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Last Updated    October 12 2017
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Valor And Discretion

Flight And Fantasy

Lunion Capital      Aboard the Stellar Scimitar, acting Captain Fesic Anfertirkåsmokt was quickly reviewing his situation.  Ironically pursued by a 200 dTon Sword Worlds raider in the captured wreck that was the Stellar Scimitar, Emkir told Fesic the math was against them.  Appearing as Sword Worlders themselves, the smaller ship would catch them before help could arrive.  Increasing the tension, the Scimitar's weapons had been disabled and the parts needed to re-activate them were not aboard the ship.  And, as they drove in-system, they both appeared to be raiders, so those not ordered to rescue them specifically might assume they were hostiles to be fired on.  As Emkir burned full-out, the rest of the crew were searching for parts which could be used to jury-rig the weapons, under Fesic's last orders.

Since the raider would bring them under fire and intercept them before they could receive help, Fesic was doing other math.  Mikah, who had placed Fesic in charge, watched from not far away on the scarred and stripped deck of the ship's bridge.  When Emkir looked to her and suggested they play dead, Mikah ignored the fact they had already showed too many signs of life and reminded the Admiral that Fesic was in command.  Fesic surprised both of them by announcing he had a plan!  Emkir happily said, "Good!  We need a plan" as Mikah waited to hear what the gunner had come up with?  Before he explained what he had in mind, Fesic confirmed with Emkir they had roughly an hour before they would be under the guns of the raider?  Emkir checked and confirmed his estimate.

With that, Fesic activated the all ship and told everyone he had a plan.  He then ordered Emkir to maintain full acceleration until they expected to be taken under fire by the raider.  At that point, Fesic said he would order everyone to strap down in the aft section of the ship.  Guessing at Fesic's motives, Emkir asked, "Are we gonna ram them Captain?"  When Fesic said, "Yes", Emkir gushed, "Cool!"  Picking up his comments again, Fesic said, "I am going to call to them before we are in firing range and ask to negotiate.  And as part of that, depending on his response, I'm going to say 'We're going to come to a stop now since we can't escape you' and we will do that.  And I will negotiate with them.  And I have to see what they're going to say about that.  But this is to get us into position to get our nose towards them.  And then, we will, when we have a chance, ram them.

Munarshu pinged in from his search and confirmed the vector the raiders had on them, and was told they were in line on largely matching vectors with the raider closing on better maneuver power.  Both ships were burning in-system and would tangent the main world's orbit if not intercepted.  Terin chimed in next, asking about the response from in-system support.  He was told they were burning into heavier defended space in-system, but looked like two Sword World ships to those not told otherwise.  Especially outside the "exercise zone".  Then Rol asked what speed Fesic expected to ram the enemy at?  Fesic answered very low, which made it clear he didn't really have an understanding of the encounter he was planning.

When Rol started speaking, Fesic interrupted him saying, "We are coming to a stop, meaning..." Rol asked, "And do you think they're coming to a stop?"  Fesic said, "I'm hoping that they will negotiate with me and come to a stop."  Rol asked, "Have you ever known a Sword World raider to negotiate with a target?"  Fesic said, "In this case, I think we can convince them to do it."  Rol nodded saying, "OK, let's say you're right.  Now you're going to fire up your main engines and try to ram.  What's your rate of acceleration on that?"  Fesic answered him, ignoring the fact that the raider would be ready to open fire at any provocation.  So, as he tried to activate the Scimitar's engines, they would slam the ship with fire, something Rol missed as he wasn't trained in ship to ship tactics, but which Fesic should have known.

Thinking along alternate lines, Aali asked if they could use the grav plates of the Scimitar's passages?  This meant she was considering allowing the enemy to board the Scimitar, to use internal systems to fight them as they didn't have lethal weapons.  She was reminded they could only control All the tiles "as needed" from the bridge or engineering, which would be targeted by fire as they were intercepted.  So, she'd have to set up stations to control floor tiles manually and have combat defenders supporting her as she would come under fire.  Also, the trick might only catch one raider, who might have the skills to quickly escape the trap as other raiders opened fire.  And setting up such stations would have to be based on their guesses where the enemy would board, and that would have to be done "Now".  Because it would be too late to act if they waited until they needed it to work.

Firmly, Fesic told Aali that his plan was to try to negotiate with the raiders while everyone strapped down in the aft section of the Scimitar.  I am going to try and get them to not fire on us, slow down to a stop and negotiate with them.  As we are negotiating, I would like to find an opportunity to ram their ship with our ship."  When Fesic followed that up with orders that everyone should suspend any searches they were doing and head to the aft sections of the ship to strap in, those spacers who were ship to ship combat veterans knew this section would be heavily targeted by enemy guns and missiles, along with the ship's bridge.

When Rol suggested the middle of the ship instead of the aft compartments, Zimzod reminded them all the "very open" central spaces of the ship would likely become collapse zones in a collision.  So he recommended searching for survival spaces that would be out of fire zones and not in the ship's central open compartments.  As others spoke up for allowing the enemy to board and ambushing them, Fesic said he believed that they could surprise the raider and ram them, using their greater mass to do more damage than they'd take in the collision.  When Fesic had said his piece, Rol asked "But have you considered other possibilities?"  When Fesic asked "what other possibilities", Rol said, "Well, we could not fight them at all."

A Change Of Directions

     When Fesic made it clear they weren't escaping the raider, Rol made his play.  Rol said, "They're chasing us in our ship, which is boosting at maximum.  Correct?"  When Fesic agreed, Rol continued, "So, they're chasing our ship.  They're not chasing us, they're chasing our ship.  We can bail out and let the ship keep on going.  With the kind of delay they had in chasing us and the distance we have, we should be able to get far enough off the ship's track that we shouldn't show up on their sensors if they're not looking for us.  We can let them chase the ship while we go dark and eventually light up a beacon and hope we get picked up.  That's one option."

Having the floor now, Rol continued, "The second option is, we don't try and ram.  We let them board us.  And then, we fight them here, where we can get at them.  That's a second option."  Fesic protested, "Well, that relies on them not shooting us up" while ignoring that his plan also relied not only on the raiders not firing on them but being willing to stop and talk.  Not a very realistic expectation when dealing with raiders already in hostile space.  As Rol defended his position, he pointed out that raiders looking for plunder wouldn't want to slag the entire ship.  He pointed out that this gave them an advantage, because they could choose likely safe places to survive any ship to ship fire and ambush the raiders who boarded.  Rol put it to Fesic that they either had to fight the raiders or not.  And he said, "If we don't fight them, we have to get off the ship."

Terin chimed in, and suggested they set the ship's computer to use all its thrust to force a turn and then abandon ship by jumping in the opposite direction.  He also pointed out that they could plot a course which tried to use Lunion's gravity to sling shot them out-system faster.  He said that would be the only logical reason the raider Captain would see why another raider would actually turn in-system in the first place, as they had.  Seeing a logical plan for possible escape, the raider Captain would be more convinced they were fleeing and hoped to escape somehow.  Aali asked how visible they would be to the raider's sensors if they bailed and was told that, at the current encounter range, the raiders would have to specifically be looking for people bailing out in order to see it.

That made Aali more comfortable with the evacuation than with either of the ideas to fight or ram.  Mikah pointed out that Navy ships were already responding, so the odds they'd be found with a beacon active would be high.  Terin regretted they didn't have naval codes, or a way to beam a message to the Navy the raider couldn't see.  Then, they could have told them the crew had bailed.  The others started discussing the longevity of the air tanks in the vacc suits of everyone on-board, with an eye to how long it would take to get picked up by naval rescue?  Most of the crew had PLS systems which would keep them alive for 48 hours.  But the Baroness and her people had suits which would only last ten hours.  Longer for those who were out cold, and would have to be stuffed into their suits.

