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Last Updated    October 12 2017
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Time To Relax

Lunion Capital      After Rol and Zimzod made their permission requests, it was up to the Duke's seneschalate to handle their paperwork.  After that, Rol and Zimzod would leave the system with what recommendations Duke Luis felt appropriate.  Terin's request had more ties to it, and led to much more work for him.  Since he'd asked for landing access to further his research, Terin had to show a link to that research supporting his request.  So Terin knew he suddenly had a whole new project.  And one that had to be done before the seneschalate called him to prove the link.  So Terin would have to do the work to show that proof.  The evening wound down while Terin moved to the Duke's library, and was only grateful for the servants who brought caff through the night.

Beginning his work, and before she and Zimzod went to their suite, Mikah considered the need to disguise the tattooed man's cargo.  Mikah was pissed because they needed Fesic to make the fake customs seal, now he'd shown off his puritanical legal views.  Still, his minimal skills with the sealing device were the best in the crew since Ms. Vik left the ship.  Still, she'd be damned if he was going to do any more than he had to.  And that under supervision.  So Mikah comm'd Bhreker to tell him he had to find them a cargo container of the proper dimensions.  She told him it shouldn't be an InstellArms container, because they'd scan it more, looking for any of their corporate codes.  When Bhreker asked, "And what would this be needed for?" Mikah said they just needed the box and asked if he could do that for them?  Shrugging, Bhreker said he could.  He then made a few calls and got told the container could be delivered the next morning for Cr 1,000.

Zimzod grabbed the initiative before Terin could leave to begin his research, and ordered Terin to join him in going into orbit to bring the ship down to the Duke's spaceport.  When Terin pointed out his research was likely more important, for permission to land on a world in the Sonthert system, Zimzod backed off his orders.  Munarshu volunteered to pilot the ship and Zimzod said, "You don't have bridge access, Bitch!"  He then told Fesic he could do the job, because he'd piloted before.  Mikah shrugged because one Scout was just like any other.  Recalling the incident with the cargo, Fesic made a small stink about asking if he'd be trusted to fly, and was told Zimzod would be on the bridge, watching him.  Rol added, "And armed", as he pointed out Zimzod's shoulder pouch with the two pistols the Duke gave him in it.  So Fesic and Zimzod got a ride from the Duke's motorpool to get the Probe and return to the port for the ship.  That set of flights would take nearly two hours.

Considering it was their last night in the suite afforded them by the Duke, Aali and Emkir went to their room to defile as much of that space as they could in their lust.  On their way, they could be heard giggling about plans, but making certain they were heard to be planning to "respectfully debauch".  More reflectively, Rol decided to take a walk around the grounds and wander through the sights of the ducal palace before turning in.  Especially since he didn't know when he might ever get the chance again?  Having seen displays of the Duke's collections at his court, Mikah chose to explore the displays Duke Luis had in his palace.  So, while they never crossed paths, Mikah did the same thing Rol did on the last night of their visit. 

When they were about to leave and get the ship, Munarshu volunteered to ride with Fesic and Zimzod, suggesting they'd need an engineer to spark systems up.  But Zimzod said they'd left the 'droids working in engineering so everything should be fine.  When Munarshu mumbled about being sure not to scratch the ship's paint, Zimzod said, "If he scratches the paint, we'll give you a jar of paint and your tooth brush."  Hearing this, Fesic said, not so softly, "I'll be sure to scratch the paint." and got a laugh from Zimzod and the others who'd heard except Munarshu.  Since he wasn't going into orbit, Munarshu decided to check out the city's night life.  Especially since he had been "grounded" aboard the ship, but wasn't on the ship now.  So he wasn't under any restrictions.  Munarshu got a ride from the Duke's motorpool and went looking for a dance club on the nicer side of town.

True to his word, when they got back on the ship Zimzod hit his stateroom and grabbed some supplies before strapping into the Captain's seat on the bridge.  There, he broke out his supplies to clean the gauss pistol and .45 the Duke had gifted him.  He made sure Fesic knew of the weapons as Zimzod sat behind the pilot, watching his moves.  By 10:30pm, Fesic and Zimzod had returned and Fesic was getting ready to sack out.  In his suite, Zimzod sat and did gear maintenance before going to bed too.  The last to return to his suite was Munarshu, who'd managed to spend Cr 120 on drinks as he had fun and wandered the bars.

A Morning's Work And Play

     As members of the crew woke and wandered into their common meeting room, they once again found a banquet table laid out with rolling service of food, replaced as any dish was deemed to have been out too long.  And what seemed an immense and extravagant expense, which it would have been on Rhylanor, wasn't really costly at all given the bounty that grew in the Lunion system.  Regardless of the fact this was breakfast, Emkir again assaulted the carving board and its roasted beast in hedonistic luxury.  Terin wandered in from the library, clearly wearing clothes from the day before, having pulled an all-nighter.  In the background, the news played but little had changed:
    Glisten (A000986-F  2  Hi Na In As Cp  821  Im  K9 V)        Date: 351-1112
    The Choir of Pavabid have begun performances in the subsector capital to the disappointment
    of not performing for Duchess Muktheswara.  While it was reported the performances were well
    attended, there are also significant protests against the Pavabid system's perceived enslavement
    of its population.  Despite the protests, the performances have received generally positive reviews.
    Per the experts, the suggested class of music can be comfortably referred to as evangelical
    or gospel.                      

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

When the entire crew were gathered around the table, the Dukes Head of House came to greet them.  Rather than giving them all instructions on moving out of their suites, the man told the crew their permission to stay had been extended by the Duke, now that their ship would be undergoing modification.  So they were invited to maintain their stay until work on the ship was done.  All the members of the crew celebrated that, since they'd only started to consider renting rooms or staying at their fief's.  Looking up from his mug of caff, Terin actually blurted out, "I love this guy!" as the others made sounds of appreciation.  Emkir announced he'd celebrate with another round at the roast beast.

While the ship was now dirt-side, the crew could also get the rest of their gear from the ship.  The Duke only requested that the crew maintain appearances to match their station.  This meant not going about in public in ship's suits.  The crew agreed, because it was a small price to pay for the Duke's apparent personal sense of nobility.  Especially given his generosity.  So, with four more days on-world during the work, Aali also made it clear she and Munarshu still had to do the maintenance work on the ship's drives.  Aali did allow that some of the work had been done by the 'droids, but there was work that couldn't be left to them.  There were also system and performance tolerance reports to check, to prevent system failures.  So Aali and Munarshu went off to continue their work on the ship's systems.

Having his time free, Emkir decided to finally try his learning suit.  Since he most wanted to dive into the work of learning zero-g operations and some physical combat and movement skills, Emkir asked Rol for help.  When Rol asked where they would do this, needing a zero-g space to train, Emkir suggested the ship's cargo bay.  Overhearing this, Zimzod said the bay was kinda full at the time, and they'd need to empty it out first.  Hearing that, Emkir suggested they ask the Duke's staff if there was a salle, or fencing hall?  Because they would need a larger space to work in, the palace staff provided them access to a gym with grav-controls.  Rol had agreed, because he was curious to see how the suit would work, and affect any training?  So, when they were told they could have a space, they were told to follow a 'droid which led them to the proper space.

At breakfast, Bhreker told Mikah he'd ordered the cargo container she asked for the night before.  He said they'd deliver it sometime that morning, and he had to be there as the person who'd placed the order.  When Mikah OK'd that, Bhreker told her they also needed someone to be present to pay for the container, from ship's funds or otherwise.  Mikah didn't want to sit around at the ship all morning waiting for a delivery, and knew Aali would be working on the ship, as the chief engineer.  So, she sparked up her comms and shifted permissions, letting Aali to access the ship's funds for the payment.  When Bhreker was ready, he went out to the ship where Aali, Munarshu and the Duke's people were doing their work.  Getting to the ship, the deconstruction of the air-raft bay was well under way, including a slight deconstruction of some hull panels.  That was being done under Aali's sometimes direct and other times indirect supervision.

Aside from the ship, there was a 'pop-up' set up which shaded two air rafts.  One was the crew's existing raft and the other was what looked like an older vehicle.  A team of technicians were working on those too, installing the electronics to allow for the self-directed movement of the rafts to and from the bay.  When Aali let him board the ship, Bhreker had a few hours of thumb-twiddling before the cargo container arrived.  When the container was delivered, Aali paid the Cr 1,000 and the pod was left outside the ship as the cargo bay was more or less full.  Bhreker then called Mikah to update her.  With her crew choosing their own diversions or work, Mikah decided it was time to do more tourism.  She looked up what museums she could visit.  Zimzod went with her, because his time was also free.

Fesic first went to do a workout in the gym the Duke had made available to him previously.  After his workout and cleaning up, Fesic then went to help Terin, who had asked during breakfast.  Getting to the library, Fesic found Terin at the end of his endurance, working to stay awake despite the caff at breakfast.  Taking over for Terin, who went to grab some sleep, Fesic found the work Terin had done was "quite messy".  Fesic first set about getting an understanding of the work Terin had done before reformatting it to make it presentable.  A task that would take him hours.  Lucky for Fesic, the Duke's people brought him lunch as he worked, continuing at it until Mikah returned to the palace.  Aali and Munarshu had their lunch on the ship, while they worked and Aali also supervised work on the air-raft bay.  After lunch in the palace, Emkir returned to the ship and sparked up his translation work, while Rol went to his suite to do stent-work.

