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Now Serving Food And Confusion

     Feeling very happy with themselves, the crew of the Hotel California were just done meeting with the five most powerful people in the D'Ganzio system.  As well as being the senior-most executives of the Sector-wide Instel-Arms depot, the chairman of the system board was also its Baron, holding the system in fief.  Thanks to their help stopping the android, they'd been well rewarded and could look forward to a possible contract in the future.  So after the meeting, their first concern was where to look for a place to grab lunch?  After that, they needed to wait until they were contacted by Instel-Arms regarding the ship software upgrades they'd accepted as rewards.  On the food front, they had an invitation to use the station's food services before they left.  The "executive" facilities.

While they talked about their options, Emkir looked about to be sure they were alone before leaning closer to Mikah and suggesting that IRIS might be interested in the news from D'Ganzio.  Leaning closer to Mikah, he asked what she thought but Mikah said, "I'm not in charge", confusing all who heard her.  When Emkir asked, "What do you mean?" Fesic said he was getting very confused about the chain of command.  Terin asked, "So, who's the person in charge?" and Mikah said, "At the moment, Terin is in charge."  When Emkir turned and asked Terin if they should send a message, Zimzod spoke up. Saying, "You know Instel-Arms just said they're gonna do that.  And that'll likely get to them faster than we can", Emkir realized Zimzod was right and said they should likely drop the idea.

OK with that, the others decided to eat then start calling the contacts in Instel-Arms to get rolling on the ship upgrades.  Back to the question "where to eat", Emkir said he never turned down free food and suggested they eat in the executive cafeteria.  The others agreed because it was both free and very close by.  Once they grabbed their food, ignoring all the surprised looks they were getting from actual executives, and sat down, Aali and Emkir ended up at a table with Rol and Fesic.  At first, they ate and speculated with the others about what kind of software Instel-Arms might eventually give them, because the ship had to be tested to see what could be installed?  But soon, Emkir, Rol and Fesic all noticed what appeared to be a frenzied conversation between the executives seated two tables down from them in a direction putting Emkir between them and Aali.  Listening to those at Mikah's table, Aali was not looking in that direction.

The executives were involved in a very animated but sotto voce discussion that was half talk and half argument.  As they listened, the three heard enough to see the conversation was related to the recovery of the restabilized station.  Emkir leaned in as inconspicuously as he could as Rol also quieted down and Fesic even tried to chew quietly.  Returning her attention to those at her table, Aali quickly realized everyone there had gone very quiet.  She didn't have any chance to worry she was the reason because the men were all looking off the opposite side of the table they were at.

As she looked in that direction, Aali could see a number of tables at which were seated Instel-Arms executives.  While there was one table at which the executives looked a bit harried and wild-haired, nothing was so far out of the ordinary that it grabbed her attention.  Still, the guys were all trying to listen to something, so she tried to listen harder and surreptitiously look around the room for anything of note in the room.  Getting no help from the others at her table, she could see they were looking to their left, with her on their right, but not at anything specific or a spot near any of the occupied tables.

Still, as she tried to find anything of value, Aali did realize the harried executives trying to be quiet were urgently discussing the station the ship had been berthed on.  This was not a surprise, as Aali expected that station to be the main topic of discussion for some time.  Aali did guess these executives had jobs which hinged on the further recovery of the damaged station.  Meanwhile, at their table, Terin looked at Mikah and asked, "So, why am I still in command?" and Mikah said, "Because I haven't told you you're not."  Joining in, Rol looked at Terin and said, "If you have to ask that question, I have to wonder why you're in command?"  Looking at Mikah, Rol asked, "Why aren't you back in command?" 

Mikah turned to Rol and said, "I don't feel like it."  When he repeated that back to her as a question, she answered, "Nope.  Why don't you take command?"  Turing to Terin, Rol asked, "Aren't you in command?" and Terin shrugged unhappily as he answered, "Apparently."  As the conversation continued, Munarshu simply did his best to enjoy his roast beef dish.  When Rol poked again, saying, "You're in command." in a tone prompting response, Terin answered, "Well, she asked if you want to be?  Am I passing the baton?"  Ironically, the conversation was just loud enough the executives at nearby tables had begun to overhear and were now all looking at the crew with looks that said they were either confused or surprised by the fluidity and casual concern over a ship's command.  Especially when they had no idea why a ship's crew had even been allowed on the station, much less in their dining room?

And Rol's voice raised just a bit, also firming up as he asked, "Oh?  Are you asking me if I want to be?"  Frustrated, Mikah now demanded in a loud voice, "Do you want to be in command?"  Rol looked at her and said, "You're not in command.  I'm asking the person who is in command.  As Mikah demanded, "Who's in command?" and Terin answered, "Me" in a quiet firm voice it was clear everyone in the room was looking at them in surprise or disbelief.  When Mikah then demanded, "Who do you want to be in command?" Terin answered, "You." in the same tone he'd used before.  As Rol asked, in a leading tone, "Well then...?" Mikah said, "Well, I'm in command so now Rol's in command."  Not far away at a table against the wall, Munarshu just put his head into his hands and moaned while everyone else in the room watched the drama.  Some of the executives were even horrified this was how merchant starships were managed!

Hoping to settle things, Rol joked, "OK, my first act in command is to start a recruiting drive."  Not biting the comedy intent, Mikah just asked, "Where are you gonna put them?" in an acerbic tone that suggested Rol was an idiot.  Terin just nodded at Rol and said, "They're gonna sleep in your room."  Rol tried to extend the joke, suggesting they could replace some of the crew there, but realized he was stretching the attempt too far.  Turning to Terin, Rol asked, "So you really didn't want to be in command?" and Terin answered, "I'm an astrogator.  I help out when I'm needed to help out but I don't wanna run the whole show.  That's not what I'm about. 

That prompted Zimzod to comment, "That doesn't stop you from complaining about everything that said like the whiny bitch you are.  Adding to the comedic moment after the sudden quiet following Zimzod's comment, Fesic spoke up for the next table and said, "Umm, I'm not sure who's in command?  But I was thinking it would probably be a good idea if somebody maybe took charge of trying to procure a shipment for our next stop?  Since the cargo hold now has some room in it?  As Mikah looked at Rol and said, "There you go!" suggesting that was Rol's first command challenge, Terin happily and loudly cheered, "Thank you for volunteering!"

Changing tones, Fesic answered Terin saying, "Great!  That's just what I was hoping for." as he tried to appear on-board with the sudden responsibility.  As Mikah said, "OK!  You got it." Rol said, "I'm glad you've expressed an interest in being the ship's supernumery."  Piping up, Zimzod said, "Make sense 'cause he's the only one knows how to use the cargo sealer."  Jumping right on the man before he could even breath, Emkir asked Fesic, "Can you get me a copy of the manifest as soon as you have one?  Zimzod looked at Emkir and said, "Dude, he hasn't even finished lunch yet!" with a smirk on his face.

Emkir answered flatly, "I'm just asking" as he ignored the fact he could have waited beyond 'Right Then'.  This led to a number of jokes about how little they knew of what they had in the cargo hold.  Especially when Fesic reminded them they had five tons cargo in their X-parcel safe and had no idea what was actually in those containers?  At that, Mikah and Zimzod remembered this cargo had been shipped by Baron Sir Kelslundtb, who'd introduced them to the tattooed couple.  They also remembered they had to deliver the cargo and then get the recipient to confirm that delivery before they could take the letter of credit to a bank for payment.  And since the Baron had promised double standard cost for all five tons for all the jumps from Rhylanor, that was worth KCr 350!  Of course, that was only true if he had not lied like the tattooed couple.

Jumping into the move to understand the cargo bay, Rol, began, "I'll need that too, as long as I'm captain..."  But Mikah interrupted him saying, "You're not the captain.  You're just in charge."  Confused, Rol asked, "OK.  So what's my title?  What authority do I have?"  and Mikah said, "Stupid!"  After a pause, Fesic stepped in, saying, "Well, now that I know whose stupid around here.."  He was cut off by Rol, who said, "That's Sir Stupid to you." and Mikah's laughter as he tried to suggest Mikah's comment had been a joke and not anger.  Continuing, Fesic said, "I just wanted to make sure our destination didn't stupidly change."  Nodding, Rol said, "It hasn't changed yet.  You'll be updated if it does."

While that was good for Fesic, talk of cargo sparked an idea in Munarshu's head.  Acting on it, the others turned to him as he suggested, "We can sell our meat here!"  Not impressed with what he said, Zimzod answered, "Dude.  Pulling your pants down here is not gonna get you anything but arrested.  And you're only gonna embarrass yourself with your excuse for a pinky finger."  That got a huge laugh from the others as Munarshu tried to clarify he meant the antelope meat.  Aware what Munarshu was talking about, Zimzod put on his first officer's hat and pointed out to Munarshu they were in the executive cafeteria.

When Zimzod's meaning didn't sink in, Munarshu tried to explain they could offer the meat up as both fresh and exotic.  But Zimzod just pointed to the food they were already eating and said the executives already had high priced and exotic food.  He told Munarshu these people wouldn't care about the antelope meat because they weren't the ones eating canned protein, like the berth worker on the station was.  With a few other well placed lines showing how little thought Munarshu put into the idea, Zimzod finally got the engineer to understand his mistake while the others listened and laughed.  By this time, none of the team really cared about the executive's reactions.