Preparing To Bail Out

     As the others began warming to the idea of abandoning the ship, Rol suggested the engineers could scrounge some gas bottles and jury-rig spare oxygen tanks, to extend life support for those who needed it.  There were also buddy connectors on most of the more advanced systems, allowing one PLS to be connected to more than one vacc suit in an emergency.  At the same time, those trained in flight worked with the sensors to plot out the known trajectories and guess when they might be in the range of rescue?  This was very uncertain, because they couldn't see all those reacting and responding, and wouldn't be able to tell how the situation changed when their ship acted on its programming and changed course?

Talking options, the question was asked if there would be any way to rig the ship's engines to explode when a ship got close?  That was directed to the engineers, who said that the engines, and the ship, were largely lumps of metals, crystals and plastic which wouldn't explode.  To do that one needed something to fuel the explosion.  Aali did realize they could muck with the environmental systems to flood the ship with hydrogen and oxygen.  Then, she could also rig a "trigger wire".  When asked to explain, she said she could strip a wire-section and grind it down.  Thinner, it wouldn't be able to carry the current the rest of the circuit could.  So the section would heat up as power was supplied to that wire, by say a sensors signal.  That wouldn't detonate the ship, but it would ignite the internal atmosphere.  So they would have to lure the enemy aboard the Scimitar.

After she said that, the plan changed.  Aali said she could set up the "bare wire trap" to activate due to any significant drop in the ship's internal pressure.  Like if another ship docked with the Scimitar and opened the airlock after they had slightly over-pressurized the Scimitar's atmo.  Terin said the raiders could miss the ship and an Imperial ship could be the first to get close.  But there wasn't much they could do about that.  So Fesic gave the OK to set the trap up.  Despite that, Aali said there were other variables they couldn't control.  If the raiders opened fire and a weapons hit punctured the hull, there would be a jet of flame as the ignited HydrOx atmo of the ship vented through the hole.  It wouldn't be very impressive as well as not killing any of the enemy crew.  Aali did say it would make the search for anyone aboard harder, and keep any borders busy though.

The last holdout on the plan to "burn the interior of the Scimitar" was Emkir, who wondered if the raider was just another team of troubleshooters the Duke set up as an additional surprise?  But, in the end, they had to get the Baroness and Lord off the ship, so they had to do what was needed and take the risk.  With the plan adopted, they took ten minutes to prepare before abandoning the ship.  The engineers handled making two spare oxy-bottles as well as the internal barbecue trap.  Fesic set a few time-delayed messages to be sent by the ship, to taunt their "pursuers" and keep them chasing the ship.  At the same time, this was critical because they would have to maintain radio silence drifting in space until they could guess, based on the plotting, that the enemy were far enough away.  And when they lit their beacons and started calling for help, they had to hope rescue could turn and track them before the raiders could.  So a lot of this was guess work.  Especially when it turned out Lord Shaagmu and his wife had only 10-hour PLS systems.

Divergent Pathways And Sudden Bright Lights

     After ten minutes' preparation, the work on the Scimitar was done.  The Baroness and Lord Shaagmu's wife worked with some of the crew to get Lord Shaagmu and the other unconscious crew from the Baroness' yacht into vacc suits.  Finally, they were all tethered together in a daisy chain and had moved to the cargo bay, which was the only air lock large enough for the entire party to exit as one.  Having made last checks, the team left behind any last regrets as they leapt out into space.

On the bridge, the flight team members had done their best to plot a trajectory for their new flight path, but it became clear they wouldn't get much in the way of velocity, so they would eventually drift along a line the Scimitar would have traveled, with only a slight deviation.  At the same time, shortly after they jumped, the team watched as the vessel's maneuvering thruster fired and the ship began moving to a new trajectory away from their vector.  Despite the lack of obstructions, the distance soon became enough that details of the ship's maneuvers couldn't be seen.  And slowly, the vessel became just another point of light in the velvet black.

They drifted for nearly fifteen minutes, observing radio silence, before they heard Fesic's voice as one of the pre-recorded messages was broadcast by the Scimitar's computer and comms systems.  In a clear and menacing voice, Fesic snarled, "Red dwarf to black sun.  Commence Corbanite Sequence!"  Soon after, those who could tried to orient themselves to look for the raider in its nearest pass to their drift.  Because the time estimate had been worked out and shared with the entire crew, and because they had a tether to use for self-control, they all managed to see a very bright star moving through space.  Those who could understand what they were seeing also managed to turn off their comms before cheering when they saw the raiders had fallen for the trick and were chasing the Scimitar.

Knowing that had worked, the crew watched their chrons, knowing they still had to keep radio silence.  At least, until they calculated the raiders would have caught up to and engaged the Scimitar.  Only then could they hope the coast was clear enough to call for rescue.  Nearly ten minutes into that wait, the team heard another broadcast from the ship, in which Fesic suggested the parents of the raider crew were a mix of Zhodani and Hiver.  After that, the drift was quiet and peaceful as they watched time burn down.  Nearing the time when they might have expected the raiders to engage their ship, most of the crew managed to see some kind of flashing in the distant sky.  Only Munarshu and Emkir were looking in the wrong place and missed what little there was of the show.

Satisfied that the enemy swallowed the trick hook, line and sinker, the crew drifted along until the agreed on a time when they would break radio-silence.  That point was an hour forty-five minutes after they'd bailed out originally.  And nearly an hour after they established the "intercept" had happened.  When it time past that, Mikah and Zimzod lit up their radio beacons and did a quick team status check.  Almost as soon as that check was done, the team suddenly received a loudly broadcast radio challenge to identify themselves!  The strength of the signal suggested that the challenging ship was almost on top of them, and the surprised and hard tone suggested the crew of the calling ship were taken completely by surprise.

Replying, Fesic said, "We are the escort for Baroness Dame Simlia Aamkhiish and Lord Shaagmu's party.  We had to bail out of the Scimitar in order to escape the raiders."  After some time, the ship confirmed their data and identified themselves as the Imperial Naval Fast Shuttle Askvig Voight.  After a number of other checks, the commander of the shuttle told the team it would take another ninety minutes for them to slow down and turn back to make a pick up.  They had been on a trajectory to reach the point where it was believed the raiders had engaged the Scimitar, and had only just started to reduce speed to join any engagement going on in that region of space.  Comfortable they would be rescued, the team relaxed and waited until the shuttle returned and maneuvered to pick them up.

Hitching A Ride

When they were close enough, the crew saw this was indeed a small ship, which didn't even have a gun turret.  The three weapons the ship did have were hard-mounted out the vessel's nose, and they would find the ship had little more than limited cargo and passenger fittings boldted to a manuver-6 engine.  The airlock was opened and the team helped to board and load the still unconscious forms of Lord Shaagmu and the Baroness' yacht crew.  Then, the shuttle buttoned up and started to burn for Lunion-prime.  Early reports of the recovery were confirmed, and the Lieutenant commanding the shuttle made them as comfortable as possible in the shuttle's bay area while breaking out what medical supplies they had aboard.

Things started to settle down while the Lieutenant explained that all Imperial Naval vessels had been alerted as soon as the Scimitar's distress call was raised.  Not being armed for ship to ship combat, the Lieutenant admitted he had asked to be released from the orders but was told his ship's speed made them a primary response vessel.  The orders also made it clear the crew of the Scimitar needed to be recovered alive and returned to the Duke's court.  So, they were going to be landing on the Duke's personal spaceport, where the officer and his crew could look forward to minor decorations for their involuntary actions.