After lunch, Mikah and Zimzod checked out the new cargo container, then called Fesic so she could supervise his work.  As Mikah instructed Fesic on what he was to do, he couldn't help but notice she kept one hand on her side arm.  She constantly caressed it in a way that suggested she preferred to use it as Zimzod also watched.  Somehow, that combination was much more disturbing than just Zimzod.  As she instructed him, Fesic learned he was expected to put the tattooed man's bin inside that one.  Then, he was to seal the new bin with a customs code which said the bin was sealed when they left the Rhylanor system, and bound to the Lanth system.  And the seal had to be good enough to not only convince the scans the cargo bin wasn't being delivered in the D'Ganzio system, but that there were no reasons to back-check the ship's manifest by sending a "lading check" back to Rhylanor.

During the hour and a half that took Fesic, Terin had returned to the library.  Having been gone for five hours, and getting four hour's actual sleep, Terin first looked at the terminal and realized it was locked.  And Fesic was missing, so he couldn't ask for the password?  Annoyed, Terin sparked up his comms and tried to call Fesic, but only got the man's voice mail while Fesic ignored his comms and continued working under the watchful gaze of Mikah.  Even more annoyed, Terin continued trying to hack the password until the account actually locked him out.  Glaring at the notice to speak to an Administrator, Terin decided to look for a member of the library staff.  Happily, the staffer said they all had the admin password for guest accounts and quickly unlocked Terin's session. 

Now having access, Terin looked over the work and thought it looked exactly like it did when he left the missing Fesic.  Getting pissed now, Terin backed out the changes in the file for a bit to see what Fesic had actually done, if anything.  Watching changes be undone, Terin realized that he'd perhaps not been doing his best quality work to start with.  So he rolled the changes forward again, until getting to the point where Fesic left the file.  Having caught on sleep, Terin asked for a sandwich and caff and went back to work on his project.  After the container was delivered, Bhreker went to explore the palace, since it wasn't often someone like him had that unrestricted access.  Like every palace in history, this one was built and decorated to make a statement.  Those were, "I have power, wealth and I have really large collections of impressive things."

A Brief Quiet

     By 2:30, Fesic was just finishing his work with the cargo container.  Mikah and Zimzod had pulled up chairs to watch from comfort.  Finishing his final check, Fesic said he felt he was fairly sure the seal was correct in a satisfied tone.  Aali and Munarshu continued their engineering work while Rol communed with his stent and Emkir worked on his translation work.  With Terin back at work and Bhreker off exploring, Mikah took the time to read medical journals.  Zimzod also worked on his stent-work in his suite.  After he was done with the cargo container, Fesic returned to help Terin.  As they began to discuss the project, all the team's comms began going off!  Shortly after that, Bhreker's comms went off too!

Answered the call, Fesic saw he had a voice mail but ignored it as they all heard an automated message from the Duke's Seneschalate!  The message told the crew that the survivors from the raider ship had been recovered from the hulk.  Two were being sent to military medical services for their wounds while one was being brought down-well to a secure holding site until he could be interrogated.  That was the extent of the message and each of the crew accepted the news in their own fashion.  But it wasn't a big deal since they wouldn't be involved.  Considering there had been survivors, Bhreker contacted his management and had the InstellArms non-lethal weapons catalog downloaded to his account.  When Mikah comm'd the Seneschalate and volunteered to join the prisoner's medical team, she was told they were being brought to an orbital military facility.

After the crew were updated, and after Mikah's call, the crew continued with their work until dinner time.  Coming together to eat, Rol joked about selling off the ship and settling down in the system.  Mikah laughed and told Rol he could tell the Duke that and see how fast the Duke got them booted out of the system.  Zimzod said this place had treated them the best they had been treated of all the places they'd been.  Aali said, "Except for Mora" and Zimzod agreed with that.  No one was concerned the systems supposedly owned by their most powerful political enemies were the places they had the best experiences.  After dinner, Aali decided to do stent practice herself.  So, Emkir decided to spend some time looking up the Rabwhar system, to see what changes had occurred since he'd been stationed there eleven years before?

Checking into what he could learn, the many years and war events had quite an effect on the system, and the occupation and formation of the Border Worlds Confederation.  When Emkir had been an admin trainee(O-1), he'd been assigned to work in a paper-shuffling position with inter-fleet communications.  They largely put alerts out on Sword World fleet shifts and communiques to higher Headquarters on over-all data gathering on Sword World fleet movements.  But the worlds they focused on, Durendal, Dyrnwyn and Hofud, were now part of the Border Worlds.  More importantly, they had Imperial fleet elements and Imperial ground forces in the systems.  So that specific mission had obviously changed.

Emkir could see the traffic data made public, which said there were a lot more ships using the Rabwhar base as a crossing point into the Border Worlds.  But there were no reports or communications suggesting the missions for all that Jump-3 traffic.  Still, Jump-3 ships had the mobility to be either front-line vessels or near-front line secondary reserves.  So that meant something, but Emkir just didn't know what?  The other mission Emkir knew of, which had not been re-aligned, was to further integrate the world's Dictatorship into the Imperial tapestry.  With ~350 million population on-world, most of the population were closer to the downports and dirt-side bases than not.  A medium-sized world, half covered with oceans, and an atmosphere with a high level of oxygen.

So the large amount of wilderness on-world was a constant wild-fire hazard.  This was one of the reasons encouraging the population to remain close to the clusters of available technology and rescue.  The rescue crews also serviced the huntin industry on-world.  With so much of the world unpopulated, the wildlife environments were raw.  Larger predators had little reason to fear visiting sophonts and presented a much more dangerous challenge.  Off-world hunters often enough found themselves hunted by packs of the beasts they came to collect trophies of.  And when things went seriously wrong, the Scouts often had to step in.  Emkir had been glad he hadn't been part of any of those efforts.  As with the integration mission, the rescues continued.  Emkir sat and planned to dig into this while Mikah and Zimzod went out to see a comedy play.

Issues Emkir recalled from his service there were fire-awareness and oxygen-poisoning.  Too often, the symptoms of hyperoxemia came on suddenly as weather-based high pressure systems moved in and pushed more oxygen into the inhabited regions.  So it was feast or famine as high-pressure clear weather increased the O2 count dangerously while storms brought lightning and fire hazards.  Terin went back to the library and also continued his research as Emkir followed his curiosity.  Rol said he'd done his work and wanted to go out on the town.  As soon as he said so, Fesic announced, "I'm with him!" and Rol said, "The more the merrier.  Come on along."  That said, Munarshu joined in.  As the crew fell out to their various interests, Bhreker planned to spend the evening researching the non-lethals.  This wasn't just based on the recent capture of raiders, but the crew's exposure to those weapons and their value in the Skull system.

The Ruins Of A Fine Evening

     As the crew and Bhreker spent their evenings enjoying their individual plans, they again all suddenly got a buzz on their comms!  Stuck in a dèjà vu moment, Mikah chose to ignore comms, set to silent mode.  Especially since she could estimate there was only about 20 min left in the show.  Those who did answer found themselves speaking to a comms tech from the Duke's Seneschal, and were told they were waiting for the entire crew to answer.  After a brief wait, the tech said "Please stand by" and appeared to put them on hold while attending to business.  In the theater, Mikah and Zimzod were both surprised to hear her comms go into "full alarm mode".  Especially since they knew the devices were set to silent mode.  Making their way out of the auditorium, both spacers grabbed their comms and Mikah snarled "OK!  What?" into hers while moving quickly out to the lobby.

The calm voiced comms tech said, "Please stand by for the Duke of Lunion."  When Mikah later asked why Zimzod's comms hadn't buzzed when hers did, she was told they had both been tracked to that theater and only needed one of them to answer to get both on the call.  The two barely made it into the lobby before the Duke began, saying "Lady Mikah, can you ask Sir Zimzod to join this call please?"  Zimzod linked in as they were watched by the theater lobby staff, and Mikah answered their surprised stares by asking, "What can we do for you, Your Grace."  The Duke said he needed all of them to assemble back at the palace as soon as possible.  Without other options, Mikah said they were on their way.  With the call done, Mikah and Zimzod looked for transport while some others already at the palace gathered to discuss.  Terin was more than a bit burnt when he realized he could do no more than save his work and see how much more time he was losing?

Those at the palace each quickly found themselves located by a staff member who led them to an audience room.  There, they waited as the others arrived from further off.  While Terin was first, and grabbed some caff, Bhreker arrived soon after.  Emkir also arrived quickly as did Aali, coming from her stent-work.  One of the Duke's Deputy Seneschals was present, who worked directly under the Duke's primary Seneschal.  This told them the summons was fairly important.  The room had a boardroom table set up and datapads laid out at the seats.  Each datapad marked a seat, and was locked on an introductory screen showing the name of the expected user, including Bhreker.  The InstellArms man wasn't pleased at the apparent cost of a suite in the palace.

When Mikah and Zimzod arrived, she saw she was at one end, facing the Duke who sat at the far end.  Her people and even her passenger arrayed between them with the Seneschal standing off to the side.  The expression on the Duke's face when he had arrived was grim, and he was joined by a team including a military attachè and second high ranking officer.  The crew already present had been invited to sit as the Duke quietly finished with his team.  So, when Mikah and Zimzod arrived, the Duke's people were standing off to the side, available as needed, while everyone else sat.  When they had brought Fesic in, the gunner had a buzz on since he'd been out hitting bars.  He had been issued oxy-tabs to sober up as they brought him in.