Getting back to ship's business, Rol reviewed the ship's readiness to travel.  The system powers had offered the crew help from their engineers in resetting and managing the jump systems.  And before things went sideways on the other station, the ship had been refueled and recycled atmospherics.  But they still needed to refresh their consumables and also needed to buy food for their continued travels.  So that, with the promised security and gunnery training updates meant they were far from ready to fly.  Added to that, Aali reminded him that she and Munarshu had done a top to bottom systems check of the Probe while they were in jump.  As a result of that, they needed to buy several thousand credits in spare parts to complete work on that craft.

Decisions And Deep Thoughts

     There was still a lot of work planned to be done and some shopping as well, and they could not stay on the executive station.  That meant moving the ship 'somewhere', and they were finishing their lunch so Rol needed to make a decision.  They could return to the recovering station they had been berthed in, but services and support would be very limited there.  Instead of that, they could ask for a berth on one of the other stations.  Finally, they could save the cash and ask for a parking orbit and keep the bridge manned as they drifted in space.  And once they had a place to put the ship, they could start calling the technical teams to start finding out how they'd get those things Instel-Arms decided to give them and how long it would take?

Normally, an orbital drift was not the best of items as the pilots of other ships who might not pay attention could cause accidents with drifting vessels.  But a quick check showed they'd most likely get an internal bay on any other station.  And demanding an exterior berth could cost upto KCr 30 more and no one wanted to be inside one of these stations given recent events.  As they started to talk about where to move the ship, Terin suggested they call the I-A contacts and find out if they could move the ship to the station where some of the work would be done?  When Rol decided that was a good idea, he also told Terin to take care of that while they moved back to the ship.  That way, once they were ready to move, Terin would be able to tell them where they were going?

Having his orders, Terin looked at the two contacts he had for the teams to install the security system and the weapons training software.  As he considered who to call, Emkir asked what kind of a load on the computer the new upgrades would cause?  Not sure what he meant, Rol and the crew started asking questions about the ship's computer.  As the computer officer, Emkir pointed out that overloading the computer's CPU could easily slow down processing of critical software right when the computer needed it, like in managing the ship in jump.  And since upgrading the computer wasn't a simple job, Rol told Emkir to do a survey of the computer's base line operations from the ship's logs and come up with plans to manage CPU usage.

While the others talked computers and even considered selling the ship for something with a more powerful computer, Terin planned to call one of the team contact numbers and then ask them to connect in the other team, so both groups could work out a common plan to work on the ship.  First, he called the team who were listed as handling the security system.  After Terin got them on the comms and started to discuss getting the team to handle the gunnery training software on the line, he was told both teams worked in the same facility.  Pleased, Terin asked if they could be brought into the conversation?  Terin waited while everyone got on line and then explained what the crew had been told and name-dropped the names of the system's top executives in the progress.

After he was done, the work crew chiefs said they had no information on these jobs or what was to be done.  Since they didn't know what was going on, what was needed or any data to figuring out what to order or go about the work, they needed to ask the executives.  They told Terin they'd check in with the executives he'd named and get a proper work order on what they wanted done?  Then, they'd call Terin and let him know what the deal was.  That answer didn't make Terin happy, because he wanted to be able to tell the crew where they could move the ship to "for free".  And this hadn't worked out that way.  So all he could do was ask how long they thought that might take?  That answer pleased Terin even less, because these guys had no data and could only reach up to the executives through their chain of command.  But they couldn't say when the executives might send them answers and had to tell Terin they didn't know.

Terin thanked them and gave them the ship's comms data.  After getting off the comms, Terin went looking for Rol, saying "Hello Sir Stupid."  Looking up, Rol asked, "So where are we going?" and Terin said "Nowhere yet.  I contacted them and they said they had to call the executives who promised us stuff."  Rol asked for an ETA and Terin said they'd had no idea when he'd asked them.  Terin said they'd guessed anytime "between this afternoon and three months from now", Rol sighed and sarcastically said, "I like their accuracy."  When Emkir suggested they called the installation teams and remind them the ship was carrying time-limited cargoes, Zimzod reminded Emkir this wasn't cargo Instel-Arms cared about.  And since the installers were just ship services paid by the hour, they'd likely not care.

More Than One Brush Off

     Once back in the ship, they'd agreed to request an orbital drift position from Orbital Control.  So Emkir went into the bridge, to call for a safe place to drift in-system until they had a call back from the technicians.  Not pleased with the idea of drifting traffic creating a new in-system flight hazard, the controllers asked where they'd be leaving from and Emkir gave them the ship's coordinates.  it didn't take flight control long to realize those coordinates were The Executive station!  So they sharpened up and did the math to find an acceptable point where the ship could orbit.  They finally gave Emkir permission to move the ship to a position which was in clear sky, though they could provide no amenities more than the ever-present unobstructed view of the barren planet below.

With what he needed, Emkir put a message out the all-ship warning the crew they were leaving.  Then, he called the port as he started powering up systems and asked for clearance to depart and for them to open the bay doors on their berth.  Once the doors were open and the ship responding, Emkir crafted a flight course and burned for their drift-point.  Forty minutes later, Emkir used the SMS systems to settle the ship into their assigned drift orbit and relaxed, watching over the bridge systems until he was relieved or they had somewhere else to go.  Almost as soon as they'd gotten back to the ship, Aali and Munarshu moved to the engineering section and were still working on resetting the jump systems as well as managing and monitoring the androids during the move.

Since Fesic didn't know how long work on the ship would take, he couldn't try to work on new cargo, but did complete an official manifest for their current cargo services.  This included the Baron's five tons in the X-parcel save and two tons of administraria which needed to be delivered to the Lanth system by 120-1112, which was still more than seventy days away.  After that, Fesic reported to Rol that he couldn't move forward with cargo until he knew when they'd be leaving the system.  Trying to make a joke, Rol asked, "Are you telling me you have nothing to do?"  Not sure where this was going but not liking the tone, Terin responded, "Did you have something you need, Stupid?" replacing the honorific 'Sir' with stupid after the conversation in the cafeteria. 

Taking a breath before he responded and realizing his attempt at a joke had gone sideways, Rol tried a different direction to recover the comedy.  So he said, "Actually, I do!  As acting commander to the ship's supernumery, I understand all the stateroom heads need to be serviced.  Now, normally, I'd assign this to the engineering staff but they're busy.  So would you mind inspecting each one and making sure it's nice and clean?"  Wondering if this really was a full-on asshole power play, Fesic considered how to turn this to his advantage as he straightened up, threw out a salute and said, "Ay Ay Stupid!" and got more huge laughs from anyone overhearing.  Once he'd agreed to his orders, Fesic turned and moved to Rol's stateroom door, planning to get the scrubbing brush there.  But he found Rol's stateroom door locked.

Returning to where Rol was looking at the star charts and considering what they planned to do next, Fesic assumed a report position and said, "Sir Stupid, I was attempting to inspect the lavatories of our staterooms and I found most of them to be locked, Sir.  When Rol reacted, "Oh!  Locked."  Fesic confirmed and Rol agreed that was a problem, asking what Fesic thought he could do about that?  When Fesic said, "I don't know, Sir."  Rol said, "I like you!  You remind me of some recruits I've known.  Tell you what.  Why don't you go and ask each person to unlock their stateroom?"  And happily, Fesic asked, "Sir.  Would you unlock your stateroom for me, Sir?"

Rol happily answered, "I can do that.  Come along."  as he got up and led Fesic to his stateroom.  Then, unlocking the stateroom, Rol made it obvious he was going to supervise as Fesic cleaned his bathroom.  And just as obviously, Fesic scanned the fresher and opened the compartment where personal hygiene items would be stored.  Then, very deliberately, Fesic picked up Rol's tooth brush and inspected it before turning to activate the commode and have it extend from the wall of the shower compartment.  Seeing this, Rol held himself firm as he commented, "You're the kind of person who doesn't have their own tools to do their job, right?"  As Fesic was still moving to make use of his toothbrush, Rol finally caved, saying, "OK.  Let's forget about all this and you can go back to what you were doing."

Hearing that, Fesic handed Rol his tooth brush as he said "Yes Sir", forcing Rol to recognize the score - "Fesic For The Win!"  After the show in the lounge, they realized they had nothing more to do but hang there in space and wait, so Mikah said it was the perfect time for some Zero-G combat drills.  When she did this, Emkir made it clear they needed to maintain a manned bridge so he was out.  And Terin said he had no time for things like the drills before going back to his work.  After those two, the rest of the crew moved to the cargo bay, killed the local gravity and played "Bounce the man off the wall".  That lasted an hour before Emkir, who was researching some point on decoding the Risek glyphs saw a comms light start flashing on his board.

Answering with his trademark, "Hotel California.  Can you be helped?  Emkir was answered with, "Hello, I'm calling from Instel-Arms Ship's services station 912.  I'm calling for Sir Terin Geryen.  Is Sir Terin available?"  Hearing this, Emkir identified himself as the ship's pilot, said they were on hold and waiting for them to tell them which berth to dock in and then asked if that was what they were calling about?  After a few beats, the caller said, "No, we're calling for Sir Terin because we were told to give him some contact data.  Is Sir Terin available?"  Not sure where Terin was in the ship, Emkir put the caller on hold as he hit the all-ship intercom and interrupted Terin's work.  Hearing the call, Terin quickly paused his work and hit a comms panel to answer.

