for getting permits to enter Interdicted systems.  And even land on IISS-protected worlds.  Sadly, that relied on a lot of paperwork and meetings with ISS and Imperial Navy authorities, or even deals with local nobility.

One obvious choice would be to meet with Duke Rakaa Kiraarri, of Lanth.  Beyond holding the Lanth Subsector as Fief, he was the Baron of Sonthert.  That meant some member of his Seneschalate staff was likely in charge of managing the system for their liege lord.  Aali figured there was something to be said for the direct route, instead of using military officers to try an end run.  At the far end of consideration was an attempt to use a close a Pirate Point to enter the system hard on the planet and make a quick dive into its atmosphere.  But that would also demand they work hard to keep their activities covert while looking for possible sites for the former base.  That reminded Aali of missions during the war, some of and the pilots she'd flown with.

On some missions, they built up vee from out-orbit before cutting to a drift, like space debris.  Waiting until having to fire thrusters to direct their course towards a specific vector or target.  Deciding she needed current facts first, Aali searched the ship's library data to find any data on why the Sonthert system had been interdicted?  She only found a five-year-old order from the Imperial Navy publishing "shoot first" orders if any ships entered the interdicted systems in the sector at the start of the Fifth Frontier War.  Aali confirmed Duke Rakaa held the system as a Baronial Fief.  Beyond that was the fact it was an interdicted system.  But no reason was given.  To find more, Aali would have to hit a library or archive that had the original Interdiction orders.

In jump space, that just wasn't happening, so Aali went to her cabin to do stent-work.  All those with stents had worked with the devices and were all reliably connecting with their stents.  Aali was still well ahead of the others, and was also connecting her stent to other devices.  She was getting used to maintaining those connections, even when she stopped concentrating on them.  This let her to concentrate on simple and some complex command chains!  She was even starting to enjoy being able to query the ship's engineering computer, via her stent.  She built a small network and got the data fed to her neural link even as she was getting out of bed.

Arrival And Settling In
     After a week in jump, the ship's computer signaled the coming emergence into real space.  They left jump into the Skull system, while Emkir and Terin worked to confirm their position.  That done, both were happy to tell the others they'd arrived even closer to the main world than they'd planned, thanks to the variables of jump transit.  With a few hour's transit to the mainworld orbit, the crew started looking at the planet itself.  Without a civilian highport, the Skull orbital plane maintained Imperial Naval and IISS arcologies as well as corporate facilities.  The only downside-owned platform was a 50 dTon science station.

There were also dirtside Naval and Scout facilities, along with the civilian downport.  The civilian port was class "C", termed "Good", providing basic services, covering some repairs and unrefined fuel to commercial traffic.  But merchants had to land dirtside, or shuttle cargo between ship and port.  The "planet" was larger than an asteroid, but still small.  It maintained a very thin and tainted atmosphere and small bodies of exotic fluids on the surface as well as frozen chemical expanses covering thirty percent of the rock.  The roughly sixty-three million population live in surface domes or sub-surface cities, working in resource recovery mines, material refineries or low-end corporate factories.

Skull's mineral resources made it clear the primary industry would be recovery and refining of the chemicals needed to make man-portable power supplies for military weapons.  This made the system very valuable to the Imperial military, and the Marines also operate a protected forces school on-world.  Without the atmosphere to be an industrial world, the population allowed some to fund cost-effective low-end consumer electronics factories.  These made tech goods to sell in nearby lower tech systems as a secondary industry.  The largest of these corporations were LSP and Delgado, who had made investments in the system and its government.  That was a self-promoting council incorporated as "Skull Exports Syndicated".  The various levels and amenities of Skull society were organized by wealth and authority.

The port had necessary facilities above ground.  Ships landing at the port fields were either so large they had to be serviced on the surface or were shuttled to sub-surface berths.  Those ships would land on cradles, which would move each craft to an elevator.  Lowered to a service level, the cradle would move the ship to its final berth for service and port access.  While they "could" park on the surface and be served, the crew would have to use vacc suits and other inconveniences for any of their needs.  Terin said he'd worked in the port, during his time with the Scouts, updating and doing maintenance on the port's beacons.  So, he remembered some of his time on Skull.

Checking the address IRIS had given them, Mikah found the place was a dome which was part of the above-surface port complex.  It was one of the corporate domes, and Delgado maintained a number of administrative offices there.  Having an office there made sense for a subsector auditor like Tilden Repinski.  Seeing this, Mikah ordered Emkir to get clearance to land at the downport while Terin managed the incoming beacon transmissions.  They agreed to pay Cr 1,000 for sub-surface internal berthing and realized they'd have to pay for a consumables refresh.  That was the painful part, as the offered price for an atmospherics and consumables refresh was KCr 27.

Not happy, Mikah agreed to the costs and Emkir flew them in to their landing point.  After hours of transit to, landing on and other world arrival procedures, they were ready for the standard Immigration, Health and Customs inspectors.  Making their approach, Mikah checked costs and found the port offered Cr 50 per ton of fuel (KCr60 total), which was unrefined.  That was over-priced, as far as Mikah was concerned, but refining didn't bother her, since they'd replaced fuel purifier aboard ship.  Annoyingly, the gas giant was too distant for them to take a side trip to scoop.  Mikah asked to see if she could negotiate a price for the fuel, and was given an appointment the next morning.  Following that, Mikah talked to the others about visiting Delgado.  While she did, those not involved watched the news.

    Egypt (BAC6567-7  N  Ni Fl  521  Im  F8 V)                         Date: 306-1112
    Despite the wondrous sounds described by some critics, the Pavabid
    "Heavenly Voices" choir tour was bound to hit snags and a significant
    issue cropped up during the one evening performance scheduled in-system.
    As the performance moved into the main part of the concert, the singers
    began to grab at their bellies, doubling over in obvious pain!  What followed,
    in the eyes of this reporter, was a test of wills between the Clergy escorting
    the choir and the Imperial officers and medical personnel.

    An eventual test of the Pavabidian food proved the supplies had soured since
    the departure from Pavabid and the choir members could no longer consume
    the supplies they had loaded as cargo.  What this reporter experienced was
    a comedy of errors as the Base Commander worked to convince the clergy
    from Pavabid to continue the tour using specially vetted food supplies.
    Eventually, after treatment and a make-up performance, the details had
    been worked out and the Clergy approved of the new measures until
    communications back to Pavabid and supplies could be sent to the Egypt
    system.  Of course, that meant the planned concerts by the choir further
    along would all be delayed.                             

Visiting Delgado
     With the ship secured, Terin had his memories and Aali recalled having been in the port for a short stay during a transport layover.  Mikah, Munarshu and Fesic had vague memories of shore passes to the port's startown, when ships they'd been assigned to had visited the system.  But nothing more.  Even then, they'd been completely contained in the Naval services dome, where the pleasures naval spacers sought were not a shuttle tram ride away in another dome.  Especially not a dome where locals might be caught by accident.

After settling, and paying the port fees, Mikah grabbed the card she was given and contacted Tilden Repinski.  When he answered, Mikah introduced herself and told him she'd been given his information.  When Repinski asked what business Mikah was in, she said "Troubleshooting".  Hearing that, Repinski brightened up and happily said, "Oh!  You must be the help I've been promised?"  Not sure what that meant, Mikah just said "Sure" in a flat tone.  That unlocked a flood as Repinski said he'd been requesting assistance for some time, even contacting the Duke's Seneschal, in hopes for help.

Repinski admitted he'd hoped for 'Imperial Naval' help, but said their timing was very good.  He also admitted, he had his reservations about the Navy not being able to intervene without causing a lot of destruction.  Mikah joked that the Navy were amateurs when it came to causing destruction, with a laugh.  Not sure how to take that, Repinski gave them instructions how to reach Dome 14 from where they were in the port and said he would set up a guest suite office for them to use in their work.  He did apologize it would cost them Cr 5 each to use the public transit systems, because they couldn't use their air-raft below the surface.

After half an hour's travel, leaving Terin at the ship to handle any of Bhreker's needs, the team arrived at Repinski's office.  Repinski greeted them, had them sit down and explained Delgado's operations on, and interest in, Skull.  The company had a number of assembly factories where the workers of Skull put together low end mid-tech goods to sell to lower tech markets in nearby systems.  The mining ores were refined with those not needed for the primary manufacture of weapon power packs sold to firms like Delgado.  Delgado had a significant number of contracts to produce and hand off product to firms in-system who ship and sell them off-world.

Disturbingly, a number of companies had been suddenly terminating their contracts with Delgado without explanation.  Repinski had investigated and could find nothing behind the now-increasing trend.  Most of the firms were from off-world and maintained on-world offices which suddenly closed up leaving him no local contact to investigate with.  Recently, the trend escalated from firms ordering finished product to those firms ordering electronics used to complete their own products for sale.  Frustrated, Repinski believed someone within Delgado was redirecting Delgado goods and undercutting sales while pocketing the profits.