Secured from their recovery, it took three hours for the Voight to return to Lunion orbit.  During that flight, they relaxed and were made as comfortable as possible.  When they were told the ship would land at the Duke's personal port, Emkir said they'd finally learn if the raider ship was a second double blind.  Rol asked, "Don't you mean double cross?" and the crew laughed.  When Terin asked the shuttle crew for information on what had happened with the raider, they were told the raider had pursued the Scimitar.  The sensors indicated the raider had opened fire as soon as it possibly could.  Reports from the field suggested there had been some spectacular fireworks and what was left of the Scimitar was adrift on a radical vector.

As of the moment, the Navy were working to try and react to the hulk, since it would make an uncontrolled reentry over Lunion Prime otherwise.  The Lieutenant commanding the shuttle suggested things looked a bit grim.  After a pause to consider that news, they were told the raider wasn't going home either.  When the call had been raised to organize a defense of the inner system, armed merchanters were ordered into service and surprised the raider.  Having plotted a course to avoid the identifiable naval clusters, the raider came under the massed, if amateur, fire of the merchanters.  The raider's death knell were the larger and more heavily armed armored merchant cruisers which had moved into the region during the Fifth Frontier war, and remained to carry cargo and run routes.

Pummeled by fire, the raider was now drifting without power and the Imperial Navy were rushing troop carriers to the hulk.  Orders had been published to stand clear of the wreck and let combat trained marines make all investigations.  This didn't stop merchant Captains from running down debris in hopes a cargo canister or two had been blown clear of the raider.  The Duke had ordered that anyone tracked too close to the hulk would be arrested and tried.  Also, the merchants who had fired were being awarded the bounty on the raiders.  The crew were told they would not get a share since they only played the bait.  Again, Rol provided color commentary as he said he could do without the bounty in this case.  Others in the crew agreed and they enjoyed their success in keeping the Baroness and her people alive.

Traveling back to Lunion, the crew and Baroness were allowed to ask any questions about events.  The shuttle had comms priority over every other ship since they'd caught the prize.  When Fesic asked about the Baroness' yacht, they said sensor records indicated the raider had simply blown past the ship in pursuit of the Scimitar.  So the Duke and local Admirals had declared her a secure zone and dispatched another fast shuttle with a recovery crew to retrieve her.  That meant the Baroness and her people would get all her possessions back after all.  When all was said and done, the Baroness was not out a ship while it remained to be seen if the Duke could trade one wreck for another?

The "raider" had actually been a modified Far Trader class ship which had given up cargo space for jump engines, better maneuver capabilities and more fuel.  She still had some cargo space, but it was only of value if the cargo came free, which meant stolen.  When Munarshu realized the ship had likely used all her jump fuel getting to the system, he asked the Lieutenant if he had any idea how they planned to escape?  The officer said, raiders to the system would conduct "hit n run" operations on the edge of the system based on his observation.  They would hope to avoid a military response until they'd raided enough ships to not only loot cargo and valuables but also pump fuel off their victims.  In that way, drifting in and out of the system and running on very low power, they could re-fill their tanks and jump home full of loot.

Hearing that, Terin said, "So, they're really stupid pirates", and got a laugh from everyone.  The Lieutenant simply agreed their plan had not been as thought out as it might have been.  This dissolved into commentary about their decisions as Terin congratulated Emkir on pushing the plan to bail out.  Rol did say they could have fought aboard the Scimitar, but his tone didn't offer any enthusiasm for the idea in 20-20 hindsight.  Fesic agreed that he preferred those solutions where he could cause plenty of damage.  Rol said he liked it when he could cause damage, using his tone to suggest the costs if they'd tried to do so in this case.  Rol also said he didn't like ending up being the person who was lying there bleeding while others were shooting.  He did make it clear he'd worked up plans to fight if they'd decided to do that too.

The crew of the shuttle were quiet as this conversation turned to the tactics they could have used to fight the raiders in a boarding action.  Ideas such as improvised bombs and sharpened metal spikes were floated, along with more twisted ideas.  Still, the crew were happy they'd come through the incident unhurt.  None of the fight scenarios were risk-free, and the odds they could have won out were not possible to work out in retrospect, because there were too many options and variables.  Zimzod pointed out the most successful pirates used good sensors, heavy armor and very good planning to succeed.  They struck where their prey was alone, unprepared for combat and so completely surprised that they simply surrendered.  Then the raiders pumped out their fuel and looted the ship before fleeing.

Before leaving their target drifting, they'd disable all the ship's comms gear and be hidden before any system defenders knew they were there.  So, a successful raider might hit two or three targets, refuel and leave before being detected.  Another tactic used would be to fill up with loot and then jump to the far side of the system, arriving as if the ship were just another merchanter coming to sell cargo.  Of course, that meant they had to change the cargo seals on anything stolen so they wouldn't be caught up by the customs data.  That also usually required the crew to change their transponder codes, in case someone managed to capture that data during their raiding.

Rest, Relaxation And Vexation

     Finally, as the crew relaxed and recovered, the Voight made the transit to Lunion and re-entry.  Those who had grabbed some time to sleep were woken up and prepared to disembark into the hands of the Duke's people.  The Baroness had called ahead to make sure some of her own people would be on hand to care for their Liege Lady and her people.  Making their landing, the port was lit up brighter than a nova star as everyone seemed to be working.  When the ship was down, settled and the locks opened, the shuttle was entered by a no-nonsense senior Naval Captain followed by a team of medical support techs.  He visually accessed the condition of those aboard and ordered the techs to do basic medical check-ups of all the people the shuttle had rescued.  They also began more significant work on Lord Shaagmu and the other unconscious men.

After the techs checking her out said Mikah was unharmed and able, she was handed a comms.  As this happened, she was told, "This is the Duke calling.  He'd like to talk to you."  Sighing and reassuming command in fear of what Fesic might do or say if the Duke were told he was in command, Mikah greeted Duke Luis.  Saying, "Yes, Your Grace", Mikah listened as the Duke said he was very gratified the entire team took no casualties.  This obviously included the Baroness' people as well as Lord Shaagmu's.  He also joked he was somewhat astonished at the success and told her she and her crew would have to join him for dinner the next day to explain how they managed to escape so well?

Hiding her sigh well, Mikah was beginning to understand even more Zimzod's comment about hob-nobbing with the goober smoochers.  Ever gracious, the Duke promised them the day off to recover, sleep and relax.  So, they had that day and much of the next free until dinner.  He also said he had ordered rooms to be prepared for the crew in the Duke's palace, where they could sleep and relax under the service of his staff.  Beyond that, he wanted her to know how pleased he was and wanted his pleasure and congratulations spread to her crew.  Mikah said "yeah" when the Duke said their reputation was obviously well deserved.  Done on the comms, Mikah told the others they would be having dinner with the Duke the next day in a tone that showed exactly how happy she was about the situation.  Rol got giggles with the one off, "Roughing it again?"

After they were done with the medics and the Duke's man told them he was there to get them to the palace, Mikah ordered everyone to get some rest before they'd send a team to the ship to get any gear they needed to look pretty for the dinner.  In the transport, Zimzod said that anyone without a fancy suit was gonna have to go shopping.  That was received quietly as everyone was up for a nap, and some of the crew promptly caught one on the way to the palace.  Before that, attention turned on Fesic and Munarshu because of the suit question.  Munarshu quickly protested that he had a suit.  When Emkir joked, "Not the paper one", he got huge laughs.  But Munarshu pointed out he had the Vilani-style suit he met Duke Leonard in.  So Mikah said he was good.