Once on the line, Terin was told Chief Administrator Lord Aledbler Skãbenre would like you to contact him at this communications link.  As he did so, as with Emkir, the man was noticeably respectful now that he'd confirmed the powerful circles in which the ship's crew floated.  Thanking the man and cutting the line, Terin realized he couldn't make the call from a local coms panel and needed to go to the bridge or a location where he could get on the actual comms system.  So Terin went to join Emkir on the bridge.  Once he was seated and ready, Terin sparked up the comms and connected to the link to get someone who he didn't know.  As he introduced himself and said he was calling for Mr. Skãbenre, the assistant asked him to hold before a brief pause.  Then, Terin was transferred to the executive himself.. 

Finally they were talking, the man asked Terin if there was a address he could beam them some documents to?  Terin said, "Sure!" and gave him the correct address.  After Terin said that, Skãbenre said, "I'm going to beam you the official orders I've had my assistant set up.  Once you get them, you can call this comms link to reach the work bosses and beam them this paperwork.  After they get this from you, they can determine what can be done for you."  As Terin confirmed they were receiving the documents, he thanked the executive and cut the line.  Checking the file types, Terin saw they were a universal document file type which could not only be widely opened by many software packages but could be "Read to" the reader by audio software too.  So Terin settled in to read the documents and understand what they'd been sent rather than signing something he didn't understand.

Terin started reading and quickly found the first two paragraphs of the main document told the story.  The introductory paragraph laid out who was giving the orders and assigned names such as "assigning executives".  And the second paragraph defined provision of the software and android(s) as Items 1, 2 and 3 respectively.  In addition, the second paragraph began with the preamble, "You are ordered to provide and provision", so that was the official print.  And as he read it, Terin saw there was no definition of exactly what they would get.  Instead, the order was to evaluate what the ship Could handle before moving forward with any installation.

As he realized just how invasive this would be, Terin mentioned the deep dive to Emkir and recommended he make sure the computer hacking program Emkir had was scrubbed from any computers aboard.  And after Terin told him why, Emkir happily agreed.  He also planned to tell Aali about this too.  After they ran the tests, the engineers would then send their findings to the executives and they would decide what the crew were given.  The most interesting clause in the document was a notation that any androids which were damaged in the process would end up being the responsibility of the crew to dispose of.  So, they might have a 'droid or two 'fall off some structure and land on their deck', becoming theirs in the process.  When Terin read that, he smirked as he tried to decide how "awful" he'd feel if something like that happened?

Still, Terin dug for one specific thing and couldn't find a statement of housing for the ship during the work, but the 'between the lines' suggested it would be housed in a ship's services bay.  That provoked the thought that this station would be much more uncomfortable than the regular station they'd been berthed aboard.  And that wasn't very comfortable to start with.  After he got done with the read through, Terin sparked up the comms and called back the ship's services people he'd spoken to to tell them he had the paperwork they needed.  With that done, and with the work bosses having a chance to check the parts of the paperwork they knew they needed to verify, their only question was if Terin had a pilot ready to take coordinates to arrive at?

Working Out The Details

     Soon, they transmitted the target coordinates, Emkir sparked up the ship's systems and made a ship-wide announcement that they were about to get moving to the service station.  After checking with system flight control, getting authorization and forty minutes' flight, they started drawing close to the services archology.  As they did, Emkir and Terin could see the station appeared to be a cylindrical, kilometers-long station much of whose surface seemed to be a series of tubes running almost the lateral length of the station.  And as they got closer, the surface of one section of one of the tubes cycled open so that they could literally fly into the empty center of that tube section and land before the outer shell structure of that tube section cycled closed again.  Off the top of their heads, Emkir and Terin guessed that "length of tube" structure could have hold 20 bays as large as the one they landed in and that bay could have serve a 2,000 DTon ship!

Once the ship settled in and was secured down, the open roof "rolled" shut enclosing them in a open half-cylindrical space.  After they secured the ship, the bay crew chief came aboard and gave them the rules of the berth.  As expected, the restrictions were much more repressive than the public station.  The crew were only allowed access to the ship.  And when the work required it, they would be provided a space that was no more than a waiting room with 'not-very-comfortable' chairs and some terminals and vid screens.  The only good news was that the bay had a small craft air-lock, largely so larger components could be brought in and out without depressurizing the whole space.  But even that was not regularly available to the crew and they'd have to get clearance to move in and out using the Probe.

After everything and everyone was settled, they told the crew it would take a day to day and a half to do the diagnostics and tests needed to figure out what the ship could handle.  So, they couldn't say just yet what they'd be able to install or how long that would take?  Of course, they needed to start by sitting down with Mikah, as Captain, and Aali, as Chief Engineer, to ask questions about the ship and understand specific configurations and systems.  As for the security system, they also needed to understand what the crew hoped for and what security needs were absolute?  It was pointed out that even something as simple as 'detection of unauthorized boarders' could create issues if you needed to constantly add or remove visitors from the system or vary the system's active sensitivity.

When asked about cameras and views, Mikah made it clear the entire exterior ship should be visible 360 degrees around on both the horizontal and vertical axis.  In the interior spaces, she wanted visibility of all public spaces and all engineering and cargo spaces, including a camera shooting a wide angle in the ship's lounge.  Rol especially wanted a dual set covering the external and internal air-locks as well as some cameras covering access to their air-raft and cutter.  Moving from that to the gunnery training software, they asked questions to understand the levels of combat and combat situations the crew had been in or were concerned about being engaged in?  They also asked questions to understand if the crew were more likely to 'stand and fight' or need their systems to keep the enemy off while they ran for their lives?

Answering that, some of the crew started talking about engaging and killing military targets.  But Mikah reminded them they were on a loaned warship at the time and taking the California into real fights wouldn't work out as well.  So they agreed the weapons would be most likely to engage smaller targets only and to flee more significant engagements.  After getting the specifics in a meeting taking just more than half an hour, the engineers told the crew they'd have to spend the next twenty-four to thirty-six hours testing and measuring the system to figure out what they could install?  that meant the crew would be restricted to the ship and would not even have contact with the system computer networks.  When Mikah said they needed to shop for shipboard-needs and reach out to their commercial contacts, Mikah was told they could leave the bay in their cutter and dock at one of the public ports in-system.


Surprises In The Mail

     After the berth crew scheduled a time for the crew to move the Probe out the small craft lock, Mikah asked who wanted to go to the public port to shop for food supplies and other ship needs?  Fesic said he was going to stay with the ship and spend time working on his cargo sealing studies as he was able.  Because the promised engineers had not yet materialized to help with the ship's jump-reset, Aali decided that she and Munarshu needed to keep at their work too.  Beyond that, everyone else was off to the public port.

After making the transit to the nearest public port, they were told they'd have to pay a Cr 150 fee to berth their small craft.  Rol announced their first objective was to order food supplies for the continuing flight plan out to Lanth after they secured the cutter.  Talking about what they needed and how much they could cut back thanks to the antelope meat, the crew still chose a mix of high level and average level food stocks and paid Cr 6,000 for the order.  After the food, Rol asked what else the ship needed and Emkir piped up, "Porn!"  Shrugging that off, Rol said that was Emkir's issue if he wanted to shop on his own.

As the crew considered the "shopping venue", the single public shopping concourse on the station was a wide, four-level high open walking space with an open design and lined with shops, stores, bars, restaurants and anything else a crew might want from high-end to basic "Grunt-needs".  Additional services were advertised as they walked from ship-interior cleaning services to 'rip-out and redesign' ship interior alterations.  Mikah stopped at one general spacer goods shop and picked up pink fuzzy dice with pips made of rhinestone to hang in the bridge for Cr 10.  As Emkir got into the porn shop, he had been told by Terin to consider grabbing a replacement blow-up sex doll for Munarshu.  Checking their stocks, Emkir saw anything from reinforced-inflatable dolls to full-out life sized animatronic robotic sex toys in male and female form with "realistic skin-feel and recorded responses and reactions."

Not caring too much about anything beyond the joke, Emkir decided to grab a cheap blow up doll and jar of strawberry lube.  For Aali, Emkir decided to shop for some girl on girl porn, to spice up their on-ship selections.  Eventually, that cost him Cr 60.  As Emkir shopped in the swamps, Rol went looking for an inertial locator because he didn't have one.  Mikah also located the Astroburgers restaurant for later.  When Rol found his locator, it was a TL 13, hand-held device and the price, which he saw was as overpriced as everything else in the system, was Cr 5,000.  Despite the cost, Rol considered the events on the station the day before and bought the unit. 

Not wanting to return to the ship's services station just yet even though buying the food was done, Mikah wondered if the port had a vid theater or anything like it.  Checking the directory, she found they had everything from regular Vid-projection theaters to peep shows as they catered to everything from the low end up to standard fare.  The station even had two stage acting troops.  Happy, Mikah started looking through the listings for what vids they could see.  Standard operation for "mass-viewing theaters" was to allow customers to request vid productions to view.  If a small number of customers want to see it, it was presented in a small room.  But if, once it was requested, others see it listed as "to be shown" and buy tickets, the presentation could be moved to larger spaces and even auditoriums.

As they looked, Rol joked about seeing a disaster flick about a station out of control and people trying to escape with their lives.  The few laughs that got died out before Mikah's comms suddenly started to alert.  As she sighed and Rol made comments about leaving it at the ship, Mikah answered to find she was being called by the local x-parcel office!  Surprised, Mikah asked what they needed and was told they had a parcel for her!  When she asked, "For me?" in a surprised tone, she was told the package had come from the Rhylanor system, and had to work harder to try putting any of the pieces together.  Asking who it was from, Mikah was told it had been shipped by a Captain Voulge.  And while that struck a chord, Mikah and the crew had dealt with him in the Equus system, so "from Rhylanor" made no sense.