Thanks to his investigations, his corporate management allowed him to hire investigators and could offer Cr 5,000 to cover expenses.  He said he could also offer a KCr 50 bonus if the team were able to stop the business losses outright.  When Mikah asked how he proposed the forces behind issues be stopped, Repinski said that he could make no recommendations because he didn't know who was behind the issue, or why they were doing what they were?  After a pause, Repinski asked if they would take on the investigation and Mikah and Zimzod said they would.

Paying Visits And Doing Favors
     After deciding to take on the investigation, Mikah had to consider how to divide up her crew?  They still had to get all the reset work done on the Hotel California or they'd not be able to lift on time.  That would cost more berthing fees at the least.  Outside the investigation, the crew had other things to research and look into, to advance their private interests.  Mikah's first decision was that Munarshu was staying with the ship no matter what happened.  Turning to Aali, Mikah said, "Make sure he doesn't get off ship.  Keep him in engineering the whole time."  Hearing that, Munarshu simply said, "As my Captain orders."

Adding to Mikah's decision, Aali said she also had to stay with the ship too, in order to get the needed work done.  Mikah assigned Emkir to research public finance data to see if there were any obvious changes?  Emkir said he'd work to pick up Repinski's accounting and see if they could find anything more?  That left Mikah, Zimzod, Rol and Fesic to do the front line investigating.  When Fesic volunteered, Mikah asked what qualifications he brought to the team?  He first said, "Intelligence", then added that he was neither Munarshu or Terin.  Laughing, Mikah accepted that and Repinski had his assistant, Ramona Vizo, show the four what Delgado could supply them with?

This included non-lethal weapons which were at least more compliant with the local laws, if not actually legal.  At first, Mikah was horrified by the thought of non-lethal weapons and muttered, "Why bother?"  The first weapon they were shown was a "Thud Gun", which fired bags of plastic balls and other non-lethal ordinance to knock out combatants.  The weapon was a thick gathering of parts, but made of thin plastics, and half the length of a rifle.  None of the four was impressed that the weapon was a breech-loading single-shot piece.  That meant the first shot had to count because you'd be praying as you were reloading if not.

Next, they were shown some "hand-zapper" contact tasers.  Worn on the hand, these weapons required actual physical contact to incapacitate the average person.  When asked, Mrs. Vizo assured them snub pistols were extremely illegal, even with Tranq rounds.  Zimzod asked about his cutlass, skipping that it was a vibro-cutlass, and she said some blades were legal and that would be seen as ceremonial.  Fesic was assured he could wear a work blade, like a machete.  Mrs. Vizo also told them they had two "Shock batons" which were batons that delivered a taser-charge to incapacitate the target.  Mikah had to admit, she liked that device a lot.  Finally, they had a laser listening kit the team could use.  Mikah grabbed that first. 

As they looked over the gear Delgado could loan them, Emkir sat with Repinski and went over the most recent data he had.  One thing he saw was that a company named "Skull-Tek Radio", which manufactured TL 8 radios for local TL 6 to 9 worlds, had cancelled their contracts within the past days!  When Emkir checked the record, he saw the company president, a "Mr. Fenton" lived in one of the on-world domes.  After he asked and got permission from Repinski, Emkir told Mikah and the others about the contact, saying they might be able to reach the man before he folded up shop and left the system.

When Mikah suggested, "We can go shake him down", Repinski agreed that would be a good place to start actively investigating.  With that decided, Repinski pulled up a map of the under city and showed Mikah and her team how they could use an air-raft to get around.  After doing that, he signed out to them a Delgado corporate air-raft.  Now that they were ready, Repinski gave Mikah Fenton's address in Dome 28, which was an upper middle class dome with mostly upscale and well-appointed residences.  There were also some high-level office park facilities and a healthy mercantile and entertainment quarter.

Fenton's townhouse-style residence was on the back of a building cluster of such residences and occupied a part of that building's second and third floors with a balcony on the second floor.  With that, they returned to the ship to gear up properly for the run.  Everyone who could, slipped into executive armor.  Mikah put on a business suit and Zimzod, his formal suit with the Thud gun he'd grabbed slung from his right shoulder.  He also decided to "take the risk" and wore his vibro-sword and K-Bar.  Going with the "appears decorative and ceremonial", Mikah took her coral sword, bought in the Equus system.  She also hung the stun baton she'd taken from her belt.

Rol wore one of his formal Vilani suits with his dog tags and ear piece comms.  Rol had also taken the second of the two stun batons.  Not having anything "dress up", Fesic dressed casually and threw his basic tool kit into his satchel as well as a flashlight, a few sets of rations and strapped on a blade and his machete.  Fesic also grabbed the second Thud gun and a hand stunner.  All the team members took their vacc suits in bags aboard the air-raft.  As a "just in case", Fesic grabbed the cloth bag he had for special occasions and put that in the satchel too.  Before they left the ship, Zimzod borrowed a pair of plyers from engineering and put them in his pocket. 

Plans And Unexpected Landings
     By early evening, local time, the four made it to Dome 28 and located Mr. Fenton's building and residence.  They parked behind the building so they had a direct line of sight to Fenton's balcony and windows.  Before setting down behind the building, they had circled the place at a distance to get a lay of the land.  During that pass, they had seen the building had a uniformed doorperson standing near an ornate entrance that was made to appear both decorative and formidable.  Dressed as they were, Mikah and Zimzod had considered the "Knock and ask to talk" approach, though she seemed to recall someone from her past aboard a ship making a joke about some 'Battle of the Jehovah's Witnesses' or something.

Seeing the doorperson, a Human male, they considered the options, which had changed with his presence.  Considering their kits, knowledge and the odds a team of strangers appearing at Fenton's door wouldn't go over well, they decided to gather intelligence first.  That decided, Rol unlimbered and set up the laser listener from Delgado.  While he did, some of the others said how nice it was to work for someone who was helpful, at last.  Getting the device set and aimed, Rol set the speaker to a level they could hear in the air-raft without being loud enough to advertise their presence to anyone else.  At first, they got only silence from the device.

Suddenly, they heard raised voices which turned to a series of horrifying grunts and screams!  As it started, Zimzod smiled, nodded approvingly and said, "They must be having sex."  But the screams escalated to sounds of terror, and were suddenly cut short, and there was only silence again.  Mikah's first orders were to call the authorities but none of them knew exactly how to do that in the dome?  Rol flatly said, "We are the authorities."  When Mikah said, "No, we're not." he answered, "We are now."  Mikah suggested they pretend to be neighbors calling about the screams, but Zimzod stopped them both before things became a fight.  He suggested they keep watching to see what developed and not get their hands and feet dirty unless they had to.

They were suddenly silenced as the Fenton's balcony door opened and a man who looked, from that distance, like the picture of the executive stepped out onto the balcony.  Outside of his looking like Fenton, the man was also mostly covered in blood and carried a huge butcher's knife in his right hand!  Walking, and apparently unaware of the team and their raft, he suddenly heaved something off the balcony with his other hand.  The object hit with a meaty thud, and then rolled close below where Fesic could see it from the raft!  Looking at the object, they saw it was a female human head!  Then, they looked back up, amazed, at Fenton.  The executive appeared not only to be completely unaware of them, but seemed to be biting and gnawing on something.

Mikah began again, "I say we call the police."  Unable to tear his eyes from Fenton, Zimzod muttered, "Uh...Yeah."  Catching more of his wits, as Mikah said, "The guy just threw a head off his balcony, is covered in blood and is eating what could be a body part!" Zimzod said they should ask the doorman to call the police.  Mikah firmly told him to go do that.  As the remaining three considered the sight they couldn't tear their eyes from, Mikah said, "Let's lift the raft up and taser him now that the police are coming."  That wasn't a bad plan, because it looked like Fenton had also dropped the big knife and his condition seemed to prevent him even seeing they were there.  So, as Mikah prepared to lift the raft, Fesic loaded and aimed his thud gun while Rol prepared for a boarding action with his stun baton.

Not sure what it would take for this guy to notice them, Mikah was trying to gently but very quickly move the raft to a point where Fesic and Rol could jump onto the balcony.  Basically trained in driving the vehicle, Mikah did the best job she could with the controls as the two men did their best to judge distance and timing.  Guessing they were close enough, Rol and Fesic moved quickly to the raft's edge to jump.  Not surprisingly, the speed with which they moved unbalanced the air-raft, forcing Mikah to react.  With the raft bobbling in the air, Fesic managed to adjust his leap as he prepared to fire his one shot at Fenton.

Rol wasn't so lucky.  Missing his footing, Rol fell the nearly twenty feet to the well-manicured turf at the base of the building.  Thanks to his training, Rol was able to spin partly and take the landing on his back while finishing a mid-air roll out.  Unable to split her attention, with Fesic on the balcony with Fenton, Mikah wrote off Rol for the moment and looked for any way to make a stable landing.  But the balcony was too small a space, so she lifted for the roof in hopes of coming down the stairs to help Fesic take on the man.