They were also thankful the trip started off completely media-free and the only reporters and photographers present at the palace seemed to cover that as their regular beat.  So it didn't seem there would be a media circus in this system, like they'd faced on Rhylanor.  After the clothing conversation, some of the crew had actually grabbed a nap and were woken when the transport arrived.  Getting to the palace, they were introduced to the House Master, and those servants who would be serving them before being led to their "rooms".  Something of a mis-statement, the "rooms" were each a suite, affording each crew member(or couple) a sitting room, bedroom, walk in closet, bathroom and "bathing room" which kept the tubs and showers separate from the commode.  In fact, to those not used to it, the beds seemed larger than an entire stateroom aboard the California.

While Emkir had the idea to make Aali squeal like she had when she was fired from the gravCannon, the others needed sleep.  Zimzod and Mikah were disappointed there were no gravity controls in the suite.  Still, except for the Admiral and his wife, the crew all planned to get the full eight hours of sleep.  Especially since they didn't know when this chance would come again?  As Mikah prepared to hit the sheets, she joked that Munarshu had to be upset he didn't bring his blow-up doll with him.  Still, sleep came quickly to all once they surrendered to it, and they eventually woke to dress and find a late lunch laid out for them.  The food wasn't just fresh, but readily replaced to keep it that way until the crew were ready.  Compared to the issues with food supply in Rhylanor, this was an amazing show of wealth.

Emkir was captivated by the roast beef and carving tools, left available and ready for the crew to cut their own servings.  From an impoverished water-world, this was the height of rare meat.  Mikah saw the utensils and snarked, "Oh yeah.  Now they trust us with real knives", which got many laughs from the others given the fake weapons they'd taken with them on the mission.  At first, they joked and Terin asked Munarshu about sleeping under the bed in his room, where he'd be more comfortable.  That died down as the Baroness and Lord joined them.  Having had breakfast, Lord Shaagmu showed every sign of being extremely well rested, which surprised no one.  He'd also clearly been awake for some time, and had been carrying out some of his arrival duties.  They were told the Baroness' yacht crew had been boarded onto a ship to aid in the recovery of the yacht.

It became clear, at the meal, that Lord Shaagmu had spent some time waiting for his wife to wake up, and they were last to arrive at the meal.  This was because, as they learned, she spent some time explaining the events of his being tranq'd, and then their escape from the raider.  It also became very clear the Lord had never been, and never wanted to be, out in open space in just a vacc suit.  Lord Shaagmu was very glad to have been out cold, but was also very thankful to the crew for their actions.  When he asked who had shot him, Zimzod spoke up and the Lord thanked him heartily for keeping him asleep during the EVA.  With a number of snarks in his mind, Zimzod just took the thanks gracefully as the others tried their best not to laugh.  Terin stepped up to the Lord and said he was also glad to have been of service as they shook hands.

At the same time, the Baroness remained reserved during the meal but made it clear she was quite pleased with how qualified the crew turned out to be.  There was also less conversation as those around the table tucked into the food.  When conversation did become important, Mikah made it clear they had to return to the port and get supplies so they could look pretty for the planned dinner the next night.  Talking about that, Fesic said he could go shopping while they were grabbing gear from the ship.  After that was decided, Mikah went in search of the House Master, to ask who she needed to talk to in order to return to the ship?  But the House Master would hear none of that, saying the Duke's house would provide for their needs.

Getting A Makeover

     Mikah was caught by surprised and asked what that meant?  The House Master said they should relax while he queried the Seneschal and then had some clothing designers and other suppliers come to the palace.  Then, they would be able to look over the offerings and have outfits made to suit.  Mikah was very pleased with that, and returned to tell her crew the good news.  From that point, the crew relaxed and discussed some shopping of their own.  When the Duke's servants suggested they couldn't shop in shipsuits, they asked why?  They were told it would not reflect well for his Grace's honored guests to be out in just ship suits while staying in his house.  But soon enough, a group of clothiers arrived with their gear and staff to begin giving holographic slide shows of their offerings and styles.

The crew were impressed as some of the teams even brought their own fabricators, which could eat fabric and print entire "model outfits."  Those would then be taken back to the shops, disassembled and used to make final suits.  They also brought some bolts of fine fabrics to make final suits on the spot.  Breaking into teams and circulating from crew member to crew member, they offered their services to each.  Zimzod ordered a fashionable Vilani-style suit, based off a marine uniform cut.  He also asked for the fabric to be cranberry-colored, which was close to the maroon of the Imperial Marine Corps.  He was also gifted a service .45 and belt holster.  Munarshu ordered a teal colored Vilani Formal suit.  Terin got a dark green and maroon, Darrian-styled suit.  He also got a gauss pistol and dress sword.

Mikah asked for a lavender form-fitting tea-length dress with sparkling properties.  For a side arm, she got a snub pistol and under-arm holster styled to match the outfit.  Fesic asked for something simple, stylish yet elegant and largely Solomani, based on his guesses given Duke Luis' name.  Rol asked for a suit along the lines of the one Zimzod was ordering, only with more of a Vilani cut and less of a military look.  For a color, he asked for dark blue instead of the cranberry-color. For a side arm, Rol asked for a snub pistol.  Emkir asked for a silver-grey Vilani suit.  More exotically, he asked them to bleach his hair to match Aali's, which got some comments and jokes from the others.

For weapons, Emkir asked for a replica of a decorated Terran Cavalry cutlass and scabbard.  That caused a pause, as the gathered teams looked through their historic patterns to find a cutlass that matched Emkir's understanding of the historic weapon.  Once found, they said they could make one.  Aali asked for a gown which matched Emkir's requested suit.  For a side arm, she requested a snub pistol.  When Emkir was satisfied, they led him to get his hair done, an hour's process, and said they would return before dinner-time.  As they left, they said they were tasked with creating a "casual version" of the same outfits for the crew, for acceptable clothes to wear that day.  After that, the rest of the crew relaxed while Emkir had his hair done.  While this happened, they were told the weapons and ammunition would be delivered by a third party merchant shortly.

A Surprise In Thirty Minutes Or Less

     As he had since the crew of the Hotel California left for their mission, Bhreker had reported to work at the station-side InstellArms facility.  Larger than the dirt-side venue, the bigger and badder stuff was maintained in warehouses there to discourage thoughts of raiding the place for equipment to commit crimes with on-world.  He was working odd jobs when a high priority order came in from the Duke's planet-side palace.  With his recent experience dealing with nobility, the venue manager grabbed Bhreker, to join his "delivery team".  Still, Bhreker was given few details other than that they would be delivering a weapons order to the Duke.  His first thought was to wonder if the Duke needed clean weapons to execute the Hotel California crew with after some significant failure?

When all the gear had been gathered, Bhreker could only tell the order consisted of a number of small arms and long blades.  The hand weapons numbered almost twice the number of crew from the California, and were divided into two lots.  The blades numbered significantly fewer than the crew, and were also divided into two lots.  Also, one lot were boxed much more ornately than the others, which were less ornate but still cased elegantly in polished wooden boxes.  It was certainly curious, but he assumed Dukes were just a more aberrant version of Nobility than what he'd become used to.  At the same time Bhreker was preparing for his role, and the stock staff were organizing the order, a transport section crew were preparing a fast shuttle to burn down-well.

