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Getting Started While On The Way
     Late Friday afternoon, Mikah, Fesic, Zimzod and Rol were in a sealed rail car on their way to Dome 30 on Skull Prime.  They'd been put there by gang members in Dome 32 a short time before and had a ride of eight to nine hours ahead of them.  Hungry hours without supplies other than stolen surgical tools, knives and their damaged comms units.  Their only "real" weapon was Fesic's IISS belt buckle, which could fire a single round accurate only at very close range.  If they got the jump on someone, Rol had his "garrote" dog tags too.  Without any good prospects, the team decided to sleep.

Aboard the Hotel California, Aali and Munarshu worked on the ship's engineering needs as Aali waited for word from the law firm she and Emkir had hired.  Since Mikah's team had escaped their holding cells, arrested for the murders of Mr. and Mrs. Fenton in Dome 28, the crew were on "Ship arrest" and could not leave the vessel's berth without legal permission.  With both Mikah and Zimzod on the run from the law, Emkir was nominally captain of the ship, and was working to find any legal path he could to clear the crew's name.  In the meantime, Terin was playing nanny to Bhreker, their passenger, from Instel-Arms.

Bhreker had contracted his own lawyer, and was hoping to sever himself from this albatross of a crew and continue his trip.  Bhreker just hoped to get to D'Ganzio as ordered by his bosses.  But all would hinge on current events in the Skull system.  So, while those aboard the California did what they could, Mikah's team planned to investigate a gang, a set of industrial events and a plague to find proof they were not guilty of murder so they could get clear of this port!  The crew planned to pick up the re-print of their pilot once they'd delivered their contracted cargo and resolved the events they looked forward to in the D'Ganzio system.  In the Rhylanor system, Aiden's Clone was one week into the cloning process with 17 more to go.

As Emkir looked for options on the bridge, Terin came in and made sure there were no comms open to the lounge.  While they'd told Bhreker the basics of the situation, this was a crew issue.  Not something to bring the passenger in on...yet.  Saying "Admiral, my Captain", Terin played on Emkir's habit of addressing Mikah as 'Captain, My Captain'.  While Emkir chuckled at the irony, Terin wondered if, since they had no one they could reach out to locally, IRIS could be called?  Emkir told Terin Mikah had already had him pull that trigger. Considering that, they went over their options, which were few.

The locals were not giving them any information and they had no power or rights to demand that.  The Imperials couldn't act because this was a local issue and there was no evidence anything improper was happening in the investigation.  And they had no way of getting that data from the locals.  As Terin watched, Emkir decided the best chance to learn anything was to try unofficial methods.  He decided he first needed to learn what had happened, which meant video data.  Since the local police wouldn't share, he'd go right to the source.

Checking the data he got from Mikah, Emkir saw the building where the murders happened was in dome 28.  The first source of data would be the doorman Zimzod encountered, so he needed to find out who that man worked for and reach out through them.  Since they only had access to the port data systems, Emkir could not find a listing for the data he needed.  That meant he had to review his network access.  that took seconds, and Emkir found there were individual "Dome" networks as well as a "Super" network connecting the domes.  However, connection to the local dome from the port-network was an added cost and so was the "super net".  They were also under "ship arrest", so they could bet the police were tapping their comms and net use.  And there would be no access to a "secure net".

When he checked, Emkir found the connection from port to dome networks cost Cr 20, so he authorized payment from the ship's accounts.  He did the same when he found the super-net connection was Cr 50 more.  Once he had access, Emkir began working to find who managed the building and its staff.  Using his background in management and operations, Emkir started multiple search threads and one paid off quickly as he found staffing position notices for the residence block.  Those had contact data for the management firm's HR.

Wanting to be certain before he acted, Emkir checked the public records on the firm and made sure the contact was not just a shell.  Not that there was a great deal on record, but they appeared to be in good standing from what Emkir could find.  The available records did show the firm had a good length of history, and managed buildings in multiple domes, so they appeared to be established.  Checking back into the connections he'd found, Emkir had a number of HR contact codes and two codes which appeared to link to the firm's legal representatives.

Figuring he might find more rapport with the legal offices, Emkir reached out to one of those contacts.  Guarded, the person who answered asked what relationship Emkir had with their client?  Emkir, who had warmed up his best 'snake oil' special and added a squirt of 'former Imperial Admiral', asked about any possible video from around and outside the residence in dome 28?  Wary of stepping beyond their limits but respectful of Emkir, the person on the terminal gave him a comms link to use to call the proper office to ask about any video data.  Emkir was pleased and thanked the person before ending the call and dialing the new code.

Covering The Legal Options
     Once Emkir's second call connected, he introduced himself and his interest and was asked more directly who he was again.  He could see the person on the line was likely an hourly worker who was more concerned for his job than Emkir's snake oil.  Carefully picking through the minefield of topics to explain with, Emkir did his best to get directed to the correct person.  But it was obvious the worker knew the 'company line' for those who signed his check was that the crew members were guilty.  So Emkir realized he'd not get anything 'out of the usual' from the contact.

Still, the worker did say there had been a set of cameras in the vestibule where Zimzod had met the doorman.  He said there were also cameras in the inside and outside of all entrance/exits to the building, but nothing more.  When Emkir asked about the crime scene, he was reminded that was inside a personal residence and there could be no cameras there.  When Emkir asked about possible cameras looking down on the balcony, he was told that did not exist either.  Probing about anti-crime cameras, Emkir was told the firm relied on existing police patrols for that.

When Emkir asked about the video showing Zimzod's arrival, he was told to call the police for that.  Changing tactics, Emkir asked how long the firm saved video data, and was told the contact did not know.  He told Emkir he'd have to speak to someone else in the office, who might know that.  Disappointed, Emkir was still happy when the man gave him a new number to call.  As Emkir prepared to continue hunting for video data, Terin asked how he could help?  Since the man had been hovering the whole time, Emkir considered but was at a loss.  There was not much Terin might do to help that he could think of.

To get him out doing something, Emkir suggested Terin check their travel itinerary, comparing it to their cargo delivery commitments.  He also asked Terin to check possible costs for extending their stay in the port.  He wanted to know how much time they had before this started costing the ship money and what options they had?  Terin could answer the first part quickly, because the only cargo they had that was time-limited was the Lanth-bound government data from Equus.  That had to arrive before six months' time was up, and they'd only burned 11 days so far, and had lots of spare time in that transit.

The port costs were another issue, because the ship was held by the police, not the port.  That meant they'd be charged additional fees for each week they extended their stay in the berth.  As Terin worked on that, Emkir called the new number and hit a concrete wall.  While the person who answered the comms was pleasant enough, they directed Emkir to the police investigation on any request he made or question he asked.  Frustrated, Emkir called the law firm they'd contracted with and connected with a paralegal.  When he offered the contacts and data he'd gathered, Emkir was told the firm had done the same basic steps once they'd been retained.  He was only duplicating their work.

When Emkir asked if they were releasing any of the data, he was told it was not the policy of the police to release evidence until just before the trial.  Then, the defense could consult with the prosecution and generate their own list of actions, witnesses and questions.  Hearing that, Emkir was told there was no way their lawyers could say if any evidence gathered might be questionable, or suggest Mikah's team were not guilty.  So, his data provided no help to their work.

Asking for a better understanding of the court process, Emkir was told the police investigate and provide data to the prosecution.  Once the case was ready for the courts, the prosecution and defense meet to discuss and debate the evidence.  After that was done, the points of stipulation and contention were given to the court along with a list of witnesses.  The court then called experts and specialists as witnesses as well.  This prevented 'dueling experts', as was seen in other legal systems.

Looking for another angle, Emkir asked about the name of the doorman, because the management company had shut him down on that too.  He was told they did not have that data.  Still looking for anything, Emkir reminded them his crew had called the police and raised the alarm.  When he asked if that should not point to their innocence, the paralegal reminded him that too many criminals tried that gambit to cast off suspicion, so that idea was a wash in the legal byplay.  Finally out of cards, Emkir asked the paralegal how he and his remaining crew could help and was told to sit back and let them do the work.

Getting Some More Facts
     As things settled after the call, Terin suggested they research the supposed disease Mikah had told them about.  Emkir asked him to research that and Terin moved off to a terminal.  While there was no difficulty in finding information, Terin would quickly run into the problem of 'too much' data.  There were rumors, counter-rumors, false details, flame wars, etc...  After some time researching, Terin decided it would be best to relegate data to "type silos" once he'd identified each item.