Cashing Entry Checks
     On the balcony, with his thud gun aimed, Fesic could see the man was gnawing on someone's forearm!  He mentally stomped down hard on that thought lest it slow his actions, and he squared and fired.  At that range, Fenton was standing alarmed, having finally realized someone else was present just as Fesic pulled the trigger.  Hitting the man dead in the chest, Fenton was bounced back against the balcony door and knocked down.  Fesic quickly started the process of reloading the gun, if Fenton didn't stay down.  As a parting gift, Mikah tried to help as she yelled, "catch" and threw her stun baton at Fesic.  Ignoring the flying stun baton, Fesic just finished reloading and shot the man again as he tried to rise.

Somewhat prepared for the second shot, Fenton fell to all fours and struggled to re-catch his breath as he crawled back past the door, into the apartment.  At first, Fesic didn't expect him to get far and finished reloading.  But as Fenton grabbed some furniture, rose and staggered back into the apartment, Fesic decided to chase after.  While he moved, Zimzod had made it around the building and was closing on the doorman.  Seeing a man in a suit charging his location, the doorman thumbed the lock, stepped into the space between the inner and outer doors and locked the entry again.

When Zimzod arrived, the uniformed man pointed to the intercom and calmly waited.  Zimzod briefly described the scene on the rear balcony before claiming he was a hired detective.  He said he needed to have the police called and needed access to Mr. Fenton's apartment.  Ignoring the man in the suit, the doorman hit a stud on a comms panel on the wall.  After waiting seconds, the man began to speak urgently into the comms panel while Zimzod wished he could read lips.  Zimzod waited to see the outcome of his gambit while Mikah was landing the air-raft on the roof.  Looking for options there, she saw the rooftop doorway.

Reaching the door, Mikah began looking for anything she could use to break the knob off and get the door open.  First, she returned to the raft and checked it, finding the pliers Zimzod had brought with him.  During the flight, he'd moved it into a pouch on the raft, so she grabbed them and went back to the door.  At the same time, they all were getting voice feed from Fesic, who was describing an apartment covered in sprayed, splattered and spilled blood.  Following where Fenton fled to, Fesic reached the man and proceeded to beat him into submission making liberal use of the hand zapper.  Fesic then looked for something to secure the man with until the police arrived.

In the building's entry, the doorman apparently finished his conversation and buzzed Zimzod into the building.  Stepping out of his way as Zimzod rushed past the man, the doorman called instructions to the "detective" as Zimzod reached the bank of elevators.  Zimzod hit the call button just as Mikah had ripped the roof-door's low-quality knob apart and bolted down the stairs.  She reached Fenton's door at the same time as Zimzod.  Together, they called Fesic to open the door and let them in.

After Fesic secured Fenton, he told the others he was in control of the apartment.  He then started looking around what turned out to be the couple's bedroom.  Fesic could see their computer and the other expected possessions a couple would have about.  For information, there was the computer and anything he could find for documentation.  For valuables, there was the woman's jewelry box.  Most importantly, there was nothing lying about which Fenton might get to and use as a weapon.  After letting them inside, Fesic showed them around as they saw the amount of blood in the living room and kitchen.  Rol joined them at this point, having spent some time recovering from his fall and having checked to make sure he'd not broken any bones.

No Answers And More Questions
     Securing the apartment, they recovered a number of bloody knives.  Mikah also retrieved her stun baton, which had fallen on the balcony.  Sure they had everything secure, they returned to the bedroom where Fesic watched the now squirming and struggling Fenton.  As Mikah looked at the man, he didn't seem healthy at all.  His color was seriously off and, despite the blood coating, he also seemed to be sweating a great deal!  His breathing was significantly labored and he didn't seem to be able to struggle nearly as much as she'd expect a man of his stature to.  In fact, he appeared to be failing at his struggles as she watched.

Then, as they watched, Mr. Fenton appeared to completely relax as Mikah realized he was also not breathing!  Quickly checking with a small mirror, Mikah realized the man had died!  When she said that, Fesic said, "You're a doctor.  Can't you save him?" and Mikah snapped, "I'm not touching him!"  When he asked if she couldn't give him mouth to mouth or something, Mikah pointed to the bloody corpse and angrily said, "OK!  You do it!"  As Zimzod confirmed with Mikah she wasn't just joking and Rol's grim sense of humor kicked in as he said, "It was probably something he ate."

They also saw the partly dismembered body of a woman in blood-saturated domestic clothing in the bedroom.  The body was missing a head, the left arm below the elbow and the right foot.  It appeared she had lost the foot while trying to flee from the angle of what seemed to be multiple cuts.  When Zimzod suggested trying to use the stun weapons to "shock" Mr. Fenton back to life, Mikah strongly objected.  Zimzod asked, "Why not?  I got some questions to ask this guy."  At that point, everything became academic as the local police arrived.  Calling from the entrance, they announced they were entering the apartment and all weapons had to be dropped with all hands empty and raised in the air and visible to them.

The four very willingly complied with the orders as the handgun-armed police moved in.  Seeing the weapons hanging from their belts, the officers ordered the team to let those drop, one by one, as the spacers regretted the fall of scabbarded weapons onto the blood-covered floor.  Still, a few more hours of gear maintenance was better than a bullet to the brain.  With the weapons down, the police quickly moved in and secured the team before informing them they were being arrested for the murders of Mr. and Mrs. Fenton!  Because he'd planned to have an ear-mount with a lip mic, Rol transmitted to the ship a terse statement of the events before his comms were taken away from him.

Guess Who's Not Coming To Dinner?
     Aboard the Hotel California, Aali and Munarshu were working on the post-jump resets while she'd been told Emkir was working with Repinski in the Delgado offices.  As the day turned to evening, Aali suddenly got the terse message from Rol that the team were being arrested for murder!  Aali barely got out a confused, "What the fuck?!?" before the contact went dead and she couldn't raise it again!  Emkir had explained the job they'd taken on for Delgado earlier, and she knew they were investigating.  Aali realized things must have gone sideways somehow.

In the apartment, the police dismissed the team's claims and demands for due process, or even communications with their ship, as they processed the four.  The officer's accusations were steadfast and confident and they made it clear the spacers were not just suspected of the murders, but would certainly be convicted!  The spacers were processed quickly, isolated and eventually loaded "one each" into four vehicles to separately be moved to a security office for processing.  Each of them spent the ride differently, but there had to be concern because they didn't know the local laws or procedures.  They all hoped Aali could get moving quickly and get Delgado to step in.

On the ship, Aali first called Emkir, and told him what was going on.  She then asked him to get Delgado moving on the issue, and also told the others on the ship what was happening.  Sitting with Bhreker, Terin could only tell the InstellArms man he'd be right back as he stepped out of the room.  When Munarshu got the word, he asked if he should get his weapons in a tone that suggested he was sure the ship was about to be rushed by battle-armored troopers.  Terin suggested they get Emkir to link Repinski into their comms so they could talk to him?  Emkir told them Mr. Repinski was making an urgent call to Delgado authorities after having gotten the news from Emkir, so he was busy.

Terin asked Emkir to have Repinski call them, when he was available, to help them understand the local laws and processes, and what they could do about the arrests?  He asked if the Delgado legal team was going to step in or if they needed to hire their own team?  After waiting a while, Repinski said he had to speak to his executive board.  They needed more details on what happened before they could say if the company would do anything other than disavowing the team?  They made the point that no one knew what had happened or what the team had done?  All they knew was that someone had died, and the team was being blamed.  For all Delgado knew, the team may well have killed someone and should be arrested.  Terin asked for the comms details for the police and Repinski gave him that, so he could call.

Each of the four spacers rode to the pokey secured, and with two officers watching them in individual vehicles.  There, teams came out of the structure individually, to move each spacer into their own interview room.  There, they were secured to an anchor point.  when the questioning began, the questions were variations of, "Why did you kill the Fentons?"  There was no allowance for innocence and any protests they didn't kill anyone were followed up by lists of compiled evidence.  Fesic asked if he had the right to a lawyer in the Skull legal system, and was told one would be appointed to him for the trial.

Beyond that, none of the team talked as they spent hours being questioned.  Not once during the questioning did any of the investigators doubt the team were guilty.  Nor did they ask anything beyond why the team had killed the executive and his wife?  As the four sat in their individual interview rooms, each was audience to theory after theory on why they had committed the murders.  And, disturbingly, each of the theories sounded very logical if there was no defensive evidence provided.  That made a railroad job very dangerous.

When Mikah suggested they locate the dead woman's forearm and compare the dental marks with Mr. Fenton's teeth, they said their crime scene people were working the scene.  But they were still certain they had the correct suspects.  When Mikah made an intellectual crack about "provincials", they brushed it off and offered that she only had to confess.  With that, Mikah fell back into silence as the hours wore on.  At a point during the questioning, Terin called in to ask about the situation and was asked if he was the ship's captain?  When he said he wasn't, the officer on the line said they couldn't comment to anyone below the ship's Captain.  When Terin said he was next in command and his Captain had been arrested, the officer said that was not the data they had from the port.