Mikah started to ask where they were in the system, but the technician cut her off and asked where she was?  When Mikah said where she was, the tech said she wasn't on the same station they were on.  Giving her their location, they also let her know they were able to be reached 24/7, to pick up her package or the could deliver it in-system for a Cr 50 fee.  When Mikah asked Rol, he said the briefing said they couldn't count on things like being able to receive deliveries at the ship's services bay.  So Mikah said they'd go to the station to pick up the package.  After ending the call, Mikah told the others they'd stop at the x-mail station after the movie and went to see an action-adventure flick.

Cr 7 and nearly two hours later, the crew left the theater knowing there were at least two more things they'd never do with the ship.  Some enjoyed it, some thought it was OK and some could have spent the time better.  Afterwards, it was dinner time and Mikah said they should go to Astroburgers for dinner.  With groans from some and fiscal approval from Terin, they set off.  And forty minutes later and Cr 10 less wealthy each, the group made their way back to the cutter and left the station to burn for the x-parcel office.  As Emkir called for instructions on approach, it turned out there was a 'fast-dock' set of gantries and docking tunnels specifically to be used by ships arriving from other parts of the system to make pickups.  Figuring she'd just get the package and go, Mikah wasn't gonna spend much time there and they could use the dock-n-go.

When Terin asked if he could possibly stop by the pay master's office and get paid for his Silver Asteroid, he was told this wasn't a full scout base and couldn't pay him for it.  After docking and providing the parcel number Mikah had gotten when she was called, they followed her into the center where Mikah was asked for her Ident.  The scout at the desk verified who Mikah was and then called for the parcel they were holding.  As everyone watched, a sealed rectangular-shaped container just over one foot wide, two feet long and half a foot thick was brought forward.  Before taking or signing for it, Mikah carefully asked, "Has this been through all standard scans and tests?"

After that was confirmed, Mikah asked if she could open it there at the counter because she was still leery about surprises springing out of cargo containers.  Even small ones.  When Mikah started to open the container, the scout even loaned her some specific tools to help with the job.  And once it was opened, Mikah saw a piece of metal with jagged edges, as if it had been torn from another metal structure.  And emblazoned on the metal plate was the word Kakishuu.  When Mikah saw it, she remembered that was the name of the raider the Hotel California and ISS Skygge Sturek had chased down in the Equus system.  Then, Mikah remembered she'd told a number of people she wanted the ship's nameplate to mount on the California's bridge next to the name plate of the GNS Lilmett kin Vyste

Realizing what the name plate was, Mikah shared that with the others and there were a few cheers.  Checking in the package, Mikah found a note from Voulge who wrote her saying He'd remembered her interest in the plate before she left the system.  He also said the disastrous bug-hunt aboard the IMV Sohturn Behemoth turned into a piece of luck and he'd been able to parley that into a larger and more valuable contract.  And since he'd picked up the name plate 'in case he needed a favor', he figured he'd send it to her along her route of travel.  Re-reading the letter, Mikah looked for the favor request or anything suggesting he needed something but there was no request.  Mikah shrugged and decided Him keeping himself on her good side wouldn't hurt.

After picking up the parcel, the question came up what to do next?  When Rol suggested they get hotel rooms on the station and stay overnight, Emkir said he'd rather get back to his wife.  When Emkir asked if they could at least drop him off, Mikah thought about the difficulty getting the engineers to let them come and go and the docking and other fees that would start piling up before suggesting they return to the ship now and the next day they could come up with a plan of recreation.  As she said this, Zimzod nodded and said, "Yeah!  The last thing we want to do is strand Emkir with porn and without his wife!"  And that led to some laughs and suggestions they didn't want to be involved in damaging another Instel-Arms space station.

As those who went shopping returned to the ship around 8:40pm, Aali and Munarshu had been working the day away.  Still, there was a high point in their day and news to tell the rest of the crew when they returned.  In the mid-afternoon, Aali had received a call from one of the station's senior technicians and when she met him at the lock, he had with him an android.  When she greeted him, The tech asked, "We found this android wandering around and know it's not ours.  Is it yours?"  Inspecting the android, it was certainly a "Class 2" version of the R-series engineering android, which was the type she'd asked the executives for.  So, Aali realized, this was how they were going to "give" the crew that part of their paycheck.  Disappointed there had only been one, Aali was still gracious as she thanked the man for returning their confused 'droid.

Examining the 1.09 meter-tall cylindrical 'droid with the domed top, Aali knew she had to evaluate its capabilities and decide on a name for the device.  Either way, she brought it down to engineering and introduced it to Munarshu as she began testing it.  So as Mikah and the others told Aali and Munarshu about the new name plate to be mounted on the bridge bulkhead, Aali announced they had a new android and she'd named it 'Marvin'.  When people questioned that, Aali said it was in honor of an animated comedic character from antiquity and she'd even programmed it to be able to communicate in that character's voice, where source audio was available.  Despite the flood of "Why not" this name or that, Aali's already completed work with the android settled the matter.

At the same time, as the crew were comparing new toys, Emkir officially awarded Munarshu his new inflatable sex doll and jar of strawberry-flavored gel to the huge laughs of the others.  This led to a number of jokes and sexual innuendo which had Munarshu frightened Emkir might invite him to join them in their stateroom!  That suggested fear even led Mikah to try encouraging Emkir to invite Munarshu in.  Once things settled down, since it had been a few days while Aali had been fairly busy, Emkir dragged his wife into their stateroom to spend the night getting "reacquainted".  After that, the others returned to their interests until settling in for the night.


The Boredom Before The Work

     The next day, after the crew woke and looked at their necessary tasks and as the Instel-Arms engineers continued to evaluate the Hotel California, Emkir got working to evaluate their use of the ship's computer.  He estimated that work would take a week to complete an accurate picture of their computer use.  As Emkir started on that, Aali and Munarshu worked on the jump-resets.  Rol and Zimzod planned to do stent-work while Mikah read medical journals and Terin continued his various studies and projects.  During all this, Fesic worked on his cargo system studies now that he'd gotten a second job aboard.  Finally, late in the day, the lead engineer in the Instel-Arms team buzzed Aali and said they were ready to assign some people to help with the reset.

The engineer also had some final questions about the installations the crew wanted.  The engineer first asked if they wanted security cameras in the individual staterooms?  He was told "No!"  Next, he asked how often they expected to use the security system, and under what conditions?  Mikah confirmed they expected to use it any time they were docked, in a station's berth or landed on a planet.  Emkir did make a play to have the ability to use the system while in flight if they were engaged with someone who was attempting to board the California.  Next, they asked how many gunners might be operating the weapons in any combat event?  When Mikah wasn't sure what they meant, the engineer pointed out they had two turrets and the bridge weapons console.  So they could have a gunner at each of those stations for a total of three.

Even though they only had two qualified gunners, Mikah said the system should be able to handle three gunners with two firing and one correcting.  Overhearing, Emkir suggested they could tie one of the androids into the weapons to be the "third" but Mikah said they'd do better training a member of the crew to handle it.  Once they had those answers, the engineer told Mikah they'd confer with the executive who'd signed the order and decide what upgrades they could provide the ship.  They also assigned three of their engineers to work the ship's jump resets along with Aali, Munarshu and the androids. 

At the same time a team of ten engineers would start opening up the systems and conduit spaces for the gunnery system the next day.  And another team of five would open up the spaces and systems for the security system, because that work could be started without knowing the specifics of the upgrade.  While that was starting, they'd likely hear back from the executives the next day which system they could install.  Once that was decided, they'd likely have the ship ready to go in a weeks' time.  Now that the crew knew when the work on the ship was going to be done, they could add the time it would take them to refresh consumables and load the food order they'd paid for.  When Fesic was told, he did the math and started hunting for cargo to haul to Lanth now they had space in the bay.

Outside Fesic's new project and Terin's work, Aali (as Chief Engineer) could delegate Munarshu to oversee the Instel-Arms engineers and have some fun for a change.  So the crew had to decide if they wanted to stay with the ship or transit over to one of the public stations to be less imprisoned while the work was done.  Despite her ability to leave the ship, Aali preferred to be there and oversee everything that was being done.  Because she was staying, Emkir decided to stay too, and work on his glyphs.  Fesic chose to stay and continue his cargo sealer studies.  Terin had too much work to do to consider leaving the ship for an entire week so he stayed too.  That left Mikah, Zimzod and Rol who could and did abandon the others to have some chance at fun.

As they were leaving, Emkir suggested they bring back some astroburgers or something, suggesting there should be some perks for staying with the ship.  Zimzod fixed him and said, "There is.  You get to screw your wife on the ship."  He didn't bother reminding Emkir they were all crew and all had their work to do.  Especially as the station crew were not really interested in opening and closing the ship-lock repeatedly while interrupting their work.  Still, the three got the engineers to let them out as Mikah flew the cutter to the nearest station and requested a week-long berth.  Because this was longer than their last visit, the docking cost Cr 600.  Once on-station, Mikah and Zimzod paid Cr 1,200 for a luxury suite while Rol paid Cr 300 for moderate quarters.

