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Last Updated    October 12 2017
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Strange Friends And Even
     Stranger Enemies

Stirring Awake With A Rattle And A Shake

Entering Jump     The crew had bedded down after delivering their legitimate cargo and preparing to hand off the tattooed couple's cargo.  Their biggest concern was connecting with Aiden, who wouldn't be decanted for another nine weeks and two days.  While they all slept, Aali was rudely woken by an alarm.  Spreading the alarm, it wasn't long before the whole crew were awake and learned "something" had punched and kicked its way out of the illicit cargo container.  While most of the crew checked the ship's secure compartments, an external recon of the ship's berth found all the InstellArms workers in the berth had been killed.  And the secure portal from the berth's control room into the station-proper had been left wide open too.

After Zimzod and Mikah told the rest of the crew about the android, they told the rest of the crew to button everything up and pretend they knew nothing.  Shortly after, a security team arrived and the questions started.  Then, the entire space station their ship was berthed in shook violently!  Mikah asked for an explanation while the team leader himself called in to station control, with the station's emergency alarms and flashing lights going off in the entire berth!  Alarmed, Mikah ordered everyone into vacc suits and to duty stations aboard the ship as the InstellArms team responded to their own orders.  While Emkir, Rol, Terin, Zimzod and Mikah moved to the bridge after armoring up, Aali and Munarshu went to engineering.

Fesic headed for the bridge weapon's station, planning to heat up the ship's lasers and burn a way out of the berth and station if possible.  Sadly, that wasn't likely, because the ship was in an internal berth aboard the station.  To get there, they had surrendered control on approach and been piloted in by the station's central services.  After landing in the station's arrival bay, they'd settled onto a cradle.  That moved the ship through internal concourses and into the berth.  After the cradle settled the ship onto a pad in the berth, it withdrew and the bulkhead doors to the transport concourse closed and sealed.  So, the odds of doing more than shooting small holes through the bulkhead was very unlikely.  And the station central offices were being uncomfortably quiet.

Weighing options on the bridge, Mikah decided someone who had been a scout would have the best chance of dealing with the issue.  Mikah knew she didn't want to see what Munarshu's paranoia might turn things into.  And Emkir was too much of an officer to do what might have to be done.  She also needed Aali in engineering with Munarshu, so the chief engineer was out.  Since Terin was always coming up with bright ideas, Mikah tapped him and told everyone he was in charge.  Making the simple decisions, Terin called Aali and told her to make sure the ship was ready to lift at a moment's notice as he took charge.

Emkir moved to spark up the command pilot's station and Terin told those not handling other duties to log into terminals and try to log into the station network.  He wanted them to mine for any information on what was happening?  When Emkir asked if he was supposed to prepare to fly or start working the computer, Terin said they had enough pilots and needed the Admiral on the computer.  Emkir moved to a terminal and Rol joked to Terin, "Let me know if you need anyone eliminated because they know too much?"  Pointing at the others in the crew, he continued, "We can't let them fall into enemy hands."  Terin just nodded and said, "OK" with a thumb's up gesture as the others laughed.

Those who'd logged into standard venues on the network were seeing various versions of the warning "Station Emergency On-Going.  Please Stand by for more information."  Emkir worked to push deeper.  Fesic suggested they actually call the port directly, and ask to have the ship shifted from their berth.  This was because they'd been carried from the launch and landing bay where they'd entered the station to an internal berth on a cradle made for moving ships of less than 500 dTons mass.  So, they had no idea how deep inside the station they were.  Or what cradles, carrying what other craft, were moving in the tubes they'd have to blast through the berth walls to get into.

When he was told the station officials weren't available, Fesic pointed to the computers and said, "let's just call them."  Terin considered the idea before saying, "If there's a real emergency on station, we're not gonna get out." figuring station central would be too busy to deal with them.  Rol jumped in, saying "If there's a real emergency on station, they may want us to get out."  After a brief bit of guessing at straws, Emkir looked at Fesic and said, "Your idea, you try it."  So Fesic made the call.  The connection he got was voice-only and Fesic asked if the ship could be put into the departure queue and a cradle sent to move them to the station's launch bay?

The very harried port worker Fesic was talking to first stopped Fesic and asked who he was and what ship he was on?  Confirming who was calling, he also asked Fesic to confirm the Hotel California was prepared to lift immediately?  Fesic said they were, and hoped the question meant the port was ready to move that fast.  But he was disappointed when the man accepted that and said the port would call them when their ship came up in the queue.  With that, the man cut the connection leaving Fesic feeling worse than if he'd been told they were 350th in the queue with only 250 ships on station.

While Fesic made his call, Terin told the others to go over their kits and make sure they had everything they might need, in case things went south quick.  While the crew did that, and Emkir worked at the computer, the station shuddered once again!  At the same time, Emkir suddenly got a pop-up window on his terminal warning them the ship was now running completely on ship's power!  That meant the power feed from the station had been cut off somehow, or for some reason.  Reacting immediately, Emkir suggested they'd been removed from the station feed and Rol reminded him there were no workers still alive in the berth.  So, there was no one to remove the feed cables.  With that sinking in, they realized they'd not been disconnected.  Instead, the station feed had failed!

Emkir called Aali to let her and Munarshu know, and to ask what they might do in response?  Aali said there was nothing they could do except disconnect the useless port cables.  Emkir agreed, but made it clear he still needed the port data feeds, which still appeared to be working.  When they decided they needed someone to step outside and clear the cables, it came down to who should do that?  When Terin asked Rol and Zimzod if they knew how to remove the cables, Zimzod suggested shooting them or blasting them clear.  Rol's answer wasn't as simple but just as destructive, so Terin moved on.  Seeing they couldn't just talk the combat troops through it, and risk disconnecting Emkir, Terin asked Aali to send someone.

Aali knew "send someone" meant sending either her, Munarshu or one of the androids.  Aali decided Munarshu should go but said he should have combat cover, just in case.  That decided, Rol and Zimzod would move out as a combat cover to keep Munarshu safe while he did the work.  The three then moved below decks and aft, to leave through the ship's cargo bay.  At the same time, Emkir managed to hack into the outer layer of servers.  Singing out his progress, Emkir started searching the systems he'd accessed looking at the processes they were running.  Emkir quickly saw this was a local server and not a core processing system.  So, he'd have to use it as a connection to reach more important servers deeper inside the station's network.

Before moving on, Emkir decided to check and see if he could find anything useful on that system?  But he quickly realized something was wrong and dug until he saw there was no Intrusion Countermeasures Encryption (ICE)!  When he saw what was missing, Emkir dug to confirm there didn't seem to be Any ICE running on that system!  This suggested the server was either not running its standard anti-intrusion software or that software ran from another server which wasn't active on the local server.  That increased Emkir's hope he could hack into the core systems and get the crew what they needed.  Planning to move forward, Emkir started scanning the server routing tables to try and reach the next element in toward the core of the network.

Before Emkir moved on, he had a second thought.  The complete lack of any ICE suggested to Emkir that someone else might have hacked into the server before him.  And they could still be there.  So, he sparked up a secondary console and started some standard admin monitoring processes to watch for any attempts to hack the ship's computers.  With that running, Emkir saw he'd be juggling work and worried he'd miss something.  So he asked for someone to help him with the computer work.  When Fesic volunteered, Emkir launched some external consoles on Fesic's screen and ran the software there before telling Fesic what to do.  With Fesic working on that, Emkir went back to trying to hack his way to the station's computer core.

Field Trips and Roadblocks

     When the cargo bay hatch opened, Rol and Zimzod told Munarshu to hang back between the cargo pods as they moved up and scanned the increasingly visible berth space.  Once the hatch was entirely open, Rol and Zimzod sectioned, scanned and cleared every part of the berth they could see before daring the space.  With Rol leading, they moved into the berth, again sectioning, scanning and clearing each part of the visible berth.  Sure they had no more visitors than the 'still in-place corpses' of the berth crew, they told Munarshu to move.  Then, with the two covering any entrances and continually re-scanning the berth, Munarshu moved to the services connection panel where the station conduits, pipes and cabling connected.

At the services panel, Munarshu began the process of disconnecting the systems with the port's fuel hose first.  Depressurizing the connection, Munarshu then turned the locking ring to release the nozzle.  Then, he withdrew the nozzle and moved it away from the ship, coiling it as he went.  Not following the rules for racking a hose, regulations every ship's crewmember was taught, Munarshu made sure the hose was far enough away from the ship to prevent any "accidents" before simply dropping it.  Next, Munarshu removed the other connections one by one.  Finally, he'd disconnected everything except the port data connection, because he'd been told to leave that.  Checking the cabling itself, Munarshu confirmed they wouldn't damage the ship even if they took flight while it was connected.

After he finished, Munarshu let everyone on the crew know via comms while Rol and Zimzod escorted him back inside the cargo bay and sealed the hatch.  On the bridge, the Hotel California was ready to go but no one was talking to them.  Especially anyone from the station's offices.  When Terin said, "OK.  We're all ready to go but it doesn't look like we're going to be going anywhere soon", Mikah snarked, "Well?  What are you going to do about it?"  Sure they were screwed, Mikah got a grim pleasure from treating Sir Terin the same way she'd felt he'd been treating her since he joined the crew.  With all eyes on him, Terin sighed and said, "Well, I think we're gonna have to go outside and, fix the problem."  After a pause, Mikah asked him, "So?  What's your plan?"

Working to connect the dots, Terin said, "Let's give the Admiral a little bit more time to get into the computer.  See if he can find anything out."  He spoke while Emkir was working to try and find any software managing a connection he could exploit.  The most disturbing thing he was running into was that he couldn't seem to find any processes which connected to any of the server's communications ports, or to external port connections.  So, either he was making large mistakes or there was an issue with the station's network.  When Emkir grumbled about that out loud, Terin made up his mind and decisively said, "I think it's time we went out on the station and found out what's going on."

Emkir asked, "You want to set up an away team?" and Zimzod said, "OK!  So who's doing what?"  Again, all eyes were on Terin as he told Emkir, "I think we're gonna take you out to find another computer on the port.  To try to hack in from that point."  When Zimzod asked, "OK, who's going?" Terin again saw Rol had his hand up.  He also saw Zimzod was nodding to suggest he'd be going too.  Mikah also volunteered as Terin fleshed everything out.  Rol and Zimzod would be the guns while Mikah provided medical.  Emkir was the "packet", to be protected as the "computer resource".

That set, Terin said he'd be going along too and everyone else would keep the ship ready to get her out of the station if they could clear a path.  With the "who" decided, Terin said Rol and Zimzod would take combat point.  Mikah would cover their six and provide medical support in case they got shot up.  Terin and Emkir would move in the center of the team, to remain protected until they found a computer to access.  After everything was set up, the away team moved to the cargo bay to prepare.  Then, they opened the bay hatch and moved out, closing and securing it after they left.

In the berth, Rol led the team towards the closest of the bodies of the berth crew.  Checking each of the bodies, Rol found the berth crew team leader and grabbed his security badge.  Seeing him do that, the others in the team moved to grab badges from some of the other scattered bodies.  After again clearing and securing the berth, Emkir began trying to check the computers in the berth's control room while they looted the bodies.  While they did that, Mikah joked about needing pillow cases to properly loot the place.  Only Zimzod truly understood the joke even though Rol and Emkir had heard all about Zach's past exploits in the Risek system.

While Terin felt the computers in the berth would be too far outside the stations computer core to be of value, Emkir still checked.  That turned up one valuable piece as he found a document which explained how to manually open the berth hatch into the cradle transport tubes.  So, if they had to, they could get the ship out of the berth and into the tubes.  The bad news was, they couldn't know in advance what was happening in the tubes?  It was possible they'd get moving only to find some other ship on a cradle and stuck, blocking their path.  Or worse yet, slam into a vessel on a moving cradle.