Terin realized he had to get Emkir, who was listed as next in command according to the ship's published papers.  And once Emkir returned to the ship, Terin gave him the data to call.  But when Emkir called, as the acting captain, he was told the police had no data they could make public, or comment on at that time.  Grasping at further straws, Terin looked for an Order house on-world while Aali started reaching out to Imperial organizations.  While Terin found no sign of their Order in-system, Aali could do little more than leave messages explaining the crew's need for assistance.

At dinner, which Terin cooked when Bhreker asked, Terin said the rest of the crew were out on an investigation and they'd return soon.  At the end of the evening's entertainment, the four arrested crew were dumped into their own individual cells.  Still, their cells were in the same block, so they could call to each other and talk.  Sadly, they had little more to learn from each other and little to look forward to at the moment because they'd been locked in for the night.

Dark Times And Strange Passages
     At 2am, Mikah, Zimzod, Rol and Fesic were having varied degrees of success sleeping when the door to the block opened and a form moved into their space.  Waking the four, he said he was a detective of police and apologized for the situation.  He told them there wasn't much they could do to clear themselves of the murder charges because orders had come down from high officials to frame the crew for the crime.  When asked why, he said he didn't know but told them it was part of the paranoia on-world due to a plague slowly infecting dome after dome.  He believed Mr. Fenton had been infected and the authorities wanted to cover that up with the murder charges.

When asked, he said he thought it had been slowly going for some months!  Hearing that, Mikah angrily demanded, "So you're having an epidemic?  And you haven't notified anyone about this?"  The man admitted there was little he could do given the orders they were getting.  When Zimzod asked if this was related to their investigation for Delgado, the detective said it had nothing to do with that at all.  It was simply a cover up of Fenton's infection and madness.  Changing directions, the detective told the four he'd heard rumors infections had broken out in Dome 32.  He thought they might be able to find those behind it if they went there.

Thinking her credentials from the Risek system might help, Mikah asked, "Do you know who I am?"  When the detective admitted he had no idea who they were, she told him about Risek and he was properly impressed.  She demanded, "Do you want help finding what this is, or are you going to let us sit here?" and the man said that was why he'd come.  When Mikah said, "Well, let us out." he asked her to be patient and said he had plans to get them on a train to dome 32.  Now that they were listening, he said he had to sneak them out and needed their help to do that.  Led by Zimzod, the four were suspicious about being set up again, perhaps being caught in a fake break out attempt and shot.

The detective could only plead his honesty to that and ask them to trust him.  When Mikah asked where their vacc suits were, she was told they'd been taken with the air-raft.  She asked about the air-raft and he told her all their gear had all been taken into custody, and he didn't have access to that section.  Mikah said she didn't want to go anywhere near an infected area without their vacc suits.  He shrugged and said he couldn't get that gear but reminded her the only way they could clear their names would be to get to the bottom of the infections.  Stepping in, Rol asked if they could get any equipment?  He said he couldn't personally get them equipment but would see what he could get while sneaking them out of the jail.

Zimzod asked if they could get their personal effects back and the detective said they couldn't get those.  When Zimzod asked if he expected them to be moving around without any gear, the man said they'd gotten one box of items which he had been about to grab from its hiding place.  But, he pointed out, he had to do that "now" or he wouldn't be able to get it at all, and they'd have to do without.  Considering the situation, they agreed to wait while he got the box.  After a number of minutes, the detective returned with a small box and unlocked their cells, saying they were now committed.  When Zimzod opened the box, they saw it had their comms, but someone had tried to hack the devices and even physically damaged them in the process.

The box also had their Idents and Cr 100 in local currency, which the detective said was enough to get around on locally.  But only enough for a single ticket between domes.  It would help them stay alive but they wouldn't be able to do a lot of travelling.  After that, he said, "follow me" and led them to what appeared to be a motorpool.  There, he met with someone who seemed to be helping him, and exchanged something with that person before the man turned a ground car over to the detective.  That was done, he had them get in the car and the detective drove them for a short time before stopping by some utility tunnel intersections.  The detective pointed to one tunnel and told them the train would be down that a short distance.

He told them a friend would be waiting at the tunnel's end to get them on the train and seal them into a cargo car.  Figuring they were in it now no matter what they thought or feared, the team made their way down the tunnel.  After a distance, they were met by what appeared to be a transport worker.  He got them into the car and sealed it from the outside.  They'd been told the run would be an over-night transit, so they should get what sleep they could.  Then, they were rolling and Mikah made sure to spend time checking Rol out as best she could because no doctors had checked him since his fall from the air-raft.  At the same time, Fesic and Zimzod checked their comms and found they were too damaged.  Zimzod gave them to Fesic to work on and Rol offered Fesic his dog tags as tools, greatful the police had not taken them.  With nothing better to do, he worked and they slept as they could.

A Morning Still In the Dark
     Aboard the Hotel California, Munarshu woke and went to work in engineering.  After waking, Terin cooked and took care of Bhreker while Aali and Emkir worked on calling any Imperial contacts.  Emkir continued both gathering information on their four arrested crew and working the Delgado case.  When Aali got through to the Lord who ran the local Imperial Consulate, the man confessed that he found the situation she described very distressing.  Still, Aali had very little information and could not confirm the team had done nothing to get arrested.  That meant he and his staff could only investigate the issue and recontact them if he had any real data.

Hoping to get real data, but doubting she'd get any cooperation, Aali began calling the local authorities.  What she got was nothing but run around, which would have been less of a surprise if she'd known her crew mates had escaped.  Every call she made to local authorities was answered with the blank wall statement: "We are not prepared to comment on the case as it is still under active investigation."  How they expected anyone to prepare a just legal case of defense under such limits was beyond Aali.  She was frustrated and had to admit this wasn't Regina.  In a break from her calls, Aali spoke to the others and suggested they let Bhreker in on the situation, just to be honest with their passenger.

The others agreed with Aali, and went to the ship's lounge, where Emkir asked Bhreker to chat.  After he gave Emkir his attention, the Admiral said, "As you know, our crew had found a job to pick up some pay while we were in layover here.  And we met with the patron, an authority inside the Delgado corporation.  As the four who went to check on the job handled the issue, we here don't know much about what the job was?  But they apparently went out to investigate something and it went tits up."  When Bhreker asked, in a probing tone, "How badly tits up?" Emkir grimly said, "As in, they're in jail on murder charges and we have no idea what happened?"

Emkir continued, saying "We got a cryptic message that was cut short but said 'We're being arrested for murder', and that's all we know.  We've got calls out to the Imperial authorities to investigate this, but we've had no communication with our crew.  So, we admittedly don't know what the fuck is going on if you'll excuse the language."  Part of the situation was almost a cartoon as Admiral Meshrumiikiim had been under charges of murder in the system they'd just left!  Since he'd booked passage with the ship, not only had Emkir been cleared of murder charges under mysterious circumstances, but he was now sitting there telling Bhreker the ship's Captain and three other crew were now accused of murder in this system!  He had to wonder if this crew had evil fates pacing them?

Bhreker wryly admitted he was starting to see why this civilian crew was working so hard to practice for war.  Still, he signed onto the ship because they had cargo, which suggested they would get where they planned to go on some sort of a schedule, and get him where he was going too.  Without any other options available, Bhreker asked, "You guys appear to be in quite a fix.  What can I do to help?"  That was the only thing he could think of that might get them back in space sooner rather than later.  As he asked, Bhreker wasn't the only one in the compartment who knew he could really do nothing much to help.  He was a sales man for a large corporation.  Even if he could find a contact, he wasn't senior enough to use the company name for leverage.  And he'd have to answer for any promises he made for help that crossed his bosses desk for payment.

They talked and the only idea anyone had was that Emkir could use his rank as a retired Admiral to call the Scout base and see what sort of help he could get?  In courtesy to his rank, Emkir's call was transferred to the officer in charge of the station he'd called into.  That officer, also out of courtesy, took Emkir's call and escalated him to an officer of Field grade.  When Emkir connected to the fellow Admiral, and explained their issue, the man brought on some of his junior officers to consider the situation.

The Admiral's legal adjunct pointed out they were acting in a vacuum.  They either needed to figure out what had happened so they could ask the correct questions, or wait until the local authorities told them what was happening?  This was, the Lieutenant Commander pointed out, a local planetary issue and there wasn't much any Imperial authority could do unless it was proven the locals had crossed a line triggering such an action.  Especially where charges of murder were involved.  So, legally, they couldn't act until they had the facts and knew what they were dealing with.

Emkir was told the officers had to wait until they knew more before triggering an Imperial intervention no matter how small.  Emkir had to admit, it would look bad if they moved without the facts and one of the crew had done something unwarranted.  So that call ended and those on the ship went back to their normal routines as much as they could while they waited for any of their calls to be answered with information.  This meant Terin would take care of Bhreker's needs while doing his research.  Aali and Munarshu worked in engineering and Emkir covered the news and kept trying sources for data.