After the required staff boarded the shuttle and strapped in, Bhreker got another surprise when the pilot made a spectacular re-entry and burned not for a standard landing field, but to a very restricted military field very close to the Duke's palace itself!  During the descent, Bhreker was told they would meet with the Duke's Head of Household.  That person would direct them on the delivery.  As they moved the packages and were greeted by members of the Duke's staff, Bhreker saw his superior working with a senior man in the group from the palace.  Eventually, the Head of House arrived and began to give orders.  The lesser packaged of the items were to be delivered into the hands of the household labor, to be held until needed.  The more elaborately packaged items were to be delivered to honored guests visiting the Duke.

Having heard the news, Bhreker assumed those would be the nobility gathering to meet with the arriving Baronet-candidates for the Sharrip system.  Bhreker assumed these would be people of County rank and below.  Given his experience with nobility, Bhreker was told to handle that delivery as the senior man in the team worked out the details and payment with the Duke's Head of House.  So it was that Bhreker assembled the team of handlers and followed a servant of the Duke to a room in the palace.  On the way, his team passed a number of other tradesfolk and servants who seemed to have completed another delivery.  In passing, the leaving staff looked like clothiers and fashion workers.

Finally "in the presence", Bhreker got a sudden surprise when he saw the crew of the Hotel California, dressed in newly made finery and being told their side arms had arrived!  The ultimate twist was added when Bhreker had to make the presentations to those who were his own hired transport crew in ceremonial fashion.  As this progressed, Bhreker noted there had been no weapons ordered for Fesic Anfertirkåsmokt or Munarshu Sidigur.  Eventually, Bhreker was greeted by the crew and Mikah told the Duke's staff he had been their passenger, and should be welcomed as one of them.  This led to the even more shocking decision, to assign Bhreker a suite of his own and move him into the palace as well!  Following that, the weapons were delivered, with each fire arm accompanied by two filled clips of ball or Tranq ammo.

Taking In And Shooting Out

     By the time the delivery was made, and as Bhreker supervised the movement of his gear and closing down of his rental, the crew found they were free to do as they pleased until dinner the next day.  And, with the ability to enjoy all but the restricted spaces of the palace, the Duke had also given them access to his motorpool.  So, they wondered what to do?  Zimzod said they'd already done the Lunion Spire but Mikah realized Munarshu missed it, and was eager for him to try the cannon.  Rol also recommended it, though he also said, again, he preferred to inspect the gear beforehand.

Emkir suggested Munarshu change into his 'paper jeans', referring to the paper prisoner's uniform the Equus authorities had him in when returned to the ship.  When Munarshu asked what he should wear, Aali said, "Well, it depends."  Her comment, while accurate, was also too close to depends adult undergarments not to get huge laughs from the entire crew.  Emkir told Munarshu a number of those they watched had soiled themselves during the experience.  Still, Munarshu had his new day version of the suit which had been made for him or the suit itself.  So he had few options if they went to the spire.  And he did want to try the cannon.  Especially since he'd just received a KCr 20 payday and was the guest of a Duke.

When Munarshu was in, Terin was too, having missed the field trip the first time the Knights had done it.  Fesic said he wanted to try it and Aali wanted to do it again, having had so much fun the first two times she'd done it.  Rol said he was in too, but wanted permission to examine the gear first.  Emkir also jumped into the team, wanting to try what Aali had enjoyed so much.  And after that was decided, they called the house support-line and had a gravCar set up to get them to the spire.  Landing on a grav-pad on the spire, they all had to pay the Cr 25 fee.  At the top of the spire, the management checked Sir Rol's credentials before giving him access to their equipment.  Done checking the devices out, Rol approved they were completely safe.

Then, it was Munarshu's turn to step in and gear up.  When he was ready to go, the last thing he heard before they fired the cannon was Rol.  The Knight said to him, "Remember when I said this was safe?  I lied."  Then, the cannon fired and Munarshu was off!  At first, like anyone else, Munarshu's heart was in his throat.  But that was half surprise and half acceleration.  In the end, it was "a thrill" for him, but one he got over.  He was quickly pulled back from the edge of "Oh Shit!" to finding the ride interesting.  When Munarshu was done, it was Terin's turn, and the thrill was all there for him, so Terin enjoyed the ride.  Below him, the crew heard him let out a loud and sustained, "Yeaaahhhhh!!!" as he flew.  When Fesic was shot, his scream was more of an "Ooohhh Shiiittt!!!" caused a lot of laughs from the others.  At least, he didn't piss himself as he got a missile's perspective of ship to ship combat.

Rol stepped up next, much happier with the ride after a chance to inspect the gear.  The truth was that he knew it was safe despite what he said to Munarshu.  And, he was able to relax completely and enjoy the ride, which was obvious to those who heard the joy in his roar as he was launched.  The reactions of those before him made Emkir much more comfortable stepping up.  When the cannon fired him upward, Emkir was able to fully embrace the thrill and become one with it.  While his squeals were nothing to match Aali's, none of the crew enjoyed the ride as much as Emkir, with the exception of Rol.  His ride was a brief return to the adventures of old.  Of course, the missions of old sometimes started with a full orbital drop instead of this small thing.

When Emkir was down, he couldn't get stripped of the gear fast enough to share the thrill with Aali, calling out, "I know what you mean now, baby!  Higher and wider!!"  After the laughs as they peeled Emkir off his high, Aali strapped in for her ride, which was a bit disappointing.  Having enjoyed the ride twice before, the new jolt was just not up to the memory of first thrills.  Overwhelmed by her anticipation, the new cannon shot even managed to drag down the memories she had of the first two.  Still, she wasn't sorry she'd done it but started to see spending more cash on the ride wouldn't be worth it.  It was "OK".  Of course, because they all rode.  Mikah looked forward to being able to hire new crew while also suing the venue for significant values of funds.  So she was disappointed when certain members of the crew survived their rides undamaged.

After the rides, they talked about dinner and Terin complained about the possible cost.  Mikah suggested there might be an Astroburgers in the building's lobby.  Terin said that was fine with him, and planned to eat separately if the rest of the crew decided on the expensive option.  As they talked and relaxed, trying to decide what to do, some of the crew noticed news flashes to their mobile devices.  In one small note, it was mentioned there had been a raider attack on merchant shipping, but the note was minimal.  The media link assured the public the issue had been dealt with.  The Imperial Navy, with the aid of the Duke's Own Defenders, were taking steps to recover the surviving raiders from their disabled and quarantined vessel.  Anyone attempting to dig into the story were satisfied there was no mention of any target vessel, or of the crew's involvement.

While most of the crew went to dine at the spire-top restaurant, Terin did as he'd said and went looking for an Astroburgers or other fast food place.  Terin eventually spent Cr 18 on his dinner at a 'Beef n stew' place while the others enjoyed the views from the spire-top.  After dinner, Terin wanted to hit a museum.  Looking at the options, he was thinking when Mikah said she wanted to go to a Natural History museum, to learn more about Lunion.  Terin said he could do that and Zimzod said he'd go with Mikah.  They did that while Munarshu chose to see a musical comedy stage show.  Emkir, Aali and Rol joined him, interested in seeing what the local stages had to offer.  Including taxi and admittance, Mikah's team paid Cr 15 each.  Those who went with Munarshu paid Cr 60.

Rather than join the others, Fesic chose to find a bar and relax.  When he said as much, Emkir was torn between options until Mikah said, "No bars for you!"  Other jokes were made about how, at the theater, the seats would be bolted down to the auditorium floor.  Emkir accepted his orders from both Mikah and Aali, and the crew split up.  Fesic wandered at several bars, and managed to spend Cr 80 before he returned to his suite.  Because they could enter on their own, the various groups returned on their own and didn't see each other until the next morning.  Back in his suite, Munarshu luxuriated in all the space and the size of the bed.  It strained his sense of restraint that his suite was as large as an entire X-Boat!