As he worked through the first hours, Terin noticed a narrowing of the threads he'd been finding on social media.  As he looked for a reason, Terin noticed that fewer and fewer of the sophonts who had been posting had continued to post.  As he went back over the threads and numbers, Terin realized people were no longer posting, or present, in increasing numbers!  Again, it took him time to correlate the data, but what he saw appeared to be "Dome by Dome"!  It suggested that whatever happened was happening to entire domes at a time.  Along with the decreasing social media usage, the on-media government assurances disappeared simultaneously.

Hoping to tie his data to real people, Terin went looking for real names of posters who'd gone silent.  This was easy to find, as people had posted party or other event announcements with contact data.  When he took that data and looked for mortality notices or events, Terin could find no matches.  So the people were either still alive, or unlamented.  Testing the theory network connections had been cut, Terin found signs of life continued beyond the point where social media fell off.  Of course, he hardly had enough data to make that a conclusive statement.

Making things worse, Terin could see economic activity continuing normally from the on-network produced numbers.  This data were not only based on the numbers posted from the affected domes, but also from the numbers reported from other domes.  Shipments moved, communications happened, interconnected systems performed as expected.  While there were economic changes, they were on-going changes not 'sudden ends'.  Only social media seemed to be affected.  And that triggered another question.  When Terin checked his data, he saw twenty of the 150 domes on-world were affected.  This explained some of why the government were hiding the facts to prevent panic.

Once his calls were done, Emkir realized that they only had what Terin might find or what Mikah's team might come up with.  Anything else they could do would have to be covert, as they ship was under arrest.  Considering the situation, Emkir decided to give Terin time to come up with anything as he considered options.  Checking his chrono, Emkir saw it would still be some hours before Mikah's team got to their destination.  Beyond that, he had no idea when they'd be able to check in after that.  When he updated Aali and Munarshu on what they had, Munarshu asked if they knew which domes had gone dark first and on what timeline the rest followed?  Emkir said Terin was still working on that, they planned to ask that later.

Unifying the Team
     In the lounge, watching vids and waiting for updates on their situation from any direction, Bhreker got a call on his comms.  When he answered, his lawyer greeted him with a grim look.  The lawyer told Bhreker his firm were having issues getting promises of clearance from the police.  The concern was that, without any way to confirm the relationship between the crew and Instel-Arms, they were concerned Bhreker might become an independent agent for the crew.

While there were still criminals at large, they felt the risk of releasing him was too great. Annoyed, Bhreker asked how likely suing the local police force and government for unlawful arrest might work?  He was told the odds of success would be fairly low, however they were willing to try if he wanted to pay the booked hours on that?  Bhreker declined that, but asked what limits were placed on his communications?  He was told he could call or send messages to whomever he wanted. 

At his post on the bridge, Terin realized something as he considered the flow of data.  Beyond the regular loss of a dome approximately each week, he saw they were likely two days from another dome "going dark" on social media.  That got him thinking of all the data he'd slogged through and wondering which dome it might be?  But the issue he faced when he considered that was the sheer amount of data he faced.  He'd seen trends, and the abrupt shutdowns, but he did not have the time to dive into the terabytes of data he'd skimmed in order to have even a clue about that.

As he considered that, Terin remembered that Mikah's team had been in dome 32 and tried to hire on to the local gang.  When they did, in order to see if they could learn anything from the inside, they'd been told they 'were not needed' in dome 32!  Terin considered that a very bold statement, and checked his list.  Both domes 30 and 32 were still active on social media, so they were potential targets.  As a result, Terin figured he could reasonably guess the gangs did not need help in Dome 32 because they were ready to strike.  So, his best guess was that dome 32 would go dark in two days!  With that, Terin decided he needed to talk to the rest of the crew and let them know what he'd found.

Buffering and saving his data, Terin opened the ship-wide comms and announced he'd start making dinner.  He also called the other crew to meet him for an update.  Terin also planned to make a case to Emkir to bring Bhreker into the loop on what was happening.  Once everyone gathered, Terin made his presentation, showing them what graphic data he had as well as a synopsis of his research and his conclusions.  When Terin then steered into the question of telling Bhreker, Aali said she felt they needed to.  And with that, the others agreed and Emkir ordered Terin to shunt his data to the lounge to talk to Bhreker.

After Emkir and the crew moved to the lounge, they laid everything out for Bhreker.  This included Terin's newest data, suggesting that Dome 32 was his guess to be the next dome to go dark within two days' time.  Bhreker cast his own work, saying he was trying to get out-system to a place where he could send the crew help.  He was as helpless in Skull as the crew were.  When Emkir thanked him but asked why he'd put that much effort forward, Bhreker played the 'valuable customer' card.  This was because, while they were not really of great importance to anyone, he'd like to earn their loyalty and mine them for credits if they did manage to get out of the system.  Besides, as things stood, Bhreker preferred to keep their good will while stuck together.

Seeing everything Terin had to show, Bhreker asked about the chances the domes had been cut off and the out-bound data was fake?  But Terin showed examples of bilateral business data and other activities.  He had that ready as he'd had the same thoughts while he had been digging.  To seal the case, Terin proved the only real "cut" had been all social media.  Nothing else.  When Bhreker asked about patterns, Terin showed him there was no pattern he'd found at all.  As they considered that fact, Munarshu asked Terin if he had any data on the industrial output of each of the affected domes?  Terin admitted he had not yet determined that.

Terin's work had been based on the broad patterns of the data rather than even considering diving into the terabytes of specific data and drowning.  When Terin answered that, Munarshu suggested they should contact Delgado and ask some questions.  First, he suggested they ask for the details on the companies who'd cut ties with them, so they could compare their actions with the control of domes.  Next, he suggested they ask Delgado for any information they had on the commercial output of all the domes.  That way, they could look for patterns in the trade data.

With everyone fully up to date, Bhreker asked about the chances of getting the Imperial authorities involved in the situation.  Emkir explained what the crew had gotten from the local Naval command, which was "hands off".  Unless some significant damage was done to the economy or mass damage done to the society, they could not act.  And since every part of life except social media appeared normal, they had no evidence that was the case.  So, there would be no help there.  When Munarshu suggested they attempt to call any Naval Intelligence members in the local fleet, Emkir dryly said they could not just call and ask to speak to the fleet spies.

Beyond any Imperial options, the team then discussed their chances if they revealed their information to the Skull or even local dome government.  At first, snap judgements by more than half the crew were that the local government and police were corrupt.  Bhreker pointed out that the police had been ordered to cover up the disease by framing the crew.  That was not good, but it was hardly corrupt and possibly desperate.  He also suggested that if they provided the locals with new information that proved real, that might get them out of the hole.

With that on the table, Munarshu suggested the local government might be behind turning off the social media.  So, they might be largely giving the government information they already had.  Bhreker also added the thought that they were still uncertain of the honesty of the police or government.  That meant they had to decide if they wanted to call the government or have a representative come aboard the ship?  Aali also pointed out that they had two types of data.  The first was likely something the government already had.  And the "new" information was partly based on data they'd gotten from Mikah's team.  So, they'd have to decide if they wanted to give that out too.

First, they considered how far back they could scale the information while still offering something new.  After discussion, they felt the best they could do would be to say the data suggested a hunch another dome would go dark in two days.  That meant not saying anything about dome 32.  The other side of the issue was that the government could already know this, and it would be of no value.  When Munarshu said, "If we can figure this out, anyone can", everyone had to consider what they thought the police, if not the government, were doing to those who figured it out.  That was not a pleasant thought.

As Munarshu's anti-police paranoia asserted itself more, Terin brought up sneaking out of the port.  But since they were in a closed berth underground, there was no way to get the ship out.  When that was shot down, he suggested they start investigating ways to get people out of the berth to look for methods of escape or investigation.  Checking to see if the oblong berth in which the ship was centered was guarded, the crew could see an officer at the berth entrance. 

Going In Different Directions
     Moving to a new tactic, Terin suggested they start looking for a way to get some members of the team out of the berth and out from under observation.  Looking at the space around the ship, they saw there were a few office spaces off the main space.  While the space was finished, it was largely carved out of rock, there'd be no false panels to maintenance tunnels.  Opposite the guarded exit were a set of blast doors through which the ship had been brought on a cradle.  Still, there were obvious hatches and a posted guard they could bribe or otherwise influence.

While Terin pushed to have Munarshu and Aali work the berth to find a hatch they could covertly force, Bhreker made it clear they had less than two days to achieve anything before a dome went dark and their possible "advanced information" became useless.  Given that, they'd have to act fast before their trump cards could not be played.  After he said that, Aali suggested they start digging for economic data on the domes right after dinner.  Terin suggested calling Delgado to get what data they could from there and Emkir said that would be his role, since he already had contact with them.  Terin also suggested the engineers look for ways out of the berth.