After they had housing, the three set out to entertain themselves as much as possible in the station's facilities.  As a class B port, there were TAS facilities as well as hotels and those higher quality amenities the wealthy would want.  They also provided the more general and even bulk-manufactured low end goods that were bought and sold the galaxy over.  The single public port concourse appeared to have been built around an outer shell comprising docks, warehouses, engineering, support and management systems.  It was a wide, four-level high open walking space with an open design studded with kiosks and lined with shops, stores, bars, restaurants and anything else a crew might want from high-end to basic "Grunt-needs".

Additional services were advertised as they walked from ship-interior cleaning services to 'rip-out and redesign' ship interior alterations.  Still, for all the opportunities and venues available, it was all controlled or permitted by Instel-Arms.  So the variety was muted and, as with everything else they'd encountered, the prices were high to cover Instel-Arms' "share" of sales.  The one surprising thing Mikah noticed was that there were "no" museums!  Not even the museums displaying weapons and combat systems, which both she and Zimzod expected.  They could only guess any museums in-system were on the worker-residential archologies, which were separate from visiting spacer stations.

With her main go-to venues out of the picture, Mikah and Zimzod decided to spend the week relaxing, seeing some movies and catching up on reading.  Rol also wandered the station and saw some movies.  He also went through the Instel-Arms shops to see if there was anything that caught his eye.  Rol did see a Mag-cable gun, which would use magnets to fire a thin but very strong cable with a rare-earths magnet on the end.  This could be used to connect to the ferric metals in a station or ship surface.  The "gun" came with a 1,000-foot line on a friction-free spool.  Rol bought that for Cr 2,000 and also spent some larger blocks of time doing stent training and relaxed as he could.  Mikah and Zimzod eventually spent an additional Cr 600 on food and Cr 200 on movies and other activities.  Rol spent Cr 200 on his food and Cr 75 on other entertainment.

On the ship, in addition to her work, Aali did her stent training.  She also got to spend a good part of the week putting the new android through its paces and Marvin performed very well.  It took just more than half a week to learn the procedures and schedules of the ship and was able to connect to the engineering server to download any needed data on the ship's installed systems when it needed to work on something new.  Munarshu poured through the on-network catalogs and ordered a pocket tool kit.  Despite the fairly low cost, he ended up paying Cr 500 total for the kit in order to have it delivered with supplies for the station they were on, in a way that didn't create issues with the station engineers. 

As an added test, Emkir had Aali tie Marvin into the comms so he could test the 'droid's analytical systems.  Once it was on-line, Emkir instructed it how it could help analyze the massive logs generated by the ship's computers.  This helped him with the project to determine the ship's computer load balancing.  Both Aali and Emkir were pleased with the work the 'droid was able to do.  Aali was also very happy when the 'droid was able to continue its engineering work at the same time it was helping Emkir.  And as the week passed by the Instel-Arms engineers did their work.  On schedule, the ship was buttoned back up and ready to fly, with the new security and training software and systems.

As the work was wrapped up, Aali and Emkir were trained on the security system and Emkir and Fesic on the gunnery training system.  In fact, while they were tuning and finishing work on the gunnery training system, they even had Fesic test it.  What Fesic saw, he liked very much until a circuit in the gunner's couch flared and caught fire!  As Fesic reached for his in-turret fire suppressant, the engineers also quickly zeroed the turret, cut all power and hit him and the couch with a broad-spectrum fire extinguisher insuring the fire was out.  Fesic had some minor first-degree burns and would have to replace the ships suit but was otherwise ok.  After a day-long investigation the next day, it was found the fire had been caused by older components which had been "over-charged".  That led to component failure which caused the fire, and they had to be replaced.

Since the damaged turret had to be repaired to get a sign off on the system working, that was handled by the Instel-Arms engineers.  They delivered a list of those to Fesic and recommended he test the second turret with an over-charge and replace any parts which seemed to be ready to fail.  They also told Fesic which settings to use for the system and not to go beyond certain levels, as those were meant for more dynamic and capable combat systems than their ship had.  Using those higher settings might cause damage.  As Aali and Emkir tested and went through the security system, both confirmed the views and camera settings.  They changed the passwords for the security system as soon as they could, with Aali documenting the process and Emkir being sure to document the new password on his non-networked datapad.


Last Bits Before Departure

     After a relaxing morning with the Instel-Arms techs finishing their certifications and cleaning up, Mikah flew Zimzod and Rol back to the station and returned to the ship.  having been put in command by Terin just over a week before, Rol returned and told the navigator he was back in command.  A decision Terin refused while those present giggled.  Accepting that, Rol asked "So, how's my ship?"  Terin said everything was fine aside from one small fire and Fesic sparked up, saying, "We're gonna need some parts."  As Emkir joked, "Whose?", Fesic explained why the one turret caught fire and showed a list of parts he'd found needed replacing in the other turret.

Looking over the list, Rol asked Mikah, as she was the actual Captain, for permission to order the parts.  When Mikah asked how much it would cost, Fesic said he'd priced the parts and the list would cost KCr 15.  Shrugging because they didn't want any fires starting or gunnery systems failures happening in combat, she OK'd buying the parts.  When Rol called, the appropriate Instel-Arms outlet said they could deliver the parts for KCr 15 and a Cr 100 delivery fee.  Overhearing the off-the-shelf price, Terin suggested they call Bhreker Kraiowa and see if he could get them a better price.  But when they called Bhreker, he could only improve the delivery fee by cutting it to Cr 50.  Shrugging, Rol agreed to the price and ordered the parts.

As they went over the last details, they also had to spend what turned out to be KCr 6 for parts to do needed maintenance on the Probe.  In addition, they had to replace consumables and load any cargos Fesic had come up with.  On that, Fesic said he'd talked with the port and had a line on three possible cargos.  The first was a five-ton load of pharmaceuticals who shippers were willing to sell at KCr 250 per ton.  Another speculative load was of precious metals, which the sellers wanted KCr 70 per ton and two tons of radioactives for sale at MCr 2 per ton.  Despite the fact that Lanth was a non-industrial world, so the radioactives might be lucrative, Mikah wasn't willing to even consider shipping them.  As for the pharmaceuticals, there was no data to say if the populations in the Lanth system used them, so that cargo was very risky and Lanth exported small amounts of precious metals so that could well be a looser deal.  But that lot could be sold elsewhere.

In addition to the speculative cargos, there were three loads of cargo which shippers wanted to pay premiums for to get them to the Lanth system.  These charters were six tons for KCr 9, four tons for Cr 6,500 and five tons for KCr 8.  When Fesic said it appeared the six tons for Cr 9,000 was their best option, several of the crew complained that left no space for any kind of speculative trade.  That sparked a discussion on what they wanted to do where some argued more speculative trade and others less.  Finally, Mikah suggested they hire out to haul the five tons for Cr 8,000 and then buy one ton of precious metals to speculate with.  When Zimzod asked, "Don't they sell that stuff there?" Mikah answered, "Well, if they don't want it there, we'll sell it somewhere else." 

As they talked about cargos, Emkir recalled his time in the Lanth system and figured it might be a good place to bring a speculative load of perfume.  When he asked Fesic if there was such a cargo, or if one might be found, Fesic said they had limited space in the cargo bay.  Emkir said he didn't want to speculate on an entire ton of the stuff and figured he could stow fifty pounds of perfume in the ship's locker or in his and Aali's stateroom.  Accepting this, Fesic mentioned there might be trade restrictions or permits that might cause issues on the Lanth side of the trip.  When he said that, Emkir stopped and thought before remembering the massive bureaucratic messes he'd run into when stationed there.  Suddenly remembering that, Emkir realized he didn't want to get stuck with a huge amount of perfume and dropped the idea.

After Mikah said her piece, the issue was settled and Fesic was told to contact the port, shippers and sellers to let them know the Hotel California would be moving to the trade port to load cargo and supplies shortly before leaving the system.  Of course, that meant they had to dock with some station and possibly pay fees.  The least expensive option would be to ask for a parking orbit again and only dock up as needed to conduct business.  But that would make getting things like the refresh of consumables more difficult as well as any personal business.  Other options were to just pay for another berth and settle in to do business like refreshing the consumables.  When they called over to the port, a temporary berth was rented for Cr 500 and the refresh began.

Just after dinner time on the ship, the deals had been done, the supplies loaded and the cargo delivered and secured.  Casting off at last, the crew turned their course toward the 100-diameter limit while Terin worked on their jump plot to the Lanth system mainworld.  As they burned out, Mikah and Rol reviewed their 'To Do list' in that system.  First, they had to deliver the two-ton cargo they were hauling for the IMV Illiesh Shakhik, which had suffered engineering issues in the Equus system.  Then, they had to deliver the five-tons contracted in D'Ganzio to the Lanth Freight office.  After that, they had to contact the person receiving the Baron's cargo, get that delivered and signed for and then get to a bank and get paid for the shipment.  The last cargo issue they had to deal with was trying to sell the ton of precious metals.

Beyond cargo, and having the ship serviced, they had to request an audience in Duke Rakaa Kiraarri's court.  And once before the Duke, they had to both deliver their regards and beg permission to land on worlds in the Sonthert system.  As an entertaining sidenote on that, Zimzod reminded both Mikah and Rol that Fesic and Munarshu still had no idea "why" they wanted to land on that world.  So that would have to be dealt with too.  For that, Terin had to be ready with his continuing research as well as the endorsements to their permission from Duke Luis of Lunion and the Baron of D'Ganzio.  And outside all that, they had information Sir Brian had come from the Lanth system and needed to look for any record of his family, to resolve the legal ownership of his antique library.  Those books were sitting in safe storage in the Rhylanor system, pending permission to auction them off.