And even if that didn't happen, flying in those tubes would be a difficult task without adding in the sudden hazard of the station shuddering in flight.  While Terin didn't mention that, those used to flight ops each individually got a mental image of trying to fly through the tubes when a sudden and violent shake of the station caused a tube wall to slam the ship down hard!  To make matters worse, Emkir confirmed to Terin that all the active terminals in the space were connected to local resources.  And a number of terminals which should have been active and connected to the station's main computers were off-line.  Realizing they had to look elsewhere, Terin told Emkir to search the local computer for a schematic of the station, to give them something to base their guesses on.

Finding Any Answers

     After ten minutes checking the berth systems, Emkir told Terin there was a lot to check and he'd not found anything so far that was related to anything but the local systems.  When he reminded Terin of the manual method to open the berth hatch, Terin had Emkir share that data with the others before they made their next move.  That way, the knowledge was shared in case they got shot at and Emkir was hit.  After sharing that, Terin decided it was time to move deeper into the station.  Turning to the open door Zimzod and Rol were securing, it opened to a corridor which led right and left, seeming to follow along the curve of the station within the level of that deck.

Getting moving, those with inertial locators set their origin spots and made sure the devices were tracking.  From what they knew, the concentric rings of ship berths formed the main structure of each deck in that part of this station.  Between the "rings" were personnel corridors, transport concourses and service and warehousing spaces.  Out the door, they would move around the diameter of the ring that corridor created until they could find a transverse concourse, moving in and out-station.  Only then could they move in-station and get to a computer of value.  So Terin's first choice was if they should go right or left?

Looking up and down the passage, they could see other hatches, presumably accessing other berths connected to that corridor.  While the arc was very slight, it was apparent the corridor turned with the arc of the station's curvature.  That alone didn't tell them how many rings deep in the station they were?  That would be another piece of the puzzle they needed if they planned to try and fly out through the tubes on their own power.  When Rol asked, "Orders, Sir?" Terin decided to go to the left, saying, "All good adventures go left." with a humor he wasn't sure he felt.

Now moving, they passed more access hatches to berths on the out-board side of the corridor, as suggested by the curve of the passage.  On the in-board side, they passed service rooms, gear and tool storage spaces, personnel stations and even places for berth crews to relax.  Investigation of each portal was kept to a quick 'open and check' standard.  As soon as they could tell it wasn't a main transverse passage, they closed the portal again and moved on.  Soon enough, they came to a main-transverse corridor heading both in and out station.  Happy to find that, Terin decided to find a secondary piece of the puzzle before moving in-station.

Gathering the team together, Terin suggested they find out how deep in the station they were?  He said they could move out-station along the corridor and count the rings they passed through.  When they reached the outer-most ring, they'd know how far in-station their ship was berthed?  They'd also have a better idea of the challenge they'd face if they tried to fly the California out through the tubes?  When the others agreed, they quickly moved out-station until they got to the outer-most corridor they could reach.  On the way, Terin counted three rings.  Not really certain what that meant, without an external reference, Terin decided the team should spend some minutes looking for any portals or viewports proving they were in the outer-most ring.

After starting to follow that ring corridor around, it didn't take them long until they came to a sealed hatch labeled "EVA Corridor Access".  Looking through the viewport on the portal, they could see a corridor proceeding out-station but couldn't see its end.  Trying the badges looted from the berth crew, Rol found the crew boss' card activated the lock and opened the door.  After that, Terin sent Rol to search to the end of the passage to see where it ended?  At the far end, Rol did come to an air-lock and could see the far hatch on the lock had a viewport built into it.

Cycling the lock, Rol moved in, making sure to lock the inner hatch open.  When he got to the viewport, Rol saw the light-speckled black velvet of space.  Knowing he'd found what he was looking for, Rol spent a moment looking for ships or other activity and watching the stars for any movement.  While he didn't see any of the activities he hoped for, Rol realized the stars did appear to be moving.  And when he held his hand against the pane as a reference point, he could tell the star-field, as a whole, seemed to be moving in an arc, as one!  And not in line with the expected spin the station would cause.

Learning that, Rol reported back and Terin, and the others agreed it suggested the station wasn't spinning in a normal rotation.  On the ship, Fesic had taken the pilot's station and started checking the ship's systems.  Hearing Rol's report on the comms, Fesic checked the ship's guidance and other data.  When he got the data back, Fesic could see the readings from the ship's gyroscope said they were well off the station's expected line of rotation.  Looking deeper into the numbers, Fesic began a projection, hoping to see how badly the numbers were off?  He also wanted to see how fast the numbers were changing, and if it was accelerating?

While Fesic was setting up those checks, Rol returned to the away team.  Doing so, he said they were in trouble and Terin agreed they'd figured that out already.  Rol reported his findings and, without suggesting it, said they could just abandon the station and wait on rescue afterwards.  Terin agreed they "could" leave but they each had at least twelve hours of air in their PLSS systems.  So they had options, and didn't have to run just yet.  As for rescue, Terin reminded Rol they had multiple stations in orbit of the world and rescue would be coming quickly.  So they had time enough to try and save the ship before running for the air-lock.

Mikah asked if anyone was hearing traffic on the comms and everyone admitted they'd only been on the team's channel.  When she asked, Fesic said he would check a spectrum of channels, to see if he could get anything there?  Those in the away-team waited while Fesic admitted he had little training on communications systems.  Still, he tried to do a survey of the channels he could find with traffic on them.  Fesic reported back that there was a truly massive amount of communications going on.  And while he was trying to lock down individual frequencies, he couldn't promise he could figure out where any of them were broadcasting from?

When Terin asked if he'd heard anything helpful, Fesic had to remind Terin there was a mass of communications going on.  For Fesic to figure out if anything was "helpful", he'd first have to lock onto frequency after frequency until he found one that was talking about the station's situation.  Then, he'd have to listen to the conversation long enough to understand if the people involved knew anything?  Then, he'd have to listen long enough to see if they said anything that mattered and wait to see if they knew anything helpful?  So, Fesic said, it was going to take more than a couple seconds scanning many channels just to see what was out there?  The last was said in a tone saying Terin, and everyone else, should know this and the question was a stupid one.

Hearing the back and forth, Munarshu sparked up from the ship's engineering and asked, "Why don't you check the station's emergency frequency?"  After a brief pause, everyone admitted that was a good idea and Fesic went looking for that frequency.  Normally, this data was broadcast by the system beacons as a matter of course in systems with starports of class A, B or C.  Since D'Ganzio's ports were a very organized web of "B" and "C" class stations, the data had been sent to the ship, and was in the pilot's system data section of the flight data packet.  Fesic found the correct frequency and switched over.  With that setting pegged, Fesic found a huge amount of activity!  Sadly, some of it was obviously not official, or organized, so Fesic decided to sit, listen and try to work out anything official.

With Fesic data hunting on the bridge, Munarshu and Aali went back to work, figuring they had to get as much done before the emergency overtook them.  Leading the away-team, Terin knew they could escape without the ship.  It seemed they would have to wait to get anything from anyone in charge.  So, there was only one other thing they could do.  And with all eyes on him, he announced they'd head back down the transverse corridor into the core of the station, to look for a computer to hack, as they'd first thought to do.

Drilling Into The Situation

     Moving in-board, they passed five more rings of docking space before they reached a secure hatch.  Trying that, they found it locked.  The badges they'd looted didn't work either.  With no other option, Terin hit the comms stud on the communications and control panel next to the door and asked, "Hello?"  The voice that came back was shaky and uncertain, but it did demand who they were and what their business was at the hatch?  Assuming an official tone, Terin said, "I'm Sir Terin Yundis Geryen of the yacht Hotel California.  We're trying to see if we can be of service to help the station with this situation?  Terin then bullshitted, "We have vast experience in dealing with crisis situations."

Unfortunately for Terin, his brag was so big that even some in the away-team weren't able to keep from chuckles.  Possibly hearing the stifled laughs, the man asked if they had experience in space-station support and operations?  When Terin admitted, "Not so much", the man suggested Terin and his people return to the California and wait for instructions from the station's staff.  Deciding that was a 'no-go' Terin turned to Emkir and asked him to have a go at the man.  Slipping into 'Senior Officer of the Imperial Scout Service' mode, Emkir stepped up to the comms panel and introduced himself to the stationer.

After Emkir had the man's attention, he rolled out a list of services the crew had provided to people up to and including the Arch Duke, for whom Emkir claimed they worked.  He then leaned on this level of success, including mentioning the Risek system plague, which the California's Captain had famously cured.  Emkir then demanded of the man why he thought they couldn't help?  Pushing further, Emkir added, "And if you can't tell us why you think we can't help the station in this crisis, patch me through to your boss to explain why we're unable to help?"  Responding to the sudden flood of past history, high level nobility and out-right "command personality", the rating stuttered briefly before saying "Yes Sir!" and opened the hatch.

Through the open portal, they saw the space beyond was a security access compartment.  It had gear for scanning possessions to verify no weapons made it past that point.  The space was organized into protected positions for security personnel to stand during duty.  There were also computer terminals and other data for managing traffic from the work side of the compartment to the core sections of the station.  In that space, they saw only one lone spacer who looked very junior and very in-experienced.  It was plain the others had said "hold this point" and fled their post, leaving the man alone.  Armed with a light hand weapon, the man wasn't even in a vacc suit!  He simply stood there in a station day-dress uniform.

As that man looked at the team with a glow in his eyes suggesting he believed they were there to save the day, Emkir looked him up and down before firmly ordering him, "Soldier!  Get your vacc suit on!"  After the man verbally and mentally changed gears, giving off a few grunts of "umm", he began, "I can't.  I have to hold this point and I have to..."  Emkir cut him off, barking, "We'll watch the station.  Go get your vacc suit on."  Not arguing further with the Admiral, the man almost literally leapt through the hatch to the inner station as he left his post.  This time, those with Emkir managed to hold in their laughter until the man was gone.  Giving the man time enough to get beyond hearing, Emkir checked the computers in that compartment but found they were locked into security-based applications.  There wasn't even a way to get to the operating system to see what else might be below that?

When Emkir turned to him, Terin said, "Let's follow that man through the door!" in a satisfied tone.  Emkir asked if they should leave someone to manage the portal, and the others said there wasn't any traffic at all.  They'd seen that as they'd wandered.  Of course, that point should have suggested the situation was much much worse than they considered it, but that was missed by all of them.  Still, having made that point, Emkir realized they didn't have to worry about it and the team moved on after closing the secure hatch behind them.  They didn't have long to walk before they hit another secure hatch which they assumed led to station compartments of high importance.

Using the access badges, they managed to get that hatch open and continue into the core working spaces of the station.  And while these were not the station control compartments, they were everything from barracks to engineering sub-systems for sector by sector management of atmospherics and power to the station's spaces.  And while they didn't control those functions, they mantained and directed their delivery.  Other spaces were storage and warehousing for spares and supplies, and on-station service vehicles.  Realizing the space was largely one of secondary functionality and warehousing, Terin took a snap shot of the hatch designation so they'd know which hatch to return through to the get back to the ship.

While they prepared to move on, Fesic was able to report that the only official word from anyone was that a major system incident was happening in-system.  There seemed to be no details on any of the frequencies he had so far worked.  Of course, with a massive number of potential official channels, expecting an easy answer from that vector was foolish at the least.  One thing Fesic was able to work out was that the other station's control teams were aware of the issue on this station.  Adding to the mystery, "this station's" control staff had gone silent and were not able to be raised.  The ominous translation of this was that the station was drifting blind and out of control!  Not a fun situation to have in an orbital position which had to be maintained with station-keeping systems.