Emkir was not happy with testing hatches in the berth where they could be seen and Terin said they could check in the off-berth offices.  Of more importance to Emkir was setting up a schedule so they could be working 24 hours a day.  His first thought was breaking the group into three eight-hour shifts, but they had too few people for that.  At best, they'd be working alternate 12-hour shifts.  As he was considering that, Aali said she'd research on-network maps of dome 28, returning to her hopes of finding cameras which might show their team's innocence.

As Emkir began his call to Delgado, Terin suggested Bhreker handle the map work and look for cameras while Aali and Munarshu started looking for hatches, vents or other items they might be able to exploit to get out of the berth covertly.  In the meantime, Terin planned to take the data Emkir got and correlate it with what he already had.  Considering Terin's suggestion, Aali decided to find out if they were even allowed outside the ship in the berth?  Hearing that, Terin called the guard at the berth entrance on the comms and found out they had the run of the ship and berth but were not allowed beyond.

With that data, Aali planned to spend some time in the berth "inspecting the ship for damage" along with Munarshu.  Wanting to see if they could do more than what the posted guard said, Emkir called the police before calling Delgado.  On the line with the police, Emkir asked what "ship arrest" actually meant?  He was first told they were allowed full access to their ship and berth, as the officer guarding the exit said.  If any member of the crew wanted to leave the berth, they had to submit a request along with an acceptable reason for the excursion.  If that application to the police was granted, then those leaving the berth could proceed under escort.  Examples of that would be the need for medical support, etc.

Requests would be made to the port police precinct.  Surprisingly, this included requests for entertainment purposes, so long as they accepted escort and did not break any laws themselves.  With that, Emkir thanked the officer on the line and then called Delgado and Tilden Repinski.  After Emkir explained what the crew wanted to know, Repinski quickly said he could send a file covering the firms they'd lost contracts with.  The file would also say what the firms bought from Delgado and also what they used that to make and sell themselves.

When Emkir also asked for any information they had on the economic activity of Skull's domes, Repinski said he could send that too.  In fact, as the first file was already arriving in the California's computer, Repinski told Emkir that Delgado had files on all economic activity on-world to maintain operations and support growth.  When Emkir had what he wanted, Repinski told him he was working with his management on a hoped for agreement with the police.  In the event the rest of the ship's crew were recaptured, they hoped to get the police to allow Delgado to hold the prisoners rather than putting them back into cells they'd managed to escape from.

Repinski made it clear those facilities would be much more comfortable than the cells.  Emkir thanked him for that and asked they keep a line available in case either side came up with more needs or information.  Emkir also enjoyed the dig at the local police facilities.  After the line was broken, Bhreker asked if they wanted to ask Delgado to watch their business connections with Dome 32?  Emkir said they did not, in order to protect their connection to Mikah's people, as any mention of dome 32 might tip the listening authorities to the fact they had contact with the team.

Organizing Some Cunning Plans
     After getting the information from Delgado, Emkir shunted it to Bhreker to Terin to collate with his earlier work to see if they could tie the lost contracts to lost domes or economic patterns?  As Terin worked on this, Bhreker was searching for on-network maps of the domes.  What he had found, so far, were partial schematics of dome layouts but nothing with detail.  On the flip side, there were such schematics for every dome, and they were publicly accessible.  It seemed these were public maps used for direction.  Focusing on Dome 28, Emkir had tasked him to find other buildings close to the murder site and see if he could locate bearing cameras?

In addition the cameras on buildings, Bhreker looked for any dome 28 related publicly accessible camera feed.  Sadly, there were no publicly available camera feeds in the dome.  Annoyed at the lack of an easy answer, Bhreker went fishing for addresses, building information and then management data on the buildings he was interested in.  As he did this, Terin saw that Delgado's data was complete and well organized.  He quickly started checking the loss of contracts against his data and found there was no relationship to the end of social media in each dome.  In fact, most of the firms were in domes related to the port, and not affected at all by the odd events.

Terin was able to get his first answers so quickly, he quickly dove into mapping the economic data so he could possibly compare it to look for economic patterns.  Sadly, despite the organization, Terin realized this was gonna take some time to do.  He planned to work well into the night if not overnight.  One thing which impressed Terin was that the level of data provided included facts gleaned from their industrial espionage work.  And they were cooperating so completely they had not even scrubbed evidence of that from the data!  Terin was glad someone was cooperating.

After his calls, Emkir considered his free time and the guard.  At first, Emkir considered sending his lovely wife to capture the guard's attention.  After he realized he needed Aali working on the hatches, he went looking for a physical board game to bring with him.  Once out in the berth, Emkir called to the officer and invited him to play the game.  Assessing the spacer, the officer said he'd prefer not to as that would require opening the berth portal.  The vibe Emkir got from the man was a complete lack of trust.

With plan A shot down, Emkir tried to start a conversation, asking how the trooper got stuck with guard duty?  The man taciturnly said it was his turn in the rotation without offering anything else.  When Emkir asked the man if he'd ever been off world, he got back a curt "No Sir."  As Emkir realized he'd only get monosyllabic answers from the officer, he wished the man a good shift and considered a second shift for his people.  With everyone else doing something, Emkir realized he would be the best designate for that.  Realizing they'd need a second shift engineer, he asked Aali if she was OK leaving Munarshu on his own?

Once Aali handed over the work to Munarshu, the couple headed for their stateroom.  Emkir waited until they were inside the ship to notify Terin of his plans and tell everyone Terin was in command.  Shortly before Emkir left the ship to try his gambit with the officer, Munarshu had noticed an access panel into the tiled berth floor.  Using Emkir's attempts to his advantage, Munarshu realized the panel might be unobservable from the berth entrance.  He continued to experiment with visibility even after Aali and Emkir returned to the ship.  Finally, he was sure two people could work on the panel behind one of the ship's landing struts without being seen by the police.

Having been ordered to "find" such a panel, Munarshu knew he had no orders to actually try and open it.  Still, he knew time was a factor in their activities and he had a chance to finally advance some possible plan.  So he made a play at finding an issue with the strut which gave him an excuse to grab a tool kit and start working on "something".  In addition to his work, Munarshu even re-tasked one of the 'droids to help him, and planned for a late night as were Terin and Bhreker.


Arriving In Dome 30
     In their boxcar, Mikah and her team woke to the sensations of the car coming to a bit of a jerky stop.  As each of them woke, they heard the sounds of someone outside using tools to open the car's door latch and prepared for whatever happened next.  To say the least, it was a letdown to see two men in police uniforms lean in as one said, "My, My.  Look what we gots here." in a tone suggesting complete confidence in his control of the situation.  With the same confidence, the second officer loudly ordered, "OK!  Everyone out of the car."

Feigning injury, Fesic said, "I can't get up.  I hurt my leg", and asked the officers, "Can you help me?"  The first officer looked at the second in disgust and said, "Fine.  The rest of you get out first."  As the officers watched, Mikah, Rol and Zimzod made their way to the door and stepped out of the car.  Mikah saw the two officers were alone as she led the others out, and had to wonder how stupid they really were?  At the same time, one of the officers lifted his thud-gun and pointed it at Fesic asking, "So, can you crawl?"  Fesic said he could and, when ordered to start moving, made a great play of crawling with difficulty.

While this happened, Rol and Zimzod also saw the three of them had two officers who were alone and completely over-confident in their authority.  Not sure what the outside looked like but certain his show might help the others, Fesic hammed it up, saying he thought he could stand.  As the officers watched him fight his way upright, Mikah decided it was time to act.  Exchanging winks and nods with Rol and Zimzod, she saw them square their shoulders too.

They cut loose as Zimzod's undercut caught the first officer under the chin and hit him hard enough to lift him and slam him against the side of the rail car.  Surprisingly, the hit did not knock the man out!  At the same time, and by coincidence, Mikah and Rol attacked the other officer in tandem.  The man went down under the assault and was not likely to get up on his own any time soon.  With his partner down, the first officer surrendered as Zimzod turned to finish him off.  Relaxing slightly, Zimzod let the man relax and rise before hitting him again and knocking him out.

Looking around, they assured themselves the rail yard was otherwise unoccupied, Mikah ordered the others to strip the officers and tally their gear and possessions.  As the men went through the officer's pockets, they realized these were not really police officers!  It seemed they were thugs in police uniforms.  Their gear included an official police radio, weapons and all the gear expected of police.  They also had Cr 250 in currency.  But they had no badges and Rol noticed their tattoos did not fit with law enforcement officers.