A last surprise, as they started to burn out-system were the tightened customs inspections.  As Emkir piloted the ship to the 100-diameter limit, they were called and warned of the standard out-bound customs inspection.  Having had it easy arriving in the D'Ganzio system, the crew were subjected to a much more intense inspection on the way out.  Still, they were sure everything was proper and correct.  When they arrived, the inspectors did have questions because the ship had listed three cargos bound for the Lanth system when they arrived.  Mikah was concerned because the third cargo had been the android.  So if they asked too many questions, Fesic might spill the beans.  Happily for the crew, the inspectors first asked Mikah, Zimzod and Rol as the ranking command staff.  And those three simply claimed the third cargo had been lost in the station disaster.

Because the California had not been the only ship to lose cargo, the ship was passed through inspection.  Still, they were warned that the port regularly sends reports to its neighbor ports.  So the inspectors at the Lanth port would be expecting them to arrive with three cargos instead of just two.  Once the crew were in jump, they had from late evening of Friday, the 54th day of 1113 until the 61st day to work on their own projects as they jumped to the Lanth system.  Early in the jump, Mikah called Emkir and Fesic together.  In the end of the week before, Emkir had finished his study of the computer's CPU usage.  Mikah wanted to know if they could spark up the new gunnery training program in jump?  Emkir said they could run the program but that would slow down the other programs the system were running, including the jump controller software.

After Emkir had his say, Fesic pointed out he still had to replace the aged parts in the second turret before trying the software at all.  Mikah agreed Fesic should get the work done on the turret and guessed it would take him several days working without the engineering staff.  At the same time, Aali and Munarshu had started moving the parts needed for the Probe, which they'd spent Cr 6,000 buying in the system.  With the androids, they could split details.  One of them could manage most of the 'droids and work at resetting the ship's normal space systems and the other, while one 'droid, would work on the Probe's maintenance needs.  As those projects were being handled, Rol told everyone he'd be working on gear and Mikah held her alternate-day zero-g sessions.  Those with stents took time to train and Terin worked on his projects and classes.


The Iron Sphere

     As plotted, the ship's computer signaled the end of jump within an hour of their estimate and they returned to normal space in the Lanth system.  As they drove in towards the system mainworld, the crew were able to see the system traffic on the station broadcast schematic.  The most significant feature of the schematic was the 'Iron Ring' the system's navy were famous for.  Being on the bleeding edge of the border, Lanth had always been one of the first place the hammer fell in the event of invasion.  Because of this, their layer of customs vessels was a massive mix of heavily armed customs cutters and small warships.

Ready for the system customs force to live up to its reputation, the crew burned in-system and waited to be hailed by Lanth defensive forces.  As they closed on the sensor image, it slowly started resolving from a ring to thousands of defensive and legal spacecraft, which were all armed.  Once they reached the first point in their approach, the ship received, from one of the beacons, a 'whitepaper' giving them the course they had to maintain while moving further in system.  The document also detailed a number of regulations the ship had to follow and provided any communications links they might need to contact customs or defensive forces for anything from approach details to an emergency.

From that point, it took the ship three hours to close with Lanth inspection forces.  As they flew, Emkir was the command pilot with Fesic as his co-pilot.  Aali and Munarshu were starting the post-jump resets while Mikah, Rol and Zimzod monitored their approach on the bridge.  Terin continued his studies.  Once they were hailed, Fesic confirmed the "customs cutter" looked like a 300 ton system defense boat!  As they greeted the caller, the customs officer advised they should keep their weapons systems powered down and warned there should be no weapons present when the team boarded.

They were further warned they should have all the ship's papers and cargo documentation with them as soon as the hatch was cracked.  After they got their instructions, Rol made sure everyone did exactly as told, and he and Mikah were waiting with all the needed paperwork as the team boarded.  When challenged for the paperwork and Idents, they handed everything over and waited.  After checking the Idents, the inspection team began going through the documents and came up with an issue.  Pointing out the port data had records sent from the D'Ganzio system, they noted that the ship's manifest was one cargo lot short.

As the inspectors questioned them about why they only had two cargos instead of three, Mikah and Rol had to explain about the emergency aboard the station.  After that squared with data the port had started getting in news from D'Ganzio, the crew claimed the missing lot of cargo had been lost in that emergency.  Accepting that, the customs team asked for the crew's Insurance Claim Certification?  Mikah said the shipment wasn't valuable enough for them to make a claim with their insurance.  Surprised at that, it was not "the usual" answer, but it was good enough for the inspectors.  Still, the inspectors signed the necessary documents and then explained that the crew would have to present their cargo trading permit once they were settled in a berth and prepared to carry out their business.

When Zimzod asked what would happen if they didn't have the permit, they were told the ship's cargo would be moved to a secure vault until they applied for and got a permit.  The inspector explained the "secure vault" would actually be a hold in a cargo-hauling spacecraft.  And in the event of a large-scale attack or invasion, all the cargo craft would immediately be moved to sub-surface facilities dirt-side where their cargos would be held safe until the end of the emergency.  This impressed everyone listening as it showed just how seriously the citizens of Lanth took the specter of invasion.  It also went some distance into explaining why von Kreiden's fleet may have chosen to not strike this system.

Continuing on, the inspector also told them the crew would be issued their emergency assembly instructions and communications links once settled in a berth, regardless if it was the highport or downport.  Mikah confirmed they'd be landing in the downport as they had business with the court of the Duke and the inspector nodded past that.  The conversation circled back as the inspectors followed their script and asked if, other than trading, the crew had any other business in-system?  Rol sparked up that, as Mikah had said, they needed to request an audience in the Duke's court.  Rol also mentioned that they wanted to try and locate the family of a former crew mate who'd died in the Rhylanor system.

The inspector nodded and said they should be able to trace anyone on the world computer network once they were dirtside and got an account.  The inspector also admitted that they, as nobility, would better know how to get an audience before the Duke.  And any trade issues would be routed through the port.  Then, the inspector certified the Hotel California for passage in-system and issued them an approach code.  He said they should send that to in-system flight control to be directed to an arrival corridor.  As they burned further in-system, the ship began receiving queries and advertisements for the various ports.  The ports varied from inner highports closer to the world and outer ports orbiting further away.  But they needed to hit a downport and the one they needed, closest to the capital, was the most expensive.

Digging into the costs, the crew weighed their options and didn't like a lot of them.  The worst was an external harbor from which the crew either walked until they found transport or used their own ship's craft.  But that was also based on having a permit to use that craft in the port and local city.  And they had no idea how to get the permit or what penalties they'd pay if they just used an air-raft or the Probe.  Berths internal to the port, in protected sub-surface spaces were more expensive and closer to what they needed and there were the most expensive internal and armored berths.  Of course, the closer in berths also provided station transport to local transit systems and the port shops.  When Mikah said "Screw it, let's park close", Rol got her authorization to pay the Cr 10,000 fee.

After they signaled their interest and signed over the berth fee, port technicians asked for the ship's trade credentials and Rol informed them the California did not have any certifications with the Lanth port yet.  Acknowledging that, the tech sent them an eight-page e-document titled 'Applying For a Cargo Permit.'  As Fesic heard that, he asked Rol to bounce him a copy of the file to start reading.  As they continued to re-enter into Lanth's atmosphere and down to a point where the port took control of their ship, Fesic read.  The document largely alluded to a number of different steps in the process, but the only concrete statement was to direct applying crews to a specific office in the port.  The last page on the booklet contained sets of instructions from various access points in the port to that office.

Fesic couldn't decide which bothered him most about the booklet?  The lack of a specific and defined procedure or the fact that it said a crew, including the ship's captain, had to apply in person.  Most ominous of all the items in the booklet was the back cover of the booklet, which detailed a very long list of bureaucratic agencies which had all been part of the legal process for getting a permit.  While Fesic could recall that too many cooks spoiled the stew, this sucker had enough teams of cooks it might well have been nuked.  The others in the crew recalled the warnings they got of bureaucratic issues from the out-going customs team in D'Ganzio.  Emkir and others recalled their experiences with the Lanth legal system during past military posts.  As they approached, they saw the downport was actually underground.  Ships would either fly into bays if they needed to, or land on tarmacs and then be placed on tractor-pulled pads to be moved into entrances and then to berths.

After Mikah, Emkir and Fesic left, Terin called the office of the Duke's Seneschal and said the Knights aboard the Hotel California would like to pay their respects and would like an audience in the Duke's court.  When the agent asked Terin what the audience would be regarding, Terin said, "We would like to jump into the Sonthert system and land on that worlds in the system to carry out a botanical research study."  Boiling down the subject matter to a few sentences the worker would be likely to understand, Terin gave a basic statement of the objectives he'd gotten the Baron of Lunion to endorse.  After a very brief pause and before the seneschalate agent could answer, Terin added, "We have the endorsement of Duke Luis of Lunion and the Baron of D'Ganzio for this research.  As he spoke, Terin watched as the agent realized his shift had gone from 'normal' to 'very far from normal' at nearly 2:30am on a Saturday.  This suggested something was up!  Perhaps, something big!

Considering the involvement of another senior Duchy within the sector and a Barony integral to the approved weapons trade in the sector, and involving a red-zoned system, the man quickly reviewed his position and offered to set up an audience.  Increasing his level of service a few more notches, the man asked Terin, "When would you like to appear in the Duke's Court?"  Terin looked at the calendar and asked for an appearance two days from then, on Monday.  The man quickly agreed to try and fit Sir Terin into the Duke's docket for that day and said he would advise Terin once the final schedule was set up.  After the call, Terin sent Mikah a text message letting her know he'd set up an audience with the Duke and was waiting for confirmation it would be on Monday.