Accepting that from Fesic, with his promise to continue searching for data, Terin had his team push further into the station.  Very quickly, they came on a team of station workers who seemed to be ready to do "something" after they were told what to do?  Seeing the Knights, the head of the work crew demanded, "Who the fuck are you and what the fuck are you doing here?"  Not giving his own answer, Terin turned to Emkir and invited him to take this question, saying, "Admiral?"  And again, Emkir laid it on thick.  The leader of the work crew listened with a critical ear and finally answered, "Begging your pardon Admiral, but how much of this station do you actually know?"  While the team boss didn't think the crew new what they were doing any more than he and his people did, he did see they were trying.

Terin stepped in and said, "Very little." before Emkir offered, "We just came out to put boots on the ground and help get things resolved", the man shrugged and said, "OK, fine."  Not ready to abandon his post, he figured he could help as he turned to one of his team members and said, "Gimme your pad."  The worker didn't stop to think as she grabbed a datapad, attached to her belt by velcro, and ripped it free to hand to the team leader.  Activating the pad and making a number of gestures with his fingers, the team leader handed the pad to Emkir saying, "Here.  This is a schematic of the station.  This'll tell you how to get to station central."  Taking the pad before Emkir could, Terin said, "Excellent!  Thank you very much for your services." 

After that, the man told them, "We're following security response option 17."  When looks made it clear Terin and his people had no clue what that meant, he continued, "That means, in a situation where the station is drifting out of control, we hold this position and wait for orders for about half an hour.  If, after half an hour, there's no response or orders from station central, we move to the outer skin of the station to meet up with rescue teams and guide them back into the station to try and get it back under control."  Confiding in them more, the man said, "And if we don't hear from them in under half an hour, there's no one left to hear from."  The assumption of death was delivered with an air of certainty.

When Rol asked how long they'd been holding for orders, the man said it had been ten minutes since they'd had any word from anyone.  So Terin confirmed they had twenty minutes before the other teams would act.  Then, Terin said they should move on, telling Rol to take point.  Zimzod interrupted him and said he could connect the tablet with the station schematic to his battledress battle computer, and see the data on his HUD, so he should be on point.  After Terin agreed, the team got moving to the station's controls again.  Shortly, as they moved, the team reached a point where there appeared to be nothing but emergency power!  Grimly pushing on, it took them a total of ten minutes to reach the outer doors of the station control spaces without normal light or any gravity.

Even More Road Blocks

     Of course, the id cards taken from the crew in the berth didn't authorize entrance into the station control spaces.  When they checked, the comms and control panel next to the portal was powered down.  So Terin started looking for a manual release to the door, though that compartment would be highly secure and an "external" manual release would defeat that.  Not seeing anything obvious, they did see maintenance panels on the wall near the door.  Shrugging, Terin tried the easy method first and banged on the door.  He then waited thirty seconds to see if they could get a response?

When that failed, Terin decided they should try to pull one of the maintenance panels from the wall and see if there were manual releases, or other access systems hidden beneath?  Zimzod volunteered to punch through the panel but that could damage the systems inside.  And the panel was flush enough with the wall that Zimzod couldn't get a purchase on it to pull it off.  When they all went through their gear, for anything to pry the panels loose, the best they could come up with were either Terin's sword or his utility knife.  When Zimzod volunteered to try a grenade, Mikah suggested they hold off on that, as a last resort.  So Zimzod took Terin's utility knife to try and force the panel with the powered strength of his battledress.

Sadly, the knife wasn't up to the stresses and came apart as Zimzod tried to force the panel.  After giving Terin the pieces of his knife back, Zimzod considered punching the wall before asking if he could borrow Mikah's laser sword?  After Mikah handed him the weapon grip and cleared the cable to give Zimzod some play, he considered the wall panel again.  As he sized up the panel, Fesic reported that there were two response teams coming in from the nearest stations to help respond to the station's situation.  Fesic confirmed they were also sending fleets of tugs to help stabilize the station physically.  That would give the new teams time to get control of the station before it was too late to do so.  If they failed, the station would fall down to the world below.

The bad news was that they had forty minutes to start stabilizing the station or it would begin to enter a terminal orbit, and there would be no way to stop the station de-orbiting.  Fesic said he'd been running the numbers on the California and those agreed with the estimates.  Talking about that, they realized there would be a hard moment when they would have to abandon the ship and station to leap into space and wait for search and rescue to recover them if they couldn't escape any other way.  Of course, that meant any evidence they'd brought the android to the station would be destroyed too.  So it wasn't much of a silver lining but one existed.  And Emkir joked about the request made to Duke Luis to consider replacing their ship at need.

Considering the numbers, Terin decided they had four hours left before they had to break off.  With that, Zimzod activated Mikah's laser sword and began to sculpt the panel cover away from the wall.  A minute later, Zimzod had the panel free enough that he was able to grab it with his battledressed hand and rip it away.  Inside the panel, they could see a significant amount of wiring and several circuits.  Of course, there was no documentation.  Realizing this was more of a dead end without any understanding of the electronics, Terin took a picture of the wiring and sent that back to Aali, asking if she could make sense of the image?

When Aali saw the image, she did her best to understand the circuit.  But without an explanation of the junctions, and some significant time to trace out power flow, she couldn't even make the most basic of guesses how the wiring directed power?  Beyond that, knowing anything else about the design of the circuits, there was no way to know what to do to lock, unlock, open or otherwise affect the door.  She was sure they could only waste time trying to do what they'd never work out before the station crashed.  Trying to come up with any idea what to do next, Zimzod suggested they send a team to one of the doors in the berth to take it apart.  He guessed those would be wired the same way.

But when he asked, Munarshu asked why they were bothering with the electronics when they had to look at the mechanics of how the doors locked?  Now that he had their attention, Munarshu pointed out they only had to break the locks to open the door.  Not spend hours tracing electronics.  When Terin asked for specifics on the locking mechanisms, Aali and Munarshu admitted it could be any of a number of methods.  If the door was run on tracks, the wheels that moved the door would be on the top and bottom of the portal and so would the locks stopping them from moving.  If it were magnetic, the magnets would be in the door frame.  And the list could go on.

When Munarshu suggested there would likely be a manual release latch, Aali said it would most likely be on the secure side of the door.  This confused Terin, who didn't seem to understand it wasn't a good design idea to have a release on the non-secure side of a portal to let unauthorized people defeat the lock.  While they argued, Zimzod checked his inertial locator to see they were a good fifteen minutes from the ship while Rol considered the floor and ceiling panels in the passage.  Rol suggested the secure bulkhead might, for some weird reason, not rise above or extend below the ceiling and floor levels, and they ripped up and down the panels to find that wasn't the case.

Zimzod suggested they try breaking the door down, but knew they couldn't do that unless someone returned to the ship and got one of the breaching charges.  And that was a half-hour round trip.  Terin suggested that the android may have come through the station and torn open another of the doors to the core.  So, they only had to find that hole.  But a look at the schematics showed Terin the next nearest doors to them were some forty minutes away.  Seeing they didn't have that time either, Zimzod called back to the ship and told them to send someone to them with a breaching charge.

But they needed Fesic to fly, in case the ship was offered a way out of the station, and Aali was the chief engineer.  And since the androids were all much more expensive than Munarshu, the junior engineer was sent.  Zimzod did send Munarshu the data from his inertial locator, and said someone had to go back to the security checkpoint, to open that portal for Munarshu.  Rol drew that assignment and quickly moved off.  At the security point, Rol found the place abandoned and waited for some time until Munarshu arrived.  On the way, he'd passed through the warehousing section and confirmed those crews had moved off.  So they'd presumably left their posts and gone out to the station's surface.

Finding The Wrong Answer

     On the bridge of the ship, after Munarshu had secured his gear and retrieved the breaching charge, Fesic was again alone when he got a signal from the station!  The contact was from the station's flight control center and was a recorded notification telling crews to secure and evacuate their ships.  The instructions told all receiving them to make their way to the outer skin of the station's hull and wait there for a search and rescue pick up.  After he bounced that word to the away team, Fesic decided they didn't need the data connection and left the ship to detach that before returning to the bridge.

While waiting for the breaching charge, and after Fesic called them with the word from the station, Terin turned to Mikah to ask what to do about the ship?  Terin said he understood she'd put him in charge but it was her ship, so he wanted her input.  And given the situation, Mikah figured 'go big or screw it'.  So she ordered Emkir to rush back to the ship, open the berth hatch and do his best to get the ship off the station.  Emkir agreed and said he'd get the hatch open and do his best.  So the team waited, and Aali worked as Emkir and Munarshu were in motion.  Rol and Munarshu soon arrived with the breaching charge, having passed Emkir along the way.

After setting the charge up, the team lined up Zimzod, Rol and Mikah as a "first line", in case they drew fire from inside.  Covered behind them, were Munarshu and Terin.  They detonated the charge and each of the front-liners weathered a wave of force and debris.  For Rol, that was followed immediately with an alert flashing on his HUD that the armor had suffered some kind of penetration!  Lucky for them, they weren't also facing any fire from the compartment beyond.  Rol raised the alarm and Zimzod looked at him saying, "You're supposed to be in armor!  Fix it!"  Quickly finding the hole, and confirming he wasn't injured, Rol had to admit he'd left his patches behind.

There were a few seconds before Terin and Mikah said they had patches.  Rol borrowed one of the two Terin had, and quickly re-sealed his armor.  That dealt with, they looked into the passage and could see there was yet another hatch twenty feet further in.  Figuring 'what the hell', Rol moved up saying it might just open if tried and hit the stud activating the door.  And it opened!  Unlike the passage outside, the space inside was very well lit and appeared to be fully powered.  That was the good news.

The bad news were the many dead bodies scattered about.  The heavily damaged and ripped up consoles at every position added to their increasing problems.  The group looked, but there didn't seem to be a single control surface which hadn't been destroyed.  In a wave of sudden concern, Mikah asked if anyone was recording the scene.  Zimzod reminded her his suit was always recording his point of view.  That suggested that saving the ship or the station was now a much harder proposition because everything would have to be done from the station's engineering spaces.  If the android hadn't attacked there too?  This confused them, because "someone" had been talking to Fesic from station flight control.  If not from this control space, there had to be a separate launch control compartment.

When Terin reacted to that by saying, "Ok people, Weapons hot!" Rol and Zimzod had to ask him where he thought he was, because everyone else's weapons had been ready since the second they left their ship.  Continuing to explore the space, there were not only additional exit points from the compartment, but corridors to separate spaces for crew rest and relaxation and other purposes.  Exploring more, the secured section of the space seemed to be fitted out so that on-shift workers didn't have to leave that compartment for any reason until they went off shift.

While the others were clearing the compartment, Terin asked Munarshu if salvaging a console from another location would let them connect it to the wiring there, and get some consoles working?  Munarshu pointed out that any console they brought would have to be correctly wired up to a new console, and there weren't diagrams and data available on how to do that wiring, because entire stations had been ripped apart.  Not just consoles.

Considering their options, Munarshu reminded them all this wasn't the central flight control compartment.  So they had to find that space if they wanted to get the Hotel California free.  Zimzod checked the schematics they'd been given, he saw a space marked "Docking and Flight Control" which wasn't very far away.  After locating that space, Zimzod called back to Fesic and asked if he could raise anyone in that office?  When Fesic asked "why" he was calling them, he was told to say, "We're sending a team to help you.  Where are you located?"  Surprisingly, when Fesic made the call, someone actually answered!