After binding the men, they also saw the activation fob they'd taken from one thug broadcast to a squad car which was the only vehicle in the lot.  When Mikah was frustrated with the stupidity and lack of information, Zimzod suggested they wake one of the guys and question him.  Mikah made it clear Rol would do the questioning.  But, since they were all pretty hungry now the adrenaline had worn off, Mikah said to be quick.  Or, she joked, they'd have to eat the thug they were not questioning.  At that point, Fesic suggested they see if the uniforms they were stripping off the men fit any of them?

Mikah agreed, but pointed out that neither would fit her.  So, she began waking the thug of her choice while the guys tried the uniforms and found they fit Fesic and Rol.  Mikah had them change as she got the thug she was waking up to speed.  Once he was awake, the thug had no problem answering questions.  The gang had largely taken over, but not completely.  When Mikah asked, he said they were using the police disguises to control the larger population while things were being finished.  He was also very forward that he and his buddy should be let go before "the boss" found out what happened.

When Mikah asked, making it clear the move was incredibly stupid, why they'd come wearing uniforms to collect them, he said "because we're in control here lady."  She had missed the fact he did not know they were wanted in dome 28 so the local thugs could not know how they'd react to being collected by police.  Still, Mikah pushed the issue and was again told they should let him and his partner free before the boss found out.  Missing his points, Mikah said, "OK.  But you're not in control here." stressing the last word.  She then demanded, "So why don't you answer my questions?"  He simply answered, "Because that's what we were told to do."

Not seeing any value in dealing with the thug, Zimzod punched him in the head and knocked him cold again, saying, "This is a stupid conversation."  Rol said, "Well we got one piece of information." and Mikah said, "Yeah.  They're really stupid."  Zimzod just pointed to the police cruiser and suggested they get moving.  The plan was for Rol and Fesic to "arrest" Mikah and Zimzod and bring them in.  They locked the tied up officers in the box car they'd been in.  When Zimzod and Mikah discussed that, she said they'd be leverage if anyone wanted them back.

Ordering Up Information
     In the patrol car and not certain what to do next, the four could only agree on one thing.  Food.  So, they headed out to the first late night restaurant they saw, parked and went in.  As the four entered, conversation quieted and all eyes were on the team.  Especially the two in uniforms.  offered a table in the middle of the floor, Mikah refused and demanded a table in the back.  Led to a table that better satisfied Mikah, they sat and started ordering as two waitresses came to make sure they were completely satisfied.

When Rol conversationally said, "Nice place you got here", he got back a very taciturn "thank you" and no more.  After they'd ordered, Mikah decided to go to the bathroom and see if there were any women there?  When she found the room empty, she decided to wait.  Eventually, one of the waitresses nervously came in to make sure everything was OK.  Mikah first said she was fine, and then asked what was going on?  Not sure how to answer without getting killed, the waitress asked, "What do you mean?"  After a pause, Mikah said, "Well, we're trouble shooters for the government and we've heard there are some problems here." 

In a matter of fact reply, the waitress seemed to give up on surviving and said, "You're with the police."  leaning forward, Mikah whispered, "They're not really police."  Dismissing that, the waitress got bold and said, "We know they're not really police.  None of them are police." and Mikah said, "Yeah, but we're not part of the gang.  We stole the uniforms and gear."  Mikah smiled as the woman tried to do the math on that in her head.  When she finally decided to ask Mikah what she wanted, Mikah said she wanted to know what was going on?

The waitress then wrote on an order slip and said, "You need to go there if you want to know what's going on.  That's Condor Industries."  Mikah had heard that name before, and thanked the woman, telling her to leave first.  Checking the paper, she saw it was an address as the other woman very quickly left the room.  Mikah followed a minute later and sat to eat with the guys.  Rol looked at her and asked, "All done?" and Mikah said she was.  Zimzod looked her up and down and said, "I hope you feel better.." and Mikah cut him off saying, "Yes I do."  Picking up again, Zimzod asked, "Did it all come out OK?"

As they ate the Cr 25 meal, Mikah explained the bit of information she'd gotten.  Leaving a Cr 5 tip for the waitress, they finished, got in the car and headed off.  When they arrived where the waitress had sent them, they found a structure that looked like it had been town hall!  It now sported a sign out front reading "Condor Industries".  the building looked as if it had been taken over by new and less reputable management from where they saw it.


Taking Tests And Getting Data
     With no other plans, they decided to go into the building and see what they could learn?  Before they went in, they checked the perimeter and found the side and rear doors not well secured or guarded.  The building was a standard type of "big building crafted to impress from the front" with an impressive facade.  There was no damage or any sign of conflict which would suggest a violent take over.  With an understanding of the grounds, they decided to go in through the buildings front door in order to make a statement.

Inside the front entrance, they were met by a receptionist in a space where there were several people wearing blazers with the logo "Condor Industries" on the pocket.  When they were asked by the receptionist, "Can I help you?" Mikah said they'd been sent there by the people in charge of dome 32 because they were not needed there.  Nodding, reception asked how two of her people came to be wearing their police uniforms and Mikah tried to say, "Well, we have some leverage."  When the woman asked, "Meaning?" without giving any sense of caring what that actually meant, Mikah said, "We'll tell you where your guys are as soon as you tell us what's going on here?" 

Suddenly, a male voice from the side said, "Oh!  So, this is what you would call an audition?"  Mikah turned, happily saying, "Yeah.  Exactly.  And your guys failed."  As she said this, she assessed the obviously important speaker.  They followed him under escort after he invited them into his office.  As she agreed to follow him, Mikah asked if he wanted to know where his men were and he answered, "Not really" in an unconcerned tone.  In the office, he asked how they got there and Mikah again explained about being sent from Dome 32 because they were not needed there.

When he asked where on Skull they came from and Mikah said they were off-worlders, the man got a small bit more interested.  He then asked Mikah to "tell me your story" and Mikah edited what had to be unsaid, explaining they were itinerant mercenaries.  Once she was done, he asked if she had a ship full of mercenaries, obviously hoping that answer would be yes.  Non-committally, Mikah said she had a ship at the port with the rest of her crew.  Not certain what that meant, he asked if they could be brought to the dome and Mikah said, "Eventually."

Considering what he'd been told, the man nodded and said he might have a situation that could use their "talents."  He pointed to Fesic and Rol and said, "Have these two change back into their clothes and return the uniforms and we can all meet up back at reception."  Some minutes later, they all gathered back at reception and the uniforms were turned in again.  Increasing their show of self-confidence, Mikah and Zimzod were given pistols which, when checked, had magazines of ball ammo in them!  The man said he assumed they knew how to use the weapons and introduced them to a "Joshu", who would give them their instructions.

After that, the obvious leader left and Joshu brought them out to an SUV-type ground car in the building's lot.  Once they got in and he started driving, Joshu explained they had an electronics assembly firm which made radio broadcast boards.  They needed light focusing elements instead of radio broadcast boards.  So, while were trying to change the supply chain and make the changes we can in the work force, we need some of the older workers.  The problem was that some of those employees were being less then cooperative and that's where Mikah's team came in.

As they arrived, the team saw they were parking near a generic work office.  But what surprised them was that the building had apparently belonged to "Skull-Tek Radio"!  That was the firm Mr. Fenton handled the contract for, so they were pleased make some unexpected progress on figuring that out.  After they parked and followed Joshu into the building, they found that most of the management and office staff had clothing labeled "Condor Industries".  Passing by the offices, they moved to the work floor where they could see a shouting match between a dim-witted thug and some sort of floor or shop manager.

Joshu appeared to be pleased with the scene.  He said this would give them a chance to show what they could do, turning to look at them expectantly.  At that, Rol walked up to the arguing pair and cold cocked the arguing thug, laying him out on the ground.  Following him, Mikah asked the worker what the problem was?  The manager said he was concerned with his worker's safety and what the 'management' wanted simply couldn't be done without risking the worker's safety.  When she asked what they wanted done, the man launched into a long and involved explanation.

Interrupting the man saying, "Short form!  Short form!" Mikah was told the factory didn't do what they wanted.  Fixing the building to do what they wanted would risk the long-term health of the workers.  He was not going to have it on his watch.  Mikah asked if there was a way of retrofitting the facility that wouldn't affect their health, the man said "Nope."  Not liking his attitude, she said, "Let's be a little cooperative here."  After a pause, the man said they'd need a cutting chamber to create focusing crystals.  And there was no way to make such a chamber in that factory.

Seeing that dead end coming, Mikah asked if there was another building in the dome where that could be done?  The man said there was not, as far as he knew.  He added that no one on-world made focusing crystals or anything similar.  Mikah pushed, asking if there were a building that could be retrofitted, and the man admitted, "There is, but I don't think they're gonna want to do that." pointing at the thugs.  Mikah asked which building it was and the man gave her a small list of buildings they could use.  Knowing the likely answer, Mikah asked if the workers had the skills to do the retrofit and the man said they had no training at all in that.  They were just hourly assembly workers.

