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Last Updated     April 19 2018
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Rebirth And Near-Death

After The Party Was Over

Regina     It was just after 10 pm when things finally wound down in the party hall.  That meant the Ducal security had cleared everyone in the hall not involved in the shooting out and sent them home, holding the Hotel' California's crew.  That happened after Munarshu had interrupted the party screaming like a mad man and waving a gun around, and was amplified when Fesic shot a man who appeared to be an Imperial Naval officer!  Lucky for Fesic, the man turned out to be a subject of interest in several attacks in the city.  Attacks that resulted in deaths, and related to the California's crew.  Of course, that didn't stop anyone from holding them to blame, in the confusion.  And the accusatory headlines which were spinning out to join the already existing rumors would add volumes to people's news reader programs.  On top of that, Terin had been removed from the party earlier, to be questioned about his associations because he'd been approached by Assistant Attaché Ezheqlafl Yentiiavr( Ezz-Hek-Laf-il Yen-Tee-ave-ur ), from the Zhodani Embassy on-world!

Not only did this raise concerns regarding Ducal security, but a clip of his "meeting" had been vid-captured and broadcast from the hall.  That was attached to an accusation that Sir Terin's military past was faked, that he was a Zhodani mole and that Lady Mikah and Sir Zimzod were using him to help bring down the Duchy!  Sadly, this seemed to be going viral, thanks to both existing rumors and the other news about his gun-waving and officer-shooting crewmates.  So, Terin's evening wouldn't end until he woke up on an interrogation room table the next morning.  The rest of the crew were finally told they were free to go, and Mikah had to wonder how much of this would make it to Rhylanor, where Aiden's clone would be decanted in three days.  After he was decanted, he'd have to complete some rehab, do some shopping and get a berth out of Rhylanor without anything else happening to him there.

Shortly after the crew were told they were free to leave, with nearly everyone except security and staff gone, Emkir's father walked up.  With a grimace on his face, the man bitterly said, "Well.  That was a pretty good party you ruined."  While he largely aimed his comments at the whole crew, he mostly fixed on Emkir.  Mikah and Fesic loudly said, "You're Welcomed!" in saccharine-sweet voices and Emkir just sadly said, "Dad" as he shook his head in disapproval.  His father continued to stand there and Emkir stood with arms akimbo saying, "I hope you enjoyed your dinner."

Shiaangi Meshrumiikiim said, "I enjoyed the dinner.  Unfortunately, my family ruined the dessert."  With that, Baron Shiaangi Meshrumiikiim turned on his heel and started walking away.  While he didn't say it, Emkir was used to this from his father and simply thought, "See ya!" at the man's back.  Not satisfied with that, Mikah called after the man asking, "Did you send toys to the children on Emerald?"  Fesic heard that while he used his hand computer to try and search for the name of Shiaangi's most successful creation.  Turning back to Mikah, Shiaangi Meshrumiikiim looked down his nose at Mikah and asked, "What do you know of the current situation on Emerald?"

When Mikah snarled, "I was there at the end of the war", Baron Meshrumiikiim scoffed back, "So, you were there in 1110?  This is 1113."  He then verbally demanded, "What do you know about the current situation on Emerald?  Mikah sarcastically said, "Oh.  I'm sure they have a whole bunch of toys."  Standing just a bit taller, Shiaangi Meshrumiikiim said, "They, in fact, do!" in a tone which said he felt that ended the conversation after putting Mikah in her place.  With that, he executed a perfect military about face and again gave Mikah his back and walked off.

Fesic found that Shiaangi's "most noted and celebrated" creations had been inch-tall hive-managed micro-robots called "Buildos", which could build sand castles and other fanciful things for children and adults.  Learning that, the gunner called after the Baron's back, "Why don't you take a buildo and shove it up your ass!"  Sadly, that wasn't new enough, novel enough or intellectual enough for the Baron to even respond.  He kept walking because Fesic hadn't even been worth an answer.  And, Emkir's only response was to say, "Let's go back to the suite and get drunk."  Hearing that, Zimzod complained, "Hey!  That was my plan."  Mikah joked, "It's a popular plan.  But Munarshu can go out to a bar and drink on his own if he wants?"  A number of those who laughed with her, joked, "Unarmed."

With that, the crew returned to the suite.  It being later than his bedtime, Munarshu hit his room and went to sleep as the others broke out bottles and started drinking.  Munarshu checked that his alarm was set for his regular 6 am while on-world and everyone else was happy to let their comms be their alarm clocks.  Even more pleasingly, they found the butler had laid out a fairly decent selection of booze for them to enjoy.  They were so pleased at his work, they even asked him to join them, which he said would not be appropriate.

When a few of the crew disagreed with that, Mikah supported the butler, reminding them he was the only one keeping them alive at the moment.  Especially since Emkir had spread the word about their butler's very special and highly illegal weapons.  That got laughs and agreement and the others backed off.  Everyone relaxed and drank.  Enjoying and relaxing even more, the couples soon split off into the bedrooms early, for drunken fun.   Except for the sleeping Munarshu, they drank and played until they ended up asleep.

Heating Up Some Chow

     First to wake, on his regular on-world schedule, Munarshu's alarm woke him at 6am.  by, 6:40, he'd done his morning routine and gotten out into the suite's lounge.  There, the butler served him a stim-drink while he settled to watch the news and go over the events of the day before.  Munarshu watched as the evolving stories and growing rumors made things seem even more grim.  While he watched news in the lounge, Emkir woke in the bedroom he and Aali shared.  Not willing to surrender to being awake yet, he started kissing and caressing Aali until she woke for some morning "fun".

In his bedroom, Rol was the next to wake up.  After his morning routine, he came into the lounge to see only Munarshu was awake and out.  While the butler noticed Rol and asked what morning drink he'd like, Munarshu realized he was up and asked if he planned to make breakfast that morning, instead of the hired cook?  Shaking his head, Rol asked Munarshu if he'd seen Rol make any meals since they'd arrived in Regina?  Munarshu admitted Rol hadn't, but pointed out that didn't mean he couldn't.  While they talked, Munarshu wore Rol down and he agreed to cook the engineer a meal just for himself.  Stepping into the suite's kitchen, Rol started gathering ingredients.

Organizing ingrediants for Munarshu's meal, Rol had a plan in mind.  He uniformly spread into the cooking ingredients a spice he was familiar with.  Used sparingly, it created a slowly growing flavor which provided "some" heat, if used in very very small pinches.  But, Rol used more than those very small pinches.  He even made sure to coat the cooking meal evenly across its entire surface.  That promised Munarshu would have to give the meal a "very warm" reception.

Still, Rol didn't want Munarshu to have to hold this meal in his belly all day, and decided to be merciful.  To prevent any possible stomach issues due to the spices, Rol made sure to add some 'fast-acting' laxatives to the cooking food.  All this while Munarshu sat happily, almost vibrating with excitement because he was gonna have a 'Rol-cooked' breakfast.  For a finishing touch on the eggs, Rol made sure to lightly coat the meal in "just a bit too much" pepper, to hide the early effects of the spices.  Eventually, Rol made sure to create only a single serving of his 'Slow-ignition, High-burn, Laxative-laced' concoction.  Then, making sure it "looked" very appealing, Rol served Munarshu his breakfast.

Having played into exhaustion the night before, Zimzod woke before Mikah, and decided to get moving into his day and see just how bad things had gotten overnight?  After finishing his morning routine, and stepping out into the living room/dining room area, he saw Rol apparently serving Munarshu breakfast.  That was weird because they'd hired a cook and there was no reason why Rol should be cooking!  Turning to watch what was going on, Zimzod noticed that Rol hadn't gone for his own food after serving Munarshu.  That was also strange, because he usually cooked the food and set it out on a table buffet-style, so people would feed themselves.

Zimzod also saw the plate Rol was setting before Munarshu had been very stylishly organized and arranged, as if it was being presented in a cooking competition!  Shooting a glance into the kitchen, Zimzod was again surprised to see there was no more food.  Rol had cooked an individual meal, and was serving it to Munarshu.  Things got stranger and stranger when he saw Rol take a step back, after serving Munarshu, and  Rol hadn't noticed Zimzod and Munarshu was ignoring everything except the food.  He was completely unaware Rol was standing not far behind where he sat, watching instead of getting his own serving.  Before tucking in, Munarshu theatrically drew in a huge breath through his nose, taking in the scent before almost intoning, "Ahh!  Rol food." in a very satisfied tone.

Taking the first forkful and munching it almost worshipfully, Munarshu chewed, swallowed and then half-moaned, "mmm.  Best food this sector." before relaxing and more completely digging into the meal.  Zimzod watched while Rol stayed where he was, watching Munarshu from behind.  Realizing "something" was up, Zimzod was working to see what pieces this puzzle had as Rol apparently waited for a grand finale?  The only sound in the suite as they watched was Munarshu's eating, and even the butler seemed to be frozen into the moment with them.  Almost ready to give up waiting for the first hints something was wrong, Rol was about to turn and go to start cleaning the kitchen.

What he couldn't see, having taken a position behind Munarshu were the moments when small changes started.  First, Munarshu seemed to look down more sharply at the meal, as if hoping to see signs of the ingredients causing the new tastes that were starting to unfold in his mouth.  The next sign Rol had missed were the early signs of watering in Munarshu's eyes.  There was even an early hint of rose in the flesh of Munarshu's face when he started to feel the heat rise.  Still, it wasn't anything "too" hot yet, and Munarshu grunted in approval of the hint of spice.  Hearing that, Rol decided it was too early to leave the show, just yet.  This meant the spices were starting to kick in and Rol realized, "It's On!"

Putting things together, Zimzod realized there had to be something special in the eggs Munarshu had been served.  Especially, given how Rol was watching him eat.  With a growing smirk, Zimzod suddenly realized he didn't have anything to record what was obviously the end of a prank with.  At the same time, Rol could now see obvious reddening of the right side of Munarshu's face when the engineer hit the first "serious" heat spike.  That was followed by a transition from "red-faced" to almost beet-red as Munarshu snorted and nearly half a mouthful of food shot out of the engineer's mouth, back onto his plate.  After that, Munarshu half-gasped, "Ah!  This spice is really kicking in!"

The tone of Munarshu's voice was a mix of the desire to be appreciative and the effort not to show concern or even fear, while he realized he was not sure just what he'd been eating?  When Rol finally saw the roots of the volcano take hold in Munarshu's mouth, he decided to take pity on the engineer...and got him a glass of water.  With his attention entirely fixed on the growing pain in his mouth, Munarshu simply thanked Rol as the cook said, "Here, drink this." and chugged down the glass of tap water.  But the water not only didn't dissolve the burning spice paste in his mouth, but turned it into a fast-moving slurry.  That more quickly spread it, and helped it infiltrate every nook of Munarshu's mouth and throat!  Now, completely aware of what was going on, Zimzod turned and ran for his bedroom to grab something to record the events with.

Hearing Zimzod, though not sure why he'd suddenly run back to his bedroom, Rol turned back to Munarshu as the engineer finally put his fork down, pushed the plate away and turned to Rol, gasping, "What...did you...feed me?!"  Taking a short breath to relax himself, Rol calmly answered, "Well.  I was trying a new recipe.  And, I thought you might like something a bit special."  Fixing Rol with a glare, Munarshu half-gasped, half-roared, "IT FAILED!"  In a voice of absolute calm and relaxation, Rol shrugged and said, "I guess I won't use that again." with just a hint of mock-disappointment in his voice.  In immediate answer, Munarshu quickly demanded, "How do I fix it?"  With a smile and a helpful tone, Rol suggested, "Have more water."

Rol saw, even as he spoke, that even the butler was fighting hard to keep in his own laughter.  Struggling to maintain a professional demeanor.  The look on Munarshu's face told Rol he didn't like the suggestion of more water.  Rol didn't wait for Munarshu's next demands, and shrugged and said, "I guess you're just going to have to let it work its way out of your system." in a tone of clinical calm.  Munarshu could only react to that by squeaking out a panicked, "Really?"  Shrugging again, Rol suggested Munarshu try laying down to see if that helped?  Munarshu demanded, "Seriously!  How do I fix this?"