Escapees Phone Home
     In Dome 32, those in the cargo car felt the train come to a stop and started counting.  After the count got high enough, they felt safe assuming the train had stopped rather than pausing in transit.  Activating the latch which kept workers from accidentally getting trapped in a car, they opened the door and saw they were in a rail yard in another dome.  From what they saw, this dome was more of a working space than dome 28 was.  They assumed it was Dome 32 as they disembarked in the day-old clothes they'd been wearing.  Fesic was pleased the police hadn't taken his belt buckle, so he had one weapon in an absolute emergency.  Rol also still had his dog tags.

One of the first things they did was look for any data displays until they saw it was near 9am.  Without any plans or information, Fesic also hadn't been able to get any of the comms working with only Rol's dog tags for tools and barely more than shadows for light.  Looking around before moving, to get the lay of the land, Fesic examined the comms he'd been working on and saw clearly in the light of the morning dome.  One of the wires had been partly stripped and pushed against a metal stay causing a short.  Grabbing a bit of plastic off the ground near his feet, Fesic moved and buffered the wire before testing the unit.

While it barely had power, Fesic was happy to see the comms looked like it might actually work!  Checking the unit's status, he found the data panel barely lit, so he knew they had to find a place to plug in and charge the device before they could try to use it.  While he worked, Mikah had told them they had to find a local hospital.  If there was a disease outbreak in the dome, the medical facilities would know about it.  Sadly, they had no idea where a local hospital might be?  So, they carefully wandered out of the rail yard, making sure not to draw attention to themselves.

Leaving the rail yard, they saw a group of shops and supply stores and moved into the flow of light foot traffic in the walkways.  Mikah waited until she felt she could safely ask questions.  Then, she asked some of the passersby where a local hospital might be?  After a few weird and even cautious looks, one of the people Mikah asked gave her directions suggesting they hop a tram given the distance of the "walk".  When she asked for directions, Rol watched the people, who appeared to be blue collar workers, on their way to and from work.  There was certainly no visible sign of public illness and the four of them were the only ones who seemed to stand out.  No one they saw seemed worried about something like a disease.

Figuring they weren't going to get to the hospital quickly, the four decided to look for a place to grab some food and perhaps charge the comms Fesic had worked on.  While they walked, Mikah said Fesic could use the time and light to try and work on a second unit.  Arriving at a fast food place, Mikah had them grab a booth when she saw one with a charging outlet come free.  Happily for the group, Fesic saw they could plug the comms directly into the outlet, and it didn't flare up and burn when he did, thanks to a wiring short.  Another bonus was a vid playing the local morning news visibly for everyone in the place.

Grabbing food and sitting, they watched and listened to the news.  It was quickly apparent there wasn't an outbreak in that dome.  At the same time, there were reports of a quarantine zone in a nearby dome where it seemed residents there were falling victim to "spider-bite based" illnesses.  That was dome 30, and the report said the illnesses had occurred both in the upper dome and the "under city" beneath the dome.  The four listened for any information until the report ended.  It was followed by a brief report, obviously updating an on-going situation, where the reporter said the dome government had no updates on the orange-heads.

The report, with no explanation, caught the four up short and they wondered if that was a name for the type of spider?  Figuring "What the hell", they asked a passing worker in the restaurant what an orange head was?  Mikah said they didn't know because they'd just arrived from Dome 1.  After first sweeping them with a look saying they were stupid, she took in their clothes and decided 'maybe not'.  Looking around, as if to be sure no one was listening, she leaned in conspiratorially and said, "They're a gang.  Rumor is they're moving in and taking over."  After speaking her piece, she lingered a half-second, as if she thought they were part of the gang and would kill her for spreading the word.  Then she hurried back to work.

Looking at each other and considering the new information, Mikah suggested they get a newspaper.  The dome was of a tech level where news could be spread on paper-based products.  Though, without the atmosphere for broad forests, they didn't want to know what the paper was made from?  Stepping to the counter, Mikah found she could get one from that restaurant and came back to the table to read it.  When Rol joked about her being able to read something so delicate without shredding it, Mikah rolled the paper up and whacked him on the head before sitting down again.  Laying out the paper, Mikah and Zimzod scanned the local news pages for the term "Orange Head".

After some searching, they found some panicked claims and complaints in the "Letters to the Editor" section worrying about the orange heads replacing the populations of other nearby domes.  None of the letters, or any of the news, suggested any issues in that dome.  But they did involve nearby domes including Dome 30.  The panic was that this invading wave might soon come to Dome 32 and many were demanding what the local government was doing to safeguard them?  One thing they did find was a minor story about a murder which had happened in Dome 28!  Lucky for the four, there were no pictures, but the story was slanted to show how dangerous other domes were.

Still, when they read the story, it suggested the killings were the work of a "Condor gang".  The only data explaining that was a statement by the reporter that the Condor Corporation, when asked to comment, dismissed the charge as a joke and said they'd not respond to delusional accusations.  Still, there was a boiler plate stating the Condor Corporation's headquarters were in Dome 30, and Mikah had heard that dome mentioned before.  The four quietly talked about what they'd learned and Rol suggested this was possibly a passive form of planetary conquest.  Then again, since it had started making its way into the media, Rol considered it might not be so passive.

From there, they took stock of their money and saw they had Cr 85 left.  While Rol suggested they look for a cheap place to buy local clothes, the charging comms came to life.  Seeing that, Mikah asked how Fesic was coming with another unit but the gunner said he hadn't gotten anything good out of the one he was working on because it was more heavily damaged.  As Mikah reached for the now charged comms, Zimzod said it could have been bugged.  Fesic wanted to look at it to check but it was pointed out he didn't have the tools for that and Mikah snapped, "We're just going to use it." 

Getting More Data And Less Help
     Those aboard had just turned back to their day's work on the Hotel California when the ship's comms began to buzz.  Terin answered the call and found Mikah was calling, though only on audio.  As Terin began to greet her, Mikah cut him off and demanded, "Put Emkir on!" and then stopped him, saying "No!  No!  Put Aali on!"  When Aali was on, Mikah told her they were in Dome 32.  She explained how they'd been released from Dome 28 because, supposedly, there was some kind of outbreak on-world that turned people into creepy murderous cannibals.

Mikah told Aali the authorities were trying to pin the deaths of the Fentons on them as a convenient cover up to prevent panic in the dome.  Mikah got her points across, then told Aali to look for anything they could find on the outbreak and bring that to the attention of Imperial authorities.  She also told Aali to contact Repinski and have him get them out of Dome 32.  She said to tell him he'd better resolve the murder charges or he'd be murdered!  Despite the situation, there were chuckles as she suggested she'd earn the charges if they couldn't be beat.

Mikah said that, in the meantime, they'd check in one of the local hospitals and try to get to Dome 30, where they'd had some actual data suggesting an outbreak.  After they found any information, she'd see what they could do about the disease?  When Terin asked what they needed, Mikah impressed on him the need to get those authorities they could count on moving to help out.  Rol suggested someone come to the dome with cash and replacements for their comms.  As a contact point, Mikah said they'd be at the local hospital.  They also asked for a change of clothes to help fit in.  Aali told Emkir to contact Repinski and get his people moving while she prepared to contact the Imperials.

Gathering herself for that call, Aali also considered who to send over to deliver the goods?  Aali needed Terin to take care of Bhreker, and didn't want Munarshu off the ship, so she realized she had to go since Emkir was the acting Captain on record.  Beginning her hunt, Aali jacked her comms into the ship to call the Imperial Consulate while going to start gathering clothing, but was interrupted by a buzz from the ship's berth.  When she answered that, Aali was told the visitor was a detective from the local police force.  Telling everyone to stop and hide what they'd been doing, Aali asked the man how she could help him?

The detective said he had to speak to the ship's acting Captain.  Saying that was Admiral Meshrumiikiim, Aali said she'd meet the man at the airlock and escort him in.  Introduced to Emkir, the man said that the police had found their ship's Captain and others of the crew in condemning circumstances and were certain they could get a conviction for murder.  However, the four members of the ship's crew had somehow escaped at some time overnight.  Under the circumstances, they had worked with the port and were placing the rest of the crew under "Ship's Arrest" to prevent them lending aid to known criminals.

In the silence that suddenly followed, the man added, "That is unless there is any information the crew had that they felt they could hand over to assist in the recapture of their people?  When Emkir said they'd not gotten any information, the ship's arrest was confirmed until the escapees were back in custody.  Nodding to the man, Emkir cryptically said, "You do what you have to do and we'll do what we have to do."  Nodding, the man had the remaining crew aboard gather so he could fill out the paperwork.

The conditions of the arrest, which extended to Bhreker, meant none of them could leave the ship.  Nor could the ship leave the port.  Hearing he'd been dragged into this space opera, Bhreker said he was making a call for a lawyer and was given the OK to do that, so long as he met with the lawyer aboard the ship.  After calling InstellArms, Bhreker showed his credentials, explained his situation and provided the data for his expense account.  He was told an attorney would meet him there within the hour.  Emkir also considered that the ship might want to hire a lawyer too.