Getting tired of the unexpected banter, Joshu stepped up asking, "So, what's the problem?"  Using a path of logic the thugs hadn't thought of, Mikah said, "The problem is that you're going to kill all these workers and have no one left to make your focusing crystals."  Unconcerned, Joshu shrugged and said they could always kill them all and bring in new workers.  His tone suggested the thugs had actually planned to do exactly that until Mikah and her team showed up.  Sensing a chance to dig deeper into the situation, Mikah asked, "From where?" and was told "We have resources."

Fishing, Mikah asked, "from other domes?" and Joshu repeated "We got resources.  My boss wants to know if you can solve problems.  Not start more", and that was an obvious threat.  As she stared at Joshu, Rol moved closer to the floor manager saying, "I understand your concerns, but I'm also sure you want to be a useful employee."  He stressed the word "useful".  Rol continued, "And I'm sure your employees want to be useful people around here, don't you?"  Getting in Rol's face with all the backbone of a Union-trained protester, the man said "I am not putting my people at risk."  He spoke emphatically and stressed the word "not".

Rol considered his words before asking, "Would you like them to simply be at risk for you not doing anything?"  As the man put his hands on his hips and prepared to answer, Rol said, "Perhaps you don't even know they are at risk?"  the man demanded, "What are you threatening me with?" in a tone that made it clear he was not afraid of threats.  Rol smiled and said, "I'm not threatening you with anything.  I'm just the messenger."  The manager simply said, "Well I'm not letting them put my people at risk so no work is getting done here." 

Only The Right Killings
     As Joshu turned back to Mikah, she shrugged and said, "OK.  If you gotta kill them, you gotta kill them." in a resigned voice.  As she said that, Rol suddenly pulled off a move Mikah had never seen him use and the foreman went down in pain.  It was only as he collapsed on the shop floor that those present realized there had been the snap of a bone breaking in there too.  Mikah had to admit, she was surprised.  Not impressed, but surprised.  Doubling down, Mikah swept the other workers with her gaze as she demanded, "Whose next?"  She repeated the taunt as Rol looked down on the writhing man and said, "You're now, less, useful.  Would you like to be even less useful?"

The show of force was obviously all that was needed as the workers began moving back to their tasks.  As that happened, Joshu drew his pistol and shot the injured foreman in the head.  Holstering the weapon, he looked at Mikah and said, "That wasn't quite what I expected.  It didn't fit in with your audition."  Mikah looked at him and asked, "Why?  We didn't kill your guys either.  Maybe we should have?"  As Joshu shrugged and said, "Maybe you should have", Rol muttered about hating to waste talent.  Mikah snorted and said, "They weren't talented." and looked at Joshu saying "Come on" as she assumed they had another stop to make.

Joshu ignored Mikah at first, looking at the Condor Industries people peeking in the door after the gunfire and said, "I think we got your problem solved."  After that, he got them back in the ground car and drove them back to the town hall.  Getting back there, he led them to a conference room and told them to wait there until he got back.  The four of them exchanged looks because the man had not taken the two pistols.  Figuring that meant they were not going to be shot out of hand, Mikah told the guys to relax.

Eventually, "Mr. Big" showed up again.  Getting right to the point, the man said he would have expected something more direct from them.  I don't know exactly how useful you'll be but I'm sure we can fit you into the organization.  Not impressed with their organization, and alone in the room with the man and his lieutenant Joshu, Mikah suddenly drew her pistol and shot Mr. Big!  Following close on her action, Zimzod drew on and killed Joshu, who got a round off.  Joshu's shot hit a wall, adding to Mikah's negative impression of their crew.  Of course, the gunfire also triggered alarms, but Mikah counted on that and the confusion it would bring.

Zimzod was the first to move, checking outside the door.  Seeing things were clear at the moment, he said they needed to get moving because the gang would come there first.  Grabbing the dead men's guns, they piled into the hallway.  Mikah ordered them left and they were off.  Ignoring the two doors they passed, they came to a "T" intersection and again turned left.  As they came around this corner, the team ran into another team of obvious thugs.  Both sides were surprised and looked each other up and down before one of them demanded to know what was going on?  Counting on just that confusion, Mikah said, "We were just attacked!  Someone broke in and shot your boss!"

Confused, the man sorted through what else she said and got "the boss has been shot".  When he asked who they were, Mikah said, "We were just hired.  We were just gonna get jobs!" and the man asked where the shooters were?  Playing her part, Mikah said, "I have no idea!  We got out of there!" allowing her voice to sound a little frightened.  Nodding, the man ordered them, "Get back to reception and let us take control here."  Happy with that, Mikah agreed and they let the team pass them by.  Rather than following the instructions she was given, Mikah wanted to find where they stored their weapons and ammo?

As they started moving, the team randomly opened doors.  They were always at the ready with their two pistols in case the reception was hostile.  While they did not find any weapons stockpiles, Fesic did open a door and see a file room.  He was caught by surprise as they were actual paper files!  Not only was the room meant for file storage, but it seemed a large number of folders had been hastily moved and added to the stacks.  Looking in to see what caught Fesic, Mikah saw the papers and said, "Emkir would have an orgasm in here!" as she recalled the paper proposal fiasco he'd unleashed on them in Rhylanor port.

Elbowing Fesic to wake him up and get moving, she said, "Grab the top of a pile and let's go!"  Fesic grabbed the top-most folders from the nearest pile and followed as the team moved on.  As they moved, Rol checked the revolver he'd grabbed from "Mr. Big" and saw there were a full six rounds in the weapon.  He guessed Fesic had five as Joshu had gotten a round off.  As had to happen, the team eventually ran into another group of thugs.  Grabbing events right off, Mikah said, "We just saw another team and they're hunting for the shooters!"  When he asked if she could give them anything more, Mikah said, "They ran after they shot up the conference room.  I think they turned right as we ran left."

Accusing her of being chicken and not attacking the shooters, Mikah said she believed in self-preservation.  Rol threw in, "We think they were from the government.  They flashed some sort of badges."  Nodding, the man figured they had at least seen the shooters so he asked what they were doing and Rol said they were headed back to reception without saying they'd been ordered to.  Mikah added, "I think we took a wrong turn somewhere." and they were told to follow the new team.  As they started moving, Mikah had her people follow them until there was a hallway intersection.  There, she led her team off to the right.

At first, she thought they'd gotten clear but heard the team notice soon after.  Especially when the lead thug said, "Call it in, I think we've found the shooters!"  Hoping to claim they'd seen "something" and were checking it out, Mikah had them turn back.  But the other team came at them with guns drawn ordering them to lay down their arms.  This time, Rol got the first shot off as they opened fire.  Of course, the range was so close, and the corridor so tight, that missing was not an option.  Sadly, the other team were ready to fight and that was the only advantage Mikah's team got.

Blood for Evidence
     Rol grazed a thug, and Mikah's shot went off next and also grazed the same thug.  Zimzod's shot got a solid hit on another thug, who didn't go down.  Fesic's shot resulted in a nasty wound to the man Mikah and Rol hit and he went down.  But the fire was returned and Mikah caught a nasty wound to the left shoulder and another nasty hit to the right thigh.  Zimzod took a graze to the right shin.  Despite the damage, Mikah remained standing as did the thug Zimzod shot.  The numbers were three to four as the rounds continued flying.

Trying to correct his aim for center mass, Fesic was hit just above the left knee!  In a reflex reaction, he fired his weapon and hit the same thug Rol first shot.  Zimzod hit a thug as Rol took a hit to the right side of his chest!  Despite the sudden pain, Rol managed to get his shot off and hit a thug hard.  As Mikah fired, another thug hit Fesic again, this time in the gut, and he lost consciousness and fell to the floor.  The wound Mikah dealt was minor.  Surprisingly, only Fesic dropped as the numbers evened up.

As the battled continued, Zimzod perforated one thug's head before he could fire as Rol killed a second standing thug.  The third remaining man saw the sudden change of fortunes and started to raise his hands, only to be executed by Mikah.  After less than twenty seconds, the battle ended as the three grabbed Fesic's limp body to get moving before being discovered again.  But, as they were about to move, the one thug who'd fainted began to come around, and Mikah shot him too.  Not in good shape herself, Mikah decided to tear some fabric and apply some bandages or there'd be no reason to run.  As she did that, Rol grabbed the weapons dropped.