Circling unimaginatively, Rol asked, "Did you drink enough?" and Munarshu growled back, "No!  Obviously." as he began to realize Rol wasn't even trying to help.  What he couldn't know was that Rol was waiting for the "second wave" to strike, when the laxatives Munarshu didn't know about took effect!  Still, Rol offered Munarshu more water and he glugged that down like a drowning man grabbing at anything solid, even though it seems to be sinking, in hopes of getting to the surface.  Rol wasn't surprised when the additional water made things even a bit worse.

After that incremental addition to his torture, Munarshu got up from the table and turned to the short hall leading to Mikah and Zimzod's bedroom.  He croaked as he did, "I need Lady Mikah!  You poisoned me!"  But, as Rol stood to the side and Munarshu began staggering in that direction, Zimzod came out of the room with a vid-recorder already filming.  The first thing he got in-frame was the look of the red-faced engineer as Munarshu started towards his bedroom.  Standing his ground as Munarshu came, Zimzod filmed as the engineer came with tears streaking down his cheeks, and looking almost ready to start shooting steam out his ears.  As he came, Munarshu almost begged, "I need Lady Mikah!  I need medical help!  Rol poisoned me!!"

Zimzod filmed and asked, "Really?" in the curious tone he'd use if someone had just said they'd learned an interesting bit of news.  It was almost as if he was about to say, 'Tell me more.'  But, when Zimzod made no move to help Munarshu, or to get out of the engineer's path, the man repeated, "We need to wake up Mikah!"  In a calm and even tone that said he was not at all moved by Munarshu's plight, Zimzod said, "I'm not gonna wake her up."  And, his refusal to move while he stood filming showed Munarshu Zimzod wasn't getting out of his way either.  In fact, Zimzod filmed him while Munarshu could see a goofy smile spreading across the executive officer's face!

Getting even more desperate for relief, Munarshu sank to his knees before Zimzod noticed the glint of some sort of thought in the man's eyes.  Turning back as he half-rose, half-crawled, Munarshu started moving back to the kitchen and began moaning, "Milk!  I need milk!  I need cheese!  I need dairy!"  Zimzod simply followed and filmed as Munarshu moved.  And the engineer slowly gained speed, still struggling with the pain.  Clawing his way into the kitchen, Munarshu swung the refrigerating unit's door wide and started sweeping goods out of the unit onto the kitchen floor while digging for anything dairy to help save him.

Food goods flew as Munarshu desperately dug.  Flung bottles and containers fell and opened, spilling, or shattering while other containers and wrapped items skittered over the floorspace.  Finally, Munarshu grabbed a large chunk of cheese and ripped open its wrappings, viciously biting into it.  Sadly, the cheese was very dense and even dry, meaning it was going to take a good deal of effort to chew it and get it to be effective.  Still, Munarshu bent to the task, holding the lump of cheese with one hand while still digging for more dairy with his other.  Eventually, he found a container of a fluid soy milk sauce, which only led to even more frustration.  Thanks to the cheesy goo still filling his mouth, Munarshu saw he couldn't actually drink the sauce.

Still filming while following Munarshu's agony, Zimzod had even gotten a clip of the butler, who finally let his laughter out after Munarshu had left the dining room.  After that, Zimzod had turned the camera back on Munarshu's frustration, panic and agony while capturing the complete mess the engineer had made of the kitchen.  Rol was also standing off to the side, watching Munarshu wreck the space as a part of his mind cataloged the goods which would have to be replaced.  No longer digging into the still-opened refrigerating unit, Munarshu had slumped his back against a cabinet to devote all his effort to chewing and processing the cheese, so he could then drink the milk.

Finally, Munarshu started pouring the soy milk into his mouth.  He spilled a good amount of it onto his face and onto the shipsuit he was wearing in his desperation to get as much of it into his mouth as he could as quickly as possible.  After he'd finally gotten the pain down to a manageable level, Munarshu finally fixed Rol with a glare and demanded, "Dude!  What did you do to me?"  Shrugging, Rol answered in a tone of mock conciliation, saying, "I tried a new recipe.  I guess it just didn't work out like I expected."  Pulling himself up, Munarshu turned to the counter space where Rol had left some of the ingredients, trying to see if he could find anything obvious there?

Not being educated in spices and their effects, Munarshu was able to look over and read the labels of the spice bottles but not make much of them.  It didn't help that Rol was constantly looking into new local foods when he wasn't on ship, being shot at or in hospital.  That meant Rol was often buying spices from various worlds which Munarshu had never encountered before.  Finally giving up and accepting it might just have been culinary misadventure, Munarshu turned with a subdued voice and said, "Holy shit, dude.  NEVER cook that again!"  With the barest hint of a smile, Rol only answered, "You have my word."  Looking to their butler, who had recovered his demeanor, Munarshu asked if the building kitchens could deliver more dairy sauce throughout the day.  This showed he'd obviously forgotten details about the "room-service", like the costs.  The butler said he would.

Rol continued watching Munarshu's desperate struggles, knowing the laxatives which had yet to act were going to have an interesting amount of interaction with all the dairy Munarshu was stuffing into his nearly empty system.  And, he knew it wouldn't be fun for Munarshu.  Recovering enough to think up better answers, Munarshu again thought Lady Mikah could give him something from her medical kit to fix him?  But, as he left the disaster area which the kitchen now was, he saw Zimzod and Mikah's bedroom door was still closed and he heard no sounds from within.  He also knew Zimzod would kill him if he woke Mikah, if the ship's doctor and Captain didn't shoot him herself for walking into her bedroom while she was sleeping.  That she'd likely shoot Zimzod for letting him walk in wasn't even on Munarshu's lidar.

The Dance Of Fire And Gas

     Trying to come up with another idea quickly, Munarshu saw the entrance to the suite's public fresher to his right, in the short hall.  It was then, he hit on the idea of scrubbing his teeth and washing his mouth and throat out now that the dairy had done much of its job.  So, he stepped into the fresher and began work on that.  Zimzod moved up with his recorder to keep capturing the moans and other sounds of distress still coming out of the space.  While that happened further into the suite, Terin had finally returned from his over-night interrogation at the hands of the Duchy's Seneschalate.  Noticing him, Rol joked, "Nice paper suit." and Zimzod asked, in a taunting tone, "Cavity search.  Huh?"

Getting past the snarky greetings, Terin took in the room to see Rol at the end of the short passage leading to Zimzod and Mikah's room.  He could just tell, thanks to the angle of the passage, that Zimzod was at the door of the fresher there, and holding a vid-recording device which was active.  And, Terin could see the expression on the butler's face, which showed he'd lost his demeanor of detached service for the first time since they'd arrived just over a week before.  So, he knew "something" was happening.  Responding to the room, Terin said, "Huh.  I guess I missed something." and Zimzod smirked as he said, "No.  It's still going on.  With that, he canted his head towards the closed door of the fresher just as a set of moans started coming from the door's other side.

Because that only raised more questions than it answered, Zimzod stopped recording and he stepped to Terin, scrolling back the video file.  He then started playing from the point he first captured Munarshu's approach and expression.  They watched the video for the first time and Terin learned a bit of the events he'd missed while Zimzod saw how much more enjoyable his video capture was.  The others had also gathered and even the butler was watching and laughing in abandon, because Munarshu was in the bathroom.  Knowing what he'd seen had only been part of events, Terin said, "OK.  We have to back things up a bit.  What brought this on?"  Zimzod honestly shrugged and said, "I don't know.  I just woke up to that."

When Terin turned to him, Rol simply shrugged and said, "He asked for something to eat." in a tone which claimed, 'I'm innocent and was only trying to help'.  No one there bought that.  Putting the pieces together and realizing Rol had pranked Munarshu, Terin loudly said, "Oh!  NOW, I get it!" with a surprised tone that was on the verge of laughter.  That set them all off, as a roar of laughter filled that part of their suite.  This was loud enough it even woke Fesic, who was sleeping none too comfortably himself.  Realizing he'd heard some kind of "roar", Fesic quickly grabbed his snub pistol before moving to the bedroom door.

The laughing died down while Zimzod, Terin, Rol and the butler standing there when the door to Fesic's bedroom opened and the gunner stepped into the opening.  In his bedclothes and with his snub pistol ready, Fesic saw the still giggling group of men and sighed, "Oh.  What a relief."  Reacting to the pistol in Fesic's hand, Terin asked, "Planning to put Munarshu out of his misery?"  That confused Fesic, who hadn't seen Munarshu and didn't know what was going on?  Confused, Fesic said, "Um, I don't know what's going on?  But, I'm pretty sure there is no putting Munarshu out of his misery."  Even without the context, Fesic's comment was so funny the others started laughing again, to Fesic's increased confusion.  Zimzod and Terin agreed with Fesic while Rol moved to the kitchen, to start cleaning up before the cook they'd hired arrived.

The others followed Rol to the entrance of the kitchen, and the destruction of Munarshu's desperate need was hammered home.  Rol started to both clean up and begin a list of what needed to be replaced?  Being responsible, he also planned to pay to replace what had been ruined, because he'd played the prank on Munarshu.  Seeing the mess, Zimzod moved back to the bathroom door and commanded, "Munarshu.  Get out here and clean this shit up!"  Munarshu answered, in a distressed tone, "I'll be out when I'm OK!"  When Zimzod replied, "No!  You'll be out NOW, Mister!" he was suddenly answered by the truly epic sounds of a massive release of gas which did NOT come from Munarshu's mouth.

That sound was so loud, even those in the living room and kitchen heard, and the butler quipped, "Don't open that door carrying an open flame."  Realizing he was hearing "violent ass-chimes", Zimzod gave in, saying, "OK.  Carry on."  and moved away from the still closed door.  That happened while Terin watched Rol and asked, "So Rol, which spices did you really put in his food?"  Looking back at Terin, Rol fixed him with a look which combined with the answer, "Do you really want to find out?".  That warned Terin he wasn't on much sturdier ground with Rol than Munarshu was either.  Defensively, Terin said, "Well, I just want to look at the bottles.  I don't need to eat it."  When Rol pushed, "You're sure?" Terin very quickly answered, "Yeah.  I'm pretty positive!"

Still, while he cleaned, Rol tossed the small bottles of spices to Terin to look at.  From what Terin could see, some of the spices were ones he knew were tasty, some were savory spices and some he didn't know of at all.  Nothing jumped out at him as the smoking gun in the prank.  When Terin chose a spice at random and asked, "What's this one here?" Rol answered, "It's a spice." in a flat tone.  Terin said, "No Shit" even as he failed to realize he deserved the answer, because he was standing in the middle of a huge mess and not helping Rol clean up, while also trying to mine for information Rol had already suggested he didn't want to give.  In short, Terin was digging into Rol's business, not being helpful and generally being an ass.

Still, Rol decided some answer was better than none, to get the asshole out of his business.  So, Rol said, "It's used in several culinary projects.  And, it's pretty good when used with certain other spices."  Terin decided to be even more of an asshole and push, saying, "I know what a spice is For...  Rol interrupted him asking, "Look, can you describe a spice from another spice, except by saying 'you have to taste it to find out'?"  Terin shot back, "Some spices, yes, I can." without realizing that may not be the case with that spice.  Accepting that, Rol answered, "Well, this is kind of "tarty", kind of tangy, and, after a while, it has a real good kick."  Confirming, Terin challenged, "Hot?" and Rol said, "It can be, sometimes."

About that time, Zimzod moved back into the kitchen from the fresher door.  When Zimzod did that, Fesic decided he'd heard enough and went back into his bedroom to do his morning routine, clean up and prepare for the day.  Nodding to Rol, Terin said, "Well, Rol, you devious bastard.  I'm gonna go take a shower and smoke a bowl, 'cause I'm fuckin' wiped.  He left the room while the others relaxed and periodic moans continued to come from the bathroom where Munarshu was still closeted up.  Emkir and Aali were all smiles and happiness when they joined the others in the suite's living room and, eventually, Mikah was the only one left sleeping.  By the time she finally woke up and began her morning routine, the chef and his staff had arrived.  On arrival, the chef began adjusting his plans to the lost supplies in the suite.