An Invitation To A Specialized Party

After they were all present, the Duke had them thumb open their datapads, which now had a glowing space indicating the security feature.  The tablets came to resolution and the first image was a heavily battle-damaged Far Trader class starship.  It's hull held the remains of Sword World hull imagery.  As those with the skills saw signs it was modified, one of the Duke's people explained the ship was changed from a standard 200 dTon design to a three-parsec jump capable craft with much less cargo space.  Duke Luis confirmed suspicions when he said, "Those of you who had looked at your sensors may recognize this ship as the one that had been chasing you in the Scimitar during your recent exercise."  As he spoke, the image of a standard far trader appeared above and behind the hulk.

Those images showed the ship had been named the Minbitring Kung, and Zimzod joked it was certainly a 'mini-thing' now.  Ignoring Zimzod's snark, the Duke said, "As we continue" and the tablets shifted to the next slide, which was the detention-image of an obviously grizzled spacer.  The man, in a paper prisoner suit, was, they were told, the uninjured spacer the Duke's people had captured from the Kung.  The Duke hit a stud on his tablet and continued to say the prisoner had been brought, by fast shuttle, to the Mershan Amag prison.  On their tablets, the crew saw an aerial image of a small town where an obviously significantly fortified structure had been built to the town's north-east.

Looking the crew over, the Duke continued, "We'd had him in custody with plans to interrogate him for such data against raiders as we could get.  But, just before I called your team, I was told that the prisoner had been killed.  Shot.  Three rounds to the chest."  The last was said in a flat voice as the Duke remained grim faced.  Mikah spoke up immediately, saying "It wasn't us."  The Duke quickly agreed, and continued, "But this is why we brought you together.  This prison is an underground holding facility, and the prisoner's cell was one of a small cluster where only one held a prisoner.  The cell was under the direct observation of a standing guard who reported no sound or disturbance.  It is accessed down a long hallway, reached by a descending elevator that could only be activated by a special key-card."

The Duke watched them as he continued, "That elevator can only be reached through a manned facility above the holding level.  That facility can only be entered by authorized personnel.  Additional sensor data from the area confirmed the guard's claim there were no sounds of a shot or weapon fire at all."  The crew considered the issue in silence as the Duke allowed them time.  Then he dropped the shoe they had all been waiting for.  Based on the analysis provided by the prison teams, their suspicion was that the killer could have been a Zhodani Teleport Commando.  At those words, Sir Terin shivered just a bit in memory.  He didn't see that the movement was both noticed and expected by the Duke.  Waiting a beat, the Duke said they were the only people on-world who had actually had experience with forces like that.

When most eyes turned to Rol, based on his special forces history, Mikah said "You're in charge.  Have fun!"  She then sat back and waited to see how Rol managed actual command, rather than too regularly shooting hers down.  Rol first joked in a flat voice that he would send her, saying they needed a well-trained person to send alone, looking for the invisible trooper.  Mikah accepted the role while expecting the plan to collapse in a lack of competence, despite being confident in her skills to get her as far as possible.  But before that could happen, or Rol could make it clear he was joking, the Duke stepped in, saying he was sending their entire team to investigate.  The Duke also made it clear he had transport waiting.  Mikah asked about gear and Emkir mentioned getting the psi-shields from the ship.  The Duke said they could raid their ship for any gear they felt needed.

When Terin suggested they might not need all the heavy gear, Rol asked, you've never gone up against a teleport commando have you?  But he was surprised when Terin said he had!  And won!  So were the rest of the crew.  Terin merely mentioned he'd told the crew he'd been wounded in the war more than once.  And he promised to tell them more when they had time.  Still, when Mikah demanded more before agreeing to not gather the weapons, Terin admitted it had been in 1109, aboard the Donosev Class Scout Cruiser ISS Frelimi.  And while his memory was very hazy, he did recall he'd gotten Very lucky!  Still leery of loading up for bear and making things worse, Terin suggested things didn't look like a whole team.  Terin said the killing wouldn't need a whole team and there would perhaps be only one commando.  Rol turned on him asking, "You may be right.  But, do you want to risk that?"

When Rol pushed, asking, "What do we risk by armoring up?" Terin gave up the fight and agreed.  With that, the Duke gave his permission for them to go gear up.  Before they left, Rol asked if the guard who was on duty was still present at the prison?  He was told the guard was being held for questioning.  He was also told the body was still in place, so everything was prepared for their investigation.  As they raided their gear, everyone who had a set jumped into their "combat underwear", as the crew had begun calling executive armor.  Aali donned her combat armor and grabbed her gauss rifle with three clips.  She also belted her snub pistol with a magazine each of ball and HEAP rounds.

Emkir removed his jewelry before getting into his combat armor.  He then grabbed his rifle, pistol and his large fighting knife.  He also grabbed his rad-detector, and 50 rounds of ammo for each weapon.  Not sure what he was facing, Rol got into his combat armor, grabbed his guass Rifle with 5 clips as well as his snub pistol loaded with HEAP.  He also strapped on his gunbelt, holding 36 more rounds HEAP.  Rol also grabbed his earpeice comms extension and flashlight.  Mikah strapped to her combat armor her laser carbine, submachine gun, and an autopistol.  She also grabbed two clips SMG ammo, and clip autopistol ammo.  She connected her ear extension to her comms and grabbed her large med-kit, which held doses of combat fast and slow drug.

Zimzod snapped into his battledress and grabbed five flash-bangs as well as five HE and two HEAT grenades.  He prepared his gauss rifle and ten clips.  On his cross-shoulder harness, he holstered his gauss pistol with five clips and a .45 semi with 3 clips.  Outside that, he grabbed his med-kit.  Terin started gearing up by first asking for a dose of stims from Mikah.  Instead of hitting himself with the drug right away, he held off.  He figured he'd nap on the ride to the prison and then hit himself when he had to be awake.  When he asked Mikah about that, she said she'd inject him with the dose when needed, and he realized she would gleefully and sadistically jab him to wake him up.  The biggest surprise of this operation was that the Duke appeared to want Bhreker to join and assist the crew.

While it made no sense, Mikah accepted it because...Duke.  So Bhreker snapped into his combat armor and grabbed his gauss rifle, with four clips.  He grabbed his snub pistol with three clips ball, one clip HE and one of tranq.  Asking before he joined them, Mikah learned the salesman had been a soldier in the Imperial Army.  His last action had been in the Treece system, with the 1503rd Imperial Striker Battalion.  Fighting the first invasions of the Fifth Frontier War, he'd earned an MCG before having lost half his left arm.  After that, he'd been withdrawn with the other wounded and treated until the military gave him a prosthetic arm and his discharge.  Accepting the man, Mikah even loaned him five HE grenades when he asked.  Mikah hooked the other five she had into her gear.

Terin made sure he was wearing his scout buckle inside his combat armor.  He grabbed his gauss rifle with 5 clips, snub pistol with a clip each of Ball, HE, HEAP, HEAT and Tranq.  He also grabbed one of the two gauss pistols the Duke had gifted him with the two clips that came with.  He hung his sword from his armor belt and locked into compartments his utility knife, first aid kit and 2 Suit patches.  He extended his hand comp and comms.  Munarshu waded into his armory and came out with his gauss rifle, pistol and gauss shotgun.  He grabbed five clips each for the rifle and pistol with ten taser and ten HEDP clips for the gauss shotgun.

Munarshu made sure his gauss needles were a mix of tungsten-steel and mild steel clips.  He snapped into his combat armor and grabbed six of his concussion grenades, wrapping three in AP-jackets.  For visibility, he grabbed his LI/IR goggles and PRIS binoculars.  Fesic first took two razored steel washers from his jar and put them in his front and back pockets, one each.  He then put on his combat armor and grabbed his laser rifle, snub pistol and grenades with his blade and machete.  Fesic also put two day's rations into his leather satchel along with his pocket tool kit and flashlight.  He then went to the ship's locker and strapped on his breaching device!

As Fesic was in the progress of hobbling himself in the honor of carrying "everything", Mikah began going through the crew's stock of psi-helmets.  If they were facing Zhodani commandos, those were going to be needed.  When she came up short counting the regular devices, Mikah broke out the devices meant to look like jewelry head coifs.  With her and Aali wearing those, they had enough of the regular ones for all the guys.  As they cleared the ship with their gear, Mikah again made it clear Rol was in charge as the transport arrived for them to leave for the prison.  Rol's first concern, as Fesic joined them, was to look at the gunner, point at the breaching charge and ask, "Are you serious?"

When Fesic answered, "We're going into a prison.  I'm bringing a breaching charge", Rol pointed out they were going into a prison, not being made prisoners.  Aali said the Duke would have just arrested them if he wanted to, and the mission wasn't likely a ruse to get them where they could be arrested.  The others simply made jokes about odd items Fesic should add to his pile, or might have hidden in the kit.  Regardless of the comments, Fesic stood firm on bringing the items he felt he might need.  When Rol asked if Fesic could keep up with the team, Fesic said he'd do his best to bring up the rear.  Shaking his head, Rol accepted the mental aberration and said "You're drag", assigning Fesic the very last line in the march order.