Apparently in one of those spaces which wasn't ever allowed to be abandoned, the lone worker answered Fesic's call and asked, "What do'ya need?"  Repeating what he'd been told to say, Fesic said a team was coming to help and needed his location.  Saying "Ok", the man told Fesic to put him in contact with the team.  Fesic gave the man the crew's comms frequency and he called them directly.  They answered the call and the man said, "This is flight control to rescue team.  What is your status?"  Zimzod said they were in the station control compartment and were trying to get to him.  Zimzod then asked what his status was? 

The man said the rest of his team had left for the station's surface, following procedure.  He added that they'd been trying to get ships off the station but the power to the cradle tubes had failed.  That stranded a number of vessels in place.  So they'd sent out the call, telling all crews to secure and abandon their ships and make their way to the station's surface for rescue.  Nodding, Zimzod pushed past the grim situation and asked, "Ok, what do you need to get that live again?"  Staring back at Zimzod through the comms, the man shrugged and said, "Honestly?  We have no idea why it went dead in the first place."  He admitted they had been working on diagnosing the issue when they got to the forty-minute mark.  So they followed procedure and evacuated.

Zimzod knew the "forty-minute mark" meant since they'd last had contact from the station control room.  Zimzod next asked if there would be any way of hot-wiring that system from the station control room?  Shaking his head in disbelief, the tech in the flight control compartment explained to Zimzod that they didn't know what was wrong with the system?  So if it were a power failure, then running power from the control room might fix the issue.  But they hadn't been able to figure out what the failure was?  So he couldn't guess what would fix it?  He continued to explain that it could be a software failure or could have been caused if a needed control server had gone off line.  The entire time he spoke, the man's tone suggested a rescue team should know this.

Finding A New Question

     Stepping in and misstating the situation, Terin told the man they had no power in station control and the man said that sucked because more than half the station would be dead as a result.  When Terin asked if the man could tell them where power would be generated for that compartment, the man said he could send them a schematic of the power grid for that section of the station.  He also said there should be three main power conduits which provided power to that compartment.  It was obvious that anything which took out all three physically would have to do a LOT of damage.

Ignoring the implications of that statement, Zimzod admitted they were looking at a massive amount of damage themselves, and he even sent the man a short video as he filmed around the compartment.  On the other end, the station worker was shocked to silence.  Still, thinking the crew intended to check the power for the crawler system, the man sent them the schematics he'd mentioned.  But he couldn't recommend how to get anything on line again with the station control center trashed.  When Zimzod asked if there might be another alternate control room, he was told there wasn't.  And the backups were all in the station's engineering sections.

Monitoring the situation outside the station to the best he could without the ship's sensors, Fesic reported that they were getting very close to the point at which the tugs and other teams couldn't correct the station's orbit.  Responding to that, Rol asked the man in flight control if there was a way to get the ships in the stations inner rings of berths out of the station?  The station worker confirmed there were manual methods of opening the berths, but pointed out that would only get the ships into the crawler tubes.  With so much of the tube system blocked by ships on crawlers, the station worker made it clear they'd just be stuck in a different place.

The man reminded them the ships would then have to find a way to clear the crawlers and ships clogging the system.  And that would mean getting the system working again, or using explosive forces which would likely destroy the manned ships too.  Stuck on the "power-loss theory", Rol asked if there was a way to connect an individual crawler to a starship's power plant?  He was bluntly told there wasn't.  Hearing that, Terin told Munarshu to start looking over and tracing out the schematic they'd been sent.  Fesic confirmed Emkir would be opening the berth hatch before boarding the ship.

Looking at the schematics, Munarshu said decoding it might take several hours.  Rol had given up solving the technical issue and looked for signs where the killer might have left the compartment?  This would give him an idea where the one who'd destroyed the compartment might be headed, and perhaps an idea of their plan?  Waving off Munarshu's estimates, Terin told the engineer to get working.  In the meantime, he said they'd start tearing up panels to find the main conduits, and see if they could find and solve power issues?

So, as Munarshu worked on the schematics, Terin stated telling the others they had to rip up floor panels to find where there might be a power failure?  This need was more obvious because of the ring of concourses around the control compartment, through which they'd come, which had no power.  Rol, who could find no sign of where the attacker came in or left, asked if they shouldn't head back to the ship "now".  If for nothing else, then to start preparing to get things off the ship, to save if they had to abandon the vessel and station?  Aali asked if they might get the cutter clear, at the least?

Aali was told there was no way to guarantee that either, because they had no idea what was in the tubes?  That sparked a larger disagreement over continuing to work the station issue or returning to the ship, to see if they could get it through the tubes?  Finally, Terin decided they'd keep working the station issue for another thirty minutes before throwing in the towel and returning to the ship.  On the ship, Fesic was doing his best to figure out how long they had to continue any of these efforts before it was time to cut bait and run.

Responding to Fesic, Mikah asked if he could use the ship's scanners to scan the tubes and find out if there were ships in their way out?  Fesic told her they were berthed too deep inside the station to be able to use the ship's scanners.  That was one of the reasons he couldn't be as exact as he wanted to be with the station's decaying orbit and other deadlines.  Mikah only told him to try his best.  Emkir arrived and they also got the word the tugs had arrived and were starting to push, to counter the station's drift.  Checking his timelines, Fesic couldn't be sure if they were over or under the "no hope" threshold.  Still, he assumed they wouldn't be trying if they couldn't save the station.

When Emkir arrived, he worked to open the berth hatch to let the ship try to fly out.  The outside rescue teams started pumping real-time data from outside the station over the emergency frequency.  Fesic was happy because that let him to fix a lot of his math by replacing unknown values with real data.  Still, the red line of death was a very real thing and they appeared to be right on top of it as the rescuers continued to order people to the station's outer skin to be picked up by recovery vehicles.  That meant the rescuers weren't even ready to say a win was possible.  And in the station control center, while Munarshu worked at the schematics, everyone else was ripping up deck plating and looking for contact points.  The "holy grail" there was to find something fried or some point where one plate covered a working power connection while the next was dead.

In the next ten minutes, Terin's grand plan was to find a place where power met the outage so they could run a new conduit to feed power and help fix the problem.  The mistake he still didn't see he'd made was that he didn't know what the problem really was?  Or if getting power to any of the affected systems would solve anything?  Terin had been told bluntly that no one had been able to find what stopped the cradles.  So trying to run power from their location to an 'as yet to be identified' part of the tube system might not just 'not work'.  Feeding new power to a system that had been turned off at some computer node by failed software could even make things worse by frying functional systems.

The Edge Of The Precipice

     As Emkir and Fesic waited for orders and listened, and as the engineers worked on the jump drive and Terin's team worked to identify a power connection they could use, they tracked the reports coming from the outside.  It seemed the teams of tugs had finally made significant progress.  Just as the teams were reporting the possibility they could stabilize the station, the channel was overrun by a blood-curdling scream!  Next, they began hearing reports one of the tugs had suddenly fallen out of line, no longer working with the others to resolve the crisis.  Everyone in the crew shared the unspoken thought, "We've found her!" as the emergency frequency sunk into pandemonium.

Realizing they at least knew where the danger was, Rol suggested they get the android's attention and draw it away from the tugs.  Terin tried to make his case that getting the power back would cause the android to notice them, but realized, even as he was speaking, how weak his argument sounded.  At the same time, Fesic suggested they at least start trying to get the Hotel California off the station.  When the arguing broke to consensus, Terin was still not willing to give up on his plan despite not having a clue.  So he started splitting responsibilities but said he and Munarshu would stay and try to restore power.  He then detailed Mikah, Rol and Zimzod to make their way to where the tugs were, and try to engage the android.  Terin then told Emkir, Fesic and Aali to try and get the ship clear.

Having been given his orders, Emkir considered the hatch he'd opened which led into the tubes.  Yes, the tubes were meant to accommodate most ships up to 2,000 dTons while the California was only 250 dTons.  But that didn't define how spread out the design was?  And the California was a 'wide and flat' design with fins which spread out a bit more than many other designs.  Also, there would be no guidance, almost no sensors and Emkir didn't even want to think of what would happen if the station shook?  In that case, the walls of the tube would move faster than he could see and the ship would be batted around hard if not completely shattered.  Adding to the fun, the station's gravity was still active.

That meant he not only had to maneuver forward while following the curves and turns of the tubes, but he had to use the ship's lifting thrust to maintain a height above the decks.  Adding more to that, Emkir couldn't just lift.  He had to keep the ship low enough that their atmospheric guidance fins didn't contact or drag along the tops of the tube.  So he was threading the tubes with a 250 dTon needle that was flying more than half-blind in three dimensional space.  Starting to set up his board, Emkir did the only thing successful pilots did.  He pushed the hazards from his mind, locked his limits into his thought paths and moved forward.  Still, he told Fesic he was to stay in his seat and work the co-pilot's position.  If there was something bad Emkir had swept out of mind, he wanted someone there to scream out and remind him when needed.

Beginning his work, Emkir counted on the one piece of good news he had.  Since they weren't in zero-g, he could set the ship down and plan out difficult maneuvers instead of having to ram his way through and pray.  With all things set, and Fesic working to his side, they started moving out of the ship's berth and into the tubes.  Emkir took a very brief second to call over to the away team and update them the California was under way.  Not having sensors made things just so much more fun!  Out of the berth, and without any guidance on which way was "out", Emkir first cycled the ship three hundred and sixty degrees around her vertical axis.  He then set the ship down to work the sensors and silently wished Aiden was flying.

Emkir and Fesic worked in the ship while Terin had Zimzod download the station schematic from the datapad so he could take the pad from the marine.  That way, Terin could more efficiently plan how he and Munarshu would waste their time until they fled or died.  After that, it took fifteen minutes for Zimzod, Rol and Mikah to get to a surface access air-lock near the tugs.  During that time, it seemed two more tugs had been killed.  While the panic had been brought under control, the situation was grim and no one had any idea on who was attacking the tugs or how?  One thing that did stand out was that there were no reports of weapons fire being spotted visually or on sensors.  And the attacks remained a mystery.

As Zimzod, Mikah and Rol reported they were leaving the air-lock, Emkir reported his very minimal progress in the tubes, still not far from the ship's entry point, but happily said they'd not spotted any blocking traffic.  Cheering Emkir's news, the three started scanning around them and Rol estimated the closest of the tugs was a few hundred yards from them.  Small spacecraft with large engines and a flat nose, such ships were mostly used to help position mega-liners and massive cargo haulers and their cargo containers.  The good news was that such ships tended to be in external bays so all those tugs assigned to this station were available along with the full fleets of tugs from the nearest two stations.  Still, a full out station was much larger than any 100 craft they normally managed, even adding those ships together.

Not able to help sticking his nose into things, and not with the team on the surface, Terin started micromanaging the situation as he ordered them to start looking for any tugs which were adrift.  When Rol said they had things in hand, Terin didn't take the hint and started arguing that Rol had reported on the tug closest to the team.  So, he assumed Rol was only responding to that tug and ignoring the others and annoying his combat-qualified personnel.  Sighting in on the near tug's tail numbers, Rol commed, "Tug 1526 pilot, this is Sir Rol Kaihvos, troubleshooter serving under Arch Duke Norris himself.  We are here to assist you.  Can you communicate with me?" 

The response back was a mix of trying to be as respectful as possible while being completely absorbed in his job.  But the pilot still asked how he could help the Knight?  Rol got right to it, saying "I understand your tugs are under attack?" and the pilot returned the favor saying, "Yeah.  What can you do for me?"  Rol's reply was blunt, "I've got a gun."  When the pilot said, "Cool!  I'm not under attack", Rol asked if he knew where the attacked tugs were?  Leaning over on his board, the pilot bounced Rol the coordinates of the dead tugs.  Checking the data, Rol saw the attacks had taken place just over a mile off in the distance.