Paying The Rent In Trade

     When each of the crew woke the next morning, they found a second "day version" of their dinner-wear had been delivered into their sitting rooms while they'd slept.  So they had a less formal outfit to wear until changing before dinner.  Emkir and Aali enjoyed taking the sort of long and luxurious showers one could only have on worlds with water to a luxurious level.  Any needs could be gotten by hitting a comms panel and calling the household staff.  They each, except Bhreker, found a message requesting they meet at a room in the palace at 10:30am.  Curious, the crew gathered as requested after relaxing and talking about their adventures the night before.  Finally, they made their way to the meeting room.

When the crew gathered, they were told they were expected to appear in the Duke's Court!  The timing of their appearances would happen that afternoon, and they were told they'd be called individually.  No couples.  To say the least, Mikah wasn't impressed, but she knew they had to attend when commanded, as the price of dealing with high nobility.  To their surprise, that included Munarshu and Fesic.  Only Bhreker wouldn't be called before the Duke.  So the crew relaxed and considered what was behind this latest summons?

With the free time, Mikah asked for and got access to the Duke's library, to read medical journals and take her mind off politics.  Terin considered asking to go there to, to research the Sonthert system, but thought better of researching a restricted system in the home library of a possible political enemy.  Not involved in that, Bhreker happily left for work at InstellArms.  Munarshu also came up with the idea of swimming at a beach.  Fesic liked the idea of swimming too, but chose to swim in a gym-setting.  Zimzod suggested Munarshu ignore the "Please don't feed the cetaceans" sign.  He even suggested they could find Munarshu a seal costume to swim in, and got some laughs.

After that, they had a large and varied lunch buffet and relaxed until it was time to go back to the Duke's court.  Before they made their way to court, Mikah sat Fesic down and had a discussion about decorum, and what could and couldn't be said in the Duke's court.  She was very firm that Fesic not say anything about anything that had, or was happening, on the ship.  Mikah also explained the rather twisted lattice of alliances they crew were involved in.  While she and Zimzod had been knighted and owed their fealty to Arch-Duke Norris, most of the crew had been knighted by Duke Leonard of Rhylanor.  Then, Sir Aiden, who would re-join the crew, had been knighted by Grand Duchess Delphine.  And she was directly related to Duke Luis.

Mikah then reminded Fesic of the large forces on all sides of the supposedly former divide between Arch Duke Norris and Grand Duchess Delphine.  That was no great new surprise to Fesic, the gunner could easily see the danger he was now part of as a member of the crew.  And he knew he could end up charged just as a member of the Hotel California crew.  With that, Fesic said he'd follow the most prudent course when in court, only saying what had to and only when he was called on to say it.  No more.  That satisfied Mikah so long as Fesic actually followed the course he described.  Eventually, the crew came back together and were given their ride to the Duke's court.

When they arrived, a protocol staffer met them and explained how things would play out when they were each called into the presence.  When each of them was called by the court Herald, they would start walking while any titles they had were being read.  Arriving 'in the presence', they were expected to bow or curtsey to the Duke and wait to be acknowledged before rising.  Then, the Duke would address each with his interests and they were to respond as invited to by his comments.  When the Duke completed his business with each of them, they were to bow before backing the several steps from the presence before leaving Court.  Made aware of their expected roles and order in things, they watched the proceedings until they were called on.

As they watched, Lord Shaagmu was called before the Duke, and announced as a candidate for the position of Baronet of the Sharrip system.  As the Duke welcomed the Lord, he spoke of the great work the man had done so far in managing and advancing work in the system.  The Duke covered a brief description of the program and expectations they could look forward to a smooth transition from stage one to stage two.  He also discussed Lord Shaagmu's personal work and background before saying he expected good things of Lord Shaagmu as well.  The Duke welcomed the Lord, as a guest of the Duchy, and said he looked forward to His Lordship's briefings in the coming days.  With that, Lord Shaagmu's time in court was done and he left the presence.

After that, a few more issues are heard, including legal issues which escalated to the Duke's personal attention.  One firm was not only found at fault by Duke Luis, but his ordered reparations insured the firm would be hammered both legally and publicly.  Things were so blunt that a number of those around the crew got on their comms to call their brokers and short the firm's stock!  Mikah mentioned she'd have shorted the stock if she'd had a broker in-system.  As the team considered the moves with various levels of understanding, until the Herald called into court "Mr. Fesic Anfertirkåsmokt, Late of the Imperial Scout Service", and Fesic began making his way into the Duke's court.

Fesic stepped into the presence and bowed Vilani-style, and the Duke invited him to rise.  As Fesic straightened up, Duke Luis welcomed him into the court.  The Duke continued that he understood Fesic had been of assistance in a small fracas at the edge of the system, two nights before.  When Fesic confirmed that, the Duke said, "We would have you know that we are greatly pleased with your service to the Duchy, and we would grant you this."  As he finished, the Duke motioned to the court herald, who read a proclamation.  As he listened, Fesic learned he was to be awarded the "Shalah-Kar"[ Order of Combined Valor, Equivalent of the US Bronze Star ].  After attention shifted back to Fesic and he thanked the Duke, His Grace continued, "And I understand, from the debriefing and conversations I have had with Baroness Aamkhiish, that you were in nominal command of part of this mission?"

Surprised, Fesic said, "I had a very small part" when it was clear Duke Luis expected an answer.  Where she listened, Mikah was surprised and annoyed herself.  She had meant to keep that from the Duke, so he wouldn't accuse her of putting the Baroness, Lord and others in danger by delegating her command.  She hadn't counted on the Baroness reporting the details on them.  Smiling at Fesic's modesty, Duke Luis said, "That's not what the Baroness said" as the hall became completely silent.  Everyone was sure the temperature came down ten degrees suddenly.  Still, the Duke continued, "In recognition of your brevet command, I would like to make you an Honorary Captain in the Lunion Planetary Navy.  And, I would give you this gift."

As Fesic looked where the Duke directed, a member of the court held forth and opened a small polished wooden box.  When Fesic saw the contents, he realized it was a very stylish polished gun-metal snub pistol, along with two magazines.  Checking the weapon out, Fesic saw it had been engraved, saying it was a gift to Fesic from Duke Luis.  Checking the engraving, the herald read a proclamation giving Fesic the right to bear arms within the Lunion system.  Another court member stepped forward and helped girt Fesic with a belt matching his outfit that held a holster for the pistol.  Then, after holstering his new pistol and thanking the Duke, Fesic bowed as he was excused from the presence and left court.

Following him, Munarshu was called into court.  While he wasn't surprised he was being formally summoned, Munarshu was surprised they even found and used the private family name, which was generally a pet name and used in private only.  It added a new dimension of concern as he tread the aisle into the presence.  Recognizing Munarshu for the role he played in the event, Duke Luis gave Munarshu the honorary title of Lieutenant in the Lunion Planetary Navy as well as the "Shalah-Kar" decoration.  Additionally, for his role in the operation, the Duke awarded Munarshu the right to bear arms in the Lunion system, with an engraved snub pistol and belt with holster.  Done with Munarshu, Sir Terin was called into court.

Recognizing Terin's role in the operation, Duke Luis also awarded Terin the "Shalah-Kar" decoration as well as the honorary title of Lieutenant in the Lunion Planetary Navy.  The Duke also gave Terin an engraved gauss pistol.  After thanking Terin, the herald then called Sir Rol into court.  Talking to Rol about his part in events, he admitted to have had significant discussions with Baroness Aamkhiish.  Because of his actions and influence on the survival of all involved, Rol was granted the honorary rank of Colonel in the Lunion Planetary Marine Corps in addition to the "Shalah-Kar" decoration.  He also gave Rol a Gauss pistol and gun belt.  The Duke then gave Rol the right to a fief in his Duchy!