After the paperwork was done and the detective had left, Aali got on the comms and called Mikah.  When she finished explaining the new arrests, Mikah angrily snapped, "Get the Imperial government in on this!  Get the Scouts, Get the Navy, Get everybody!  And get that god-damn company on the comms and tell them to do something about this.  And they're gonna do it now!"  All Aali could do was say "Yes" and then drop the call to call Delgado.  When Ramona Vizo answered the call, Aali demanded, "Hey, we've got a problem with this job your boss hired us for.  We need to speak with him right fucking now!"  Her tone was beyond, 'We're too busy now' and meant 'Shit has hit fan and they will help or else!'

Mrs. Vizo apologized and said Mr. Repinski was in closed door meetings with the highest level executives he could reach in-system, trying to work out the situation.  Mrs. Vizo shared that the police had shown up at their offices and placed them under investigation.  That made it hard to try and reach out to the ship and crew without further trumped up charges.  The police knew the crew had been working for Delgado because of the air-raft and some other gear taken when the crew were captured.  And, they had captured the recordings made of the Fenton's place by Mikah.  While they were not willing to release the audio or copies, they claimed it proved the crew had come to the apartment intent on killing the couple.

Mrs. Vizo suggested that anything else shouldn't be discussed on comms, but Aali told her the rest of the crew had been placed on ship's arrest.  They couldn't come to the Delgado offices to discuss the situation.  Mrs. Vizo's eyes went wide as Aali said that, and she realized this was a new surprise to Delgado.  Appearing to be much less happy, Mrs. Vizo said she'd advise Mr. Repinski and the executives of that information and they'd do what they could.  Realizing there wasn't much more Delgado could do, Aali ended the call with Mrs. Vizo and went to update Emkir and the others.

Having gotten in contact with the Imperial Consulate, Emkir said events were getting out of hand and asked what they could do to help?  He pointed out the local authorities were acting against the patently innocent crew aboard the ship where no evidence could show they'd been near Dome 28 or the crime.  Handling the issue firmly and calmly, the Lord Councilor asked questions, and checked the facts his staff had gathered.  He then explained the position he could take given the facts.  It appeared, until other evidence was given, they had been legally arrested, with significant evidence against them.  They had also escaped, which created even more problems for their case.

Emkir listened, and could see where His Lordship was going well before he got there.  This was still a matter internal to the planetary government.  Until a trial was held and the evidence could be weighed, and the legality of the trial considered by any Imperial authority, no Imperial office could act.  Angry, Emkir demanded, "Like that's going to happen any time soon?"  The Lord allowed that they naturally had to recapture the missing crew.  Not happy with that, Emkir said they felt the crew had a right to an Imperial authority evaluating the forensic evidence before the local authorities destroyed or altered it.

Letting Emkir know that was a very provocative statement, His Lordship told Emkir there was no evidence yet on which to make such a claim, or have Imperial forces act.  He was direct in telling Emkir they had to know what the government was saying before they could consider calling them liars.  When Emkir demanded if the Consulate had made inquiries, he was told they had, but had not gotten any answers back yet.  Changing tack, Emkir asked, "OK.  Have you learned anything about an outbreak of a medical plague in some of the domes here?"

Surprised by the Admiral's change of accusations, the Lord answered that they were unaware of any broad illnesses affecting the population.  Emkir forcefully said, "We have had word that there may be illness outbreaks in domes 28, 30 and 32.  We don't know where else, but those are the ones we've received information on."  As Emkir pressed the man to investigate the claims, His Lordship nodded and said they'd add that data to their inquiries.  When Emkir also suggested looking into the "Orange Heads", the Lord asked for more details and Emkir had to admit he didn't have much of anything on them at all.  Hoping to strike any spark he could, Emkir said he'd learned they might be moving in to take over some of the domes, including those domes he'd mentioned regarding the disease.

But the Lord leaned back as if this was just one more improbable thing on a pile of others and asked, "So, there's a plague outbreak and an attempted insurgency by gangs and the government was, for some reason unknown, framing your crew?"  Emkir kept his temper as he agreed that was correct, and admitted they didn't know yet how the separate events were related?  The Lord simply nodded before he said he'd have his staff ask about the events, and Emkir could only thank the Lord for his willingness to help.  With that, the call ended.  From there, Emkir called the Imperial Navy and Scouts, who heard what he had to say but could not offer any help.

In their dome, Mikah considered desperate measures and decided to raise the stakes.  She remembered her meeting with Branj Dilgaadin, Arch Duke Norris' Seneschal nearly a year before.  When he had given them the ship now known as the Hotel California, he'd also given her a flimsy which had an address coded phrase on it.  At the time he had said, "You can use this on any world with a global data-net."  Mikah didn't know if the network on Skull would qualify but she called Emkir and explained how to open the safe and get the flimsy.  She was truly giving the Admiral the keys to the kingdom!  And following her instructions, Emkir called the Scouts and sent a message to the address saying the crew needed help on Skull, paying the Cr 20.

Looking For Medical Advice
     Knowing any response from their message was at least two weeks out, they considered the reactions of the various Imperial agencies.  Worst of all, if an actual pandemic broke out on-world, the Imperial Navy could carry out a scorched earth campaign to sanitize the planet for the safety of other Imperial worlds!  None of the crew were happy considering that possible outcome, although Mikah said to herself it would serve them right for framing her.  Hoping for better results, they spent the rest of the day trying to reach and get help from any other agency.

In Dome 32, Mikah's team had shared and learned what they could, and had to move on without getting caught doing so.  Their next stop was still the hospital, which was a significant walk because they wanted to conserve their cash.  When they arrived and entered the emergency room, Mikah and Zimzod scanned the place to see what looked like the usual collection of apparent illnesses and injuries.  Someone who'd fallen off something and broken a bone, a possibly sick child whose over-reacting mother was demanding treatment, and all very 'business as usual'.

Seeing this, Mikah said the four of them weren't going to march on the nurses and demand information.  Rol said he could check the local area around the hospital looking for anything.  Zimzod said he could clean himself up a bit, since he was still dressed up in a suit, and check with any crew in the ambulance bays, to see if they knew anything while Mikah tried to shake down the ER staff?  As Zimzod mentioned his clothing, they considered finding a place to buy some cheap clothes to help them fit in.  Fesic said he was in good shape as far as clothing mattered and it was the others who had to fit in.

Zimzod wasn't concerned about his suit when it came to asking some ambulance jockeys a few questions.  He just stepped into the ER bathrooms to straighten up a bit first.  Outside the building, Zimzod saw one vehicle and crew who seemed to be re-setting the vehicle after delivering a patient.  Straightening his shoulders as he walked over to them, Zimzod asked if they noticed an increase in calls recently?  A pick up in illnesses and activity in the dome?  He was told they hadn't seen anything like that.  When Zimzod asked about cannibalism, they were shocked and quickly said they'd not seen anything like that at all.

Shifting questions, Zimzod asked if they knew anything about the orange heads, and was told they had not seen any of that.  They admitted to the usual gang activity, but nothing new.  When Zimzod asked for an idea of where the gangs might be, the driver gave him a basic description of the less pleasant parts of the dome.  The driver said people don't go into those sections of the dome unless they plan on joining up or getting beaten up.  Zimzod tried again, asking what an orange head would look like?  But the crew were emphatic they'd never encountered an orange head and didn't know anything about the gang.  Zimzod couldn't tell if their denials were honest, or out of fear?

While Zimzod went out to question the ambulance jockeys, Mikah decided she was dressed well enough to play doctor.  She did go to one of the bathrooms to clean herself up, as Zimzod had.  Then, she put on her 'professional attitude', went around to the hospital visitor's office and walked right in.  Other than looking up and assuming she was a doctor; the guard did nothing as she simply walked past him into the facility.  Inside the hospital, Mikah went looking for the communicable diseases ward.  Having seen the guard when he thought to sneak into the hospital, Fesic knew he'd have to turn over credentials given how he was dressed.  Making a different choice, he went to the ambulance bay to look for people to chat with.

After eating, they had split up the Cr 85 they had left, with Mikah having Cr 25 and the others having Cr 20.  Rol considered his cash and checked the area for clothing stores.  What he saw were a lot of professional offices and service firms.  He did see Medical supplies and uniforms stores, but realized the costs of those items were likely above his budget.  Even less helpful, when he went into a shop, Rol saw that nothing was "workman-like" except, perhaps, the custodial uniforms.  And nothing was inexpensive.  Leaving that shop, he returned to the area of the hospital, to see if he encountered any of his team mates and ask if any progress had been made?

While Zimzod cleaned himself up some more, hoping to pretend to be a doctor and sneak into the hospital, Fesic sat near the ambulance bay, as if he were a worker getting ready to go on-shift.  He made small talk with anyone there as crews worked their rigs.  Of course, most of the crews didn't have time to chat, so he largely waited for his team.  Eventually, Rol showed up and they compared their largely empty collections of notes, deciding to wait for Mikah and Zimzod.  Inside the hospital, Mikah figured there'd be patients isolated in the ICU or CCU, if there was actually some sort of epidemic.  Knowing that, she went in that direction.