All too quickly, Zimzod announced more teams were coming in as he stood look out.  Mikah quickly scanned the ends of the hall for a main corridor and did not see a main passage.  Still, they chose a direction and got moving, with Rol grabbing Fesic's files.  At the intersection, Mikah looked to the right and left, seeing an elevator shaft to the left.  As they moved into the elevator lobby, Rol saw a door to the stairs and said they should go that way.  Mikah agreed and they started descending to the bottom floor where there'd be an emergency exit at the base of the stairs.

At the door, Zimzod cracked the exit.  he didn't care it was alarmed because every alarm in the place was already going off.  Outside, there was a fleet of emergency response vehicles and small craft with a few of the responders still rushing to the building's front entrance.  Taking advantage of their mission fixation, Zimzod led them out the door and to the entrance of the closest building other than the town hall.  Just inside there, they found a small lobby where they could hold out.  Checking everyone to make sure no one was about to die, they looked out the doors to estimate their chances of escape.

In the space between buildings, more vehicles were arriving and more troops rushing the building.  Enjoying the "mission fixation" that led all those arriving to rush into the town hall, Mikah had Zimzod begin looking for a ground car they could take.  There would only be so much time before the building was secured and the thugs started widening their search.  Another benefit of the belief they were still in the building was that most of those responding had left their cars unattended...and running.  Many even had lights still flashing!  Waiting until all the arriving thugs left their view, the three grabbed Fesic and rushed to a larger van to steal, which gave her the space to work.

On the road, Mikah told Zimzod to get them back to the Skull-Tek factory while she worked on additional bandages for their wounds.  Rol watched for pursuit while Mikah worked, Zimzod drove and Fesic just lay there.  As she worked on his wounds, Mikah was concerned about the gut hit which was right along a line that could have targeted the diaphragm or one of his kidneys!  She was mostly concerned about internal bleeding at the moment, and had no instruments to scan with.  She also checked the bandages she'd put on her wounds as well as those she could reach with her right arm as her left arm was hard to use with a stiffening shoulder wound.

Arriving at the factory, Zimzod knew they could not go in the front door and walk into the hands of possibly armed Condor Industries thugs.  So they made their way around to the delivery dock and hoped it was unlocked and unmanned.  Parking the car, Zimzod moved over and checked the door to find it unlocked.  Looking inside, he could see there was no one in the loading area or shipping office.  Zimzod passed the word to the others who quickly moved inside the shipping office as Fesic began to respond to the events and the pain.  The team were finally settling in when a worker came into the area and stopped.  Going white at the scene before him, the man said, "Ummm" and then turned around and left to return to the factory proper.

Knowing that could lead to bad things, the three and a half minds also knew they could really do nothing without raising an alarm they could not deal with.  Settling the issue, Mikah said, "If he knows what's good for him, he'll keep his mouth shut."  Mikah began better binding and checking wounds while Rol quickly saw there was no real way to secure the room they were in.  Checking out the back again, Rol saw the only vehicle there was the police van they'd arrived in.  As he did this and Mikah worked on Zimzod's bandages, Fesic asked about the files?  Having nothing more he could see to do, Rol grabbed the files and started checking their content.

Bangs Followed By Whimpers And Thuds
     Getting past the blood stains from the battle, all Rol could make out was that they appeared to be shipping records.  Keeping Fesic awake, Rol shared the files with the gunner as they took a closer look at the data, though Fesic's vision was fuzzing in and out.  Still, the "per item" shipping list was for crates of fifty laser weapons each!  Looking closer at the details, Rol realized the destination was not on-world!  Checking through more of the paperwork, they finally found a page detailing the destination, which was an asteroid in the world's orbit.  The data also suggested the weapons were being stockpiled there for larger transit out-system!

When that came to light, Mikah said it was time to call the ship.  After she called, getting Terin, Mikah updated him on Condor, the gangs, where they were hold up and their condition and the laser weapons.  As soon as Terin started getting this information, he raised the alarm and the four others came into the lounge where he was working.  A groggy Aali blurted out that they wanted to get the civil authorities in the loop and asked if they wanted to reach out to any Imperial offices?  Emkir said it was still officially a local issue so no, and Mikah told them to call Delgado first.  Agreeing, Emkir dialed up the comms and reached out to Repinski.

Groggy at first, Repinski woke up fast as Emkir started passing details.  Getting a handle on the situation, Repinski dialed in the local police chief and made it clear the police has screwed up.  The chief listened for a fair bit as Mikah and Zimzod, who'd been patched in, spoke before asking if they could prove anything they were saying?  The answer was, "We're hold up and this address, hiding and bleeding.  If you come get us, you'll come get a lot of evidence too."  Terin added in, "And bring a lot of friends!" to which Aali said, "Lots and lots of friends."  Bhreker made a point of saying, "Not the local cops.  Because the local cops are not the local cops."  Lucky for him, that fit in with what the team on site reported so it was understood.

As Aali began repeating and clarifying what Bhreker said, the chief interrupted her saying he'd gotten that point already.  With a handle on what Mikah's team had discovered, he told them to hold in position.  He suggested government forces would be there to assist "soon".  There was an amount of gallows humor as Mikah pointed out they couldn't really go anywhere if they wanted to.  When Bhreker asked how Mikah's team would recognize a government rescue, they were told "They'll be the ones in combat uniforms.  They're sending in the army."  With that, the line was cut and everyone waited.

For the next ten minutes, Mikah and Zimzod worked to improve bandages and keep pressure on wounds.  Then, suddenly, the team heard loud booming explosions as the building and ground shook around them!  Through the walls, they could hear the factory work floor turn to a sea of panic.  Fesic, who'd become more aware of the situation, said, "That's a bit quick for an Army response."  Mikah answered him sarcastically, "What?  Everything's coming up roses."  Still, things quieted down at first before sounds of remote and scattered gunfire could be heard.

Over the next ten to twenty minutes, combat exchanges increased in frequency and volume until the local neighborhood seemed to erupt in heavy battle!  That raged for another ten minutes or so before the battle came to a crescendo for Mikah's team.  The loading dock door was suddenly blown in by an explosion!  Immediately after, a team of combat-armored troops rushed the space and secured it.  They seemed to expect Mikah's team as they arrived, yelling, "Stand down!" and "Rescue" as they moved.  Confirming Mikah's team was in place, they ordered a medical team into position to start working with the wounded. Mikah was relieved as blood loss was getting to be an issue with most of them.

As the medics started to work and confirmation of the rescue was sent up-line, Rol looked at Mikah and jokingly said, "I'm never taking you on a covert operation again."  Mikah just responded with a flat, "Then you should step up and start leading."  As the medics worked, the commander of the unit arrived and took custody of the files, asking where more of that could be found?  Mikah told him.  Once they were pronounced stable and able to be moved, the medics transported the team to a command point where mobile operating rooms and other support were available.

There, it was determined most of the wounds had been plain "in and out" in nature.  There was some concern Fesic's right kidney had been damaged, so he was set up for advanced monitoring.  Mikah's shoulder joint bones were, very luckily, not damaged so the joint would heal from muscle damage.  The other wounds were just meat and would just leave pretty pretty scars.  From there on, it was down to two days of treatment and recovery, which they could do back on the ship as well as anywhere else.  During the transport, en route, they were met by official members of the government, who confirmed they were no longer fugitives or accused of crimes.


Getting Home And Preparing to Leave
     Over the days of treatment, Emkir and the remaining crew of the ship worked to get the ship ready to launch.  Granted, they still had not negotiated a price on fuel, but they were ready otherwise.  Once Mikah was back on the ship, she called Delgado first, to demand "what the fuck?"  Mikah was ready to accuse Repinski of sending them out to die.  But over the space of that conversation, she found out they truly had no idea what was going on.  Indeed, when she first got him on comms, he was a truly shaken man.

Mikah had learned that the Skull government was well aware something was going on and had been deploying specialty army units to "prepare" to act.  But Delgado had been as in the dark as the rest of the world's population.  After the moves to retake dome 30, enough records and data had been found to tell the government everything they needed to know to move on all the other affected domes!  So, the disease turned out to be something Condor was using to infiltrate and corrupt as well.  Thanks to what Mikah had learned, she had more to tell Repinski than he could tell her.  In addition to the KCr 5 he had offered the team for "expenses", Repinski got them a KCr 10 bonus too.

Mikah said she'd take the KCr 5, but Delgado should pay a certain waitress in Dome 30 the KCr 10.  Surprised at the request, Repinski asked about the woman and got the story from Mikah, along with a description of the lady.  The only loose end remaining was the asteroid in orbit, which apparently expected a launched delivery in a week's time.  At that, the government had asked if Mikah's crew of mercenaries would like to take on the KCr 50 contract to "slip in" within the transport and capture the place?  This request was made because the world government had no space forces.