Welcome To The Line

     Surprisingly, for all the fears of bureaucracy, landing and setting things up in the berth went quickly and smoothly.  As soon as they were secure, Fesic suggested they get moving on applying for the cargo permit so they could empty out their cargo bay and fill their accounts.  Emkir offered to go, as he had some experience with the system, and Mikah had to go, as the ship's captain.  Once they were out of the berth, they spent fifteen minutes getting their bearings.  The main part of the facility appeared to be a half-cylinder atop a foundation which were the engineering, support and management systems.  The wide main hall of the cylinder was about four levels tall and had many sub-concourses branching off the main hall.

  Like many other ports, the central spaces of the hall were filled with single-level shops and kiosks.  The sides of the main hall, as well as those of the branching concourses were lined with shops and service firms most of which were one level high.  In the main hall, there were raised walkways lined with even more stores and facilities three or four tiers high while the side corridors had a second tier of shops and were only three levels high.  But after figuring out which way to go, it was nearly half an hours' trip to the right office.  When they walked in, they saw a long, narrow room bisected by a transparent plasteel barrier!

There were a short row of technicians on the far side of the barrier and none look like they were having a good time.  In order to communicate with the technicians, there were audio panels at each station as well as a drawer system to pass items across the barrier.  Even more ominous than the barrier, the room looked to be half-filled with customers of one kind or another despite the early morning hour.  After looking and seeing no "information" line or person dealing with instructions, the three got on line and waited.

Nearly half an hour later, Emkir was tired of standing in line without any idea what they were supposed to do?  So he decided to move up to the front of the line, which no one in the room took kindly, to lean in and ask, "Is there an information person we can speak to ask questions?" as he interrupted the spacer who was speaking to the tech.  Ignoring Emkir's existence entirely, the technician looked at the spacer and asked, "You were saying, sir?"  Shrugging, Emkir went back to Mikah and Fesic.  As Emkir made his play and failed, Fesic was looking around and noticed the only chairs in the place were on the other side of the barrier, so this was not a customer-friendly space and it was designed that way.

The three could only take consolation they'd moved up a short distance in the time they'd been waiting.  At the pace they were moving, they hoped they'd be at the halfway point in ten or twenty more minutes.  So they waited as patiently as they could.  The only good news was a text message from Terin saying he'd set a date for an audience with the Duke and was waiting for confirmation.  And finally, after an hour on line, they made it to a technician.  As they said they needed a cargo permit and started to explain their situation, the technician cut them off and asked, "OK.  What's the name of your ship?" in a tone which said, 'this process works this way, only this way and I know what's needed so listen to me.'

Once they followed along and answered what was asked them, the process moved forward until they were asked for their valuation receipt?  After a pause where the three realized they had no idea what a valuation receipt was, they said they didn't have one.  When Mikah asked what the valuation receipt was, the tech said they should have gotten one from the docking security team once they arrived in the berth.  Turning to Fesic, Mikah asked, "did we?" and he said they didn't.  As they tried to remember working with the docking security team, they remembered the workers verifying their Customs inspection paperwork and starting the process of securing the ship's cargo, but not getting anything from any of the workers.

Emkir looked at the tech and said, "The Docking team confirmed our customs scan.  Can we get that information from them?"  But the tech made it clear her job was to validate the data provided by ship's crews, not get that data for ship's crews.  The unstated message was very clear, 'That's not my job."  When Emkir asked how they'd get the valuation receipt, the tech said they had to go to the Docking Security office.  When Fesic asked what other forms they'd need, the tech said they first needed the valuation receipt before she could say what other forms might be required.  When Fesic pushed for any other forms they might need, the tech said it depended on the information in the valuation receipt.  Different cargos needed different forms and different valuations needed different services.

Realizing they had to move on, the three went back to the port's main hall and started looking for the Docking Control office, which also had the Security office in it.  On the ship, Rol had contacted the port's ship's services and asked about access to the global computer network.  After checking the various plans the port offered, Rol decided the best deal was a 'Cr 500 for one week' global plan.  After getting access, Rol started a population search for the Montgomery family.  In addition to brute force searches, he also ran news searches for anything on Sir Brian as a 'local done good' or other related story.  Largely, as Rol worked, he saw it was a case of making up likely search strings and then starting multiple searches to sit back while those ran.

Thirty minutes after they started looking, Mikah's team found the Docking Control office.  That office was much more open than the last office, but much more heavily guarded.  The technicians working in the space were all seated behind a counter that was shoulder-high to those approaching from the door, making it difficult to reach up and over.  Other than the technicians, who were obviously seated on a raised platform behind the counter, there were armored and armed security troopers and a number of other apparent customers.  As with the last office, there were no seats for anyone but the working technicians.  The good news was that they could walk up to a tech and ask for an escort to the Docking Security Office.

When they asked for an escort into the office, they were told they'd have to wait until an escort could be called.  With no indication how long that would take, the three stood back from the counter and waited with the others in the space.  After waiting half an hour, Mikah, Emkir and Fesic were surprised when alarms started going off in the office!  Looking around, they saw no one was reacting with alarm or fear.  But as soon as the alarms started, the working technicians closed up their equipment and began to leave and the compartment's security staff started telling people to leave.  and not just leave, they were saying the office would be closed for the rest of the day!

As they looked for any way to salvage anything, Mikah and Fesic overheard one of the security troopers in the back say to another, "Probably some sort of fight in one of the spacer bars again."  Still, they had opened locked storage spaces in the back of the room and were handing out more significant personal weapons and armor items.  So it seemed they were gearing up for some kind of fight.  Without any obvious options, the three left the space.  With nothing else to do, Mikah wanted to check out what there was to do in the port?  To plan for their own entertainment for the next week.  Joking, Fesic said, "I hear good things about the spacer bars!"

As Mikah glared back at Fesic, she thought to herself, 'If I had a gun right now...'  Emkir interrupted that when he suggested they get back to the ship so he could get on the computer and research what paperwork they needed to get their permit?  Zimzod, who wanted a drink at that point, suggested going to the bars and maybe finding a crew who could tell them what they'd need?  Emkir admitted that might be a good idea but he still wanted to return to the ship.  When Fesic decided to go back to the ship with Emkir, Mikah was much more comfortable going to a bar with Zimzod.  There'd be no one with them who might start killing people with chairs or spill crew secrets.  So Mikah decided she and Zimzod would hit a spacer bar or two.

Different Answers But The Same Information

     The trip back to the ship, for Fesic and Emkir, was faster where they were walking and had control of their direction and speed.  The main spaces of the port connected to those berths which had active transit by a set of maglev stations.  These stations served trains which each had an 'out and back' again trace assigned to it.  At the station, a spacer would enter their berth number into the system and it would call the proper train.  If that train was out-bound, they had a bit of a wait while the passengers on the train were dropped off and pickups were made.  Eventually, the train would get to the end of its trace, serving all the clusters of berths connected to it, and return to the station to drop off and pick up passengers at the main port.

Getting to the maglev station, Emkir and Fesic looked around and noticed they had some time to wait for their train.  Emkir also noticed there were liberally placed information kiosks.  Deciding to use the time waiting, Emkir went to the kiosk to see if he could find out what the crew needed to get a cargo permit?  But after he entered his question, the general nature of the kiosk data system meant he only got back instructions to apply for the permit at the office they'd first gone to.  Emkir then tried to contact the Docking Security office, to directly ask questions about the missing document.  Rather than a specific number for that office, Emkir got a number for port security.

When he first called that number, Emkir was greeted and asked if the call was about an emergency?  Answering, "Not particularly, there is no life-threatening situation.  We just had an odd thing happen to us.  We were supposed to receive a document from our inspection of our cargo upon arrival and we did not receive that document and, therefore, we had a problem at the office with getting the permit to off-load our cargo because we didn't have the previous document.  Is there any way we can rectify that situation before we go to the office again?  After Emkir was done asking his question, the dispatcher put him on hold for a short while.

Returning to the line, the dispatcher told Emkir, "The records show there was an advanced security issue on the port and, because of that issue, the Docking control office was closed.  That means the Docking security office is also closed.  The office won't open again until eight-thirty tomorrow."  This was bad news for Emkir as it was only nearing 4am local time!  So they had more than twenty-four hours before the office would reopen!  Not realizing this was a dispatcher he was talking to, Emkir complained, "OK, that wasn't my question.  My question was why did we not get that document upon inspection by the port security?  When the dispatcher got that, he said he couldn't answer and they'd have to ask those at the Docking Security Office.

The dispatcher did say they could take Emkir's complaint about not getting needed documentation and send it to be looked into.  Not getting what he wanted, Emkir said, "I don't know if it's a complaint or not at this point.  I'll get back to you.  Thank you for your help." and cut the line.  Turning to Fesic, Emkir said, "We at least have the right to complain, Fesic."  That didn't impress the gunner at all.  He sarcastically responded, "Oh boy!".  Fesic then acerbically added, "I was pretty sure we have the right to hit the wall too."  Firmly dissatisfied with the results of the call, Emkir and Fesic waited for the maglev and returned to the ship.