Off To Solve A Mystery

     Rol checked off on everyone else's gear as each boarded the grav-Carrier, and began the ninty minute trip to the prison.  Settled in the air-raft, Terin grabbed some sleep like some others, until Mikah woke him with a stim-injection.  For that, Mikah chose a fast-acting self-injector stick, in case Terin flinched or jerked in reaction to the injection.  Sure Terin was waking up, Mikah turned to Rol, as the others did, making it clear this was his party.

Addressing the 'throw away' first, Rol pointed to Fesic and said, "Like I said, you're drag.  You stay up top.  If something happens to us, you have to come in and get us."  He kept quiet that he knew they were screwed if it came to Fesic saving them.  Given the gunner's actions so far, he showed no tactical combat sense at all.  When Fesic asked, "Serious?" ignoring his lack of mobility, Rol said he wanted Fesic to stand at the elevator down to the detention level.  So he could use the charge if the team got trapped below.  With that, he got into the meat of his plan.

Rol said he'd learned the layout of the prison during the transit.  The upper two levels of the prison contained operations spaces, armories, guard or staff barracks, support spaces, facility engineering needs, administrative areas and light holding sections for prisoners in transit or temporary holding space.  The upper level also contained much of the facility's electronics for sensors and counter-assault systems, and defensive combat systems.  Kept as far as possible from prisoners, the upper floor also had some recreational space for the prison staff as well as high-value staff offices and the prison records section.

The lower, detainment section had been completely poured as a reinforced-concrete isolation and detention system.  Electronics ran in piping or worked from mounts along the walls and ceiling.  From a central receiving space where the elevator arrived from the upper levels, there were a small number of specific corridors.  These ran in a straight line from the receiving space for nearly 200 feet before there was a bend to the left.  This allowed guards holding out in those corridors some cover to use defending if the elevator and receiving space were taken.  At the end of each corridor, where there was a standing guard position, there was a central opening from which three or four ten-foot-long passages ran, ending in one cell each.

Having learned the layout and specifics of the prison, Rol compared that with what he knew of Zhodani teleport commando operations from his training.  The commandos most often worked as a team with precognitive telepaths.  In a naval battle, the precogs would use their powers to scry out spaces aboard enemy ships which they could clearly see in their minds.  Getting that fix, they then telepathically sent that visualization to the "port commando".  Having a clear visualization in mind, the port commando could then use their ability to teleport to the site and begin combat operations against the crew of that ship.  Given their high value, these operations were almost always used against key strategic or important vessels unless the battle was so clearly lopsided that recovery of all commandoes was likely.

Still, looking over the layout, Rol was concerned.  Teleport commando operations were generally one-way, and it took all the power of a commando to make that attack jump.  While that was, admittedly, usually across tens or hundreds of miles of space rather than from the local town to the prison, a double jump meant getting very close to the prison.  That or ending up exhausted and needing another person or team to recover and remove them from the area due to the energy drain.  So, he'd had to factor that into his investigation.  Still, Rol was seriously skeptical it was a Zhodani team at all.

After giving Fesic his orders, Rol told the others, "Let's go in and see what we can learn before making any decisions."  At the main entrance, they were greeted up front by a "kill box" style entrance, manned by guards whose operations were enhanced by electronic detectors and other sensors.  At the internal rear of the space, furthest from the entrance, was a man working a station where he read all the scans, watched for alarms and generally directed the el-int to the others in the space, and the prison's main operations staff.  In his briefing, Rol had been told there was a "second-layer" man in the main operations space who duplicated that technician's work.

That position backed up a two-trooper team who would directly interact with all visitors and open or inspect everything someone carried into the space.  They would question all credentials, check all paperwork and begin the evaluation of all requests to move through the space.  That team was supported by an armed two-trooper team, there to interdict anything in the space with their compact hard hitting slug throwers, a pair of submachineguns in this case.  They also were body armor and head/face cover protective gear.

For Rol and the team, this was all simply 'good to know' at the moment.  An additional man, in a suit, waited in the space until the team arrived.  He said he was waiting to bring them to the Warden and the prison Operations section.  After briefly checking the team's credentials, Rol let the man lead them into the prison.  Moving quickly through the passages, the team soon entered an open space filled with electronics, consoles scan-techs, operations techs, operations officers, ratings and communications posts.  The techs at the consoles watched sensors and other data systems covering every inch of the prison and the entire surrounding space as far as the town and into that region a bit.

Everyone seemed to be diligently working their posts as a cluster of obviously higher ranking people gathered around what was apparently a "situation table".  Leading that group were the prison's warden, head of security, Chief of guards and some advising leaders of the technical staff.  Discretely, most of the team saw two armed guards which Fesic missed.  He had to pay much more attention to how he moved, to not snag his gear on anything.  The troopers were armed with auto-rifles and auto-pistols, and wearing body armor.  Arriving, Rol moved up to the warden who turned to greet the team.  Rol handed over his credentials and paperwork again as the warden welcomed them all.

Taking A Look Around

     When Rol asked for an explanation of the situation, the warden said the body was still in place, and his investigators had reported no evidence anyone had entered the cell space by any of the usual methods.  He also said they had isolated the guard who'd been in-position, and his report held nothing unusual until the killing.  He said he'd been standing his post and only briefly looked away from the cell.  When he looked back to the cell, the guard reported he'd seen the prisoner down.  So, he raised the alarm.  His report then said he moved forward to check the prisoner, described as 'in a growing pool of blood', and said he saw three bullet holes penetrating the prisoner's chest.  Rol asked if the man had reported or the investigators found any bullet shell casings and was told there were none seen or found.

Terin stepped in to ask if there was video surveillance of the cells, and the warden said there was.  When the warden asked if they wanted to view that at the moment, Rol and Terin both said they did, stepping on each other.  Telling the techs to pull up the data, the warden asked how far back they would like to start viewing from?  Terin and Rol agreed that five minutes would be good, and the warden gave the instructions.  When the tech had things set up, the playback was presented at five times normal speed so they could see the five-minute segment in a minute's time.  They watched, and Fesic, Emkir, Rol and Bhreker each noted there was a point where the video seemed to jump.

Ever the conspiracy theorist, Fesic said he'd seen a jump and the video they were seeing after that was a "cover" for what actually happened.  He believed someone had either edited or subverted the video with pre-recorded video to hide what was going on.  Some of the others were confused what the hell Fesic was talking about, but Rol asked the tech to replay that section at a slower rate.  When that was done, it was clear there had been a ten-second burst of static.  Much less elegant an interruption than Fesic had suggested.  They still investigated the video and the timing, it did seem the static had happened just at the moment the shooting had.  Another item they noticed was the posture and appearance of the guard.

Looking closely at the guard before the static, he appeared well aware of himself and his situation.  But after the static, there was perhaps a second where the guard almost seemed to have nodded off!  Still, he remained standing so he hadn't fully fallen asleep.  Recovering from that, they watched as the guard looked up at the cell and then moved out of the camera's frame toward the cell before raising the alarm.  Munarshu muttered something about a stasis field, but the guard's eyes had been closed.  So, he wasn't held in any field, and the only such field even rumored to exist was a Zhodani Psi-rumor in Imperial space.

More conventionally, Terin muttered "mind control" under his breath as Zimzod said it looked like the guy just fell asleep and was about to fall over when he woke.  Mikah asked if the prison had the file video from just before the prison had been told the prisoner was in-bound?  She was told they did, as well as having the body and scene secured for the team's investigation.  They were also reminded the guard, who had been on duty, was being held.  Mikah had them prepare that file and volunteered to go down and investigate the body.  when Rol said the whole team should go down, Mikah asked who was going to review the video?  When Terin suggested they have one of the prison techs do it, she reminded him they'd already missed any abnormalities the first time through.

Addressing the video issues, the tech at the console explained that glitches like the static issue were not "missed", but were normal for the system.  When asked to explain, he said the system was old and glitches like that were common.  Standing close, the warden defensively confirmed the issue was a known one, and requests for a system update had been submitted repeatedly.  Accepting that for the moment, Rol repeated that Fesic was to position himself at the top of the elevator shaft while the rest of the team went down to the detention level, to continue the investigation.  As they moved, they were led by a guard.

At the elevator lobby, the guard produced a special access card which was needed to make the elevator respond.  After some examination of that system, they had the guard call the elevator and descended to the detention level.  Along the entire route, the team looked for any signs of forced usage or damage to security devices.  But they saw none as they searched.  The car descended a distance equal to two full levels before coming to a stop.  As the doors opened, they saw an unmanned assembly area.  From there, they saw the passages leading off at different directions to the different cell clusters.  After taking the time to check that space, Rol ordered the team to move down the passage to the cell with the body.

As they walked, they saw the construction of the passage was very basic but also very secure.  The entire space seemed to be poured rebar-reinforced concrete in as solid a configuration as possible.  Looking towards the end of the passage, they saw the end they expected.  That protected the guard from sudden assault while also creating a defensive hard point.  There was a man in the uniform of the prison guards waiting at the bend who waved them forward.  The one-way in-and-out passage was marked with light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.  Every 30 to 40 feet, one foot by eight-inch vent covers were visible, at a height of six feet, eight inches.