When Mikah laughed and told them to ask the Navy, the representatives said the Navy had said it was a local issue.  They also said a warship moving in would draw fire right off where stealth might work better.  So, since communications had been cut, a covert mission using the expected launch was the best bet for success.  Mikah refused the job, saying she'd talk to the Navy and see if she could get them to help.  Done with the government, Mikah called the system's commanding Admiral due to a request from the fleet. 

On the line with Admiral Sir Jae Casas, they discussed the situation on-world as well as the asteroid base.  Despite her anger, Mikah had to admit the 'provincials' had the situation in hand.  She explained the events her team had been involved with and told him about the offer to assault the rock.  When they talked about that, the Admiral admitted he was not big on the idea of getting one of his ships shot up to attack something that was not a mobile danger.  Mikah suggested nudging it out of orbit to fall on the world, letting some of her anger bleed through.  With a smile, the Admiral chided her for the thought.

Still, the Admiral did think he might station a corvette near the asteroid to warn ships away from the hazard.  And if anyone mounted a rescue attempt, the corvette would blow them from the sky with reinforcements.  Mikah smiled as she thought of the crew of the asteroid suffocating to death long before they could starve.  She approved completely of the Admiral's 'efficiency'.  Changing the subject, the Admiral asked after the future plans of her crew?  Mikah said they were leaving the system as soon as they could.  As she talked to the Admiral, Bhreker reached out to the government to see if he could contract for ownership of the dropped weapons?

But the government had secured all the weapons and many of them were official government property.  Even if they had been placed in the wrong hands by Condor.  So, the offer was politely declined.  That was good for Bhreker, though, as that would ultimately include recovery and collection of the weapons if he'd gotten the contract.  That meant he'd have been one man, wandering dome after dome collection weapons.  As he was talking to that, Emkir officially requested the police return the gear they had confiscated from Mikah's team on their arrest.  The police agreed, except for Zimzod's vibro-cutlass, which was against the local laws.  Since he brought it, it was forfeit.  They also refused to replace the damaged comms.

In a final request, Bhreker tried to make a contract for Condor's output weapons and was told he could have those in the asteroid for free.  So long as he had a combat assault team he could send there to take them.  Bhreker was not impressed with that offer.  Munarshu, who was listening, said "They're not going anywhere.  We can starve them out and go in later!"  Bhreker just shot the gun-happy engineer a look and ignored him.  But any deals he tried to make simply did not pan out because there was really nothing for him to connect with.  After five days on Skull, those who had left the ship were not impressed with the whirl-wind tour they'd had and no one could compliment the treatment.

For the next two days, Mikah wanted her people to rest up, heal up and be prepared to get off that rock.  Emkir suggested that no one leave the ship in the next system, the small, nearly air-less rock called Resten.  Mikah agreed with that one hundred percent!  When Mikah asked Aali how far she and Munarshu had gotten on their engineering work, Aali considered.  She said they could possibly lift the next day if they rushed things a bit, and got fueled up, which meant calling the port to buy hydrogen.

Mikah also ordered Terin to start collecting data for the jump plot they'd be making.  After that, Mikah called the port while everyone else either worked or recovered.  Once she connected to the port, she found the initial offer had not changed.  They wanted Cr 50 per ton of unrefined fuel or KCr 60 total, and did not sell refined fuel.  Mikah was not happy with that, and called the Skull government.  When she asked them to provide some funds for their fuel, they said they were not willing to do so.  Angry, Mikah threatened to lodge a complaint against them with the Arch-Duchy.  Being a government agency, they were not concerned at yet another complaint being filed.  Upset, Mikah looked up the data for and called the government of dome 28.

Connected to them, she threatened legal action if they did not kick in a share of the fuel costs.  They were comfortable with her threat as they had acted in the needs of the government during a crisis and were sure how the case would work out.  Stymied and still thinking about nudging the asteroid out of orbit even if the navy would kill them all, she dug for anything she could threaten them with.  Finally, she threatened to sell the ship and come to live in dome 28.  Perhaps slightly shaken by that, the government agent recovered and dared her to do just that.  Frustrated, she ended the call, called the port and paid the KCr60 for fuel.  After that, she notified Aali to be prepared to process it overnight.


Last Bits Of Business Before Blasting
     Early the next day, port and police officials delivered the crew's possessions as well as a seizure notice for Zimzod's vibro-cutlass.  Grumbling after the officials left, Mikah suggested they find a way to boobie-trap their weapons.  Emkir pointed out that Aiden had his DNA-encoded pistol and they laughed at shared memories.  Except Munarshu.  After that, the crew waited for lift authorization as they looked up the Resten system in the ship's Library Data.

What they saw was that the 3,000 km diameter rock called Resten Prime had just the hint of an atmosphere and was otherwise barren.  While it had a B class starport which would certainly sell refined fuel and have services like TAS and other amenities, it was in the "zero orbit", so it was well in the jump shadow of the large M class star.  When Mikah asked for options, they saw the binary system had a gas giant orbiting the primary star's partner.  Checking the data on that world, Terin said the gas giant was in the number two orbit.  That meant it was well out of the binary's jump shadow.  When she heard this, Mikah gave the orders to target that for a frontier refueling.

The 60,000 km diameter gas giant was on the large size for smaller gas giants.  That meant the six million kilometer approach would take 19 hours.  Still, faster than getting to the main world.  After getting the word from the port they could lift, Aali confirmed the fuel was processed and the crew either took positions or got as comfortable as they could as the ship was moved onto the port cradle.  After a brief time being transported to a lift berm, the ship was cleared to launch.  Emkir manned the pilot's chair as he thanked the port, contacted orbital control and the navy as a courtesy and lifted into the sky.

Reaching orbit, Emkir received his approved transitional plot from the navy and Terin began calculating their best jump point.  With that, he could start plotting the knowns, like the position and velocity of the ship at jump and plotted constellations for departure stellar position.  He could also start working out the anticipated interstellar data such as the estimated position of the target system and world.  This was the dicey part, as the data was always "As reported" and always at least a week old.

Beyond that, Terin had to add in as many factors as he could when it came to everything from intervening gravity wells to known stellar events.  But, eventually, the plot was loaded, the capacitors energized and Emkir pushed the button.  Unlike Aiden, who was a bit of a traditionalist, Emkir did not momentarily darken the ship's lights.  That was ironic as the more Solomani Aiden followed old Vilani tradition, from the days when a jump system would literally drain all power from a ship's systems and cause a brown out, where the more Vilani Emkir did not.


Jumping To the Resten System
     Transition into jump was nice and smooth as the crew relaxed into the coming 168 estimated hours in jump.  Because it was late in the day, Aali made the decision to do light work that afternoon and make sure the androids were handling the immediate work.  Despite his wounds, Rol knew they'd be experiencing Holiday in jump.  That one day of the year where there would be no date other than Holiday 1113.  Despite the previous week, Rol figured they all needed a party.  When he told Emkir, the pilot agreed they'd need booze too.

During the passage, Mikah made use of her supplies to add to the growth enhancers and other ministrations the doctors on Skull had provided.  An injection here and there, with Zimzod's assistance when working with her own wounds, allowed her to add more growth enhancers and cytoplasm-solutions with enzymes and bio-chem cell building nutrients.  This would speed wound recovery as much as modern medicine could without medical SLOW drug.  Since he volunteered, they handed Bhreker the damaged comms to see what he could do with them.

Sadly, some of Fesic's work was more destructive than not.  Still, it was a wonderful window into what replacement units to offer them once they got to the Lunion system.  Bhreker also found time, during the passage, to speak to each crew member about items they'd like to buy once at that subsector capital and its well-stocked Instel Arms facility.  At the same time, Aali and Munarshu worked on the ship's systems.  And on the fifth day of jump, the crew celebrated Holiday and the arrival of the year 1113.  Especially when payroll time came around.


In Your Face
     As the clock neared two on the afternoon of the second day of the year, the computer signaled the ship was preparing to emerge from jump.  As both Emkir and Terin worked to verify the ship's positions, they grabbed every bit of data they could get as systems came on line.  And then, suddenly, some of that data came to them!  As the ship's sensors started to alarm, Emkir received an inbound hail saying, "The Imperial Navy welcomes you to the Resten system.  Please stand by to be boarded for customs inspection."  The voice was solid and almost jovial, which was odd considering the data on the sensors indicating they were almost literally facing down a twenty thousand ton Imperial fleet cruiser!

As they sat and eyeballed the ship in vis-light through the cockpit's transplex, they realized the monstrous Imperial starburst on the cruiser's nose was easily seven times the size of the Hotel California.  And they were close enough to see where it could be touched up a bit!  Neither of the men could figure out how the cruiser got so close to a ship emerging from jump so quickly, but it certainly gave them a shock!  Once the cutter crossed to the Hotel California, the Lieutenant leading the customs team explained it was his Captain's policy to "give the traders a thrill" every so often by bringing the cruiser out to meet them directly.