Realizing she still looked like a well-dressed person who was lost, Mikah decided to get some camouflage.  She made her way to one of the well-marked doctor's lounges near the clusters of operating rooms and snagged a lab coat.  Annoyed but not surprised, Mikah saw no one had left a badge or other credentials.  Still, wearing the lab coat, she wasn't challenged by hospital workers who largely had things to do and places to be as she moved through the outer areas of the ICU and CCU.  But, as she moved, Mikah also didn't see any activity she would consider unusual or signaling an epidemic.  Mikah realized she'd need to get a badge to actually get inside any of the units and really investigate.

Based on that, Mikah began making the rounds of other break rooms and changing areas in search of a badge she could snatch.  Mikah planned to spend an hour looking for credentials before hitting the cafeteria.  Around the same time, Zimzod also rolled into the hospital playing the well dressed doctor.  Not as used to playing the role of doctor, Zimzod did eventually get stopped and asked if he needed help?  Claiming to be a visiting physician, he said he'd gotten turned around and asked for directions to the infectious diseases wards.  Moving on, Zimzod tried to appear more directed while walking.

Trying to find any section of the hospital where he might learn anything, Zimzod ran into Mikah looking for a forgotten badge or other credentials.  When he asked about the lab jacket, Mikah clued him into the doctor's lounges.  So, Zimzod slipped into a lounge and found a lab coat of his own, and also looked for a badge, but and found nothing.  He did start looking at badges while moving, hoping to come up with something that looked enough like one to work.  What he saw was that their low tech ID's were something he'd expect to have on his Ident.  But Zimzod also knew he couldn't present his Ident without identifying himself to everyone and bringing in the police.

After some time waiting by the ambulance bays, Fesic and Rol decided to find a fast food place to hang out in while Fesic tried to work on another of the comms.  Rol wanted to keep a view of the hospital, which was easy enough.  Knowing the way fast food managers felt about loiterers who were dressed oddly, Rol ordered a Cr 1 small drink he planned to nurse while Fesic worked.  Still, the police teams who passed through picking up food were not the issue.  The manager there was, after the two had taken up seats for an hour.  Cr 10 later, the two had lunch and an excuse to stay another half hour.

As time passed on without word from Mikah and Zimzod, Fesic asked Rol, "Wanna head to gang land and kick some ass?"  Rol said, "I'm ok with that, but are you?"  His tone suggested Rol didn't think much of Fesic's chances of holding his own.  Rol warned Fesic that he might not be able to protect the gunner if things got bad.  When Rol said, "I can only cover one face", Fesic asked "What?" and Rol said "Never mind, you wouldn't understand."  Despite the reaction to loiterers, Rol agreed to Fesic's plan to wait another hour there before deciding what to do.

After Zimzod got a lab coat too, he and Mikah went to the hospital's cafeteria.  Picking up cups of a caff-derivative, they chose a table in the middle of the dining area where Mikah thought they could overhear conversations.  The seats also had them close enough to a screen on which the local broadcast news was playing.  It appeared there was a global news and communications network of sorts.  Eavesdropping on the sparse crowd, Zimzod made sure to keep an eye on the news in case there was anything on either the illnesses or their arrest and escape.  Mikah figured they'd wait for the full-on lunch crowd.

After about Cr 10 of drink and snacks, the crowd started moving into the hospital cafeteria.  Sitting and listening, they heard chatter from families visiting sick relatives, some doctors discussing their plans for the evening or chatting over cases which turned out to be boring and meaningless to Mikah and Zimzod.  That was topped off with social networking and hospital politics.  The obvious point was that no one was stressed or upset, so there was no sign of the rumored outbreak.  Agreeing on that, Mikah and Zimzod decided to head out and meet up with Rol and Fesic.

Rolling Dice With The Bad Guys
     As Rol watched the clock, the manager and the ambulance bay, he finally saw Mikah and Zimzod wander out into the area.  After he and Fesic cleaned up, they went out to meet up with the couple while ignoring the dark looks of the restaurant manager.  When he noticed the manager's attention, as they left, Fesic smiled and waved at the man.  Meeting up with the others, Zimzod asked if Fesic had fixed any of the other comms?  Fesic said he wasn't able to.  He got the unit he was working on showing the bit of power held by the battery, but it was not activating at all.  Rol asked Mikah and Zimzod what they'd learned and Mikah glumly said they'd only learned there was no outbreak in the dome.  This put them at a bit of a dead end.

With little information and dwindling resources, Rol asked Mikah and Zimzod if they could sneak back into the hospital?  When Mikah asked why, Rol suggested they could find a supply closet and steal some hand tools and scalpels for Fesic to use to work on the comms.  Agreeing, the two went back in and rifled a supply closet for what they could.  Back outside, the team had to decide what to try next?  When the gangs were mentioned, they remembered they'd been warned not to go there unless they wanted to get beat up or join up.  Rol said he thought they might have some more information to find out about before going there.

Rol also suggested they needed to get changes of clothes to fit in better with the public and with each other.  After Zimzod suggested they look for a thrift shop, the team went for a wander.  Not very far away, they found a shop and went in to find a change of clothes.  While shopping, Fesic looked for a bench or something where he could work on the comms he'd been dealing with since he didn't feel he needed clothes.  For Cr 40, they got a change of street clothes each and one shoulder bag  Zimzod had them put their original outfits into the bag.

Done shopping and changing, the rest of the team hunted down where Fesic was sitting.  They decided to sit and hang out for an hour, giving Fesic time to work on another of the comms.  After some time, Fesic was able to get the unit to receive when they sparked up the one working unit they had.  But the damage kept it from transmitting and its battery was dying.  During the work, they talked about what to try next and agreed the outbreak wasn't there unless it was just starting.  Rol suggested they go where it would likely start, meaning the worst neighborhoods.  That meant gang-land.

Considering their options, Rol looked to see if he could get an idea of the legal surveillance in the area.  But he could see nothing, and realized they would have already arrested the four if the surveillance was that good.  Rol also said they were running low on cash as they planned to continue the quest to figure things out.  He said that meant they'd need to take more from someone and Zimzod suggested the gangs.  Fesic agreed, suggesting they go kick ass and take their clothes and money.  When it came down to getting moving, they saw they could grab a tram into the seedier parts of the dome for Cr 2 each.

Realizing it was "do it now" or try to find a place to hole up with the little remaining cash they had while word of their status spread, they went to hop a tram.  They watched the tone of the areas they passed through change while they rode.  Soon enough, they were in a section of the dome where people walked with their heads down and quickly.  Where questionable groups of thugs hung out openly and harassed people.  And, from time to time, the sounds of screaming, pursuit and violence came from various directions.

Back on foot, Mikah decided they were looking for trouble and she'd hurry things along.  So she had the guys hang back about a block and went walking on her own, doing her best "I'm a bit lost" routine.  But first, she stopped at a fast food place and changed back into her suit, to completely look out of place.  And after a few blocks, Mikah got the desired effect as a young male voice called out, "Hey, Sweet cheeks." in a tone which clung to her like sonic syrup.  Stopping as she looked to her left, Mikah did her best to appear startled and a bit frightened.  Still, she prepared a scalpel in her sleeve to deploy when needed.

Watching as she stopped and looked to her left from a block away, Zimzod said, "OK boys.  The party's starting."  From that distance, it looked like Mikah was doing a weird sort of dance, and Rol said they might want to watch a bit.  Mikah watched and acted frightened while five thugs came towards her with smiles and comments about how she'd look pinned to the ground, stripped and screaming as they used her body.  Mikah chose to play the 'herbivore frozen in spotlights' as they moved towards her.  Working out the odds at the same time, she decided to let them come to her while their confidence blinded them.

Spoiling Rol's 'stand and watch' joke, Zimzod got them moving at a walk.  That would give Mikah time to call them in.  By the time they were one seventh of a block closer to her, the thugs came into their view and they had their first look at the odds.  Still moving slowly and watching, they saw as the lead guys reached to grab Mikah.  When the guy made his move, things got bad and the rest of the thugs charged and mobbed Mikah!  Mikah leaned slightly forward and drew back as her arm moved in an arc and managed to cut two of the thugs.  She then drew back and down into herself, letting them pile on as she started trying to do some serious cutting.

The first cut backed one guy off as it pissed off the second.  So, when she went down, she worked on cutting a second guy even worse.  From three quarters of a block off, Zimzod, Rol and Fesic started to charge to reach the fight.  As quickly as they reacted, and while she was carving a bit out of another guy, the thugs had her pinned and were busy ripping her clothes off, punching her in the gut and other soft areas to beat the fight out of her.  Some groped at her breasts.  Bruised, in her bra and torn skirt, Mikah was struggling as the rest of her team arrived like a wave of avenging bruisers.