The right was explained as the ability to use one of the Ducal estates on-world whenever he was in-system.  So, this was use of Duke Luis' personal property, with the service of the Duke's staff!  In his thanks, Rol was humbled before the Duke.  But Duke Luis clearly recognized it was Rol's actions which eventually saved everyone aboard the Stellar Scimitar.  After Rol left the court, Aali was called in.  As with Munarshu, Aali found herself called in by all of her official and personal names, including the shift to her married name.  Like Rol, the Baroness had commented on Aali's engineering efforts in salvaging the situation.  So Aali was granted the honorary rank of Captain in the Lunion Planetary Navy.  Aali also received the "Shalah-Kar" decoration and an engraved snub pistol.

Next, Emkir went in.  In addition to the "Shalah-Kar", the Baroness had made it clear Emkir had been the command pilot of the Scimitar until they'd bailed out.  She'd said he was also the architect for the distraction maneuver they'd programed into the ship before abandoning it.  The Duke told all those assembled that the degenerating orbit of the remains of the Stellar Scimitar had been modified so the wreck would land in Lunion's oceans.  Something everyone was happy about.  For his work, Duke Luis created Emkir an honorary Captain in the Lunion Planetary Navy, and gave him an engraved revolver.  After Emkir left the court, Zimzod was called and made an honorary Lieutenant in the Lunion Planetary Marine Corps, and received his "Shalah-Kar".  Zimzod was then given an engraved gauss pistol and thanked for his service before leaving the court.

The herald next called into the presence Dame Doctor Mikah Kirlim, Lady of the Court of Deneb and Captain of the Hotel California.  After she had been allowed to rise from her curtsey, the Duke began, "So, you're Ladyship.  You were largely the author of all these events.  Granted, I had my own hand in making the opportunity available to you, but largely, you were the author of all these events.  And these are all your people.  The team you created and who have served me so well."  Mikah replied, "They're all right." and got laughs from the crowd.  Like the others, Mikah received her "Shalah-Kar" and was made an honorary Captain in the planetary Navy.  Like Rol, she was granted a fiefdom on Lunion-prime, which let her use of one of the Ducal estates on-world whenever in-system, with the service of the Duke's staff!  After Mikah thanked him for that, the Duke looked down on her from his dais and said, "Kneel" in a commanding voice.

As the chamber came to complete silence, and she knelt, Duke Luis stepped down, having taken the sword of state from one of his attendants.  Mikah tried to figure out what was happening before it led to blood until the Duke knighted her as a Knight Defender of Lunion.  An order she hadn't ever heard of.  As the orders were read by the herald, Mikah learned this was a planetary Chivalric order.  Mikah hoped the sloping of her shoulders wasn't noticed as this happened and she could only think, "Great!  Another boss I can't say 'no' to!"  Still, she would later learn it came with an annual Cr 1,000 stipend.  The reaction died down from that action, and after he'd returned to the dais and returned the sword to its handler, Duke Luis said to Mikah, "To you and all of your crew, I extend my gratitude additionally.  And if it is within my power, I will grant you each one favor."

When he said that, Mikah and the crew could hear the collective intake of breath.  An open favor from a Duke, even one on the frontier, was no light thing.  And the promise raised the Duke's actions above the political realm, mading it clear he felt this was a personal issue.  As Mikah thanked him, Duke Luis told her to work with her people to organize those requests as they came forward.  With that, Mikah was allowed to curtsy and leave the court.  After she'd left court, the crew were all organized by a protocol worker who congratulated them all before saying they were free to enjoy their own interests until their dinner with the Duke.  When they joked how little actual free time that would give them, Zimzod pointed out that they got stuck in a room and offered the pirate job the last time.  So they could shut up unless they wanted to be called on for more thrilling heroics. 

Dinner And A Special Dessert

     After leaving the court, and in a quiet space, the crew took the time to take stock of their increasingly complex allegiances.  Mikah and Zimzod had been knighted by the Duke of the Vilis subsector, who owed his fealty to Arch Duke Norris, and fell on that side of the Delphine/Norris political divide.  Rol, Emkir and Aali had been knighted by Duke Leonard, and were in the middle of the storm, as Leonard held himself outside the conflict.  When he returned to the ship, Aiden had been knighted by Grand Duchess Delphine, and on the opposite side of the divide from Mikah and Zimzod.  And now, Mikah held a lesser knighthood from Duke Luis, who was Delphine's man and relation.

Added that, Rol and Mikah held fiefdoms on Lunion, Emkir and Aali a fiefdom on Mora and Zimzod a Fiefdom on Regina.  So they were even tied to certain worlds by their landed rights and fealties.  Even Fesic and Munarshu were being slowly tied to the Lunion system and Duke Luis.  While that meant little for the continued hiding of secrets, it was disheartening to read the list of people they could no longer say "No thank you" to.  Only Sir Terin was nominally outside the sphere a bit, since Duke Sir Maik Grieser rose to rank in the Navy and had come to the Marches with the Deneb Sector core fleet.  So he was from outside the Spinward Marches and only knew allegiance to his local nobility until Arch Duke Norris was granted the Deneb Domain.  Now, he nominally owed fealty to Arch Duke Norris, but hadn't been raised that way.

Done with their conference, the crew considered what to do with their short amount of free time?  Outside, there were reporters and camera crews waiting to interview all those who'd been heard in court.  Terin decided to ignore the media by wandering the court gardens.  Fesic joined him as the men shared their interests in horticulture.  Emkir and Aali went to look through the halls of the Duke's collections to see what artifacts he had on public display.  Others watched the continuing proceedings of the court until a protocol staffer gathered them all for the ride to the Duke's residence.  There, the crew found they'd be having dinner not only with the Duke and his family but the Baroness as well as Lord Shaagmu, his family.  There were others, but the Duke concentrated on getting to know them better as they shared the meal.

The Baroness also did her best to learn more about the crew.  While most of the crew were not used to such social settings, Emkir didn't have that problem.  Emkir schmoozed with the best of them, and often did his best to come to the rescue of his crew mates when they found themselves conversationally cornered.  Not always a success, he did what he could.  Due to her personal interests in the nobility, Aali was able to keep things on topic for what she wanted to reveal about herself.  Rol had a more interesting time at the party.  He could easily handle their questions about the Fifth Frontier War, where the boundaries had already been well-set.  But still, what was most of interest was that which mostly had to be hidden.

Of more difficulty, were the questions about Rol's work with the crew.  While he generally kept things safe, there were times where Rol had used the wrong words.  And in those cases, Rol found himself having to explain his meanings as those talking with him tried to dig into perceived truths.  Still, his experience with the media and Emkir's help got him out of the pot-holes he'd dug for himself.  Mikah handled such hunting expeditions with blunt directness.  At times, the comments were misdirected when Mikah assumed something was meant to dig into their activities.  But there was at least one time when Mikah mistakenly answered the Baroness' joke saying "that can be cured with a brief surgery."  Unfortunartely, the comment came out sounding like an off-hand threat to cut someone's throat.  Zimzod fit into the crowd as well as Rol or Mikah. 