Moving forward to the bend, the man waiting there introduced them to a small team of local investigators.  The three men had traced out, measured and recorded all the details of the murder scene.  Rol asked if they'd come up with any results and was told they hadn't.  Terin asked about footprints or other markings while looking around himself.  They said they didn't find anything of that sort, while Terin noticed traces of a crusty dust-like substance.  Looking to see the scope of dust coverage, Terin saw it was very limited.  The rest of the space seemed to be insanely clean, marking the dust as 'out of place' to his mind.  When Terin pointed it out and they all checked the dust, they found it was dirt!

After Terin pointed out that was out of place, he asked the locals if they could take it to a lab and have it checked?  They said they would, but said it would take some hours to get a report back.  Rol and the others were OK with that.  While that happened, Bhreker moved to the surveillance camera, checking it for any signs of tampering.  He found nothing showing it had been touched.  Aali and Terin talked about watching the video and couldn't say if the dirt had been visible or not?  Terin said the dirt could mean someone tunneled in, so Munarshu put on his PRIS goggles and started scanning the area in a wide variety of spectrums.  When Rol asked why they'd tunnel in, Terin suggested they might have, in order to get a teleport commando closer.  Zimzod said he doubted that because of the amount of time it would take to cut a tunnel.  The prisoner had only been in custody for hours.

Rol also said he was betting the killer wasn't a teleport commando because none of the evidence they were gathering mattered if it had been.  To that end, he suggested Terin check along the corridor back to the elevator, to see if he could find more dirt?  Still convinced it might be a teleporter, Terin turned to one of the locals and asked if they could have a team work the perimeter of the prison looking for someone who might have drained themselves making two teleports.  That, or evidence there had been a team on the surface to grab the over-taxed psion and help them escape.  The local investigator said the warden had already sent teams out to check the perimeter.

Getting A Feel For The Place

     When Rol asked what else the warden had set in motion, he was told they had a basic report and recorded data on the slugs used to kill the pirate.  A visual inspection of the cell showed the shots had passed through the victim's body, impacting the rear wall of the cell at a much slower speed.  When Rol asked about the data they had, he was told the rounds had been 7mm slugs, most likely fired from a semi-automatic snub pistol commonly available on-world.  They did point out, on the video of the slugs, that there were etched lines which didn't make sense.  Since they couldn't figure out the meaning of those, the slugs had been sent to be analyzed.

While Mikah stepped into the cell to do a post-mortem on the dead guy, Terin, Munarshu and Aali went to scan the corridors end to end.  Checking the entry wounds, Mikah confirmed the weapon used had been a small caliber weapon.  She also guessed the man was shot while he was standing and facing his killer head-on.  She was also able to detect powder burns on the body, which wasn't a surprise.  Terin and his team slowly walked back down the corridor looking for anything out of place, and Bhreker decided to check the nearby vent covers in the corridor for tampering.  His visual inspection showed nothing, nor did Emkir's sighting down the walls spot any signs any of the concrete had been displaced.

Getting his team moving, Rol told Terin to take his team counter-clockwise and check the other corridors while he took the others to look clockwise, and they'd check all the corridors.  Rol's team started out, checking the other cells in that cluster but found nothing unusual.  They then started moving carefully down the hall, back towards the elevator, and Bhreker noticed the floor was "less dusty" than had been near the cells.  Looking up, Bhreker said "The floor here seems to be lacking dust." and the group looked around more closely.  When Rol got down close to the floor and looked, he saw the floors were especially clean for a space.  Checking the borders of the clean space, they found the area was a ten square foot space where the floors had been even more clean than the prison kept things.

Curious, Emkir sparked up his radiation detector but found nothing more than background radiation.  Mentioning that to the others, they sparked up IR sensors and other gear but also found nothing unusual.  Looking around that specific space, Rol saw there was a vent right near where they were standing, and got up close to check it.  Mikah joined him and scanned the vent cover with her LI/IR gear.  As the two got nose-close to the vent cover, they could see the paint over the screws attaching the cover to the vent frame had been tampered with!  Seeing this, Rol told the rest of the team, and Terin's group, to investigate the vents as they moved.  Still, the vents were small enough they could only accommodate a bot or 'droid.

Rol next called back to the local investigators asking if there was a specific tool needed to open the vent?  They came forward with a set of standard tools and handed him a screw driver.  Rol stepped back and let them work and the locals said, "These are loose" in a surprised tone.  Rol wasn't surprised.  After opening the cover, Rol asked for a boost to get eye level with it.  As Bhreker stepped up, Rol got out his gauss pistol and sighted down the duct as Bhreker lifted him.  What he saw was a thin layer of dust but nothing else that stood out on his sights.  Switching the weapon out for a flashlight, Rol could now see a set of what appeared to be tracks in the dust!  Something with wheels had traveled that duct.  Now having something to target, Rol called for the warden, asking if they had sensors on the vents?

The warden said they didn't have video fixed on the prison's vent covers, but had a system that would pressurize the ducts and "blow out" the system.  Asking for clarification, Rol was told the system could be cleaned by blowing everything in it out a release valve outside the prison itself.  When Rol asked for access points to the vent systems, the warden said they could get a schematic of the system to his team.  Rol asked if there was video of the external vents, and was told there were perimeter cameras but the vents were under the shadow of the camera angles and not directly visible.  He did say they'd see anyone approaching or leaving the vents.

Rol started to ask the warden to place men at any vent points outside the prison and blow the system, the warden repeated that there was only one release valve where the debris would be blown out.  Rol considered that, and Terin asked if the prison had a cleaning system for the ducts?  When the warden said they had a robot system for cleaning them, Terin asked when the ducts had last been cleaned?  Checking the system, he was told they'd last activated the system three weeks before.

When Rol decided it was time for the team to head out to the vent port and have the warden blow out the system, Terin asked if Rol wanted them to send people to check the other external vents?  Rol asked why and Terin said they might see if any of those were tampered with?  Zimzod spoke up, saying they could check the outside vents on their way to the port, doing both things at the same time.  When Bhreker asked if all the robots were accounted for, the warden said they were.  Terin asked if the bots had cameras to show what was in the system, the warden said they didn't.

Scraps From The Corner Shadows

     Told to stay at the elevator shaft in case anything happened, Fesic waited a bit before abandoning his post.  He moved to the Prison Ops space to talk to the scan tech.  When he found the tech, Fesic asked about the video glitches?  He was told, again, the glitches were common and affected all the prison's sensors.  Asking more questions, Fesic was told the random glitches were caused by the system's old electronics, which was nothing new either.  Other techs confirmed this was well known inside the prison.  When he updated Rol with this, Rol asked him to find out who was running the maintenance for the ventilation system?  Fesic asked and was told it was an automated calendar item.  When the routine was to be activated, the tech on duty would get an alert and monitor as the robots did their work.  Still, they checked the roster and gave Fesic the name of the tech.

Accepting that, Rol asked if all the robots were accounted for, and where they were kept?  He was told the computer logged all the robots in-place, and was given the location of the maintenance room where the bots were stored.  Rol detailed Zimzod and Terin to check the space and verify the robot statuses while Mikah asked if there were any records of unscheduled activations of the robots?  The techs checked and said the robots hadn't been activated since the scheduled cleaning three weeks before.  In the maintenance bay, Terin and Zimzod found everything was as expected.  With two spare robots locked down in the space, the others were locked to the track, waiting for use.  Looking for a log of use, Terin realized all the logs would be maintained by the computer.

Terin took a measure of the distance between the treads on the robots and called down to the investigators on the detention level.  He asked them to measure the tracks in the dust and see if they were the same?  This, because Rol had led the team back up and out of the prison to check the external vents.  In the elevator with his team, Rol asked for ideas.  In the maintenance room, Zimzod said they hadn't yet talked to the guard that was on duty.  Realizing he'd forgotten that, Rol decided they should do that before the vents.  Leaving the lift, the team found Fesic, who had left his assigned position, and went to the infirmary, where the guard was being held.

The guard jumped up to attention as the team entered, and waited to be addressed.  Addressing the man, Rol asked, "You were the guard assigned to the cell?"  The man barked back, "Yes Sir!"  Rol asked, "What do you recall just before the incident?"  The guard admitted he was nodding and having issues staying awake but insisted he had not done so.  As evidence, he pointed out his was a 'standing post', and if he'd fallen asleep, he would have collapsed to the floor.  Other than that, he said he couldn't recall hearing or seeing anything out of line before seeing the prisoner down and dead.  When Rol asked if the man had felt any pain or anything unexpected, the man again barked "No Sir!"

Fesic asked if the man's weapon had been recovered and inspected?  When he was told that had been done, he asked if the weapon had been fired and was told it hadn't been.  Fesic was also told the man had been armed with an automatic pistol, and the wounds appeared to have come from a snub pistol.  Rol asked the guard if he'd been given blood tests to determine if he'd been affected by drugs?  The guard was confused why he'd ask that, and said they hadn't done so.  Turning to Mikah, Rol asked if she could test the man and she stepped up saying she could.  Mikah prepared her gear, and ordered the guard to strip and he quickly did so.

Scanning the man physically before doing anything else, Mikah checked him and found a blemish on the man's upper left chest.  It was in an area that would correspond to a gap in the guard's body armor.  When she questioned the man about it, he was surprised and said he'd not injured himself there at all.  Examining the wound more closely, Mikah saw the wound was a puncture, that would be consistent with a Tranq round from a snub pistol!  Grabbing her scanner and starting the five-minute routine, Mikah shot the guard a look and said "You've been tranq'd." in a matter of fact tone. 