When she got to her bathroom, Mikah began cleaning up only to start hearing the strangest moans coming through the wall.  Trying to figure out where the sounds were coming from, Mikah realized their suite's public bathroom was on the wall's other side.  But, given the moans and wails she was hearing, Mikah had to wonder if someone had used the bathroom as an aquarium for some kind of cetacean lifeform?  Other than the moans and wails, Mikah listened to see if she heard any other cries or other sounds telling her anything else was wrong in the suite?  When she didn't hear anything else, she finished her shower, dressed and stepped out into the hall.

Glancing quizzically at the door to the bathroom, Mikah saw it was closed and there was the hint of a "whiff" in that section of the hall.  Stepping into the suite proper, Mikah asked who was in the bathroom while also doing the math herself given who she saw in the compartment.  She saw all the staff she might expect as well as everyone else, except Munarshu.  And she saw everyone from her crew giggling and laughing while looking back at Mikah.  When Mikah then asked, "Do I want to know?" in a warning tone, Zimzod said, "Oh!  I videoed it." with a huge smile on his face.  Everyone broke out laughing when Zimzod stood and moved over to Mikah, to show her his video, even though it didn't explain "what" happened to start things off?

After that, when Mikah asked "why" this happened, she was directed to Rol.  He started out, as was his habit, completely failing to answer the question by saying, "He asked me for something to eat."  Annoyed Rol didn't seem to know how to answer a basic question, Mikah answered, "Oh!" in a sarcastic tone.  At that, Rol continued, "I thought he could use a lesson in...the subtle."  Again, Rol's answer said exactly nothing and explained less, which put him in even less on her good side than he'd like to be.  Nodding, Mikah said, "Oh" again and then drew out the word, "Sooooo, given the sounds that I've been hearing from there, and the aroma that's drifting, was there something else going on there?  Or something else, like...?"

Rol's answer was an attempt at humor where he seemed to first check his own notes whiles speaking out loud before he admitted there might have been something else to help clean out Munarshu's system.  Mikah nodded while realizing exactly what that meant.  Rol finished up, saying, "We didn't want to leave anything behind" and the others in the living room were either finding it difficult to keep from laughing or giving up and letting the laughs take over.  Rol finished up, saying "Just for his own health, you understand."  Mikah answered, "Yeah.  Yeah, I get that" while she held back her own giggles too.  Zimzod added, "A clean colon is a happy colon." and got even more laughs.

Everyone was laughing while the conversation slipped into jokes and laughs, punctuated by periodic moans and noises from Munarshu in the bathroom.  Things settled down and Zimzod said, "I think this is all good, because I think he was holding his farts in.  And, as they built up, he started getting shitty ideas."  With that, the entire room dissolved in laughter again.  Getting control of himself, Zimzod looked over to Rol and said, "Thanks for takin' care of that."  When Mikah looked at the butler and asked, "You didn't see anything, did you?" the man swept the entire room before looking her in the eye and saying, "My Lady.  Not a thing." in a tone of finality.  She thanked him even as she noticed the sparkle in his eye.

The morning continued, and things settled down except for periodic giggles whenever Munarshu would moan noticeably.  Around half past 10 am, Munarshu finally managed to stagger out of the bathroom and started making his way to his own bedroom.  When he opened the door, Terin saw him first and began giving Munarshu a round of applauds.  When Terin stood, the rest of the crew also rose and eventually Munarshu grumbled into the room to a standing ovation.  Looking extremely pale and wiped out, Munarshu announced he was going into his bedroom.  Terin suddenly took and held a breath, then rushed behind Munarshu to close the bathroom door he'd opened before too much of the stench escaped into the suite.  Terin did make sure the fart fan was still running before he closed the door.

Orders And Stupidity

     After things settled down, Rol did call to replace the goods lost in Munarshu's kitchen attack, and eventually paid for the Cr 160 of goods and a Cr 20 delivery fee.  Rol paid for it since he'd started events with his prank.  While Rol did that, Terin decided he wanted to call the Seneschal's office and speak to Branj Dilgaadin if he could?  But, when he sparked up the comms, Terin simply gave his name and asked to speak to Mr. Dilgaadin or one of his assistants.  Of course, no matter who you were, calling one of the most important persons in the system and just giving your name proved only one thing.  That was that Sir Terin had not thought things through because he had no clue.

When Terin was asked "why" he wanted to speak to Mr. Dilgaadin, he began yet another dance of stupidity when he said, "About the Zhodani matter", which  So, Sir Terin was in very significant danger of being disconnected because he was an idiot.  Of course, in "Sir Terin's mind", he knew he was 'all over the news' and it should not be hard to figure out.  That ignored that:

     1) He was calling, so the onus was on HIM to provide the information
     2) He was talking to an operator, and it was not the operator's job to figure things out
     3) Terin's self-delusions relied on the operator knowing the news.
     4) Most of the local population had to work this week, not sit watching the news.
     5) Even if the operators knew the news, they didn't necessarily know all the names in the news
     6) So certain he was the star of the news, his name actually played only a part in the news.

In short, the operator was an employee who had rules before passing any information or a caller along, or they could lose their jobs.  And, here was Bold Sir Terin giving the operator a hard time because he assumed the operator "knew all" or was psionic.  Finally accepting he had to explain himself, Terin decided to go with the, 'Because I am important and work for important people' move.

Terin told the operator, "I am a member of Lady Mikah's crew, of the Hotel California."  Accepting that, the operator again asked the question Terin had never bothered to correctly answer, "And what is this call in regards to?"  Terin said, "It's about the meeting with the Zhodani embassy." This again assumed the operator, a 'bottom of the rung employee' knew intimate details of the events the night before.  Because, even if one had watched the news and even if that person recognized the encounter between Sir Terin and the diplomatic Attaché, the news had said nothing about any meeting, planned or otherwise.  A fact Sir Terin was proving too dense to understand while he screwed himself and helped ruin the operator's day.  Assuming Sir Terin was referring to an already scheduled meeting (because no idiot calls about a meeting that's not yet scheduled without calling to say 'I want to set up a meeting'), the operator asked what the subject of that meeting might be, so he could search for it?  At that, Terin thought before coming up with a truly clueless answer.

Terin said, "Um, Yes.  The meeting hasn't happened yet, but it might.  Um.." and then decided someone more important than this operator might be more psionic than this person and asked to speak to a manager.  Happy to be done with this idiot, the operator happily said, "Sure!" and had him hold while they handed Sir Terin off to someone else and made that person's day that much better.  After the operator's manager came on the comms and asked how she could help, Terin started off with 'I am important' introductions again.  After saying, "I'm a crew member of the Hotel California, Captained by Lady Mikah", the manager interrupted Sir Terin and reminded him politely that she could not just barge into meetings and ask if a call from Sir Terin of the Hotel California was so important they had to drop everything and pick up the phone.  She didn't mention it was something most basic idiots seemed to know but Sir Terin did not.

She then continued, "You're going to have to give a somewhat detailed statement of what you need so that we can escalate your request."  Terin then said, "The Zhodani Assistant Attaché asked me to have a meeting with the Zhodani Ambassador.  There's been a lot of bad press being thrown around on all the networks about it and I think I might have a solution that might mitigate a lot of that."  Accepting that, the manager then asked Terin to hold while she wondered why he couldn't have simply said that to the first operator before trying to turn this into a system-wide catastrophe?

After Terin's call was put through, he found he wasn't going to get connected nearly as high up as he hoped.  His call was raised to an assistant to the Seneschalate who worked in the upper levels of the middle Seneschalate.  That man, Lord Sir Urgua Aamkige, greeted Terin by his full name and said he'd been fully briefed on the matter.  He then asked if there had been any additional contact from the Zhodani Embassy?"  Terin said, "No, not at this time."  Accepting that, the Lord asked, "OK.  So, what has changed?" expecting Terin's call to be something of actual importance.  Terin said, "Nothing.  I was just thinking...  The ambassador will call me, to set up a meeting.  And I thought it would be a good public image if I got together with the Seneschal's office and was seen as a person trying to smooth over relationships between our two empires after the war.  Put that kind of a spin on things."

Nodding, the Lord said, "Let me bring you up on a couple of things that happened last night, which you might not be aware of."  Terin interrupted him, stupidly, saying he'd been a bit preoccupied, as if the Seneschalate hadn' been working this issue all night themselves.  And, as if they were not well aware of what Terin and the crew had been doing too.  Checking his notes, the Lord politely said, "As you are aware, the Zhodani took it as a personal affront that your meeting with the Assistant Attaché was made public in the manner that it was."  Terin nodded and continued with his verbal diarrhea, "Yes, I noticed they were quite perturbed over that matter."  Nodding, the Lord said, "And, they are still quite annoyed.  They've raised an official protest with the Imperial Government and the Government of the Regina system.

Looking clearly at Terin through the vid-screen, the Lord said, "So, at this point, there will be no meetings of any kind between Imperial citizens and Zhodani citizens, except where it is party to any business contract which had already been signed and must be carried through legally.  And, that will continue until we can come to some kind of diplomatic meeting of the minds, as it were, between the two governments on to how to sail out of this incident, which is, as I am sure you understand, continuing to grow in the eyes of public opinion.  Terin simply answered, "Right.  So, I'm saying that if you need me to be a pawn in this..."  Terin was cut off by the man when he told Terin, "Believe me, Sir Terin, if we develop a need for you to step in or be involved in any way, we'll be the first to reach out to you.  But, for right now, what we need is outside the domain of this small part of the problem." 

Terin nodded, saying, "Right.  If the Zhodani do try and contact me, I will contact you immediately.  The Lord thanked Terin for his concern and the call ended as the Lord sat back amazed.  This idiot Knight called without the thought the seneschalate had been working all night on the issue and thought his basic ideas might be beyond the Seneschal.  Ideas which were not beyond the imagination of a first grade school child.  Lord Aamkige was less pleased it had been made his job to hand hold this idiot while people with an actual clue handled the real work.

While Terin made his call, Fesic decided to go to the in-building gym.  Hearing her name taken in vain by Terin, Mikah decided to go to the gym with Fesic before Terin could drag her into more of his stupidity.  While they were at the gym, and after his call, Terin decided to go into his room, prepare his hookah and put 'the good shit' in it and relax for the day.  He felt he was spent, thanks to the interrogation of the night before and the morning's events.  After he announced that, the butler escorted Terin into his room and advised Terin on the room's environmental controls.  This would allow the room to be sealed off so the rest of the suite didn't have to be fumigated.

The Breaking News Sing Along

     While these things happened, Emkir and Aali planned to spend the morning watching the news.  They saw the opinion wars were on in earnest, and things were looking pretty grim.  New rumors were mixing with the old, and all the rumors were spawning ever newer and more powerful stories.  The more they did, the more hearts of people turned to belief rather than truth, or even caring for the facts.  And many were the hearts that could never be convinced otherwise.  They could see in the news that major public and government blocks were even pushing to kick the crew of the Hotel California out of the system and have done with them.  Ban them permanently from entry.  Other blocks argued for arresting the crew, or worse.

Everyone relaxed until roughly 11:30, when a call came to the suite and the butler answered.  He then brought the call to Zimzod's attention, saying, "The Seneschal would like to speak to you."  When Zimzod took the line, Mr. Dilgaadin greeted him and asked where Mikah was?  Zimzod said she was at the gym.  He next asked if they were watching the news and Zimzod said they were.  Nodding indulgently, Mr. Dilgaadin smiled and said, "OK.  Sit back and watch."  After just a few seconds, the current coverage of 'whatever' was interrupted by a banner reading "BREAKING NEWS" on the vid!  Those in the suite watched and braced.  Rol wasn't the only one there who wondered, 'OK.  What have we done this time?'

The sudden report began with a picture of the agent they'd arrested thanks to Fesic's shot.  Two images led the coverage, showing him both lying on the hall floor in an Imperial Navy Captain's uniform and handcuffed and secured in a wheelchair in custody.  The spoken intro piece to the story suggested that the government of Regina had finally made a significant breakthrough on the rumors running rampant in-system for many months.  The screen then split as an anchor reporter came on and the story-proper began to be presented.