Now knowing where they were going, it became a question of how.  Since Zimzod's battledress had more control and thrust options than Mikah and Rol's combat armor, they chose to link the three at the hip and fly as one.  Setting off, Emkir and Fesic had to set the ship down in the tubes and plot how to bypass a tightening of the passage.  Not sure how long the narrowing would continue, Emkir called Terin to ask for a copy of the schematics they'd been given.  When Terin asked what was up, Emkir said he needed to look at the data to see what the tubes did?  When Terin checked the schematics, it turned out they only showed the deck plans and not any internal spaces like the structure of the tubes.  So it looked like Emkir was on his own.

Figuring there might be more documents on the pad, since it had belonged to one of the techs, Terin started trying to find other documents.  And while Emkir and Fesic waited, he dug through the files until he found something that seemed to be likely and opened it up.  And, as luck would have it, he found the correct set of files.  Sadly, there were many different files and Terin had to send them all for Emkir to search through for the right one.  Then, Terin decided to spend even more time moving a number of tiles at a time before ripping open the tiles and checking the power. 

Let There Be Action!

     Outside the station, the three crew were moving at the best speed of Zimzod's battledress in as flat a trajectory as he could manage.  And as they closed, Zimzod suddenly got an alert on his HUD and a soft sensor lock on an object his battle computer couldn't identify.  Knowing that the computer could ID everything else, that was the best Zimzod could have hoped for when he set up his alerts.  Now, that had paid off.  Zooming in on the object, Zimzod was finally able to ID it as the same dark-haired human-looking female he'd last seen in the cargo hold of the California.  Only now, she seemed to be moving through the vacuum of near-station space without the benefit of a vacc suit or thrust pack!

Zimzod raised and sighted his gauss rifle to fire while sparking his comms to say, "Eyes on target.  Firing for effect."  Sadly, the two others couldn't see whatever target he'd spotted.  Zimzod sighted in on the target and confirmed it was on track to reach and attack another tug.  So he figured he'd fire off a four-round burst and hoped he'd hit it or get close enough to the android to get its attention.  But getting the device's attention on a miss wasn't highly likely, because they were operating in space.  There would be little for the device to detect unless the shots came very close, assuming its sensors could detect a near miss.  What made the shot even that much more difficult at the current range was that he had to lead his target seriously, while having nothing to use as a frame of reference.  So it was something of a hail mary.

Firing, Zimzod vectored his thrust to better orient on his target.  While he did that, Mikah and Rol scanned for anything but couldn't see the target.  Guessing from Zimzod's angle, Rol fired a four-needle burst too, but knew he had no hope of doing anything except filling space with needles.  Still, the more space you filled with needles...  When they said they had no eyes on, Zimzod said he could try to correct Mikah since she fired pulse after pulse with her laser carbine.  When she was on or near enough to the target, he'd let Rol know to follow the stream of Mikah's fire as he continued his own fire.  From what Zimzod could see, the android wasn't yet aware of them.

When Mikah started firing, Zimzod fired and offered her corrections at the same time.  Rol hung in and sighted along Mikah's line of visible laser fire, waiting for Zimzod to confirm she had dialed in her aim.  Waiting a minute as they maneuvered, to not eat up the slug thrower ammo, Zimzod kept trying to talk Mikah in as he prepared another salvo.  Sadly, he was sure he'd missed the mark after he squeezed off the next rounds.  And the Android hadn't yet noticed the stream of laser fire or reacted to the three as a threat.  Repeating the cycle again, Zimzod figured Mikah's fire was close enough for Rol to open up too.

While Zimzod didn't see any suggestion of damage, the android was now changing her vector to target them.  Rol mumbled about the device having thrusters and Zimzod wondered out loud, "I wonder where she hid those?"  Still, the newest salvo didn't affect the android in any way Zimzod could confirm.  Engaging the android, Fesic and Emkir could hear as word spread between the tug crews that some Knights had moved in to keep them safe.  While the tug driver's morale was rising, Emkir and Fesic couldn't say the same while they made small hops along the tubes.  Having been forced to give up correcting his data to help Emkir, Fesic had no idea when they'd passed or might pass the "no survival" point, and could only hope the tugs could save the station.

Still ripping up panels and testing, Terin and Munarshu had made no progress.  Till, they were barely inside the half hour limit Terin had set so they kept at it.  But, as they widened their work area, they were running into bulkheads they had to get through or go around.  And that ate even more time.  Outside the station, Zimzod said he thought he might have hit the target for the first time in their stream of fire even as he realized Mikah was now firing well off-target.  Pausing his own fire, Zimzod started working to re-point her aim.  The good news, if they could kill the android before it arrived, was that the device was now coming directly at them.  So they now had a straight line of fire.

Giving Mikah directions as he fired, Zimzod was certain his fire was having an effect.  He also knew he was down to three pulls of the trigger before he was out.  So he moved early, to dump his magazine and load a new one.  Seeing this, and knowing Mikah was firing off line and Zimzod would have to reload, Rol decided this was the time to try and fill space with a lot of needles.  So, taking the risk the jerk from doing so would be easy to recover from, Rol set his selector to "Full Auto" and blasted out all thirty six remaining needles in his magazine in one blast.  He then ejected his magazine and slapped a new one in.  So, as Zimzod finished his reload, he realized he also had to recover their vector towards the android.

Zimzod yelled "Dick!" as he started setting up to re-point their drift.  It annoyed him that, with the two others tethered to him, the maneuver took more time than usual fuel, and interrupted his shots on target.  Because they were well off the line of attack, Zimzod even had Mikah stop firing.  Aboard the Hotel California, Emkir and Fesic had come to a split in the tubes and didn't know which side of the fork went deeper into the station and which led out?  Setting the ship down, they went over the schematics Terin had sent.  After working out which file they thought referenced their section of the tubes, Emkir had decided to go with what appeared to be the correct fork.  Then, the two prepared to lift the ship again and maneuver it further along.

Munarshu and Terin finally found a set of junctions where power seemed to be coming in, but not passing out.  Now that they'd found the edge of an apparent failure, they had to find links to tie the active power to.  Of course, for the moment, that ignored how they were going to work on an active power source without powering it down so they didn't get fried?  Outside the station, the three gunners had drifted enough that, while Zimzod was still trying to straighten them out, Rol and Mikah could now make out the speck closing on them!  Announcing they had eyes on, Mikah and Rol raised their weapons and resumed firing.  Making themselves a more compact package also made it easier for Zimzod to straighten them out.  Especially now that no one was making off-vector moves to grab ammo magazines.

Mikah and Rol poured on the fire while Zimzod still had the best visual, thanks to the zooms on his battledress.  So, while working to re-align them, he saw an alert on his HUD and looked up to see something had separated from the android.  Zooming in better, it looked like an appendage had been blown clear.  Zimzod couldn't tell if it was an arm or leg?  But the news he gave the others was decidedly good as he joked, "OK!  I think she lost her penis!"  The others laughed and Zimzod realized re-pointing them didn't matter because they were close enough they just had to pour on more fire.  Especially with the android damaged and fragmenting.  It was time to kill the bot!  The only good news from on-station was that the ship hadn't yet run into a tube-blocking issue.

Finally On The Bleeding Edge

     As Mikah, Rol and Zimzod fired at their target, they were closing on encounter range for their weapons.  Even better for the three, it seemed the android had no ranged weapons.  Its programmed tactic appeared to be closing with a target and taking it out with a physical attack.  That meant the three had just over a minute more to pour on the fire as the android got closer and closer, and made itself much easier to hit.  Back with Munarshu, Terin finally had eyes on something he could see that was wrong.  Having skipped deck panels in a jump pattern to find a power/no power junction, Terin and Munarshu had worked back until they found a fried conduit.

Flipping more deck plates, They saw something had caused a feed-back loop and burned out thirty feet of conduit.  While that didn't say what caused the feedback, or if there was more damage they couldn't see, Terin thought re-running the line would return power to the section around the station control compartments.  Sadly, he didn't even consider if the damage was secondary, caused by the initial and still unidentified sabotage.  Realizing he'd have to get someone in the station's engineering section to power the link down, Terin and Munarshu went to find un-burnt and unpowered lengths of conduit in one of the other two other conduits while calling the guy in the flight and docking office.

When Terin got the man on comms, Terin told the man they'd found a section of power conduit that had been fried and needed someone in the station's engineering to power the link down so they could make repairs.  Because Terin didn't know the terms to describe what he meant, and because he wasn't talking to an engineer, it took a few minutes to get the station worker to understand what was needed.  After that, he told Terin he'd call them back with the proper office to contact, and it would be up to luck if there was anyone still there when they called?  Accepting that, Terin planned to harvest thirty-five feet of conduit and replace the damaged segment.

Terin and Munarshu worked at that while Emkir and Fesic were still slowly moving the ship along and not encountering any blockages.  According to the data they had, they'd moved the ship to nearly the half-way point between their former berth and the actual docking bay.  Even better news was coming from the comms, where the teams of tugs were reporting improved progress.  Since they'd stopped losing vessels, they'd managed to start stabilizing the station's roll and also added some small amount of altitude to its orbit.  So they felt safe to predict they might be able to save the station.  Outside the station, Zimzod, Mikah and Rol were all effectively pouring fire into the target and Zimzod could report the android was looking "U-G-L-I Ugly!"

With continued fire, Zimzod could report more parts flying off the android.  In the station tube system, the news wasn't so good.  Coming to a level and prepared to move forward, Emkir and Fesic saw they were blocked by a crawler which had been moving a rather large cargo ship.  While the ship's running lights were burning, they could see no mechanical activity and the crawler was certainly not going anywhere.  So the tube ahead of them was blocked.  Still, they focused in on the ship and could see there were crew in vacc suits doing "something" outside the ship.

Hitting their comms, Emkir broadcast on a general frequency, "Hello cargo vessel.  We're the yacht coming up directly behind you in the transit tube.  Can we help you in any way?  What's your situation?"  After a few minutes of surprise and reorganization, an officer aboard the freighter said they'd been stuck in the tube for nearly an hour.  When Emkir asked for more details, the officer said they'd requested permission to depart as soon as the station went into distress.  While they'd been happy to quickly be picked up by a cradle, that turned sour on them when the system died.  And as large as their ship was, they were told by the station crew to hold there until assistance could be sent.  Then, they'd been told to secure and abandon the ship and its cargo!

Not willing to throw away hundreds of millions in ship and cargo, their Captain had ordered them to hold on and wait to see if the station could get the ship free instead.  More recently, he'd sent some of the crew out on the hull to figure out if they had any options?  When Emkir told them the station's central control was down, the man swore and asked if anyone planned to tell them what was happening?  While Emkir could understand the man's feelings, they had been told to evacuate.  So, being left in the dark after refusing orders didn't make the ship's situation the station's fault.  Still, that didn't matter to Emkir.  All he cared about was clearing the tube so he could continue breaking station instructions himself.

Hoping to get the freighter crew on his side, Emkir played sympathetic while telling the officer the station had suffered sabotage and were working to save lives.  The man thanked Emkir for the new information and then asked him what the plan was?  Since the Hotel California was moving, he assumed its crew had a plan.  When Emkir missed the point and started giving the officer a more detailed description of what was going on, the man interrupted him and asked, "So you want us to just sit here or what?"  It was clear the only reason the officer wasn't panicking was because Emkir had said they had crews fixing things.  Getting back with the program, Emkir asked, "Can you lift from the crawler and maneuver yourself out of the tubes?"  Emkir said that just as the freighter's Captain joined the conversation.