Mikah ran her test while the investigators told Terin and Zimzod the gage of the tracks in the dust didn't match the maintenance robots.  Deciding someone had to have inserted something into the maintenance system, Terin asked for a map of the ductwork.  He wanted to see if they could work back from where the device arrived internally back to another vent where the device was put into the system?  He was told they would get such a map printed and delivered.  In the infirmary, Rol had left Mikah to run her test while he took the team out to check the external vents.  Her results came back and Mikah reported blood chemistry showing the man had been tranq'd.  She started working out what drug had been used, because the standard tranq would have dropped him for several hours.

Outside, Rol's team had checked the first external vent, found nothing and was moving on when she reported her findings.  Mikah could tell the drug was more of a fast acting variety, and was trying to lock it down.  A specialized round type, this told the team it wasn't something easy to get one's hands on.  As Rol's team arrived at the second vent, Emkir pointed out that the dirt around the vent had been disturbed and someone had done something there!  While it appeared the person had tried to camouflage the activity, they hadn't done a good enough job, and the team found a trail and half a footprint!  Looking for ideas to track the evidence, Rol asked for options and Emkir asked if there were bloodhounds?

Munarshu said he had done a bit of hunting in his free time, and was given the job of tracing the trail as Fesic sparked a flashlight and checked for things they couldn't see in the dark.  Unfortunately, Munarshu found the trail was a short one.  It led off the dirt apron to the grass surrounding the prison.  The direction was towards the drive which fronted the prison and could be crossed into the vehicle parking spaces.  Fesic found nothing new when he sparked up his flashlight.  Securing the flashlight, Fesic readied his laser weapon while Munarshu worked.  So did Bhreker.  As Rol held a flashlight, Munarshu checked the grass and found a trail of bent blades leading to the prison's front drive.  There, he could find no trail on the pavement.  So the actor either made free their get-away or got into a vehicle.

Following The Trail

     When Munarshu cursed the dead end, Zimzod said they had cameras which showed that part of the drive.  Terin suggested they get the prison ops techs to check the video from the cameras.  Emkir argued the techs might just miss something like they did with the cell block video.  After a few back and forth arguments, Mikah said she was in the prison and able, so she'd go to the Ops section and watch the video.  Terin and Zimzod said they were done in the maintenance bay and joined Mikah there.  When they had the video pulled, the tech asked how far back they wanted to go?

The team asked for the past five hours, and the warden had the techs pull the video and play each hour at a high speed on five different screens, to get any data quickly.  On the screen showing the third hour, they saw video of a vehicle pulling up half-way through the segment.  As they watched, a blue-white panel mini-cart pulled up with advertisements on the screen for an electronics firm the prison used for out-sourced maintenance work.  Quickly, a man in a service tech's uniform and dark boots got out of the vehicle and moved into the camera shadow where the vent was.  His face was obscured by wrap-around glasses and he wore a cap.  Over his shoulder was a leather worker's satchel which had a bulge, suggesting something contained.

Mikah, Terin and Zimzod waited while the tape played for just over two minutes before the "tech" was seen to be leaving.  They watched, and could see the once bulging satchel was now flat.  So they guessed the tech had opened the vent and taken a robot or android from his satchel, to put in the duct.  But why wasn't apparent.  Apparently done with his task, the tech got into the vehicle and drove towards the prison parking spaces and exit.  Because all suppliers and support firms used by the prison were vetted, the warden had his people pull the data on the electrical firm.  He was able to the information on the firm from those in Ops quickly.

Terin had them pull pictures of the tech and asked if anyone knew him?  He was told no one knew the specific tech, but they could get that from the firm's owners.  When Rol was updated, he asked if they could have the man brought in and the warden said they could either call the firm to have him brought in, or the team could go to take him into custody themselves.  Rol decided they would go themselves and selected Zimzod and Mikah to go with him.  He also asked the Warden to send the details on the unknown technician to local law enforcement, to detain if they could.  Before that, Rol asked the warden to prepare to blow out the vent ducts while his team took up a position outside the vent exhaust port.

The warden asked Rol if they should continue to hold the guard and Rol said they shouldn't.  The warden also told Rol they had called in all the off-duty guards.  He said they'd done so because the event seemed much larger than they'd first thought.  Rol nodded, saying he felt the man wouldn't have been tranq'd if he were in on the plan.  Mikah suggested they send the man to medical, to have a complete scan of the wound and blood chemistry done.  That way, they'd have as much evidence as they could find.  That done, Rol led the team out to the vent exhaust port.  After the system was vented, the team found nothing but dust had been blown out.

Since "whatever" hadn't been blown out and they'd seen evidence of something being put in, Rol changed his mind about going into town and had the team return to the Ops space, to check the video in the area of the vent from after the placement of the device until after the killing.  Within minutes of the killing, according to the official timeline, there was clear video of the technician returning to the vent.  When he left, moments later, it was clear he'd replaced something of the same size he arrived with into his satchel.  Everyone on the team was satisfied the "Zhodani theory" had been wrong.

Briefing the warden on what they now knew, Rol was satisfied the unknown technician was the killer and it wasn't a Zhodani operation.  The warden was still skeptical, asking how the man had managed to kill the prisoner?  He admitted the man had put something in the prison's duct system, but that would have been stuck in the system unless someone inside the prison had opened a vent cover inside.  So, the warden felt there were large pieces still missing from the puzzle.  Rol said he thought the robot or android likely had a weapon and they planned to capture the technician and find that from him.  The warden accepted that as the word of the Duke's deputized team.

Seeing the man still had doubts, Rol asked for him to speak up.  The warden said there was no line of sight from the vent to the cell where the guard was tranq'd, and the prisoner killed.  He also had doubts about the device getting itself past the vent cover and to the guard without that man spotting it.  So, he made it clear he thought someone had to have been inside the prison.  Terin then suggested they review the corridor video from thirty minutes before the ten second static burst, to see if they could find anything more?  While they watched, the only oddity they could see was another guard moving from the elevator toward the target cell.  What made it odd was that he was moving out of schedule!

Annoyingly, this guard had been wearing a face mask, as was done in the detention level.  That kept prisoners from becoming too familiar with their guards.  Capturing a close up of the guard, they couldn't read the man's ID tag because it seemed to be blurred for some reason.  With that, Terin asked if they could work through the videos and back track the guard from that corridor to his initial position?  Doing that, the scan techs tracked him first back to the elevator.  Then, on the Operations level, to the guard's ready room.  Because that was a space where guards changed clothes and carried out other personal activities, there were no cameras in that set of rooms.

Stuck there, Terin ordered that all the video covering entrances to that space should be pulled and everyone who went in and out tracked.  The set up for that didn't take long, and it wasn't much longer after that a scan tech called out and everyone gathered around the woman's screen.  They watched while the technician they'd seen putting his device into the vent system entered the guard's ready room!  Mikah said the obvious, "So he's not really a technician." and Munarshu the even more obvious, "He's an assassin."

Seeing the video, the warden demanded a tech pull the credentials the assassin had used to get the elevator to work and found they were a badge assigned to a guard who'd not yet responded to the all-hands summons.  Mikah guessed the assassin had stolen the service truck and faked the technician's uniform.  With the new data, the team told the warden to get the local police out looking for that guard too, but the best money were the missing tech and guard were dead.  When Terin asked, the techs pulled the data the tech used when he first entered the prison.  They found he'd used an approved ID and had a valid work order for electrical work.

Focusing on the video, they saw the man's uniform was correct, and all the details were in order.  But they had no evidence the man who arrived was the tech in question.  The guards at the entrance also ran all the scans and made sure he had no weapons or devices which could be connected to make a weapon.  The worst he had were screw drivers he could stab with, or blunt force trauma tools.  That begged the question where the snub pistol and ammunition had come from?  Fesic and Munarshu also asked what the work order had been for, and if that was completed or there was other possible sabotage done?  A check on the work order said the tech was supposed to replace some circuits in an electronics package.

When Fesic asked to be led to the panel to check, he confirmed no work had been done.  Suspicious of the original work order, Fesic said he wanted to run tests on the circuit boards to verify they actually needed to be changed.  When he told Rol he wanted to do that, Rol said they could verify the work order with the prison's Operations staff and warden rather than having Fesic waste several hours.  When the order was questioned, the data behind it was provided, showing the work was needed and ordered several weeks before.  So, with the work not done and a picture of the technician, the team needed to find out if that was who was sent by the electronics firm to do the work?

Getting back to Ops, the team gathered and the warden had his people get the owner of the electronics firm on the comms.  After connecting, the man was shown an image of the technician and asked if that was the man his people had sent to the prison to do the work?  Or even one of his employees?  The man studied the image and firmly said, "That is no one who works for me at all."  The man then accessed his own company files and pulled up the picture of a large burly man before saying, "This is the technician we sent to the prison today.  He hasn't checked in to close out the work order yet."  Mikah asked for the man's name and address.  They added that information since they'd told the police to look for the fake tech and missing guard first, and wanted that search updated.