The meat of the story began, and explained the prisoner was detained for impersonating an Imperial Naval Captain, and identity theft of that officer to illegally enter a closed and secured function.  More coverage said Reginan and Imperial investigators were still searching for the actual Captain the man had been impersonating.  It was also shown the imposter had actually been caught thanks to the actions of Sirs Munarshu Sidigur and Fesic Anfertirkåsmokt, of the Hotel California, and servants of the Arch Duke.  The story continued, with vid-evidence from the Seneschalate linking the prisoner to the attack on the port offices and on the lobby of a residential tower in the city.  Attacks where innocents had been killed in both events.

In fact, the very bloody video of the lobby attack was shown, and viewers could clearly see building staffers being shot and killed.  That last bit had certainly been allowed for its shock value, making viewers sit up and take notice.  Continuing from there, with the now guaranteed attention of those watching, the prisoner was linked to the rumor released the night before, that Sir Terin Yundis' military record was not authentic.  The report provided evidence of electronics used by the prisoner to film the footage at the party before sending it to an outside party.  Those sent it to media firms with faked documents.  Those outside contacts of the prisoner were, according to the report, still being sought.

After that, the anchor reporter brought in high-ranking members of the Regina system Navy and Imperial Navy, who picked apart the faked documents released the night before.  Zimzod and the others saw that the government had put on a "full-system push" to hit the rumors, now that they had immediate evidence and could.  Mr. Dilgaadin did smirk a bit when he admitted to Zimzod that they were fighting fire with fire and admitted they hadn't actually found any electronics linking the man to the rumors.  Still, the people would believe this report as much, if not more, than the rumors thanks to the actual video evidence connecting the suspect to the other crimes.

The reporter thanked the officers and then moved on to present additional data which government and law enforcement officials said linked the man to rumors and lies about significant dignitaries over the past month and several months.  They showed what appeared to be clear links between this prisoner and events which they could directly identify.  So, this was a 'pounding' of the rumors on every front.  Still, Mr. Dilgaadin reminded Zimzod that these were only the beginning of the beginning of the real rumor wars.  And, many people who'd come to completely believe in the rumors wouldn't ever change their minds.  So, things were still fairly dangerous where the opinions of the public were involved.

Meanwhile, the report concluded that it had been the determination of Regina's law enforcement authorities that the prisoner was a member of an as yet un-named terror group.  It also appeared, based on the evidence, the group was targeting the crew of the Hotel California, for reasons which were not yet determined?  Still, the people of Regina were told there was a real and active terror threat from these people and citizens of Regina had been killed.  And more people may yet die.  The report finished and the reporter urged all citizens of the system to pay more attention to their surroundings, take note of anything odd and notify the authorities as soon as anything out of the ordinary was noticed.  Mr. Dilgaadin did tell Zimzod that this wasn't expected to ease the crew's situation and might even make their life more difficult.  That said, he told Zimzod to have the crew prepared to meet with him at the Seneschalate at 2pm that afternoon.

Fesic and Mikah were working out in the building's gym while that happened in the suite.  And, as with such facilities the universe over, you either had your own virtual reality or you watched what was being broadcast on their screens.  Most often, that was the local news.  That meant that, without the added commentary of the Seneschal, the couple watched the news coverage.  Their experience had the extra added spice that both their pictures appeared multiple times in the coverage, and some others in the space recognized them.  The good news on that was that everyone there either worked for or was housed there by the Seneschalate.  So, no fuss was raised.  This didn't mean it was all wine and roses though.  Especially for Mikah when Fesic suddenly began celebrating by breaking into a song he claimed was about him!
   You're Gonna Die

     Well, you can tell by the way I work my guns
     I'm a killer trained, the talkin's done
     Target lock and beams are hot, I'll nail your ship
     until you stop

     Now, it's all right, it's okay
     You can try, to fly away
     But you can't run, and you can't hide
     Because of the damage to your drives

     Whether you're a smuggler or just another sucker
     You're gonna die, you're gonna die
     Feel your ship shakin'; everything aboard breakin'
     And, You're gonna die, you're gonna die
     Ah, ha, ha, ha, You're gonna die, you're gonna die
     Ah, ha, ha, ha, goin' to die

     Aim the beams of heaven, right at your ship
     I'm a damn good shot, so I'll nail that blip
     Well, I might shoot too low or too high
     If I miss, I'll take another try
     You know it's all right, it's okay
     I'll live to fight another day
     But you can't run, no, you can't hide
     Say goodbye to your ship's drives!

     Whether you're a smuggler or just another sucker
     You're gonna die, you're gonna die
     Feel your ship shakin'; everything aboard breakin'
     And, You're gonna die, you're gonna die
     Ah, ha, ha, ha, You're gonna die, you're gonna die
     Ah, ha, ha, ha, goin' to die

     You're goin' nowhere, no one can help you
        Ah, ha, ha, you're gonna die!
     You're goin' nowhere, no one can help you
        Ah, ha, ha, you're gonna die!

     Well, you can tell by the way I work my guns
     I'm a killer trained: and, the talkin's done
     Target lock and beams are hot, I'll nail your ship
     until you stop

     Now, it's all right, it's okay
     You can try to fly away
     But you can't run, and you can't hide
     I just blew your drives away

     Whether you're a smuggler or just another sucker
     You're gonna die, you're gonna die
     Feel your ship shakin'; everything aboard breakin'
     And, You're gonna die, you're gonna die
     Ah, ha, ha, ha, You're gonna die, you're gonna die
     Ah, ha, ha, ha, goin' to die

     You're goin' nowhere, no one can help you
        Ah, ha, ha, you're gonna die!
     You're goin' nowhere, no one can help you
        Ah, ha, ha, you're gonna die!

When Fesic broke into some kind of wild physical motions while making horrifyingly odd noises, Mikah called over to ask if he was having a seizure or something?  Fesic simply stuck his tongue out at her and kept up the performance.  Mikah was horrified, and certain that was gonna show up on social media somewhere if not the actual news, soon enough.

After the "performance", Mikah and Fesic both went on with their workouts until Mikah's comms started going off.  It was Zimzod calling, to say Mr. Dilgaadin asked for the crew to meet with him at the Seneschalate that afternoon at 2 pm.  Mikah said OK and said she'd be back to the suite when they'd finished their workouts.  She then continued until she got yet another call and wondered how much worse this day was about to get?  But the call was from the on-world offices of the Duke of Vilis.  Answering, Mikah was told, "Hold for the Duke, please?" and put on a brief hold.  When the Duke came on the line, he congratulated her having seen she and her crew had been busy.

After Mikah thanked him, the Duke joked that he was disappointed to have missed the party the night before.  Mikah just demurred and admitted it was "exciting".  The Duke only said, "So I see."  When Mikah said they were working with the Seneschalate of Regina and Countess Josephine's people, he said, "I was going to offer you a chance to get away from it all."  Surprised, Mikah enthusiastically said, "Oh!  That sounds great!  What is it?"  After a beat, the Duke said, "Well, we'd spoken a week ago, though it seems like months ago now, about having my people work to help you locate Sir Brian's family in the Wypoc system.

When Mikah recalled that, the Duke said his people believed they'd developed good information on them.  Mikah was pleased, saying, "That's fantastic" and the Duke continued to say they had possible contact data, which might connect them to Sir Brian's survivors.  He was curious if they were free to leave the system, which Mikah wasn't sure, given the issues with Rol.  But, he said if they could, they might want to jump to Wypoc to try and track them down, while getting away from things in the Regina system for a couple of weeks.  Mikah considered that Wypoc was only two parsecs away so it was a single jump there and another back.  That would be two weeks travel plus the local search and negotiations.  Then, they'd know if they could sell the books back on Rhylanor or not?

The Duke admitted the data his people had wasn't 100% certain, but it was better than jumping into the system with nothing.  He then asked the key question, which was if the ship and crew were actually free to travel?  Mikah felt fairly certain all of them except Rol could freely leave the system.  She wasn't sure how the Seneschalate would feel about Rol going with them?  Mikah told the Duke they had a meeting with the Seneschal that afternoon and she'd find out the answers to that.  She also thanked him very much for helping to locate the family, as far as the data went.  She also said her crew would certainly make the trip if they could, and promised not to use the phrase "Hunt down", like she'd done in earlier comments in the conversation.  After that, she promised to keep the Duke up to date on what happened and what was coming next?

Sitting Down To Share

     Watching the report, Rol was reminded they'd realized their comm dot muxes were 'at risk' for hacking from the public network.  Concerned about that, he asked Aali and Emkir about the risk and if they knew of a way to encrypt or harden access to the devices?  When no one seemed to know the answer, they brought up the idea of finding a way to do that while Zimzod made the rounds and told everyone about the appointment that afternoon at the seneschalate.  He even banged on Terin's bedroom door and shouted the news into the navigator.  Terin was annoyed since he'd have to cut his session short but wasn't saving any of the herb he'd lit up.  After that, Zimzod called Mikah to let her and Fesic know.

Zimzod then joined in with the others looking for ways to encrypt the comm dot muxes.  Terin came out of his bedroom and joined in when he saw wht they were doing, because he had a set of comm dots too.  The others could see he was obviously lightly 'lit', and hoped he would come down before the planned meeting.  They also wondered if it mattered that Munarshu would miss the meeting, being medically indisposed.  When Mikah and Fesic got back to the suite, Zimzod asked her medical opinion on bringing Munarshu, but she did the math and said he might be "just ripe and ready to start seriously spewing" about the time of the planned meeting.  Given that, the two decided to make Munarshu's excuses and leave him in the suite.  That decided, Mikah called the Seneschalate and updated the meeting information that Munarshu wouldn't attend.

Through his light buzz, Terin asked what the meeting dress code was that afternoon?  Just after Zimzod guessed it would be casual, Fesic, who'd returned to the suite with Mikah, suggested he ask Munarshu if he could borrow the engineer's ass-less chaps, because Munarshu was too sick to go.  While the others laughed, Aali said Munarshu was likely "creating" a new set of ass-less chaps from his current outfit and got even more laughs.  Emkir cut lose with, "He's blown' out the back, man!  Blowin' out the back!"  Seeing the spread-out electronics on the table, as everyone had their comm dots sets out, Mikah curiously asked, "What are you doing?"

Rol first said, "We're making sure stuff doesn't break" which stupid answer told her nothing.  When she shot him a look, Rol amended with, "Trying to encrypt these things."  Aali picked up from that, saying, "We realized, after last night's discussion of routers, that these could be publicly accessed." So, we're trying to stop that from happening."  The conversation continued while Fesic and Mikah went to shower, and jokes were made every so often when a moan could be heard from Munarshu's bedroom.  They also joked about sealing up the door to the public bathroom rather than risk opening it ever again.  Still, Zimzod did say they'd left the fan on in the room all day.

After the chef and his staff arrived to cook and serve lunch, everyone had to get dressed and ready to leave to meet the seneschal.  By that time, those who'd been working on the comm dot muxes had finally found the setting they had to change to isolate them from attacks from any public networks.  It turned out to be an "on/off" setting which also used a code entered into a field in the configuration.  Despite finding that, they didn't have the time right then to change all the settings in all the muxes, or confirm they could tie the devices together if desired.  Especially where Aali had two of them she wanted to use together.

Arriving at the seneschalate offices, they were led to a secured, buffered and electronically shielded conference room and asked to wait.  The Seneschal and his people arrived along with the Countess and three of her people too.  With everyone seated, Mr. Dilgaadin got everyone's attention and said he was going to start off the discussion with the topic of party favors.  That confused the crew and several others in the room as well.  Zimzod even asked, "Party favors?" in a confused tone.  Mr. Dilgaadin nodded in Fesic's direction and said, "Thanks to Sir Fesic, the Duchy has been delivered a party favor in the form of the agent that you almost killed.  Congratulations."  He said the last part as he looked Fesic in the eyes and the 'congratulations' were more an admonishment for nearly killing the one witness they'd managed to get hold of.