The three men swept the five thugs off their feet and began pounding, letting Mikah recover and get up to join in.  And she planned to get even for her destroyed outfit.  The fight began in earnest as any others on the street fled.  When they got serious about doing damage, they had to admit they felt better for the release of frustration.  Zimzod even had to admit to himself that he thought Mikah looked completely hot as she beat down thugs nearly naked.  All he got out was, "Wow babe!  You look hot like that!"  When the fight was done, and the last man was on the ground moaning, Rol and Fesic realized they were getting more of a 'Mikah show' than they'd ever seen before.

Even her undergarments were less intact then they'd thought as they looked away.  Then, they dragged the thugs into an alley and went through the pockets after frisking them down.  The guys did that while Mikah pulled out the thrift store clothes and got dressed again.  Back in the party, Mikah ordered the thugs stripped down and, as Zimzod looked for a dropped knife, she said "Leave them with one sock each.  A left foot sock."  Wondering about the significance of that, they saw one guy had no socks so he was left commando.  The total take amounted to a pile of useless clothes, some knives and some coins.  Disappointing, but the thugs were just street trash.

Ten minutes after the fight started, they had woken one of the now stripped thugs and began to question him.  Mikah first demanded to know who the orange heads were?  Scared out of his gourd, the kid whined that his crew didn't mess with them.  It was obvious the orange heads scared him.  When Mikah pressed, he said, "They're bad dudes!" and spat out an address.  Surprised, Mikah turned to Zimzod saying, "That was easy.  You don't have to pull his toe off." in a surprised and satisfied tone.

As Zimzod considered that, Mikah pulled out the longest of the straight knives and said, "I need a coin purse." and locked eyes with the thug.  As the others held him down, his were the only screams as she took his penis and scrotum in one expert medical hand, slipped the blade behind the appendage and made a single cutting draw back to remove the flesh entirely.  The thug fainted away before she finished the cut.  She gelded the rest of the would be bad boys as they lay there and left them to bleed out or not.  She made sure to toss the removed organs where they'd be destroyed before anyone could consider re-attachment.

Before they left the alley, Mikah had one last inspiration and told the others to find something orange.  She joined them looking around to see if they could find anything orange.  Soon, they realized they'd been there nearly twenty minutes already, and the police would show up sooner or later.  Mikah grabbed another sock from their bundle of thug laundry and cleaned off the knife before dropping the sock.  She thought, "Let them think that came from the one sockless gelding."  Pocketing the now folded knife, they went looking for a tram since they now had an address.

Cr 2 more each got them back on a tram that passed through where they were going but normally didn't stop there.  Faced with Mikah and the guys, the driver agreed to stop if they got off real quick.  Like, 'while he was still coming to a stop'.  Getting into their drop zone, the neighborhood got very industrial and very dangerous-looking quickly.  The thugs and hookers eyeing those in the tram obviously knew what they were doing and how to do what was needed.  The team stepped off the tram into thug-central.  Rol nodded at a building where he hoped a number might be and said, "Let's go look."

The idea beat asking anyone and the team moved.  While walking, they made searching for building addresses part of their moves to case the area.  Sweeping likely places for addresses as part of covering fire escapes, alley corners and other likely avenues of attack.  A couple of the local hookers and one of the rakes offered some fun if the group were looking for dates.  The team ignored them.  Not too long after they started moving, they came to a corner with the road they needed, and chose a direction to turn.

After the turn, Rol quietly mentioned they were being followed by a handful of thugs.  Not worried for the numbers as much as for the possible hidden weapons, Zimzod nodded toward a coming alley.  Turning off the sidewalk, a few winos looked up or lay in stupors ignoring their passing company.  After moving a comfortable distance into the alley, the team turned in a line as two of the thugs walked into the mouth of the alley.  One thug asked, "Can we help you whit something?" in a taunting tone.  When Zimzod said, "Yeah.  What's up?" the thug said, "That depends on what you are hoping is up?"  Eyeing the guy up and down, Zimzod put on his best 'trying to fence goods' voice and said, "I'm lookin' for an address here."

After a pause, the thug asked, "And I look like a directory...why?"  Putting some moxy into it, Zimzod answered, "Because you axed me if I needed help, snapper head!"  Zimzod also leaned forward, making it obvious he wasn't against having a little fight.  Ignoring his earlier words, the thug said, "I didn't ask you if you needed help.  I asked you if you needed something." making it clear he was good with a fight too.  When Mikah started getting into the verbal duel the man asked what was at this address they were interested in, and Zimzod said it was none of his business.

Certain he had the upper hand, the thug just smiled as he asked, "Really now?  Are you sure?"  Still, he asked the address and Mikah told him. When she did, the man leaned back again and said, "Huh, you looking to meet the boss.  Huh?"  When Zimzod said they were, the man asked what business they had with the boss?  When Zimzod said they'd find out, the thug said those who met the boss were about to join up or die.  Zimzod allowed that they'd heard that, and the thug asked, "So you're looking to join up, huh?"  Mikah and Zimzod both said, "Possibly" as he appraised them before nodding in a way that said, 'follow me'.

The team decided to follow the man when he walked off.  Leaving the alley behind the leader and his friend, who'd fallen in along his side, they saw an additional ten thugs who'd gathered to either side of the alley's mouth, in case of a fight.  That told them they'd have been quickly overwhelmed if they'd pushed things to a fight.  The ten others formed a loose circle around the Mikah and the guys.  Then, they walked for five minutes and eventually came to a run down and disused factory.  The only good news was that a barely readable address matched the one the now gelded idiot had given them.  The "leader" led them into what had been a vehicle loading bay, and called out, "Hey boss.  Looks like we've got some up-town recruits!"

Following the man in, they could see a good fifty to sixty people there, entertaining themselves in various ways.  One was using a guy tied into a chair as a punching bag.  Mikah pointed out that Zach had suffered the same fate at one point and wondered if the guy in the chair was as stupid as Zach had been?  Overhearing this, Fesic had to wonder if this was the late Sir Zachariah Wood?  But after getting a taste of the local entertainment, they were brought before the boss, who it turned out only controlled the neighborhood for another larger group.  And he wanted to know all about them?

Cryptically, Zimzod looked at the others and said, "Umm, do we want to let him know?"  When Mikah said, "Sure", and Rol said "What?" Zimzod looked at him and said, "I'll let him know about it."  Turning to the local 'Mr. Big', Zimzod said, "Rumor has it you're doing some body snatching here."  Suddenly leery of something that looked too good to be what it was, the boss relaxed a bit and claimed they were just involved in 'legitimate business enterprises' here.  Taking the queue from their boss, the thugs started to check outside and send scouts looking for this team's back up.  Still a lot of uncertain, the thug said, "Looks like you're looking for a job." and Zimzod allowed that they could be.

When Zimzod probed, "We could definitely use some cash", the man said, "Well, we don't need nobody in this dome but we hear there's work in another dome."  Zimzod asked, "What'ya got?" and he said he'd send them to the other dome so the people there could tell the team what they needed.  As Zimzod said, "OK.  We'll go over and check it out", Rol asked how much it paid?  The man shrugged and said, "Whatever you find in pockets."  Rol smiled a smile which seemed to flatten his face as he said, "I like it."  Nodding and not yet sure there was not gonna be a lot of cops and fighting real soon, the thug said, "Good." and walked the team to the back of the building.

There, the team saw a beat-up electric van parked, and had the team climb in with a few thugs for security.  After a bit of a ride, the team found themselves back at the rail yard where they were packed into a cargo car for a trip to Dome 30!  When they asked how they'd make contact, they were told the people in Dome 30 would find them when they arrived.  After locking the car, they sparked up their comms and called the ship to update everyone.  On the ship, they'd had lunch and were making calls.  The lawyers had visited, signed deals and advised their clients there was not much that could be done at the moment except pay retainers.  After that, they were off doing research for the court battle to come.

After a brief computer search, they told those on the train they had an eight to nine hour trip ahead of them.  They might as well relax and try to forget how hungry they were, or would become.  They said the local government was obviously stone-walling because they didn't want to admit the crew were still on the loose this long.  Still, it seemed they believed the team were still in Dome 28, which Mikah's group took with good cheer.  As Zimzod considered the difference in coverage from the port dome and dome 32, he realized they were very separate cities, which helped as well.

Where everyone is at the end of the

    Mikah: In a cargo rail car headed to Dome 30
    Munarshu: Working in engineering and assisting as ordered by Aali
    Terin: Playing nanny to Bhreker and handling his assigned projects
    Aali: Working in engineering and to clear the crew's name
    Emkir: Working to get a legal path forward on clearing the crew's name
    Fesic: In a cargo rail car headed to Dome 30
    Rol: In a cargo rail car headed to Dome 30
    Zimzod: In a cargo rail car headed to Dome 30
    Bhreker: Getting his own legal protection and wondering if he will be able to hire
       another ship for passage
    Aiden's Clone: 1 week into the cloning process ( 17 to go)

Next: Hardened Spacers And World Savers