When the police were called with the new data, they confirmed their people were on site on the guard's home, and could find no sign the guard was there.  Rol had the prison folks give the police the images of the service vehicle the fake technician had used, hoping they might be able to track the killer by that.  Munarshu asked the firm owner if the vehicle had a tracker and was told it didn't.  Nodding while telling the police to meet the business owner at his shop and the owner to check his buildings for bodies, they cut the line with the electronics firm owner.  Rol then prepared a summary of what they'd learned and asked for access to the line set up for him to communicate with the Duke and his people.

Rol gave his summary to the team before he called the Duke.  He suggested an agent impersonated a technician coming to the prison under a legitimate work order.  He then got access to the external vents and inserted a robot into the prison's vent.  The man then got into the prison and changed into a guard's uniform.  Impersonating a guard, he got to an internal vent in the detention level and recovered the robot.  Using that, or something it carried, to tranq the on-duty guard and kill the prisoner before making good his escape.  During the period where he recovered the robot and made his attacks, he used a device to interrupt the prison's internal security systems.

When he finished his summary, a number of team members put two and two together and realized the robot had been used to get the snub pistol into and out of the prison, alogn with the device used to affect the scanners.  Aali added that the device that jammed the sensors did so in a way that mimiced a known glitch in the prison's security system.  Rol suggested the missing guard and technician would likely be found dead.  After firming up the summary, Rol made his call and was quickly speaking to the Duke and his top advisors.  With their full attention, Rol laid out the evidence and the suspicions they had, based on what they'd learned.  When he was done, Duke Luis confirmed Rol and his team had shared all this data with the prison and local police authorities.

Nodding, the Duke thanked Rol and said it was time to turn the case over to the local authorities and return to the palace.  When Terin assumed they couldn't learn from current events and suggested the Duke have his people check on the two wounded pirates, he was told that had been done as soon as reports of the first killing had come in.  With that, Rol formally returned his authority to the warden and they left the prison for the waiting transport.  On the transport, and as the vehicle lifted, Terin did his best to stay awake until they'd gotten back to the palace.  With all the excitement passed, even despite the earlier stim, he was fading fast.  He dozed during the flight, and was able to wake and make it back to his suite in the palace before falling to sleep entirely.

The Last Bit Of Night

     After returning to the palace, Terin barely managed to drop his gear in his suite and fall on the bed asleep.  The others, having had more sleep the night before, moved back to the ship to stow their gear and clean everything up properly before returning to their suites and grabbing sleep.  They all expected some sort of post-mortem on the action the next morning.

Yet Another Summons

     When Terin woke the next morning, to the insistence of a light sounding tone, he felt a great deal better.  That didn't stop his still sleep-weary moan and demand, "What the fuck is that?"  In fact, everyone heard the chime in their suite, regardless if they'd intended to sleep in or gotten up a bit earlier and were relaxing.  As each had woken, they saw the items they had stripped off and dropped on the floor or draped over some furniture had been organized.

Household staff had been through the suites in the night organizing.  Nothing was missing, but everything had been moved and placed appropriate to the item and setting.  In his suite, Terin saw they'd brought in an armor stand to hold the armor he'd dropped on the floor!  Next to his bed, Terin saw a thermos-style cup on the side table with a thumb button obvious on the side of the container.  Reaching for it, Terin thumbed the control, which briefly glowed a golden red.  He watched while a tab appeared on the inside of the thick cup from which steam puffed and Terin smelled caff.  Slowly, Terin decided to let the drink steep and cool as he took a shower.

Despite the "wake up call", it was 10am before they were all out of their suites for breakfast.  With Terin the last to show up for the expected breakfast buffet, the others had been relaxing.  Bhreker relaxed and pulled out his cross stitch project.  When Rol arrived and checked out Bhreker's work, the salesman said, "Might as well relax and wait for the others."  Rol sparked up the news.  Having woken at the same time, Zimzod pulled Mikah back into the bed before she could rise and made sure they'd get to breakfast later.  Fesic arrived from his suite, before there had been any mention of events at the prison at all.  Bhreker and Rol had both found that odd and a slight bit disturbing.

After Fesic ate, he went to hit the gym before coming back to his suite to grab a shower and dress.  Like Mikah and Zimzod, Emkir woke up first and then woke up Aali, to make sure they didn't get out of their suite too early.  Despite the early drive, Mikah and Zimzod were done in bed and having chow when the chime woke the rest and interrupted Emkir and Aali.  Asking after the others, Mikah found out Fesic had hit the gym and the rest were still sleeping it off.  Forty minutes after the chime, the others had arrived, with Fesic returning first before going to grab a shower and dress.  He'd been told to return from the gym by one of the Duke's protocol team members.  When Terin arrived, he started working on eating all the food on the table.

Before Fesic left for his shower, the same protocol staffer who'd spoken to him at the gym arrived behind him and told them all the Duke wanted them to appear in his court at 1pm.  With a sinking heart and a thought of 'not again', Mikah agreed her people would be there.  After Rol said, "Time to pretty up", Terin announced he planned to dress for court and then return to the library.  When he suggested he might have very little time to complete his work, Mikah told him the Duke just wanted to give them a 'good job' pat on the back.  Still, Terin wasn't sure and said he'd go back to the library anyway.

With hours to wait, Mikah asked about a pool and then decided to go swimming.  Zimzod, not surprisingly, decided to go with her.  Of course, his idea was to get Mikah out of her bathing suit.  Rol decided to clean and service his gear.  When Emkir and Aali heard there was a pool, they decided to follow Mikah.  Fesic hit his suite for a leisurely shower and rest before dressing for court.  He made sure to wear all his decorations and to belt the snub pistol the Duke gave him.  After dressing, Fesic went to help Terin.  Munarshu decided to work out for an hour before showering and dressing for court.  Then, he'd relax until required to move.  Bhreker went back to his suite to prepare one of his high end suits for court.

After that was prepared, but before he changed for court, Bhreker decided to check into the InstellArms catalog, looking for low-skill, easy to mount multi-spectrum scanners to possibly sell to the crew after their recent adventure.  But, when he logged in, Bhreker got two "note-alerts".  Checking his notes, Bhreker was notified that InstellArms had gotten word about two notable requests made to the Imperial Navy.  The first said a member of the crew had asked for permission to buy and own Battledress.  The next said a crewmember asked for permission to buy and own an FGMP-15.  Bhreker was encouraged to make sure any authorized sale was made by InstellArms for a healthy profit.  Especially since his commission would reflect that.  The information was also interesting to Bhreker, since it meant someone on the Duke's staff was feeding information to InstellArms.

While reading, there were links to files containing the specs on every Battledress suit on sale in-system.  According to the document, there were no PGMP or FGMP class weapons for sale in the region.  The least expensive suit was a Mk III which was thirty years old and priced at MCr 1.5.  Checking the pricing, Bhreker worked out how much he could cut into the deal in order to get the sale, while recognizing that the first cuts would come from his commission.  With the pricing set, Bhreker did a comparison chart contrasting that suit with his understanding of Zimzod's Battledress.  From there, Bhreker saw the most expensive unit he could offer was a Fifth Frontier War used and augmented Model VI.  That was priced at MCr 4.25.  After that, Bhreker also checked on easily used forensic support devices to offer the crew in the event anyone had the skill to use them?

Once More Before The Choir

     Eventually, as those at the pool went back to the suites to get dressed and ready, some of the Duke's protocol people started arriving.  This happened about half an hour before they were needed in Court.  As they arrived, it was made clear the crew had to get moving according to their schedule.  Rushing the last bits, the crew and their handlers made their way to the Duke's court, arriving near the end of some apparently contentious piece of business.  In the outer court, the lead protocol people brought the crew to the heralds.  There, they were checked in and the notes were sent where needed.  To the surprise of the crew, they almost immediately heard the Duke's primary Herald announce, "The Duke would see before him the crew of the Hotel California.

With that, some of them shrugged and Mikah and Zimzod led them in.  Everyone else randomly followed behind.  With them in the presence, the Herald called out, "The Duke would also have Mr. Bhreker Krajowa before him.  Shrugging, Bhreker followed in the footsteps of the crew.  After gathering all of them before him, Duke Luis looked down on them and said "Welcome back to my court." in that friendly tone which most made Mikah cringe.  Still, she replied, "Thank you your Grace." in an equally pleasant tone.  As the courtiers watched in some confusion, as this order of business hadn't been on the docket, the Duke joked, "You seem to like it here."

Mikah smiled and said, "You've been most generous." and he answered, "You've been most effective." moving his hands to make it clear his compliment was for the whole group.  The Duke continued, "This is, in fact, the second time in almost as many days in which you've been of service to my Duchy and my people.  And whereas the situation was not as dire as it might have been, you cleaned it up in a surprisingly short period of time.  Even considering the amount of travel time involved.  We were also rather surprised and pleased with your results.  So, at this time, We would like Lady Mikah to join us on the dais."  Surprised by the unusual request, Mikah gave her hand to a staffer and allowed herself to be led to a position standing next to the Duke as the others wondered what was about to happen?

After Mikah joined him, Duke Luis turned back to those below and commanded, "Kneel!" in a tone which bore no refusal.  They all took a knee and Luis elevated them all to Knights of the Order of the Knight Defenders of Lunion!  A planetary Order, the other Knights knew wouldn't conflict with their other oaths.  This was an entirely new experience for Fesic, Munarshu and Bhreker.  That done, Duke Luis turned to Mikah and ordered her to kneel.  When she took a knee, the Duke elevated Mikah to the rank Knight Commander of the Knight Defenders of Lunion.  After letting that sink in, the Duke continued, "And while you are down there, and for good measure, a message has been sent to Rhylanor requesting you be created a Knight Commander of the Knight Defenders of the Marches as well."