Considering Emkir's idea, the freighter Captain was concerned because their ship was larger and would have less leeway as they moved.  To sweeten the pot, Emkir sent them the schematic files for the tubes, so they had the same data he did.  Thanking the Admiral for the files, the Captain ordered his people back into the freighter and started giving orders to get their ship moving.  After the freighter had fully powered up, Emkir backed the California off so they could up-thrust.  Then, he promised to do his best to watch their clearances and help the freighter with extra eyes. 

Outside the station, the combat team were still firing at the android and, while she was still closing distance with them, Zimzod could detect a roll in her vector that couldn't be intentional.  Hearing that report, Rol suggested they separate because the android might not be able to maneuver anymore.  Stuck on her vector straight at them, he was worried she could take them all out in a single high-speed strike if they stayed as a single cluster.  Hearing that, Zimzod snarked, "You've been trained in this.  Separate yourself if you want." in a tone suggesting Rol should know that and be able to make his own decisions.

The End Of A Busy Morning

     Rol and Mikah separated from him while Zimzod said, "Spread out but I'll take the center."  They agreed as Zimzod checked the trajectory of the android and tried to work out the odds she'd pass him close enough for him to use his vibro-cutlass?  While they lined up and continued to pour fire, Emkir and Fesic were making even less progress thanks to having to follow the very slow-moving freighter.  Inside the station, Terin and Munarshu had located the strand of conduit they wanted and started working to remove it without destroying it.  Despite that, they still had no word from the station on finding someone in engineering who'd do what Terin wanted.

Spread moderately apart, the combat team poured on more fire and Zimzod could confirm the android had become a cluster of tumbling parts.  Mikah cheered as Zimzod reported that and shifted his position.  Elevating above the expected trajectory of the android, the three kept their weapons on the wreckage in case there was still something dangerous.  When the parts went shooting by, Zimzod's battle computer confirmed there wasn't even a working power source.  They spread that word while Terin and Munarshu were finishing the work of removing the conduit.  Next, they rolled the strand, so they could move it and were in the process of moving the length to where they wanted it.

While they were starting to do that, the word was spread that emergency teams had started boarding the station to try and fix things.  This told them the tugs were likely to save the station, because no one would have boarded if the place was unable to be saved.  The second thing it told them was that qualified and trained crews were now on-station.  Hearing that, Terin pushed to be connected to a team-leader.  When he got through and explained what he'd been working on, Terin was asked more questions to help them understand what he'd seen.

After Terin answered their questions, they said powering up the area around the control center would never have helped because the control center was entirely disabled.  So nothing could be done from that location no matter what he tried.  The team leader talking to Terin told him they were moving to the station's engineering spaces to resolve the problems from those stations.  As Terin was being told that, Zimzod, Mikah and Rol confirmed the android was nothing but drifting spare parts and checked their location relative to the station.  Seeing they'd drifted to a point nearly an hours' up-thrust to the station, they called for a rescue pick-up.

When they got an answer, Zimzod asked if they could be brought back to the station and was told the ships were all running recovery back to the system's medical and emergency craft.  So they'd have to ride back to one of those vessels.  Hearing that, Mikah stomped Zimzod's request into dust when she volunteered that she was a medical doctor.  With nothing else for it, Zimzod volunteered that he was qualified as a paramedic and both of them were recovered and pressed into service.  Even Rol suddenly found himself working with the stewards, handling food services and hand-holding.  In the stations tubes, Emkir and Fesic finally managed to help the freighter to maneuver itself and clear the way.  That ship then slowly moved while they made their way out into the docking bay.  With that ship being the only one in their path, they were eventually clear to fly the Hotel California out into free space.  Finally clear, Emkir sparked up the comms and called the rest of the team to tell them the ship was free and they could come pick the others up.

Mikah answered, "Hey, we're on another station doing medical stuff.  Try to find dumb and dumber, who were still on the station."  On the station, Terin and Munarshu were told 'Thanks for trying but get to the surface and get off the station, just in case what they were doing didn't work out and things went south.'  After having been metaphorically handed their hats and been told to get out, Terin and Munarshu activated their inertial locators and started heading back to where the ship was.  From there, they planned to call Emkir and then make their way to where the ship had gotten to.  And as they made their way, Emkir eventually called them to say the ship was free and flying.

Changing their path, they set out to reach an air-lock and signal the ship so Emkir could pick them up.  As things wrapped up, Emkir was able to quickly recover Terin and Munarshu.  Soon after that, they decided to dock the ship on the vessel where Mikah, Zimzod and Rol were working, to help there until the others were done.  Each handled a shift at some sort of support work until their shifts ended, after which they returned to the ship nearly dead on their feet.  When Emkir mumbled something about breaking out the 200 year old scotch, someone else mumbled that none of them would need it, including Emkir.

That got a grim laugh as the crew staggered in and secured the ship.  To add to their exhaustion, they'd each heard various parts of the word coming from the now-stabilized station.  While the tugs had largely saved the station, emergency crews had boarded it and made their way to the engineering spaces after "some idiot Knight" had told them the station's control center had been made useless.  In the engineering spaces, it was said the rescue crews found many more bodies and many smashed stations.  Still, they were able to mock something up to regain control.  And since then, crews from all the stations in the system were working to repair enough controls to resume basic operations.

In support of the displaced starships, all external berths had been opened to space so the ships drifting free could take up berths there free of charge.  The Hotel California was permitted to either choose a high-orbit drift point at which a station-keeping android would hold it, or take one of the open berths.  Settled, the crew would be able to finally complete their previous night's sleep.  After a very brief discussion, it was decided to put back down on the station and secure the ship before everyone would get the rest they needed.

After that, Zimzod suggested they get out of the system as quickly as possible.  Agreeing with that thought, Emkir also suggested they find the time to hunt down a tattooed man and skin him for his crimes.  Mikah quickly agreed with Emkir while Aali reminded Zimzod and Mikah they hadn't reset the drives yet.  So they could quickly leave, but they'd be running some engineering risks if they did.  Mikah just nodded and said they'd decide things after sleeping it off.  Under an hour later, they had the ship settled and all prepared to sleep.  To make sure everyone got what they needed, Mikah decided to pass around drugs which would keep everyone, including herself, asleep until the next morning.

A New Day With New Information

     Before they'd gone to sleep, Mikah had passed out drugs and canceled all alarms set by the rest of the crew.  She then set a ship-wide alarm for 8am, and drugged herself.  At 8am, the alarm Mikah set began to go off ship-wide and a number of the crew realized to their annoyance that there was no snooze button.  Completing quick morning routines, each of the crew made their way to breakfast.  Beginning to talk about the situation, there was a general agreement they had to stay in-system until they'd reset the ship's engineering systems.  Next, they brought up getting revenge on the tattooed man and his lady friend.

It turned out that had to wait too.  Those who wanted to turn back to Rhylanor right away were reminded they had to deliver the two cargos to the Lanth system.  One of those, Ironically, had been shipped by Baron Sir Kelslundtb, who had introduced them to the tattooed man and his girlfriend.  Sadly, turning on that contract meant giving up a KCr 350 payment, so they had to decide if they wanted to rip it open and see what he had them shipping?  Beyond their plans of revenge and contracts, Emkir asked what they planned to tell the authorities about the android?  Relaxing in her seat as everyone turned to her, Mikah turned to Terin and said, "You're still in charge."  When Terin protested, "The mission is over", Mikah said, "No it's not." as she nodded in Emkir's direction.

This was a reminder the mission didn't end until everything was dealt with, including the fall-out.  Taking a moment to think about the situation, Terin began by saying, "Well.  If they ask for Zimzod's battledress computer, to see what you were doing out there, then they're gonna see this thing."  After a pause, Terin continued, "And they might see it coming off the ship, in some surveillance videos.  So...  Do you want to try and hide that?"  Ignoring the fact that the question was a stupid one, and the authorities would have the possible surveillance videos Terin thought might exist, Mikah reminded him, "I'm not in charge."

With the ball kicked back into his court, if not directly at his balls, Terin heard that as Zimzod pointed out any videos Terin thought might show the android were already in the hands of the authorities.  So they couldn't hide anything.  Terin agreed with that and then said he had been talking about Zimzod's helmet camera video.  Terin added, "Because they're gonna have to make an accounting of what happened out in space."  Mikah challenged, "Are they really?  Because, who saw anything?"  She also didn't mention that what happened in space was a much much smaller event compared to what happened on the station.  Zimzod also pointed out that they could only hide the footage by erasing it and that would raise even more questions."  When Terin said, "That's why I'm asking", Zimzod asked, "So, again.  Why are you asking?"

The challenge was clear.  Terin had asked what they wanted to do about the video footage but it was clear they couldn't do anything about it.  So the point was moot and the question was a stupid one.  Not giving it up, Terin doggedly insisted, "Well, I'm asking advice.  This is the situation.  Do we wanna get caught trying to hide this information or do we just come clean and say 'This is the thing that you guys fought out in space.  We don't know where it came from, and that's the story'."  Of course, that ignored the fact Terin himself suggested video might exist showing the android coming off their ship to begin with.  And, of course, Terin missed that hole in his own logic.

Also missing the hole, Fesic agreed that was the story.  Catching on the fact that "Honest Fesic" was willing to buy into that lie, Mikah said, "OK!  As long as Fesic is the one whose saying 'That's the story', then that's the story we'll go with."  That was based on her doubts Fesic would lie to protect the ship and crew.  And both her tone and the glares she shot at Fesic as she answered spoke volumes.  Especially since Kyle van Ryddoth was under a death sentence from Mikah for rolling over on the crew in the Regina system.  Getting into the discussion, Rol asked, "So what do they know?  They know someone took out a lot of their crew on the station.  And started taking out tugs.  They know that when we went out, it stopped attacking the tugs.  And so, beyond that, it all comes down to..."

Zimzod pointed at Terin and said, "He's worried they know about the intruder alarm and the girl coming off our ship.  Nodding, Rol continued, "Right.  So, depending on how good their records are, they could know everything or they could know nothing.  So the question is, how far do we want to push the ignorance?"  When Munarshu said, "Well, we did call them and say we had an intruder", Rol said, "The question is, did those records survive?"  When the consensus was that the records would have survived, Rol said that meant they'd have to go with the position that they were attacked.  And when Mikah and the others agreed, Rol said, "So, whatever it was attacked our ship."

When the others again agreed, Rol said, "So the answer is that we were attacked.  And then the station was attacked.  And we responded when we saw the station was in trouble because we're troubleshooters. And that's how we ended up at the security compartment.  When we monitored the tug situation and realized they were in trouble, we left security and tried to help the tugs.  We went after the threat and we neutralized the threat."  At that point, Mikah broke in, saying, "And the threat was really weird."  Rol agreed and finished up saying, "I would say that's the best story we can put together."

Everyone agreed, and Terin then asked, "Is there any way we can get rid of that smashed up cargo container in our cutter?"  When Rol said that wasn't his area of expertise, Mikah said they would have to dump it and make it look like all the other debris floating outside the station.  That sparked a few stories about dumping the trash and they agreed they only had to pull the cutter out of the ship and skim the outside of the berth along the station's outer skin to keep from being obvious on scans.  Keeping as close as possible to the station, they could then just push the container out into space and it would look like all the other debris.  Of course, they had to cut the seal off the container first.