As Zimzod tried to work the conversations, his defenses were more along the lines of saying, "Yeah.  I did say something like that, but that wasn't what I meant." or, "You'll have to excuse me.  My words aren't as accurate as my memories."  Unfortunately for Zimzod, his verbal tap dancing and even Emkir's attempts to rescue left holes the crew were sure others had caught and might follow up on.  They gave up, at first, but the crew felt they might come back with more questions later.  Zimzod concentrated on his issues while Munarshu had his own to consider.  With his built-in paranoia raging, Munarshu's own fears drove him into a near-sycophantic posture.  And while he would have willingly become a puddle at the Duke's feet if asked to, his reactions were so obvious no one spent much time on him or accorded him any respect.

Fesic struggled to maintain a defense in exact correctness.  Seeing everyone in the room as 'well above his station' except Munarshu, Fesic felt anything he said could be used against him.  He was also well aware of the political knot they were stuck in.  So his comments were all slow to be voiced, while working in his mind to cleanse each word and sentence through his mental filters.  Because he tended to want to make his statements complete as well as clear, he tended to provide annoyingly long explanations which would lead to very long answers when asked any questions.  So, Fesic was also more ignored than not.  In Terin's case, it was known he was a military honoree, with a title from a battlefield commission.  So, when he didn't seem to fit in, those who didn't turn away made an effort to converse with Terin on what might be his level of comfort.

Once the dinner came to desserts, they were told there would be a brief public reception before the party ended.  When that began, the Duke addressed the media with the decisions and work of the day.  Like all his comments on the crew, the Duke welcomed and honored all who chose to serve the Imperium and its people.  After the dinner, the Duke told the crew their time was now their own.  They were welcomed to stay in their assigned rooms for the night, or even check out their estates where some were given fiefs.  Beyond that, they were dismissed with the Duke's thanks.  Allowed to be the group spokesperson because he'd spoken up first, Emkir thanked the Duke for his hospitality.  There were then final bows and the Duke and his family left them to their own interests.

Before the Duke left the space, but after most of the non-crew had left, Mikah considered her favor.  While she didn't want to burn it for something small, she also wanted to see how much she could get while they were on the Duke's good side?  So Mikah excused herself, got the Duke's attention and asked him if there was any way he could help her get permission from Duke Rakaa Kiraarri of Lanth to pass through and refuel in the Sonthert system?  When Duke Luis asked why that was needed, Mikah told the Duke Sir Aiden had been killed during their work in the Equus system, and they had begun the cloning process.  The nearest site the company had to Equus was Rhylanor, so they would have to return there when they were done with their deliveries in the Lanth system.

Mikah continued that they'd like to increase their chance of making the trip back to the Rhylanor pay.  And one of the best chances would be through the Sonthert system.  That way, they could hope to contract needed cargo hauling to the Imperial approved settlements thanks to their X-parcel certification.  So, she hoped that Duke Luis could help them get permission from Duke Rakaa to get to Rhylanor via Sonthert?  Duke Luis said he would take that under advisement and have someone from his Seneschalate contact her.  Hearing her request, and not having any idea what to do with a favor from a Duke, Fesic also spoke up.

When he had the Duke's attention, Fesic asked if his Cr 20,000 pay could be put into an investment trust, which would be handled by the same brokers who managed the Duke's investment?  As that was quietly discussed, Rol asked Mikah what their schedule was?  When Mikah said they had three to four days more required to reset the ship, Rol asked if they could stay a few more days, so he could ask his favor?  Glowering a bit, Mikah said, "So long as no one gets in trouble."  Despite their best efforts, there were some laughs from the crew as Rol turned to the Duke.  Duke Luis gave Rol his attention and Rol asked if the Duke could help with his petition for the legal right to buy and own a suit of battledress?  The size of the request actually surprised Luis, who considered the question before answering.

When the Duke asked questions about why Rol wanted the armor, Rol explained the work he and the crew were doing for the Imperium, and a number of member world governments.  After some talk, the Duke agreed, and gave Rol a code to enter in when he made his official application.  Following on the tails of that, Zimzod asked the Duke to do the same on his application to buy and own an FGMP-15.  Looking at Zimzod, the Duke congratulated Zimzod on managing to exceed even Sir Rol's request.  Again, there was a brief conversation and again, though this time with more apparent reluctance, the Duke gave Zimzod a code to use as well.  Looking around, to see if anyone else suddenly had a request, Duke Luis noticed Sir Terin looking his way and grabbed a chair to sit, seeing he wasn't leaving as quickly as he thought.

Terin excused himself and mentioned that Lady Mikah had already asked, as a courtesy, for the Duke to help them get permission to transit the Sonthert system.  He then explained his botanical research and other work he'd done in herbs and treatments.  Terin continued that the ship had to spend a week resetting their drives and refueling if permission were given.  Additionally, the red zone fleet would then have to handle resupplying the California, at a cost to their own supplies.  Terin then asked if the Duke could also help them in asking for permission to land on one of the worlds in the Sonthert system?  To both refuel and resupply while the engineers reset their systems?  Duke Luis reminded them he didn't know the surface conditions or the reason the system was red-zoned?  So he couldn't even say they could get the permission they were asking about?

Still, he had given them his word and would act on Sir Terin's behalf.  He also said he looked forward to reading any new research Sir Terin could add to the few facts about an isolated system.  In preparation for that, the Duke also was happy to let Terin use his personal library to learn as much as he could, in preparation for the possible investigation.  Terin offered to send any new data gathered to the IISS, to be added to their files.  Pleased with the idea, Duke Luis agreed to help both with permission to access the Sonthert system and permission to land and investigate.  Finally, he looked around for any other questions and Mikah asked for clarification.  When Luis asked what she needed clarified, Mikah said she had a hardware issue with the ship and had issues before, getting help with other shipboard issues. 

When the Duke invited her to explain, Mikah said they had finally gotten a fuel purification system on their own, after asking both the Arch Duke and Duke Leonard for help.  Now, she had heard of a modification for a ship's air-raft bays.  It would allow a second raft to be slotted in above the first, in the "dead space" above an initial stock air-raft.  Of course, the crew had used a wedding gift to Emkir and Aali to modify their air-raft.  So that would have to be undone first.  Then, the air-rafts would be modified so that they could be remote-activated to have them present themselves for boarding at the ship's air lock or another location.  She wondered if she could ask to have such a modification done to her ship and its existing air-raft, including removing the mods done to their air-raft.  The Duke said he could have that done for her if she wanted, and Mikah made that her request.  Then, the Duke surprised her and even said he could even likely provide the second air-raft!  Mikah was very thankful for that offer, though she knew that likely meant they'd get a fleet raft.

Finishing that, the Duke said they should move their ship down to his facilities until the work was done.  After that request, the Duke finally saw there were no other requests and made good his escape.  Since it was late enough they didn't want to pack themselves up and lift for orbit, they returned to their suites.  In his suite, Rol sat down at a terminal and navigated to the proper official site for his request.  After the form was ready, Rol went through the steps of formally requesting legal rights to buy and own a suit of Imperial Battledress.  Where expected, Rol put in the codes provided by the Duke, which would notify Luis' Seneschal to intervene in and add the Duke's interests to the request.  In their suite, Mikah watched as Zimzod did the same to request permission to get his FGMP.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

    Mikah: In the suite shared with Zimzod in the Duke's Palace as he fills out a form
    Munarshu: In his suite in the Duke's Palace
    Terin: In his suite in the Duke's Palace
    Aali: In his suite in the Duke's Palace
    Emkir: In his suite in the Duke's Palace
    Fesic: In his suite in the Duke's Palace
    Rol: In his suite in the Duke's Palace filling out a form
    Zimzod: In his suite shared with Mikah in the Duke's Palace filling out a form
    Bhreker Kraiowa: In his suite in the Duke's Palace
    Aiden's Clone: 4 weeks into the cloning process ( 14 to go)

Next: The Game's Afoot!