Duke Luis then invited Lady Dame Commander Doctor Mikah Kirlim to rise.  As she rose, Mikah turned to her crew below and stage whispered, "Everyone remember that" in a mock-threatening tone which got a laugh from the Duke.  After that, the Duke asked, "Sir Rol, please come up onto the dais." and the court again waited during his movements.  Rol arrived, giving a short Vilani bow to the Duke before stepping into place.  With Rol in place, the Duke began, "The other day, I gave you a fiefdom in the form of permission to use an estate of mine when you are in-system."  Turning to Mikah, he said, "And as well, I granted you the same award.  I now expand that, granting you both property title and ownership to an estate of mine, to be selected from a list I am having my staff prepare."

The Duke continued, making it clear he knew they wouldn't often be in the system.  So he added the protection and maintenance of those properties by his staff to the award as both Knights stood humbled by the gifts.  The Duke also made it clear they could do with the properties as they pleased, so long as they did not sell, rent, lease or destroy the properties without prior consultation with himself.  And when he was done with that, the Duke gave them his own private congratulations and thanks before dismissing the group from court.  A dismissal the crew and Bhreker were not slow to take him up on while moving as quickly as they could and still appearing casual.

Clear of the court, it was again impressed on them that the list of people whose requests they could refuse was shrinking.  This was hammered into place when they were met outside the court proper by members of the seneschalate carrying the required paperwork and certificates.  One small note of advantage was an official grant of the Right to Bear Arms in-system for all those who didn't yet have that.  This actually did augment the Imperial Right to Bear Arms, as it affected the non-Imperial planetary spaces and was granted by the Fief-holder.  One of the other items that was available was the list of estates for Rol and Mikah to choose from.

Dealing With Real Estate Issues

     Sitting down to look over the list, they were presented with 150 estates which the Duke had not visited recently or at all.  A number of them had been built by representatives visiting the system and then gifted to the Duke afterwards, to assure he had guest quarters built to their standards if they visited again.  Quite a number of them were given to the Duke as gifts, and didn't reflect anything other than the attempt to please or surprise him.  When asked what she wanted in an estate, Mikah said she wanted it raised on a hill, surrounded by forest and which had an in-door pool.  She wanted cove ceilings, hardwood floors, slate appliances, marble appointments and a chef's kitchen.  When the Duke's estate manager scanned the properties, he couldn't find one on a hill.

Still, a large number of them were surrounded by forest.  Looking at what those on Lunion called "marble", Mikah saw the material was more of a compressed sedimentary stone which was polished to a high shine and showed a marbleized surface.  Some buildings had the broad stairways and slate covered appliances she favored and others could be modified to suit.  Eventually, the closest estate Mikah could find to what she wanted had much of she asked for, but only had an indoor-outdoor pool.  Mikah quickly asked if that could be fully enclosed with an extended hall?  The man said this could be done at her expense.  After her desires were recorded, the paperwork was done and Mikah was given the address of her new estate.  The man then talked with Rol about his interests.

Rol would have preferred something oceanside, but the city wasn't near the ocean.  So he looked at river and lake side estates.  He certainly wanted the structure to be 'sturdy'.  Rol looked for a rivers-side forested estate with a "comfortable" amount of space and a wall around it.  He also wanted a courtyard or other space he could use as a firing range.  The real estate man found an estate which was river-side which and had a basement level in which was built an indoor firing range.  Sadly, it didn't have any nearby forest.  The residence had guest space for twelve.  According to the video, the spaces were large airy rooms and there was a lot of window space.

As others kibitzed over his shoulders, Terin suggested Rol could always plant trees.  Mikah reminded him that they'd flourish in the high CO2 atmosphere.  While not 100% of what he wanted, Rol was happy with the property shown him.  He was even more pleased when he learned it came with a small boat house containing a pair of sport electric-powered motor boats and some exercise boats too.  Considering the likelihood of water sports, he thought to himself it just might be time to learn to swim.  When Rol pronounced himself happy, the man broke out the paperwork and both Mikah and Rol completed the needed work to transfer ownership.

That done, it was time to go visiting the properties.  Since everyone wanted to see both places, they decided to ask for a party bus from the Duke's motorpool.  Then, they visited Mikah's fiefdom first, followed by Rol's.  With the bus ordered, Mikah asked the real estate man for the data for her Head of House and called that person to be sure an architect would be on the property when she got there.  Happy with that, Mikah enjoyed the ride as she sat back and considered.  Arriving at her estate, Mikah saw the place was all cut stone, natural woods and crystals, slate and manicured plant-life.  A tour showed off the points they knew about as well as a game room, a tri-vid theater and more amenities.

The estate could host thirty guests and contained various activity spaces outside the building on an arc-shaped space of the property skirting the main house.  They found the architect and two assistants waiting for Mikah and she received his data and "at your service" before they sat to talk.  Having been forewarned of Mikah's interests, the architect had several views of ideas for the build.  They ranged from a geodesic semisphere which would connect to the existing house to a rip-down and rebuild of the indoor covering which would be replaced by an addition that matched the original construction.  When Mikah said she wanted the work to match the existing structure, the price quoted was KCr 50.

After Mikah agreed to that, she handed her Ident over and the money was exchanged.  From there, the architect promised the construction would start soon, and would coordinate with Mikah's Head of House.  That man was very pleased, having been the chief maintenance supervisor for the estate who reported to the Duke's Head of House.  Thanks to events, he had a rather sizable promotion handed to him.  Given that Mikah wasn't going to be in residence or on-world, he was also now the well-paid manager of a significant property for an absentee boss.  Done with that, Mikah and the others spent the next couple of hours exploring her new estate while Terin asked for permission to use the computer suite?  He planned to continue his research while emailing data to himself, to add to what he had at the Duke's palace.

As Terin did his research, Bhreker began making queries on InstellArms home defense systems, now he had two possible buyers.  When Mikah asked what he was doing, Bhreker said he'd assumed she'd convert some closet space into an armory as he showed her his newest wares.  When Zimzod asked if the place didn't have an armory already, Mikah's Head of House excused himself and invited the team to follow him.  Walking out to a hall which Mikah thought opposite a small ballroom, he touched an expensively decorated marble wall in a pattern to trigger a very well concealed door!  And inside the door, they could see a "ship's locker style" gun room.

Not missing a beat, Bhreker began offering active defense and security options.  When he got to the idea of security robots, Mikah firmly shot that idea down.  As Bhreker advanced his avarice, Mikah decided that she needed better advice and directed him to talk to her Head of House.  He would advise her on what might be of value to her.  Not to miss any chance, Bhreker mentioned he had other options than defense, like the possible conversion of some of the space to a small infirmary.  That idea actually caught Mikah's interest and she got actively involved in options again.  In the end, Mikah agreed to consider defensive work based on what her Head of House recommended.  She also wanted some of the rooms to be converted to a two-bed infirmary.  The architect said he would come up with numbers after consulting with the appropriate designers.

At nearly four in the evening, they finally got back into the party bus and left for Rol's fief with the architect promising to call Mikah in a few days with numbers and designs.  Arriving at Rol's place, Emkir saw the boat house and asked if they wanted to go for a ride?  Rol dryly suggested they look at the house first.  When Munarshu asked why they should ignore the perfectly good water, Rol wondered how Munarshu knew the water was safe?  For all he knew, the Duke may have been willing to give it up because there was some sort of industrial dumping site upstream.  As he said that, Rol decided he would push Munarshu into the river later.  To test.  Of course, that came sooner rather than later, as Munarshu left the bus to walk to the river bank.  So Rol followed him and, selecting his moment, pushed.

Sputtering and wet, Rol let Munarshu claw his own way out of the water as he turned towards the house.  While the building was largely what he'd asked for, their experience at Mikah's estate led Rol to ask about a safe room?  Not hidden, like Mikah's, the room was part of the weapons and ordinance storage space in the basement.  Still, it was a firm hold-out space with the appropriate supplies and services.  To get to that room, they moved through the firing range, which was two hundred feet long, properly vented and rigged to run targets and even provide holographic challenges.  It also had all the creature comforts one could want in a space where they could have a "shooter's party".  The range had many amenities, including "blast bunkers" and sumps, into which you could kick or throw an accidentally activated explosive device.  Or hide behind, if that would be more effective.

The basement spaces were also served by both a stairway and an elevator.  When he asked about the security system, Rol was told the estate had the standard alarms, wards and scanners which, like Mikah's estate, would remain monitored by the Duke's personnel and security forces.  When he asked about a video surveillance system, and was told one didn't exist, Rol turned to Bhreker.  The InstellArms man pulled out his comp and recommended a multi-spectrum micro-camera system which could cover all public spaces and vulnerability points.  It would have a battery backup and feed to a dual storage system which could also connect to the Duke's security centers as off-site storage too.  When Bhreker suggested the system could be installed for KCr 10, Rol accepted and Bhreker began setting up the installation with Rol's Head of House.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

    Everyone: At Rol's estate, having just begun checking out the place
    Aiden's Clone: 4 weeks, 5 days into the cloning process ( 13+ to go)

Next: Hard Working, Drinking And Losses