Back in the port, Mikah and Zimzod had their choice of many bars.  There were bars with system-favoring names and old standbys like "The Fusion Core", "The Landing Bay" or "Starhopper's Rest".  Scanning the bars they could see, the couple looked for a spacer's bar where they hoped to find traders who could help.  As they looked, Mikah selected a likely bar where almost all the tables seemed full and there were no visible stationers or tourists.  Looking at the drinks he could see, Zimzod joked, "At least we know they won't poison us."  Finding a place in the bar, Mikah and Zimzod ordered some Cr 2 drinks and settled in to get a feel of the place.

After getting an idea what the spacers in the bar were up to, Mikah decided to look for a quiet group who seemed to be discussing serious things.  Walking up casually, Mikah said, "Hi.  Are you guys experienced dealing with this place?  After shooting her a few glances, one of the spacers asked, "Well, what do you mean by experienced?" in a tone which mirrored his lack of certainty what Mikah meant?  Mikah said, "I mean, how do you deal with the bureaucracy?  We've spent half our day doing nothing and we're just trying to get a permit to unload our cargo."  While that got nods from the spacers, they could only say they'd heard of issues like that but their ship had a permit before they signed on.  So they couldn't say what steps it took to get one.  One thing they could say, from what they'd heard, was that the process was "Interesting".

Sadly, the only thing they learned from that was that the system was famous for its bureaucracy.  After that crew wished them luck, Mikah decided to look for a crew celebrating, hoping they'd be celebrating getting their permit or some other victory against the port's procedures.  Unfortunately, over the next hour they found two crews celebrating crew-member birthdays and one celebrating a big score in tech goods.  Staying to learn how that profit was turned, they learned the crew had taken a huge risk and filled their cargo hold with high tech computer systems.  And when they arrived in the system, they heard there had been a large earthquake on the other side of the planet.  Due to that, a number of huge computer facilities had been destroyed and the planetary government was desperate for replacement computer hardware.

So they hadn't been in their berth an hour when the global government had called them to buy the entire cargo.  And their captain had been able to sell at a decent mark up too.  Sadly, when Mikah asked they said they've had a permit for some time and none could say when it was applied for or how?  Mikah was beginning to realize a lot of the ships in port ran regular trade runs to and from the port on Lanth, so they'd have established credentials.  Pushing on with the plan, Mikah and Zimzod bought a few more drinks and even breakfast before deciding they were running into crews that regularly visited Lanth and could not help them.  Realizing that, Mikah decided to return to the ship, and be ready to get a good night's sleep and be the first people on line the next morning.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ship

     When Fesic and Emkir returned to the ship, Fesic jumped on the computer to research getting a permit.  Next to him, Rol had been on the computer for some time looking for any trace of Sir Brian's family.  In the hours Rol had been working, he'd found one news item which discussed Brian's parents.  They were, according to the report, working class folks who would be in their sixties by now, or seventies if they had him later in life.  Annoyingly, they seemed to have been the sort of blue collar types who didn't make a name for themselves unlike the many more famous people with the last name Montgomery.  Still, the news item did say they had come to the Lanth system from the Wypoc system as transient workers.  Wypoc was a system right on the coreward border of the Lanth subsector and was actually two parsecs from the Regina system!

As Emkir considered that, he thought it was very much out of their way to deliver Zach's remains but would get them close enough to visit Aali's parents.  Remembering his stellar distances, he also realized that they'd either have to hire a very large jump-4 ship to carry the Hotel California the two jumps across the lanth rift( Lanth to Ghandi to Dinomn before jumping to Wypoc on their own ) or take a six jump work around route{ Lanth to Ficant to Calit to Denotam to Phlume to Dinomn or Regina and then Wypoc } to get across the rift on their own.  Emkir was also told Terin had called the office of the Duke's Seneschal and said the Knights aboard the Hotel California would like to pay their respects and would like an audience in the Duke's court.

Sparking up a terminal himself, Emkir started looking for offices who were waiting for the cargo they'd taken on from the IMV Illiesh Shakhik, to call them in hopes of using them as a lever to get them to help with the cargo permit.  Hoping for a quick solution, Emkir found that the task was not as easy.  First, he had to decode the names and responsibilities of the various bureaucracies.  Then, he had to unravel what those responsibilities meant and which one was the one he wanted.  So his quick fix turned into an hours' long slog through an electronic morass.  Meanwhile, Fesic had heard what Rol was doing and Terin had done before hunting blogs.

Fesic's ideas were to search through the many blogs on-network to see if he could find the rants and ravings of those crews who'd faced this issue before.  When he told the others what he had planned, Terin joked, "You're gonna get a bunch of memes with skeletons standing in the office with the line 'We're almost done."  After the laughing died down, Fesic dove into his task understanding it would take some time and possibly hours as well.  So time passed as everyone worked.  As time wound towards breakfast, Emkir finally found a number he believed would get him to the correct office.  As he prepared to lock his station before eating, Emkir called the office.

When Emkir got an answer, it was a recording device as the office was not open at that early hour on a weekend.  Emkir introduced himself officially and said, "I would like to report that we have an administrative shipment for you and would like to know if there is a way to speed up the process of permitting so that we can deliver your shipment in a timely fashion?  please call us back aboard the Hotel California" and gave them the comms link data for the ship.  After cutting the call, Emkir looked at Fesic, who had come up empty over the past hours.  Unfortunately, his method, while a good one, was very time-intensive.

Over his search, Fesic had to first try a search string to find blogs.  Then, he had to scan through the search hits and select a search item to research.  After that, he had to read post after post on the blog along with all the related reaction posts and threads connected to that blog to see if there was anything he wanted?  And sometimes it could take him more than twenty minutes ripping through a single blog.  If he was lucky, he could find an additional key word to add to his search and could start a second search on an additional terminal.  The bad news was that would lead to madness, forcing him to spend more time moving from terminal to terminal and less time working the blogs.  So he had to keep it to one screen and one search at a time.  For hours.

Coming up with yet another angle as he ate a quick breakfast, Emkir looked to see if there was a contact for the Order of the Knight Defenders of the Marches on-world?  And when he checked, Emkir did come up with a contact link!  Setting his food aside and calling the link, Emkir got a conversant system just as he had with the government office.  The outgoing message he heard was addressed to members of the Order and asked callers to leave their information, contact data and a brief statement of what help they needed?  But it ended with a warning the answering system was checked once a week.  Emkir introduced himself and listed the other order members aboard the ship before explaining their ship was having issues applying for a cargo permit and asking the order's advice.  Not certain if more was better or worse, Emkir added that they had government data to deliver which was being held up because of the issue.

With his terminal locked up as he ate, Fesic saw Emkir trying different angles and wondered if he could look at things from a different angle himself.  He realized he could look for a 'for hire' expediter who specialized in cutting red tape.  Mixing his two methods to possibly save time by finding crews that had used such services, Fesic opened another terminal and ran a search using some of the better blog key words and words like 'permit expediter service'.  After two screens of that, Fesic finally found something solid but it was not what he'd hoped for.  In a conversation two screens into the blog he'd found, Fesic found that a ship's officer had learned such services were actually illegal on Lanth!

The reasoning behind this was that the system's rules and regulations were designed with the defense and protection of Lanth in mind.  So any attempt to evade or circumvent those rules were seen as attempts to create loopholes in the laws which protected the system.  Very minor attempts to do so were treated harshly as a sign of the system's steadfast position on its defense.  And significant attempts to evade the system laws could be considered a capital offense.  As Fesic told the others in the compartment this, the ship's comms began to buzz.  Looking at the caller data, Terin saw the call was coming from the port!

When Terin answered the call, he got an automated speech telling him the port had electronically delivered the crew a packet containing their "in case of emergency" data should a major or system-wide emergency develop.  It urged them to open and read through that data and spread it to all ship's crew so that they may prevent loss of life or other damage due to lack of preparation.  The data contained survival hold out stations and evacuation stations for all members of ship crews as well as emergency and disaster related comms link data.  In the event of Sword Worlds invasion or attack, these procedures must be followed as the system government will not assume the risk of recovering uneducated crews and may assume those crews to be an attempt to establish a fifth column or forward observer post.  Opening the packet and scanning through it, Terin shook his head in disbelief at the level of defensive preparedness.

The document did have specific instructions and directions both from their ship's berth and from key points the crew were recommended to become familiar with during their stay in the port.  This would provide them the quickest routes without confusion to protected underground positions where all civilians and ship's crews would be protected until the end of the emergency or until further instructions were provided by the Imperial Navy or other Imperial authorities.  As he got to the bottom, a bold and red-ink section demanded someone from the ship's crew respond to a specific comms link with a code printed on the bottom of the form, to certify they had received the document.  Once he had the gist of the document, Terin saved it and let the others know about it even as he responded to the link provided with the code.  Terin also posted the document to the main vid-screen in the lounge.


Where everyone is at the beginning of next Session

   Aali: Working on drive resets with Munarshu and the 'droids
   Emkir: Finishing breakfast after calling the order and a government agency
   Fesic: Finishing breakfast after researching on the web and learning process expediters are illegal
   Mikah: Returning to the ship with Zimzod after eating and looking for the steps to apply for a permit
   Munarshu: Working on drive resets with Aali and the 'droids
   Rol: Finishing breakfast after searching for Sir Brian's family on the system web
   Terin: Finishing breakfast in between his studies and other work
   Zimzod: Returning to the ship with Mikah after eating and looking for the steps to apply for a permit
   Aiden: cooking for another 6 weeks and 6 days ( Decant Date: 110-1113 )

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Next: From The Jaws Of Progress