So Emkir went to the ship's bridge to check and make sure it was safe to sneak the cutter out while Terin, Fesic and Rol suited up to launch the Probe.  Fesic also cut the seal from the container.  When the all clear was given, Terin and Fesic moved the Probe into position and depressurized it so Rol could open the cutter's cargo hatch and dump the container.  After that was done, and not likely on anyone's scanners given all the debris and other issues, they re-docked the Probe and shut her down.  After they did this, and while Emkir was on the bridge the system authorities began to put out mass broadcasts addressing events in the system.

While Emkir listened, recorded and re-broadcast the information to the rest of the crew, the authorities put out a basic statement of what happened, what they currently knew and what they wanted to learn.  For each ship which had been docked in the affected station, they wanted a report from that ship's Captain giving them any information that crew could provide.  They made it clear that they'd accept signed statements which read like, "The station shook, we raised our alarms and got ready and then the station told us to run so we locked up the ship and did."

After that was put out, Mikah said they should write up a statement that gave the authorities the story they'd agreed to tell.  And she said they should attach to it the video from Zimzod's battledress, starting from when they left the ship to find a computer to hack so they could get off the station.  When Terin suggested they not add that video, Mikah demanded to know why not?  Especially since, from that point forward, there was nothing incriminating them, and most of the video showed them risking their lives to save the station.  When Terin backed down, they all accepted that the system authorities would visit the ship to ask more specific questions at a later point.  But that was what getting their story straight had been about to start with.

Having dealt with the paperwork side of things, Emkir suggested how the vetting of reports would go.  They'd send in their report along with thousands of other files.  The office receiving the files would let those thousands of files roll in and check, from time to time, how large each of the files was, in groups of 20 or 50 at a time.  Files that were really small would be left for later, if read at all.  The larger files would be skimmed, at first, to see if there was anything of note right off the bat.  And he was willing to bet the report from the Hotel California would be one of the larger ones.  So he'd bet they'd hear from the investigators before the end of the day, and just had to be ready for the questions they'd ask.

The only loose end they couldn't cover was why they thought they'd been targeted at the beginning of the attacks?  And the simple answer was, "We don't know.  If we caught anyone alive, we could ask but the video speaks for itself and we couldn't find anything alive to question."  That done, they settled in until a security call came to the ship saying a team would come to debrief the crew and ask follow-up questions.  They were to standby for that team's arrival and not try to leave the system.  It was a standard right out of the entertainment vids bit and surprised no one aboard.  Aali and Munarshu went back to work in the engineering spaces.  Rol began repairing the damage to his armor as well as gear maintenance.

Mikah and Zimzod began cleaning up and doing gear maintenance too.  Emkir worked the bridge and drilled the story they'd agreed to into his skull so he didn't screw it up.  Terin cleaned up his gear before settling in to do some stent-work.  Fesic worked a bit on his gear before returning to the cargo bay to continue studying the cargo sealing machine.  The morning continued, as the crew worked at their tasks, until nearly 11:30am.  Rol was just starting to consider what he'd serve for lunch when the ship got a comms signal.  Checking it back, they saw it was coming from a local space hopper.  This was a small spacecraft which could carry a few peoe and some small amount of cargo.  A check of the signal showed it was also not related to the system authorities.

When Mikah answered the call and asked what they wanted, the caller said, "Hello Hotel California.  Are you prepared to resolve our existing business?"  Angrily, Mikah adopted a deadly tone of voice as she said, "No.  Go away."  After a brief pause, the caller simply asked, "Explain?" and Mikah acerbically said, "Your business almost took down this station.  The caller simply asked again, "Explain?"  Mikah only answered, "No" in a firm reply.  Thinking better about it, she added, "You know what happened.  Get the fuck out of here."

In a confused tone, the caller said, "We have no idea what you mean.  Can we dock with your ship and discuss it?" but Mikah cut him off, saying, "No.  Absolutely not!"  After another pause, the caller said, "OK" and Mikah moved to the ship's bridge to see the skiff was starting to change its course to move away.  Calling Fesic to the bridge, Mikah ordered him to activate the ship's weapons.  Fesic moved to light up the skiff and Mikah called Zimzod saying, "Hey Zimzod, these are the assholes...  Are finally showing up to pick up their package."  Hearing that, Zimzod said, "Well, let them aboard."  When Mikah demanded, "Why!?" Zimzod said, "So I can actually get some fucking answers?"  Mikah didn't mind as Emkir's answer, "So we can kill them." slipped in too.

Visitors And Vendettas

     Mikah considered Zimzod's point and then changed her mind, agreeing to let them dock.  Hitting the comms, Mikah called the ship and told them they could dock to discuss what happened.  Still, as the skiff turned back to the ship's open berth, Mikah ordered Fesic to keep the lasers targeted on them.  Fesic was manually aiming the lasers because he knew opening up with the ship's active sensors would create all sorts of alarms and reactions from the authorities.  Especially under the circumstances.  And while they approached, Mikah ordered, "Everyone get in armor, arm yourself and get ready."

When Fesic checked to see if she still wanted him to track them, she said he could gear up after they docked and started boarding procedures.  She then went to gear up herself, leaving the orders to fire on them if they did anything unexpected or provocative.  They closed, and the skiff operator finally asked, "Hotel California, why are your weapons active?  Alone on the bridge, Fesic simply answered, "I'm under orders."  When they asked, "Explain?" Fesic said, "The Captain will explain."  Challenging his answer by saying, "Your Captain told us to come aboard" Fesic answered them saying, "Either dock and board or wait until the Captain is available to answer you."  When they replied, "Confirm you won't open fire on us?" Fesic answered, "I'm under no orders to open fire."

Thanking Fesic for that, the skiff continued its slow approach and moved to position themselves near the ship's upper air-lock.  Having been called by Mikah, and having their heard some of what she'd said before ordering the crew to arm and armor up, Zimzod had moved to his stateroom, grabbed his gauss rifle and snapped into his battledress.  So he was the first back on the bridge to see what was happening as Fesic stood by the active weapons system tracking the skiff.  When he arrived, Zimzod ordered Fesic to go and armor up.  Zimzod stepped upto the weapons console and saw no evidence the skiff had any weapons as he monitored their approach.

Soon, Mikah returned to the bridge to find Zimzod tracking the skiff.  Checking their progress, Mikah saw the skiff was matching their position so they could extend a docking tube and reach the air-lock.  Knowing that lock opened into the ship's lounge, Mikah ordered everyone to take up positions in the lounge.  Following that up, Mikah announced that the crew who wanted to pick up their package were docking with the California.  After Rol asked if Mikah was sure she wanted the entire crew in the lounge when they arrived, Mikah snarled, "Um, YEAH!" angrily.  But when Zimzod said, "No, We don't", she admitted it shouldn't be everybody.  Terin snarked, "That depends on how many grenades they throw in."

When Rol recommended they keep some people in reserve, Mikah murmured, "OK, whatever."  Getting into his armor still, Fesic asked if he should return to the weapons console?  Mikah said they were close enough he could shut that down and join the rest of the crew.  Hearing that, Zimzod shut down the weapons.  Terin offered to greet the visitors at the hatch and Mikah said, "If you want to" while planning her own greetings for them.  She planned to be waiting in the corridor aft of the lounge, near the hatch to the cutter.  Rol planned to stand by the med-bay doors, at the head of the starboard-leading corridor.  That would let him see and be involved with what happened in the lounge.

Zimzod took a post behind Rol, so he could see down the corridor of staterooms leading to the engineering section.  That way, his battledress wouldn't be visible unless the visitors started something he could enjoy finishing.  Aali positioned herself with Zimzod, planning to move into the starboard weapons turret in case the skiff was a double-cross to grab their attention while a second ship moved in.  Fesic planned to be in the lounge, backing up Terin directly.  Munarshu planned to be with Aali and Zimzod.  In the event someone had to, he'd be able to get to the engineering spaces without going through a potential combat zone.  And Emkir took up a position at the aft end of the bridge access corridor, in case he had to hit the bridge and support the crew.

Terin planned to open the hatch for the visitors, so he, Zimzod and Fesic didn't have their weapons raised and ready for immediate combat.  Still, Terin made sure he had his snub pistol ready with tranq rounds loaded.  Mikah had her new pulse taser ready and was very much looking forward to testing it in a real-world application.  Almost as much as the questioning which would follow.  She figured she'd even let Zimzod use all of the ship's spoons.  To truly be sure she'd enjoy the action, Mikah also had her gauss pistol ready.

Zimzod had his vibro-cutlass ready, since this would be close action aboard the ship and he didn't want to destroy anything important.  In keeping with that, he had the Darrian gauss pistol, because it's needles would shatter before they destroyed most key systems.  Emkir had gotten his cavalry sabre ready and didn't prepare a fire arm.  So, after the rushed preparations, everyone was waiting as the skiff docked and the air-lock cycled.  After the internal readout cycled to green, Terin undogged and opened the air-lock's internal hatch to let the visitors into the lounge.  The first person to appear was wearing a ships suit and turned out to be some kind of servant.

When he stepped up to the portal, the man seemed to look over the lounge and all he could see as well as the visible ends of the passages.  After the man decided the area appeared clear, he stood to the side and said "Sir".  A second gentleman then came into the lounge.  This man was older, wearing a suit and had an air of personal authority and wealth about him.  Seeing the extensive combat preparations those he could see had taken and reacting with a bit of surprise, he got out, "I've....missed something here?"  His tone was certainly one of surprise and confusion.  Responding to that from areas of the ship even outside his line of sight, Mikah and others in the crew said, "Apparently." in nearly a predatory tone.

Continuing, the man said, "So, Um, I don't normally do this, but...  I paid a great deal to have a shipment of agnathics shipped to me..."  Mikah cut him off there, saying, "Well, that's not what was given to us in that cargo container."  After a pause, the man asked in a slow and careful tone, "And, what was given to you in that cargo container?"  Mikah tartly answered, "Why don't you talk to your decorated friend with all the tattoos all over him, and ask him?"  When the man began to answer, "Because that would take me many months...", Mikah again cut him off, saying, "Well, that's not our problem.  Is it?" in a tone that said she could care less for his concerns.

The man tried to find a way forward and asked, "You can't even give me a clue?"  Mikah snapped to the others, "Show him the video of the thing that we destroyed."  When they did show him the video, the man was obviously taken completely by surprise, and had very obviously not had an idea an android like that even existed.  Still, Mikah snarled, "You're lucky we didn't blow you out of the fucking sky."  Turning to Mikah as he recovered himself, the man replied, "You know?  I understand that now.  I didn't before but I do now."  When Emkir said, "Now you know why our weapons were live." the man said yes as Mikah reminded him their weapons still were.  Ignoring the damage done for the moment and hoping to move the situation forward, the man asked, "So, who did you receive my package from?"

Moving quickly, Zimzod pulled up the tattooed man's data and read it out to the man.  After another pause, the man asked, "So, are you planning to return to Rhylanor any time soon?"  Some of those who watched him even saw something of a hardened glint in the man's eyes as he asked.  When Mikah missed his point and emphatically said, "No", the man said, "Too bad.  I could have hired you."  Realizing the man's intent after the fact, Mikah said, "Oh!  You're not gonna have to hire us to kill him!  We'll do that all by ourselves."  Ignoring the indignation that was growing, the man said, "No.  I'm going to send a message when I get back to my deck.  And I'm sure that by the time you return to the Rhylanor system, the message will have been received and acted on."

The man continued as the crew considered the loss of a possible contract.  He said that he recognized the situation wasn't their fault, so by way of apologies, he was going to make some payments for their time and efforts.  Reacting to that, Zimzod said, "OK" and waited for the man to continue.  As he did, the man waved his hands in a gesture which included the station and local space as he said, "I assume that all this was related to that device?"  Mikah and most of the crew quickly confirmed, "Yes."  Nodding, the man asked, "Do you have any idea or clue why this happened?"  While no one had any answers, Rol suggested there was a good chance it was someone who didn't like InstellArms.