The Seneschal continued, saying it turned out the tranq round Fesic had hit the man with had lost the pressure battle and the syringe-like round burst.  So, it became an open pipe in the agent's chest wall, allowing both his lungs to collapse.  If it hadn't been for the immediate presence of medical support, the prisoner would have died.  Due to that unexpected complication, the prisoner's recovery was taking longer than hoped for.  Mr. Dilgaadin delivered an allegory to using the proper tool for the range, to not kill valuable prisoners and Zimzod quipped, "Well, it could have been worse, if he'd shot the wrong person."  Not turning to Zimzod, Branj fixed Fesic eye to eye and asked, "Be honest.  What percentage of certainty did you have in your mind that the person you shot was who you thought he was?"  Not missing a beat, Fesic firmly stated, "Oh, I was One hundred percent sure!" with an expression he hoped was completely convincing.

Nodding, Mr. Dilgaadin accepted that with a look on his face that called Fesic a complete liar, but he didn't act any further on that.  Continuing, Branj said, "OK.  We learned a number of things from this particular party favor.  First, his bio-scans proved he had not arrived on Regina legally, by passing through any of our legitimate ports and submitting to Health, Immigration and Customs checks.  So, he is one of a pool of persons who we are aware have been smuggled in-system."  This wasn't news to Mikah and Zimzod, who'd heard a small bit about such people from the Regina Intelligence Admiral.  Actually smiling, Mr. Dilgaadin said, "We are happy to say we will be getting data on those smuggling methods from the prisoner in the coming days."

Not sure how they'd crack the agent, the crew had no doubt Mr. Dilgaadin believed that completely.  The Seneschal then continued, "We have reason to believe this man was not simply a lower tier agent.  We feel he both worked as a field agent and handled junior agents too.  And, we believe he will give us that information too."  Concluding his opening, Mr. Dilgaadin said, "And, we believe he is related to the overall wave of rumors which have been targeting Lady Mikah, Sir Zimzod and your crew."  Transitioning, he commented on how they could see that the government of Regina had moved heavily on that score.  Taking a step back from the 'victory parade' list of wins, Mr. Dilgaadin reminded them all this war was being fought in the arena of public opinion.  That meant that the surprisingly many hearts and minds their opponents had won wouldn't be recaptured quickly or easily.

The Seneschal then moved into a discussion about how difficult progress will be, even with their new hand of winning cards.  They'd win this round but there were citizens of Regina out there who would grow old and go to their graves certain of the crimes committed by the crew of the Hotel California.  And certain nobility of the Regina system would stand firm no matter how well they cleaned out their house.  Making it clear they were trying to fight firmly secure opinions with the facts, there were many believers who would never admit to being wrong, or possibly incorrect.  No matter what the truth turned out to be.  This was a political truism of every era of Human politics.  The best liar won.  And the more power they needed to protect, the more and larger their lies.  And, too often, cold history was the only proof how tragically those situations ended.

Circling back, Mr. Dilgaadin repeated that the prisoner and the information he would give them was the first real dagger Regina's government could use to stab at the larger issues of this attack of rumors.  The Seneschal also admitted they hadn't really tied the prisoner to the rumors, directly or indirectly, but he didn't believe the man's presence and activities were coincidental to the attack.  Nor did the Countess, or either of their teams of people.  Mr. Dilgaadin said that, despite those issues, they were going to use the prisoner to attack on that front as much as they could.  After letting that sink in, the Seneschal made it clear there would be turbulent times coming.  He explained that there would be opposition and possibly even violence any time one tried to push two opposing points of view against each other regardless of the actual truth.  Especially when there was as much emotion involved as their circumstances involved.

"That said," Mr. Dilgaadin continued, "Sir Terin."  When Terin looked up, he was firmly told, "You are not going anywhere near the Zhodani any time soon."  Terin nodded and said, "Understood" and Mr. Dilgaadin continued, "If you try it.  I will have you shot."  Very quietly, Mikah found that startling comment very pleasant to consider, even if she did want to be the one to shoot Terin herself.  Trying to back off his offer of the night before, where he tried to advertise himself as a diplomatic connection between the Imperial and Zhodani governments, Terin lied and said, "I wasn't planning on coordinating it."  After Mikah jumped in, saying, "I'll keep an eye on him", Rol joked, "I'll help him write a book."  When Fesic asked what would happen if the Zhodani approached Terin, he was told, "They won't." in a firm tone of certainty.

They were told, "Under the current political situation, it won't happen.  And, we're tracking opinions world-wide.  They are on a downward trend where Sir Terin is concerned.  The fact is, the chance violence could possibly break out in the event we even try to do something rational and intelligent is very high.  So, we don't want to walk around with burning flames in the presence of that much hydrogen.  Still trying to pull his foot out of his words from the call the night before, Terin said, "I wasn't looking forward to that meeting, so I'm happy it's not going to happen."  Moving on from that, the Seneschal got some snorts as he said, "And, I have the report from your interrogators.  They have assured me, 100%, that you are completely innocent of any wrong-doing in this matter."  There was a pause before he completed the thought, saying, "Not very intelligent, but innocent."

That got laughs and broke the tension in the room a bit.  All Terin could do was sit quietly and think, 'Wow!  So harsh."  Past that, the Seneschal made a hard turn from Terin to say, "At this point, I've spoken to the counsels for and against Sir Jeremy and the Jesediperei delegation, who complain daily at the mounting costs of their stay in-system."  With a shrug, Mikah said, "They can wait" in a tone that showed she meant 'die' instead.  Continuing, Mr. Dilgaadin said, "We've confirmed with all authorities that resolving this issue is going to take some time.  Probably weeks as far as Sir Rol is concerned.  And, those weeks are likely to be filled with social and opinion-based turbulence regarding your crew.  So perhaps, it's time for you to make some money."

A Brand New Job!

     That sudden turn of statements caught the entire crew by surprise.  They'd seen that he was building towards asking them to "go somewhere" until the heat died down.  But they weren't expecting money to come into the situation excepting how much it would cost them to do what was needed?  Catching up before the others, Mikah said, "Oh!  OK." and Branj added, "Not much.  Standard pay each for a government contract."  Past that, those in the room waited, giving him time to say what he'd planned.  Deciding how to explain, Mr. Dilgaadin said, "We have a defensive network of satellites, as I'm sure your familiar with.  Those constellations rely on networks of quasi-intelligent robotic satellites in place in-system to raise the needed alarms if ships arrive under certain circumstances."

Continuing, Mr. Dilgaadin said their programming could filter out many arrivals which could be the source of large numbers of false alarms.  In addition, the satellites also kept records, handled tracking and guidance and other jobs, along with augmenting traffic control in their spheres of operation.  For those who didn't know, Dilgaadin explained the structure of the Regina system, which was based around a binary system.  The mainworld orbited the system's primary gas giant, Assiniboia, which orbited the system's primary star.  The system's second gas giant, Elazair orbited the system's binary star, Darida.  Satellites orbiting that world's lunar solar system helped defend Regina from a "flanking" attack by invading fleets.

He said a satellite in that constellation, has come up for flagged regular maintenance.  And, while they'd normally assign the run to a Regina Naval ship, he decided to offer the run to them, unless they had any better ideas on a short vacation?  While Mikah knew about the news from Duke Vilis, about Sir Brian's family, that trip would not only "not" pay them, but would also cost them money.  And, it wasn't nearly a sure thing.  This sounded like a cake walk.  When she asked for the details, Mr. Dilgaadin said the satellite was so far out from Regina it would take weeks to get there in normal space, so the Hotel California would have to make a micro-jump to get there.  His people said it would be a week out, a week back and less than a week moving into and out of position plus the time taken to service the satellite.  So, the Seneschal said they'd also be fueled up and given a full refresh of consumables from the Regina-high Naval base.

When they asked about what they had to do with the satellite, Mr. Dilgaadin told them, "Nothing."  They absorbed that and he said they'd host a Regina Naval NCO and electronics technician who'd been doing these refresh missions for years.  It would be his job to do the work and their only job was to play taxi.  Since Aiden's stateroom had been completely cleaned out for Bhreker, they even had an empty stateroom for the spacer.  Getting into the details, the contract paid "standard rates" for them to carry the technician and a 'replacement core' for the satellite to the location, and offer any needed support as the tech serviced the robot.  They'd each get paid a fraction of their monthly salaries based on the percentage of the month they spent on the job and the ship would get the standard Cr 1,000 per jump to transport the core along with Cr 5,000 for the passage of the technician.  While that was less than even middle passage, their passenger was paying for a cruise to nowhere.

Other information they were given told them there was a small system defense boat base near where they'd be but those crews didn't have the skills needed to handle the operation, and the new core still had to be carried there from Regina prime.  Still, the presence of the base could be of some value for unknown reasons.  While it was said the Hotel California could scoop fuel from Elazair's atmosphere before jumping back, Terin said they'd only be making two micro-jumps and had fuel tankage for three such jumps.  So, the two jumps wouldn't drain them dry and they didn't have to scoop fuel.  Mikah said it might be better to top off their tanks since they'd have the time and weren't in a rush.  Aali happily agreed with that.

When the paperwork came out, each role would be paid weekly amounts, based on monthly standards or percentages of the month.  That meant that, per week, Mikah would be paid Cr 2,000 for her roles as Captain and Medic, Zimzod Cr 1,250 as the XO and a gunner, Aali Cr 1,250 as the Chief Engineer, Fesic Cr 500 as Chief Gunner, Rol Cr 750 as the ship's Security Chief and a gunner, Emkir Cr 1,500 as the command pilot, Terin Cr 1,250 as the Navigator and Munarshu Cr 1,000 as an Engineer.  Being the ship's cook, Rol would also get Cr 750 per week because he'd have to take on the role of the ship's Steward, and take care of their passenger.  The ship would get Cr 1,000 per ton for the jump out and in, to carry the new and old cores respectfully as well as Cr 5,000 per week to transport their passenger.

With everyone happy about the deal, Mikah signed the papers while those no longer needed in the meeting left and payment for three weeks was transferred into the correct accounts.  After that, they talked about the details.  Key to this move was a low profile departure, late at night and out of sight from the average citizen of Regina.  Yes, it would look like they were running away at first, but that would be easy to handle when they returned.  And Mr. Dilgaadin hoped their absence would let him use their positive historical data to highlight the data coming from the prisoner.  Not to mention, the hoped for arrests and additional evidence exonerating the crew.

When it was suggested a medical crew be sent to move Munarshu from the suite to the ship, Mikah was happy to let them deal with the engineer.  Still, Mikah did say the engineer was still self-mobile and functional, so he'd be able to do his work.  He just wasn't happy about still being alive.  Branj ignored Mikah's giggles when she covered her "most recent patient."  They were told they'd lift for orbit and dock at the naval high-base to take on their passenger and cargo while also receiving a full tankage of fuel and an 'atmo and consumables' refresh.  That, alone, was worth Cr 38k for the fuel and Cr 16k for the atmo package.  Other plans and decisions were being made and set in place while the crew settled necessary decisions.  Then Fesic and Mikah said they had a question about the prisoner.  Fesic asked if Rol could interrogate the prisoner and was told he could not.

With Mr. Dilgaadin's attention, Mikah asked if those working the prisoner's case were analyzing his DNA, in hopes of finding out what world he came from?  Mr. Dilgaadin did say they were doing their best, but pointed out there were many factors which would prevent them getting any usable data.  First, a large number of worlds either didn't have the tech to test and submit DNA data on their populations or refused to.  Looking pointedly at Mikah, he said, "Your good friends in the Natoko system and Stepozhevaci nation can be counted in those refusals."  Mr. Dilgaadin also pointed out that some participating solar systems had data which overlapped so well that the one couldn't be told from the other.  This most often happened where a number of worlds traded for most of their food and atmo products with a common trade partner.  Finally, the prisoner may have been an agent for one world who was born and raised on another.  So, any data from the birth world would only be a misleading red herring.