When Mikah realized they had simply experienced the luck of the draw, she let the Lieutenant know she was not impressed with his commander's sense of humor.  For his part, the Lieutenant was considering doing a much deeper investigation of their ship given the obvious wounds half the spacers were recovering from.  He considered this just the sort of condition raiders might be in after a failed attempt at piracy.  Since direct questions in unsecure locations usually led to unneeded combat, the Lieutenant escalated the situation and had the ship docked and the crew held aboard the cruiser for a proper investigation!

Mikah, who was already not happy with the universe, pushed her social rank and titles.  However, these naval officials were used to such claims from those who had faked Ident data and even from Nobles who expected their titles to help cover their crimes.  The additional investigation seemed like it would add four more days to their stay in the Resten system under the courtesy of the Imperial Navy.  Still, their medical services crew were made available to help deal with the crew's wounds.  Eventually, as the crew were individually interrogated, the Lieutenant and his seniors realized the events Mikah had described on Skull were correct.  Sending a courier to the Skull base for more details, the cruiser's captain also apologized by having his engineers get the California jump-ready sooner.

He also had the California fueled with refined fuel from the cruiser's tanks.  In the remaining time aboard the cruiser, the crew were given better quarters and treated as guests.  Bhreker was also allowed to take orders from the cruiser crew, which he'd send to the Lunion facility.  That gave him some few orders from the 190 crew which would add up to Cr 1,462 in commissions.  As a result of the captain's actions, the crew were ready to jump out-system to Lunion on Saturday, 006-1113.  Terin began collecting his data, helped by the latest data from the cruiser's bridge crew.  As that happened, the cruiser's captain gave Mikah a document to hand to the next inspection team they met.

Spending the week treating the wounded, including herself, Mikah was glad the cruiser captain had also had his medics restock her med-bay and gift them some re-gen packs.  Mikah smiled as she recalled the medics asking about the "unmarked container of clear liquid" in her stocks.  When Mikah said that was "Vargr juice" and answered their questions and explained some events on Inthe, the senior medical officer asked for the recipe.  With that, he was impressed members of Mikah's crew had actually drank the stuff.

:
The Jump To Lunion
     After Emkir hit the switch, the ship slipped into jump space again.  As the crew relaxed, they looked up the Lunion system in their ship's library data.  Lunion was a nearly 9,000 mile diameter world with a cold and dense atmosphere tainted by industrial pollutants.  Just over 50% of the world's surface was covered in oceans or lakes.  The eight billion population were ruled by a civil bureaucracy which eventually reported to a council led by Luis Adorania Jestin, Duke of Lunion.  Of more concern, the library said the Duke was the second cousin of Sector Duchess Delphine and Brother in Law to Count Lord Admiral Santanocheev!

While the crew were well familiar with their status in the Grand Duchess' eyes, they'd never dealt with Admiral Santanocheev.  He had been the Imperial officer then Duke Norris had embarrassed and dismissed using the Imperial Warrant.  Many still claimed Norris simply took over the plans Admiral Santanocheev had worked to create and prepare before defeating the Zhodani in the Fifth Frontier War.  While the Admiral was Baron of the Fosey system and not likely to be in this system, that relationship with both Delphine and Santanocheev could prove to be trouble.  And the Fosey system was only three parsecs away.

Regardless of the dangers, Mikah had known they'd be required to pay their respects to the Duke.  So, they had plotted their jump to the main world orbit to start.  This new information would just make that visit more exciting.  Of more anticipation for Bhreker, he planned to visit the local Instel Arms.  Beyond their plans, the crew settled into the week of jump.  During that time, Mikah continued medical treatment.  With most of the crew relaxing, the only real work that was being done was the required engineering work.  Still, Bhreker canvassed the crew looking for a shopping list once they arrived in-system.  Soon enough, the ship emerged from jump.

:
Arriving In Lunion
     As the ship emerged from jump, they quickly received the first messages from the outer buoy ring of the Lunion system.  As expected, they received greetings, contact frequencies and flight directives from Lunion system control.  Once they got active contact with an outer controller for the Lunion system, they were given orders to assume a vector in-system.  Still recovering from the events of the Fifth Frontier War, the orders were not to be violated on threat of deadly force.

Respecting that order, Mikah had Emkir pilot them in-system, making course corrections as received.  Eventually, Emkir reported contact with the in-system controllers and acknowledged any ordered course corrections.  Finally, Emkir was challenged for the ship and crew particulars and reason for their visit?  Emkir shipped out the general data asked for and gave their "reason" as "being en route to the D'Ganzio and Lanth systems to deliver cargo."  Mikah had Emkir add that they would stop on-world to pay their respects to the Duke.

Accepting that, system control told Emkir to plot a course to coordinates where their ship would be met by a Customs cutter.  Done with that inspection, they would receive the frequencies to contact port control and request arrival permits and set up docking details.  Cruising further in-system, Mikah told Emkir they wanted to dock at the highport.  When Emkir pointed out they would have to travel down-well, Mikah said they could use the cutter.  Terin asked what else they'd be doing beyond meeting the Duke and Mikah said, "Nothing.  We're staying on the ship."

Munarshu asked for permission to visit the Scout base and Aali said that she, Munarshu and Terin needed to visit the Scout base.  When Aali said she also needed to find a cloning facility and be re-scanned, Mikah was reminded everyone on the crew who had a stent needed to be re-scanned.  Mikah asked if that could be done on the high-port and was told they needed to find the place.  Mikah was annoyed they could not all just stay on the ship and planned to burn the bridges she had to when they came up.

When the Lunion patrol cutter met them, there were many fewer bandages in sight and they caused less concern.  In addition, Mikah handed over the message the cruiser captain had given her in the Resten system.  The Lieutenant put the chip into his reader and his eyes went wide as he read the data.  Watching casually, the crew did their best not to snort or giggle.  After that, the inspection was significantly abbreviated.  Then, they were passed in-system as Emkir contacted the port controllers.

As ordered, Emkir asked for permission to dock on an outer mooring at the high port and was told the cost would be Cr 1,000 per week.  Emkir winced as they'd gotten internal secure berths in other systems for that much.  But Mikah OK'd it and he confirmed the reservation.  With that agreed, the port offered a "consumables and atmo" refresh for KCr 26 and Mikah accepted that too.  That left fuel to negotiate and Mikah said they'd discuss that later.  Done with the port, Mikah was free to send her compliments to the Duke's Seneschalate.  As she did that, Emkir guided them to the port.

After they'd docked, the crew again reviewed the abstract on the world.  The one outstanding fact they noticed, beyond what they already knew, was that the local laws were surprisingly lax for a world of such a large population.  Especially one with so high a level of technology.  Still, at the moment the crew wanted to kick back and relax, except the engineers.  Aali supervised the connection of umbilicals from the port as Munarshu joined the androids in engineering.  So, everyone relaxed until it was time to sleep.

:
Morning On A New World
     At 5am, Munarshu was up at his usual schedule and checking the progress the 'droids made over night.  By breakfast, he planned to have a report prepared for Aali as well as an abstract of the standard steps and Aali's preferred measures to be handled on day one out of jump.  At the time he was used to, Rol woke and did his personal workout before hitting the galley.  Aali also planned to wake early as did Mikah, because of the day's expected entertainment.  But the comms beat Mikah's alarm as she woke and answered.

When she was told the caller was from the Duke's Seneschalate, Mikah woke completely.  She identified herself and Mikah was told His Grace would be pleased to accept her greetings in his Court.  That meant the Duchy court on Lunion Prime.  Mikah was given the details and was welcomed to the Lunion system on behalf of the Duke by the Seneschalate worker.  After he woke, Bhreker got on a terminal and connected to Instel Arms to transmit his orders on behalf of the crew, and his expected sales reports.  With those acknowledged, Bhreker got an alert that he needed to personally visit the local sales office.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

    Having moored to the high port, the crew are waking up for their first day in the Lunion system.

    Mikah: Awake after getting a call from Duke Luis' Seneschal
    Munarshu: Working in engineering
    Terin: Asleep in his stateroom
    Aali: Going through her morning routine
    Emkir: Asleep in his stateroom
    Fesic: Asleep in his stateroom
    Rol: Cooking in the galley
    Zimzod: Awake in his stateroom
    Bhreker Kraiowa: Connecting with Instel Arms in his stateroom
    Aiden's Clone: 3 weeks into the cloning process ( 15 to go)

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Next: Having A Blast In Lunion