Munarshu speculated, "Who would , a great deal in losses even though it would only kill a few thousand low-level workers.  So, while we'd have to absorb the loss of billions in sale goods as well as losing and rebuilding a multi-billion credit station, this couldn't be called a stab at the heart."  With all eyes on him, the man continued, "It would certainly be a financial reversal in the sector, and I don't know who would benefit from it or why?  But now, it's time to start asking those questions.  Which makes it all the more important for me to hire someone in Rhylanor."

When Munarshu again speculated, "Who sold short?" they had to admit that stock manipulation was one of a great many possibilities.  If someone had established a short position on InstellArms shares in some system, they'd be sitting and waiting comfortably for news of the disaster to reach that system.  Then, they could fill their short and reap huge benefits.  But there was no way of knowing who that might be over a massive number of systems in the Spinward Marches and potentially throughout the Imperium.  So it was uninvestigable in the short term.  That said, the man admitted it would cost InstellArms quite a bit to get the station back on-line, but they'd prevented a great deal of the loss.  And the man admitted the android had caught him completely by surprise.

When that led Zimzod to ask if the man was an executive of InstellArms, he admitted he wasn't, and realized he'd not yet introduced himself.  Providing his Ident, the man introduced himself and Mr. Bosa Thersk, and he said that he'd been an executive well before he retired, and was still related to some of the high executives in-system.  When asked how long ago he retired, and with the agnathics secret out of the bag, Thersk said he was nearly 180 years old.  That surprised a number of the crew since he didn't look more than sixty or seventy years old.  That also put a finer point on his need for the shipment of drugs.

That brought them to yet another issue where there were no obvious solutions unless the man had a stash put by just in case.  Terin joked the man could always have himself cloned.  Still, as the comments and jokes came to an end, it was obvious the tattooed man had screwed Mr. Thersk as well as them, not to mention the system as a whole.  And while there was nothing they could do to help him, Mr. Thersk was willing to make some reparations to the crew for their losses.  When Thersk said that would largely be financial, Zimzod thanked him but asked about the other part in the agreement?

When Mr. Thersk clearly had no idea what Zimzod was talking about, Zimzod prompted, "The weapon?"  When he still had no idea what Zimzod was talking about, the crew said they were told it would be possible delivering the shipment would set them up to become agents of the government.  And that would possibly allow Zimzod to get permission to buy and own an FGMP-15.  Hearing this, Mr. Thersk said his understanding of the deal was completely different.  He said his understanding was that the payment would entirely be financial and that they knew it was entirely unofficial.  So the many layers of lies the tattooed man had spread seemed to be varied and deep.

When Zimzod asked if Mr. Thersk could help with permission to get the weapon, he said he couldn't.  He did say he was related to some people who might be able to help.  Still, Thersk cautioned them that InstellArms rarely hired outside their corporate staff.  Especially when the potential agents were Knights and beholden to as many authorities as the crew were.  InstellArms preferred agents who could drop everything when needed, and you couldn't drop a Senior landed Duke or the Arch Duke in favor of a corporation.  Or, at least, you couldn't do that and maintain your titles and privileges.  Still, Thersk agreed to petition his family in the D'Ganzio government and InstellArms management on Zimzod's behalf.

As things got deeper and deeper, Mikah reminded herself Baron Sir Kelslundtb was also on their list, and someone on whom to take revenge.  While she thought about that, Mr. Thersk told the others he could see paying them each Cr 5,000 for their honest work in delivering the package, despite how that worked out.  But Mr. Thersk made it clear that was't their fault and he did want to show his appreciation for honest work.  Beyond that, he was certain he could get the crew some consideration in thanks for their very valuable assistance in stopping the android and saving the station.

"But", he said.  "Before that, I need to know what you've already reported to the system authorities?  And how it matched or didn't match with what actually happened?"  Easy to do, Mikah had the others get Mr. Thersk a copy of their report.  The video, he'd already had the chance to enjoy earlier.  After he went over the package, he confirmed there were significant material differences between the full truth and report, which he pointed out wasn't a complaint, just recognition of the situation.  After he said that, under the circumstances, they'd all have to completely come clean, he said they wouldn't do it in public.

So they waited for the other shoe until Mr. Thersk said they should meet with the system leadership in a sealed room that was electronically shielded to discuss the complete truth.  That would let them properly evaluate the situation both as it related to their responses in repairing the damage and further defending InstellArms' Spinward Marches facilities.  It would also help in identifying those beyond the crew who should be rewarded and what they deserved.  After that, Mr. Thersk confirmed that no one had followed up their report with a visit or even told them when an investigation team would arrive.  Happy with those answers, Thersk asked if he could make a call from their ship?  After they set him up, the crew went about putting up their armor and weapons.

Calling the InstellArms system executive offices, Mr. Thersk asked to be directed to his grandson.  Those who heard thought to themselves, nothing like making an understatement of power.  After he said that, he was passed through to a meeting which quickly ended when Thersk said it had to.  As the room cleared on the far end, he said, "Get the five together.  I'm here with the crew of the Hotel California and they're going to join us.  There was a pause before he said, "The room has to be shielded and no data recording or notes will be allowed."  When the call was done, he asked the crew, returning after stowing their gear, if they wanted to crowd onto his skiff or take their own craft?

Hob Nobbing With The Goober Smoochers

     Emkir flipped the question, asking Mr. Thersk if he wanted to join them on their ship?  Considering that, Thersk accepted and had his servant fly the skiff back.  Then he gave Emkir the coordinates for another station as Emkir and Fesic strapped into their flight positions.  Emkir made his settings and got clearance and they were off.  Not very long after, they started closing on another station and it was visually clear that was where the power was in-system.  The station was incredibly well lit with glowing spires pointing in every direction.  As they closed to dock, with guidance from the structure, everyone seeing the station knew this was where the money and power were.

Closing and docking with the structure, it was obviously not a public docking bay.  Even as they settled the ship in the bay, it was visually ornate and very well appointed.  This was confirmed, after they settled in and the bay was closed and pressurized, when they exited the bay directly into the executive spaces.  Arriving there, Mr. Thersk was met by someone who didn't introduce himself and quietly spoke to the older gentleman.  After that brief chat, Mr. Thersk turned to the crew and said, "Follow us."  Quickly after that, they made their way into a room setup as a corporate board room.  Waiting there were a group of five men and women.

The five patiently waited until after the door was closed and some electronic tests run.  While waiting, after getting Mr. Thersk's call, they'd had system security track and trace every bit of data they had on the Hotel California and organize it separately into data from events outside or inside the system.  They'd also had an audio synopsis played for them so they were relatively up to date on what they needed to know before hearing what Thersk apparently knew they couldn't know.  After everyone was seated and all the preparations finished, Mr. Thersk started.  Without introductions, he confirmed the five had been provided every bit of data the system had on the ship and crew.

They agreed and Mr. Thersk said there were key differences in the record which were important for the five to hear personally.  Turning to Mikah and Zimzod, Thersk said, "With your permission, I will cover everything you told me and you correct me if I go wrong."  From there, Thersk started with the crew's introduction to the tattooed man and proceeded to quickly and efficiently narrate the entire tale to the point he called to convene the current meeting.  To their credit, each of the executives knew there was very often a lot that even the best reports missed, so they sat largely without even reaction as they listened to what was being presented.

After that, they showed remarkable memory skills as they questioned points large and small, and questioned the crew to tie together events which needed to be properly linked.  After that was done they all agreed this new data put a different face on the events.  The first thing they said they had to do was package the information into a report to be sent to the rest of InstellArms, in and beyond the sector.  They then confirmed that everyone in Rhylanor who'd been identified by the crew would be investigated and dealt with.  When the question was asked, the crew were told that did include the Baron.

They found it fascinating that someone would go to the expense of creating such a device to attack InstellArms at their hub in the Marches.  They also said they'd certainly enjoy finding the financial, technical and manufacturing power behind that project.  They also admitted that, once one android had been made, the people behind it could certainly make more androids like it.  Those comments bothered the crew more than a bit because they had already run into another android before this one.  Some of the crew considered that they'd have to sit down and do the math on that soon, to see what they could figure out?  But for the present, Zimzod gave Mikah a meaningful glance which she knew meant, "Should we tell them?"  Mikah just shrugged as if to say, 'If you think so.'

After that, Zimzod excused himself and told the six executives this wasn't the first android they'd encountered.  That stopped all other discussions cold and Zimzod now had their complete, and slightly surprised, attention.  From that point, Zimzod went over the entire affair on Equus with some comments and corrections from the others in the crew.  After he was done, the new data sparked questions about the obvious possibility the events were somehow interconnected or related?  While the crew largely believed the events had to be separate, it was hard to work the math to explain how the crew had accidentally become involved in unmasking both of the known androids?had  And that also raised the question of how many unknown androids might be out there?

After some time discussing the two events and squeezing all the data they could out of the crew, there was a consensus they had to package all this data up and send it to their other offices throughout known space.  After that, the only loose thread was how to reward the crew?  When they got to that, the five said they had reports from their man Bhreker Kraiowa, who had traveled with them.  Mikah took that chance to say, "Bhreker was a really good sales person."  Thanking Mikah for her feedback, they said they'd consider his reports on their needs as well as anything they wanted to add.  The crew were also invited to enjoy any of the facilities available in-system, though they admitted there weren't a large number of recreation facilities available.  They also offered the crew a team of engineers to work on setting the Hotel California to rights while the whole crew relaxed.

Pleased, Mikah said they just needed a place to stay while in-system and were told they'd be given rooms at one of the executive hotels in orbit.  Considering their improbably extended good fortune, Emkir said it was good Aali was getting some free time.  He also quipped that she might be able to enjoy even more free time if they ever got more high-quality engineering androids for the ship.  When that was overheard, Aali explained that their real hopes, at some time in the future, would be to get one or more "R2" class astro-droids.  After that, and a brief private discussion, the executives said they were sure they had some older R2 units somewhere in-system which could be given to the crew if they felt that an appropriate reward for their actions?

While Aali and Munarshu were both thrilled with that offer, Rol did his best not to appear ungrateful as he asked about a ship's security suite?  The reactions from others in the crew as he did made it clear they'd been talking about something like that but hadn't made moves to buy one yet.  It also showed how low on the crew's list such a system was, because most of the crew had forgotten about it.  With that discussion started, Fesic wasn't shy about asking about a high-end gunnery training package?  Getting everything out on the table, the executives left them with Mr. Thersk to discuss the crew's interests.

During that conversation, the requests from Rol for permission to buy battledress and from Zimzod to buy an FGMP-15, came out.  Adding that to the conversation, Thersk got the Baron, who was one of the executives present, to further endorse both requests.  And both requests were appended with a transcript of the events the crew had undertaken to protect the D'Ganzio system.  While starting to finalize the rewards package, it was decided they could install high-value security and weapons training systems in the ship.  And they could hand over two older R2 units.  These "rewards" were actually much cheaper to InstellArms because they were product sitting on the shelves, and for which they'd paid much less than the items sold for.  In addition, some of it had been depreciated or otherwise paid for already.  So the executives also threw in KCr10 per member of the ship's crew and a possible contract the next time the crew's flight-path took them through the system.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

    The entire crew are on the InstellArms executive station meeting with the system leadership
    Aiden: cooking for another 9 weeks and 1 day ( Decant Date: 110-1113 )

Next: New Toys And No Answers