Signed, Sealed and Dispatched

     Those questions answered, it took the crew the rest of the afternoon and evening to prepare themselves and get their gear aboard the ship.  As little as he liked his condition, Munarshu liked being treated as an invalid even less.  He argued, resisted and complained about every action the Naval medical team took until the lead paramedic threatened to sedate him.  When he appealed to Lady Mikah for help, she said she could help him but had to get her snub pistol and a Tranq round.  That shut Munarshu up and the navy team none too gently did what they had to do.  Eventually, they were all packed up and only had to wait aboard the California for the clock to reach their scheduled launch window.

After the crew finally got launch permission and flight vector authorization, they went down the checklist, confirmed their boards were all green and lifted from Credo downport.  The burn to orbit and flight to the base took just under 45 minutes and they were brought into an internal craft bay meant to handle cargo, passenger and fuel transfers.  When they'd settled in the bay and dealt with the bay chief and necessary paperwork, the crew were introduced to Chief Petty Officer(E-7) Kerbjir Vedsky.  When he sat down with them, they learned he'd been in the Navy, handling satellite management missions covert and overt like this for most of his career.  Saying he'd been doing stuff like that for almost nine years, he added that was on top of his studies at university, where he got is BS in Robotics and Satellite engineering and operations.  Even Aali was impressed by the man's credentials.

Back aboard the California, Mikah showed him to Aiden's stateroom noting he had a holstered snub pistol on his hip and had not asked permission to carry it aboard.  The man looked over the space with a grunt, saying, "Bigger than I'm used to."  He had the traditional navy space bag, which seemed about three quarters full.  He also had a vacc suit bag and a tool kit.  The crew then moved to their stations while the tech started settling in.  While everything was settling in nicely, there was still one glitch in things.  That was that the tech assumed rights and rank because he was "The Navy" and they were "The Contractors".  That meant he was in overall command of the mission.

After the refueling and resets were finally done, Emkir lit up his boards and checked with the others.  Then, Mikah gave the order and they left the base while Terin began plotting the micro-jump.  The good news for him was that they were only making an in-system jump, and every bit of data he needed was available in real-time.  Where inter-system jumps were based on the best extrapolated data for the target system and intermediate hazards, those often were theoretical.  Determined by math, and based on the last known real time data.  That meant this trip was gonna be even easier on him and the ship.

Emkir started the out-system burn as soon as he could, and Terin sat as co-pilot while working on the nav plot.  After they were clear of the base and flying free, Mikah called a crew meeting with the technician and made sure those on the bridge could 'sit in' via comms.  Past the first bits of chit chat, Mikah got down to business, introduced the tech to the crew and their positions aboard before asking the tech what needed to be done and what was their role?  Kerbjir relaxed and said, "The mission is cut and dry.  We've done this so many times.  Your ship takes me out to the satellite, I open up the cargo bay while everyone else stays clear of the work and out of the cargo bay.  The satellite has highly classified remote access codes, which I will use, and which are one of the reasons you will not have access to the bay while I'm working."

Kerbjir continued, "I'll use those codes and controls to move the satellite closer to the ship, so I can recover it and open the required access panels.  I will pull the external operating core, which provides instruction and storage to the main control core, and replace it with the new core loaded into your cargo bay.  Then, I will store the recovered core, close up the satellite and re-deploy it.  Then, I will give you the signal as I close up the cargo bay so we can refuel and return to Regina.  It's so easy, and I've done it so regularly, that I could do it in my sleep if I had to."  When Kerbjir finished, Mikah asked, "Are we allowed to have a feed from the bay so we can record, just in case...  Just in case, something terrible happens?"  Mikah didn't say she really wanted that footage so the crew didn't get blamed if something went wrong.  Laughing, Kerbjir said, "Nothing terrible will happen." and said he'd have run tests with them in-jump.  He said he had to be sure nothing classified was visible to the crew if they did have a feed.

Mikah agreed to that and told Rol to set up the test, since he was the ship's security chief.  With that, the crew returned to pre-jump work while Terin finished his plot and bounced the data to Emkir's board.  The pilot loaded the plot into the nav-comp and got the basic "beep", which said there were no glaring errors.  Emkir ignored the fact the computer couldn't do all the work to completely verify the plot and announced he was ready to run the program and prepare for jump.  Eventually, they and the ship were all in place and Emkir hit the stud which activated the jump systems and released the energy stored in the jump capacitors to the ship's jump governor.  That pumped it out to the hull's lanthanum grid.  Space outside flared with a harsh blue-white light as the flux in real-space resolved into a forming jump bubble and they shifted into jumpspace for the next week.

The Requisite Plot Twist

     At 11 pm that night, the Hotel California slipped into jump space for the micro-jump to the system's secondary gas giant, Elazair.  Most of the crew had rested when they could and only Munarshu was really feeling the weight of a late-night departure.  Not only had he worked hard to force his body into an 'Early to bed-Early to rise' regimen, but he was also still suffering from Rol's prank that morning.  Over week in jump, Munarshu not only harbored a massive grudge against Rol, but wouldn't be the first to eat anything the man served, waiting until someone else tried it first.  At one point, when Mikah pointed to a common bowl and said, "Munarshu.  He's not going to poison the rest of us." the engineer answered, "That's why I'm waiting for the rest of you to try it."  Of course, that led to other members of the crew presenting Munarshu with "a special plate, just for you" or "your replacement dish" as a prank throughout the week.

By the 115th day of the year, everyone had spent the week sharing the ship with petty officer Kerbjir.  During the week in jump, he surprised the crew by volunteering to help with real-space system resets and was, himself, surprised by the large army of androids the ship had working in the engineering space.  Nodding appreciably at what he saw, he said that boded very well for the mission and dealing with the crew.  Mikah and everyone else aboard were happy to have the early vote of confidence and cooperation when the jump had just started.

After they'd passed most of the time expected in jump-space, Kerbjir asked for a crew meeting to talk over the actual work after precipitating from jump.  Addressing the question Mikah asked, about watching the work on the ship's security cameras, Kerbjir surprised them and annoyed some.  He said that if they wanted him to not disable the camera, they had to agree to let him carry out some mock steps like a dress rehearsal.  Only, they'd have to let him do it in his vacc suit, in the depressurized cargo bay and with the cargo door open and exposed to the jump space bubble!  While all the spacers knew there was always a three to four foot space between the ship's hull and the edge of the bubble, they still shared the extreme dislike of even risking a mistake.

Still, the jump bubble would let them open the cargo bay and carry out the steps in his test exercise without putting the ship into confirmed danger.  So, they went along with it as long as they could keep a firm eye on every sensor aboard the ship.  Terin was the only person in the crew who really pushed with questions, asking why they needed to open the cargo bay door?  He was told, "Because it's necessary."  Period.  When Terin asked more questions, he was told the answers were classified and he'd get no more information.  When they had that scene set up, they would actually video what the feed showed on the bridge.  Then they'd secure from that and he would review what the camera on the bridge would show the crew.  With that, he could decide if anything classified was at risk or not?  Then, he'd tell them if they could have their cameras running?

When most of the crew accepted that, Zimzod demanded of Terin why he cared, in a somewhat threatening tone.  Terin silenced, they let Kerbjir suit up and set up the test as he described.  Carrying that test out took an hour, after which Kerbjir returned to secure his gear and finally check the video capture of what the security camera showed.  He saw that the cameras didn't show in detail enough to see anything sensitive.  So, he said they could watch if they wanted to be bored out of their minds.  Still, he made it clear, again, that he'd be in the cargo bay alone and access to the bay from the ship would be sealed as he worked.  He would give the ship's flight crew instruction about closing with the satellite before using his remote system to access and control the probe.

After that, he'd float the probe to a point where he could physically connect and secure the device.  Then, he'd open an external port and access the satellite's "external core".  That part of the device controlled externally controlled programing and system management while the central core, deep inside the satellite, was the probe's main controlling computer.  He would then remove the external core, stow it and then install the replacement core brought out with them in the cargo bay.  Following some work testing and otherwise checking settings on the probe, he would broadcast additional data from the satellite before securing the device's port.  That done, he would re-deploy the satellite and then close the cargo bay and, letting the crew know it was time to refuel and return to Regina.

Outside the work to be done, the crew also had to make sure their goods in the cargo bay were locked down firmly.  They had the cargo sealing unit and two cargo pods in the bay.  One of those was filled with their speculative cargo and the other partly filled with Aiden's goods.  Those had been moved out for Bhreker to use.  Kerbjir also said he'd run a scan for cameras and other broadcast items in the bay before beginning to lay out his tools.  Fesic volunteered to actually lock things down and Zimzod asked if they shouldn't already be locked down?  Mikah just told him it never hurt to make sure.  Aside from those tasks and preparations, they spent the jump relaxing until the 114th day of the year, and then waited until they precipitated from jump space.

Startling Readings And Images

     When the ship's alarms began to be sent by the ship's computer, the flight crew took their positions to prepare to return to normal space.  Others aboard slipped into vacc suits or even sealed armor and waited while the ship shifted back into the star-studded darkness of normal space.  The sensor shroud lifted while the flight crew worked and they soon confirmed they'd arrived relatively close to where they'd planned, if a few hours flight off the dot itself.  The next task was for Terin to work the sensors and locate the satellite.  After that, everything was up to the flight crew while the engineers bled off the jump systems and began between-jump maintenance.

Kerbjir also got ready for his work while everyone else started settling in until anything interesting seemed likely to begin.  The off-set wasn't so bad that it was hard for Terin to locate the satellite and then, he and Emkir set the course while Emkir flew them into place.  Checking their progress, Kerbjir gave Emkir the details on how close he should get the ship to the satellite before letting the ship drift.  He would then get into place and give further instructions as needed.  Still some distance out, it was two hours before Kerbjir announced he was suiting himself up, moving his gear into the cargo bay and securing the space to be ready.

Watching from the sensor readout bounced from the bridge to a display in the cargo bay, Kerbjir talked Emkir into position.  Eventually, that meant coming into place not too far from the satellite, with the back end of the ship oriented towards it.  With that heading, after the bay door was opened, Kerbjir would be able to see the unit clearly and could go about his work.  Emkir moved the ship into position and Mikah and Zimzod both moved into the bridge to watch what they could see on the video from the cargo bay security cameras.  On the bridge, they could also see that the cargo bay was secured against any entry except through the still-closed bay door.

After half an hour in the secured cargo bay, Kerbjir called the bridge to start talking them into range of the satellite.  They could see he'd also depressurized the cargo bay and opened the external bay doors to space.  In position himself, Kerbjir talked Emkir into position while Terin watched on the ship's sensors.  Fesic watched this happen and joked about putting on vacc suits and going outside the ship to watch from an "unauthorized angle".  Mikah just shot him a glare and said, "It's a good idea to put your vacc suit on, but we're not going outside the ship."  Terin added, "Only people who want to get shot should go outside to watch."

Zimzod acerbically said, "I don't care enough to go out there." and Fesic answered, "I think we should make certain our sensors are up and working so we can detect anything that comes near us that's not a satellite."  When Terin said they were already watching their sensors, Fesic said he'd be watching the sensors too.  Fesic was told all the flight crew stations were manned and again, the sensors were being watched.  Backing off, Fesic said he'd open up a sensors display at the bridge gunnery station.  When he did, people watched with some concern as he started activating the gunnery systems to access the sensors there.  Finally having to say something, Terin asked, "Sir Fesic.  Are you that paranoid that you're gonna heat up the guns?"  The tone of his voice covered the glacial temperature of attitudes in the compartment.

Fesic shot Terin a look and said, "I didn't heat up the guns, and I'm just being prepared."  Shrugging, Terin said "OK" and turned back to his own sensors.  Still, he pulled up an auxiliary ship's status screen and watched for any sign power was being routed to the weapon systems.  Hearing the crap going on in the bridge, Rol said it might actually be a good thing to get into his combat armor.  Mikah decided to get into her vacc suit and Zimzod followed her.  Seeing Mikah and Zimzod leave the bridge to get their vacc suits, and hearing that Rol was also armoring up, Fesic then left the active weapons station and bridge, to get into his combat armor.  Handing flight off to Terin after getting a call from Aali in engineering, Emkir got into his vacc suit as Aali said she was getting into her's too.

Soon enough, everyone returned to stations and those on the bridge watched both the ship's sensors and the security camera showing the work in the cargo bay.  While the image was fuzzy and they couldn't see the detail Kerbjir had been concerned about, they could see the man visible as a lit, bright white-suited man-shaped figure starkly visible against the black of space.  After everyone had geared up and settled in, Terin was talking to the engineer while Emkir listened and made adjustments to the ship's position until he was told to hold her at stations.  There, Kerbjir began using his control system to contact and move the satellite while Emkir held the ship in position.  As the device closed, those watching realized it was the size of a house, where they'd expected something smaller for no real reason.  Still they watched as the device moved almost into contact with the ship.

And then, it exploded!

All Hell And More!

     On the bridge of the Hotel California, the display from the security camera flared bright before everyone was reaching for something as shock waves from the explosion threw the ship into a wild spinning and random vector away from the position in which the satellite had exploded.  Everyone was so busy trying to secure their positions no one saw the display screen had faded to static.  Strapped into position, Emkir and Terin were secure while all their boards filled with red alarm displays or went wild with readings changing too fast for them to visually register.  The others on the bridge had reacted quickly enough that they fell or rolled, but were experienced enough that they used the gravity from the deck plating to help them stay down and come to rest quickly.

In the ship's lounge in his combat armor, Rol was taken completely by surprise and was thrown a short distance, but protected by his armor.  In engineering, Aali had been working in the main compartment while Munarshu was managing some of the androids handling work on the jump drive resets.  While Aali was thrown a bit and managed to recover, Munarshu was thrown from his position.  Not thrown violently, it wasn't the velocity of his flight but the vector - directly into a pair of jump drive capacitors.  And, the damage his impact did to the component connectors not only broke some of the wiring harnesses but allowed the residual power discharge...into him.

Making sure they wouldn't get crushed by centripetal force as the ship wildly rotated, Terin slammed the power feed controls for the internal grav-plates and worked to counter the spin forces.  Terin did that while Emkir, having snapped into old combat reflexes, polled the ship's gyros and started feeding numbers to their SMS system.  Ignoring the manual controls because he couldn't react fast enough, accurately or with as fine a touch as needed, Emkir worked the numeric keyboard like a mad man.  He compared numbers between readouts and pumped solutions into the SMS jets.  The ship was bleeding reaction gasses into the void in a continuous series of jets while Zimzod, Mikah and Fesic simply grabbed for something to hold tight to until the ship was back under control.  Done with the grav-plates, Terin started working on the various system alarms while checking what each was and what he could or could not do about it?

In the ship's lounge, Rol had grabbed onto something and secured himself as he heard the wave of cries, orders, shouted attempts to give status and reactions flowing from the bridge.  He accepted that anything he'd say would only get lost in the mess.  The ship hadn't exploded and he'd find out the rest when everyone on the bridge stopped shouting.  In engineering, Aali recovered quickly and then started hitting the engineering computer to see "what the fuck" as she called out, "What the fuck??"  On the bridge, 'what the fuck' had grabbed Terin's attention as he saw indicators that screamed of a hull breach and function alarms all pointing to the cargo bay door!  Throughout the ship, everyone who could feel anything was realizing that "inside the ball", it felt a lot worse than it seemed it should watching from outside.

Terin and Emkir fought the ship's controls while Fesic pulled himself back up to the active gunnery station.  What he saw when he could fix on the sensor display was a mess.  An image, caused by the sensor affects of the gas giant itself, was shadowing everything as the sensors worked to paint that massive presence from almost every vector because that was how the sensors saw the outside universe while the ship spun.  Still, the ship's various spin axis were definable by various formulae and could be calculated if Fesic could fix on a stationary point.  The best "point" to choose was an identifiable spot at the top of the gas giant's atmosphere.  While the world's image was moving quite fast, the actual world was at a dead stop compared to them.

It would eventually take Emkir and Terin more than a quarter of an hour to get the ship's motion under control, but Fesic had a much simpler solution.  He only had to fix on a spot and order the combat tracking computers to calculate the needed formulas while Terin was far too busy at his boards to notice they'd gone to active combat sensors!  Finally, he could use those formulae to reverse-cancel the effects of the spin on the mathematically determined points of each echo or detection, and present an accurate sensor view of what happened while the universe played spin-the-starship.  After playing back the logged data from the moment of the explosion, Fesic saw that "something" appeared to have almost literally launched from the space near the aft end of the ship.  It was on a fast moving-vector away from their position and also, at least initially, away from the gas giant too.

Fesic's first thought was it might have been Petty Officer Kerbjir, but he realized a body wouldn't give off that much of a ping.  Rethinking, he decided it had to be part of the ship or satellite while he worked to plot an accurate vector and speed on the object.  If it was part of the satellite, it could well be something the Regina government would want recovered.  Fesic wasn't the only one thinking of Kerbjir.  Terin had tried to ping the engineer on the comms, saying, "Hey, Kerbjir, are you there?  I don't really expect to get an answer but..."  All he got back on that channel was static, and he wasn't surprised.  Neither was anyone else who heard Terin's efforts.  Both Emkir and Terin recognized the static and snow on the screen which should have been showing the cargo bay security feed.

Ordering the computer to make some checks, Terin was finally able to learn the cargo bay door was reading as "gone" according to the ship's sensors.  Just, gone.  That meant that the entire bay was now open to space until repairs were carried out.  And so was Kerbjir, or his body if he hadn't been vaporized or blown out of the bay.  Checking for other pressurization alarms, Terin was very pleased to see his sub-boards for internal ship's pressure were all green except the cargo bay.  So, they weren't losing atmo.  He did see some fuel tanks had been punctured, likely by flying shrapnel, and they'd lost five percent of the fuel they'd had after the micro-jump.  He knew they could still get home on that if need be.  Sadly, that happy thought only had a very short half-life because the situation suddenly got much worse.

In engineering, Aali had quickly recovered and strapped herself into the acceleration couch at her work station to check for significant damage to any of the engineering systems?  What she first saw was some minor system failures and alarms from sections of the jump drive.  Working to lock that down, Aali quickly called to Munarshu, who had been working with some of the androids on the jump system resets, to ask him what happened in that compartment?  Aali didn't immediately notice when the junior engineer didn't answer, figuring he might be doing diagnostic work right at the minute.  So, she could wait while she worked, and soon tracked the damage to a pair of jump capacitors.  Alarms showed interrupted "pass through" readings.

Self-diagnostic systems within jump components were legion, because a component failure during preparation to jump had to be accurately discovered as quickly as possible, to let any ship dump the generated power without initiating a jump field.  Part of that were the pizo-electric currents running "pass through" tests of the connector bridges which linked all the jump capacitors to each other and to the main drive systems for both generating and discharging jump energies.  In this case, Aali could only best say that the connection seemed to have broken, and she couldn't get a status from one of the capacitors.  The other read 'fully discharged', but that reading showed "a wiff" of flux that she associated with a recent, high-powered discharge.

That wasn't supposed to happen with jump capacitors.  They were made of a special crystal, which not only held extreme levels of charge, but only released that charge at exactly the same pattern it had been fed to the capacitor, but at a faster rate.  The capacitors should only feed energy out and discharge energy in the slow steady feed the jump power governor managed as power flowed from the ship's power plant.  That would keep a steady and firmly controlled level of power flowing to the ship's lanthanum grid to properly and evenly maintain their jump bubble throughout the entire jump.  There was also a built-in power drain sensor on the last capacitor, which triggered the alarms warning of imminent transition out of jump as the overall jump power drained down.

Having that data, Aali started opening a comms to WALL-e while also calling out to Munarshu again, saying she had specifics on the damage and needed his attention.  When Munarshu still didn't answer this time, Aali figured it was something more than the various mental issues the engineer seemed to exhibit far too frequently.  Reaching WALL-e, Aali queried the android to see if it had a location on Munarshu.  The ping came back positive, and the android sent a video capture to her station board.  That showed the junior engineer down and out!  Hitting the 'all ship', Aali announced, "Medical emergency, Engineering, jump drive section.  Munarshu's down!  I need medical support!"

Hearing that on the bridge when things had looked to be calming down, Mikah figured she could be told what had happened while she was anywhere on the ship.  So, she told Emkir, Terin and Zimzod to keep her updated and started moving to the med-bay to get her kit and get down to engineering.  Zimzod stayed on the bridge as acting commander, in case anything else happened and they needed a command decision?  Rol joined Mikah when she left the bridge, having long since picked himself off the floor and with nothing to do until someone started explaining what happened, or gave orders.  Mikah nodded when Rol said he'd escort her, to be able to help if it was needed?  After Mikah left the bridge, Terin asked if someone shouldn't check the cargo bay because their camera was out and sensors couldn't do a detail read of a space inside the ship?

At the same time, Fesic called out that he had a sensor hit rising from the atmosphere of the gas giant!  While he spoke, Fesic ran his hands across his board and activated all the ship's weapon systems.  He also triggered a routine to load the ship's gunnery software into the main computer, which would take a bit of time.  But, after it loaded, he'd have sensor assist augmentation helping aim his fire.  The board gave no negative response, which would have meant there wasn'ot enough space in memory and some other program had to be dumped.  Continuing his reporting, Fesic gave contact bearing and distance with status outside contact range.  Annoyed at the limitations of civilian starship electronics, Terin wished he could force a response from the bogey's transponder.  That was something most Imperial military ship electronic suites had.

Still, his standard comms and sensors weren't receiving a transponder ping, meaning the other ship was running in the dark.  Something expressly illegal Imperium-wide, unless the ship was a system defense boat operating in the gas giant's atmosphere waiting for possible pirates or other criminal vessels.  In fact, Terin recognized this could easily be an SDB, rising out of the atmosphere to investigate the explosion of the satellite.  That meant he seriously had to figure out what this ship was before something went badly wrong.  Terin seriously wished Aiden were there to work his magic with the sensors.  Hearing Fesic's report on the all ship, Mikah asked, "So, who's not busy?" in a voice that showed her annoyance that everything seemed to be happening at once and no one seemed to be actually DOING anything but her.

Not getting an answer while Zimzod, Terin, Fesic and Emkir discussed responses, Mikah demanded that someone get on the comms and put out a distress call immediately!  At the same time, Fesic worked to get a tracking bead on the bogey with the ship's weapons while the software was still loading.  Mikah knew they were roughly two light hours out from Regina prime and had a small SDB base much closer, but didn't know the status of the squadron elements there.  Privately, she hoped this bogey Was an SDB.  But that would make her life a lot easier, so she was certain that wasn't the case.  Mikah followed up her order with instructions that whoever sent out the distress call include the explosion, the fact they had a medical emergency aboard and a request for immediate assistance.

Of course, the commander of any SDB which had seen the explosion might have seen a ship arrive and close on a satellite before the satellite exploded.  And that would look very much like an intentionally caused explosion which might be meant to draw a SDB crew into position to be attacked.  "That" chance would explain why any responding ship might approach with weapons hot and comms silent until they knew more and were ready to investigate with something other than their sensors.  Emkir and Terin moved from 'getting control of the ship' to beginning the chase after the sensor item which had been blown away from them in the initial explosion.  They did that while Fesic set up the distress call and set it to broadcast on a repeater.  While that happened and Mikah grabbed her med-kit and gone with Rol down to engineering, Zimzod decided to man a gun turret and be ready in case of combat.

In engineering, Aali had done a visual inspection of Munarshu's vacc suit and could see "burn marks" along some of the metal fittings.  A lifetime in engineering spaces told her the power discharged from the capacitors and arced to those metal suit components, and may well have used those to transit into the gooey bits of Munarshu inside the vacc suit.  So, he could have been fried.  Acting to do the basics, Aali got his vacc suit helmet off and checked to be sure he was still breathing?  When she saw he was, she checked for obvious embers or other signs of continued burning and waited for Mikah to arrive.  Soon enough, both Mikah and Rol found her and Mikah started to scan the engineer's wounds.

After a quick scan, Mikah saw Munarshu had been badly electrocuted and needed immediate treatment.  She could start treating him with the tools in her kit, but his recovery would take much longer than if she got him to the med-bay.  And, since they needed Aali in engineering, that meant Rol would have to help Mikah move Munarshu.  Calling to the bridge, they asked if anyone had the time to manage the grav-plates between where they were and the med-bay so they could just float Munarshu there?  Hearing the request, Terin was on it and called up an intra-ship control sub-system board to start changing settings.  When he did that, they got Munarshu up and started floating him out of engineering.

Decision Time

     Finishing with the gravity plate settings, Terin told Mikah and Rol to let him know when he needed to reset them?  Getting back to the sensor readings, Terin saw the query he'd started, to trace the orbital trajectory of the "flying bit", as they named it, would rise to an apogee over the next few days and then turn back towards the gas giant.  The math clearly showed it wouldn't last a week if not recovered.  And opinions differed on if the bit was something from the satellite or even part of the cargo bay door?  The "new question" was if the intruder ship was possibly interested in the flying bit or not?  At the same time, data on the intruder had resolved more and they could now tell it was some kind of 100 displacement ton vessel.  Sensors said it had a turret installed, so it was armed too.

Now more certain this was no "accidental tourist" mistakenly involved in their situation, Terin opened a broadcast channel the intruder couldn't miss, and set up a challenge to echo repeatedly until they chose to answer.  It played out, "Unidentified vessel.  This is the IMS Hotel California, deputized by the Government of Regina.  Identify yourselves and alter your vector to clear this space or you will be taken under fire."  While recording the message, Terin put into it every bit of military authority he'd ever learned to use in his entire career with the Scouts.  Terin's use of broadcast channels also made it certain any system defense boat crews would also hear what he sent.  Still tracking on ever more firm scanner data, Fesic still couldn't confirm if the intruder's course was actually bringing them closer to the California or not?

Still getting no answer from the intruder or any SDB's, it wasn't long before the math said the intruder seemed to be altering their vector.  More annoyingly, it clearly showed the intruder was lining up to intercept the flying bit from the explosion!  Without knowing what it was, the crew realized they were in a race with the intruder to recover the flying bit.  And while both ships closed on the item, they would also close to combat range.  While not closing "fast" with the intruder, Fesic was able to work out that they could be.  He announced a course change which would bring them into battle range if that was desired?

While Terin immediately voiced a preference to chase the flying bit and not engage the intruder, Emkirsaid that changing their vector to get the bit would also bring them into combat range almost as quickly.  Hearing that, Fesic called Zimzod and confirmed the XO had live tracking and ready weapons on the intruder.  After Zimzod said he did, Fesic said he was going to secure the bridge gunnery station and man their second turret.  Fesic also said he'd be stopping to get into his combat armor.  Hearing that, Terin passed all functions to Emkir so the navigator could also get into his vacc suit.  Leaving his boards, Terin figured he could manage the gravPlates for Mikah after he got back, since they'd get Munarshu to the med-bay first.

Both trained in zero-gravity operations, Mikah and Rol had been "swimming" themselves along the ship's passages guiding Munarshu's body.  Having made sure he wasn't going to die outright on the way to the med-bay, Mikah had Rol pause, from time to time to check on Munarshu's condition and took some actions she could from her med-kit.  What she saw told her the engineer wouldn't die, but might not get better without some of the gear in the bay.  Knowing that, she preferred to check his condition from point to point while moving him.  Finally, they got the man into the med-bay and secured him so they could remove his vacc suit and physically evaluate his wounds.  Still, when she announced they'd made it to the med-bay, Mikah also made it clear they still needed the gravity in the med-bay turned off until they got Munarshu out of his vacc suit.

Ironically, Terin was just leaving the bridge and was able to tell Mikah he'd take care of it after returning to the bridge while passing the not-yet closed door of the treatment room.  Checking his data, Zimzod saw they were roughly thirty minutes out of effective combat range.  Considering that gave him time, Zimzod waited until Fesic reported in and left his turret to put on his battledress.  With no one changing course as the ships closed range, it wasn't until five minutes before the fire line that everyone returned to their stations.  Mikah continued to treat Munarshu, who was now secured down to a treatment bed and Rol asked if he was needed?  When Mikah said she didn't need him, Rol planned to move to his stateroom, recover his gauss pistol and move to the cargo bay, to investigate the damage to that space from the satellite explosion.

After Terin returned to his seat and strapped in, the California got a message from the commander of the System Defense boat INS Solar Flame.  Lieutenant Commander Siarmu Aggana, reported they had the California on extreme sensor range, but his squadron were all out of place to help effectively for more than two hours.  His message clearly said the intruder wasn't a system defense boat.  Mikah had Terin route comms to her as she treated Munarshu, and confirmed the California had contact with an unidentified vessel and then had the flight crew attach their sensor readouts to the message.  Sadly, that wasn't much.  They knew the two deck, 100 displacement ton intruder had forward and aft voids on both decks and something that was likely a turret.  And, she was operating without an active transponder.

Mikah worked on Munarshu while waiting for an answer from the far-off SDB commander.  Munarshu had been burned by electrical arcs from the metal fittings which were key connector points on his vacc suit.  So, there were flesh burns near the wrists, base of the neck and on his back near his hips.  That damage was fairly easy to treat, spraying with antibiotics and antivirals, then cleaning with sterile cloths before applying regenerative enhancing salves and bandages.  The more significant damage was what the electrical shock had done to the body's own electrical systems.  Wanting to act quickly on that, Mikah's scan systems were still diagnosing what had been damaged?

Mikah tested his brain function along with every function of Munarshu's autonomic nervous system, from his heart beat and arterial functions to blinking his eyes if he were awake.  Mikah had to wait until she had data to work with, or she could make things worse.  While he was out cold, Munarshu's life wasn't immediately in danger.  A message from the SDB Lt. Commander soon came and authorized them to take any and all actions including destruction of the intruder, but cautioned them to recover as much data as possible toward prosecution of any captured persons.  Terin confirmed that and replied with a data packet containing all the information they had continued to gather on the intruder to that point, including course, thrust and attitude data.  Following that, Terin hit the intruder one more time with a warning message and hoped for an answer.

Finally, well enough within range to get a fairly detailed readout on the intruder from the sensors, the closest thing they could say was it was a very modified version of a fast transport.  It had very large engines and a lot of fuel, so it was built to move.  And, it had a dorsal turret amidships, with two barrels on it.  The very small cargo or passenger bay meant it had no room for munitions storage.  That meant the odds were good there were no missile or sand launchers in that turret.  The bad news was that the California had no defenses against lasers.  Still, the best defense was often a good offense and the crew of the California planned on being very offensive.

Mikah had already given the order to the gunners to open fire the second they were within range when Rol got to the cargo bay.  Readying his gauss pistol, Rol had moved to the port side hatch aft of the ship's equipment lift.  Before opening the hatch, he made sure the lift itself was sealed, so that no mistake would vent atmo through the lift shaft when he opened doors below.  After that, Rol opened the hatch down from the ship's lounge down into the jump drive section of the engineering spaces.  After lowering himself down, Rol secured the hatch up to the lounge and checked his situation.  Munarshu had been injured not far from where he stood, but everything was secure there now.  After verifying that, Rol confirmed Aali was in main engineering and notified the bridge before decompressing the jump drive engineering section.

Tip-Toe Through The Blast Zone

     After that, Rol opened the hatch into the cargo bay now that the pressure had been equalized and the iris valve would allow it.  Peering through the open portal before stepping in, Rol confirmed the bay was open to space, and he could see some of the twisted remains of metal which had once connected the bay door to the ship.  He could also see the stack that was the cargo sealer, but not if it was damaged, or anything behind it.  Understanding he could well be "in the bay" when the shooting started, if it did, Rol felt they had to know about any damage to that compartment in advance.  So, he very carefully pressed forward, sealing the valve behind him as he did.  Cautious, he activated his magnetic boot soles.  Loosing connection to the ship just before any maneuver, intentional or not, could send Rol flying out of the now-open bay with no chance of catching up to the ship again.  And, if there was shooting, they'd not have any chance to come back and look for him either.

On the bridge, Emkir had started plotting out "one-button" reaction maneuvers he had learned during the war, and programming them into the ship's maneuver and SMS systems.  That way, he could instantly hit a single control on his board and the ship's computer would carry out a precise set of maneuvers and thrust steps over an exact and pre-programmed time frame.  He also programmed in "kill" buttons, so he could kill a maneuver if their situation changed unexpectedly.  Terin called back to the gunners, asking them to give a "ninety second warning" before they violated the "no shoot" point.  That would let everyone get to some secure place before shit became real.  In the bay, Rol's first impression was, "singed", and there were many debris impact points, but it wasn't that bad.  While he moved, Rol started to see the edge of something else peeking out from behind the cargo sealing system.

Moving into the bay proper, Rol saw there were no wall breaches or other critical damage.  He also saw a cargo container, which turned out to be the one with Aiden's gear stored in it, and saw it was intact.  It was also obvious another container had been ripped from its moorings and was gone.  That would be their one dTon of speculative precious metals.  Also, having now seen every part of the bay, Rol could confirm that Petty Officer Kerbjir and all his gear were gone.  Including the replacement core.  That was yet another candidate for what the "flying bit" was?  Given the mechanical training he'd had, Rol was coming to think the cargo bay door had only been blasted off because it had been open and in a position to badly receive the force of the shock wave.

Shit Gets Real!

     On the bridge, Emkir and Terin watched the numbers while making ready to react to any attacks or damage received.  The software Fesic loaded into the ship's computer would "help" mitigate anything they did on the bridge and how it would affect the gunner's aim and fire.  Not for the last time, Terin wished Aiden were there working the sensor boards, but life was what it was.  Things they'd learned as they closed were that the intruder had powered up their weapons, but they didn't know if that had happened before or after Fesic had lit up the California's guns?  So, whose fault this was could still be argued, as could if "this" would happen at all?  Also, the intruder was in a corkscrew configuration.

That meant they were spinning on their "roll" axis, letting them aim their one turret in any direction and also providing that spot on their hull some cover from incoming fire.  It also meant Fesic and Zimzod couldn't easily target the turret itself, and would have to choose from "Nose" (Usually the bridge), Amid-ships(which could hit the turret) or aft(usually the engineering section).  Things tightened up and Zimzod talked with Terin about breaking up their two established batteries for independent barrel fire.  That would let them fire more continuously but with less 'target focus'.  But they would still hit more spots on the target than focused and single-target battery fire.  Still, firing with less focused targeting would do much less damage when hitting the target too.  So, they decided against it and maintained each turret as a single battery with each manned.  With each power recycle, they'd do more significant damage to anything they hit.

Then, the time for planning and talking was done.  The intruder fired the first beam and Fesic snapped off an answer.  Following Fesic's suggestion, Zimzod waited to stagger their fire, creating a more continuous flow of outgoing fire.  Of course, that put them at risk of losing a turret to weapons fire while its gunner was withholding fire and timing the stagger?  Targeting the nose of the craft, and assuming that targeted the bridge, Fesic then Zimzod fired in answer.  On the California's bridge, Emkir read the sensor report and made assumptions about the intruder's aim from how their first shot went wide before hitting some controls and sending the ship into evasive maneuvers.

While the intruder's first shot had gone wide, their answers struck true, with both beams hitting the intruder amidships.  Sadly, sensors said the hits had been on the target's ventral hull while that ship's turret was on the dorsal hull.  They also saw no appreciable change in the target's status or sensor details.  Both men waited for their weapons to recharge while Terin piped more detail both down to the gunners and out to everyone aboard over the all ship.  Thanks to both preparedness and possibly better engineering systems, California got her shots off first in the next exchange.  While Fesic's shot went wide, Zimzod hit the target amid-ships on her port side, and sensors indicated some outgassing from the hit!  Terin set himself to trying to find out if the hit was atmo or fuel?

In the med-bay, Mikah had finished doing what she could for Munarshu and secured herself instead of trying to move in the widely maneuvering ship where walls could suddenly swat you dead just for trying to move between them.  This was punctuated when the ship suddenly shook violently with return fire hitting them ventral-aft, in the decompressed section Rol had moved through to reach the cargo bay.  With that, Terin and Emkir saw yellow and red lights appear on their jump sub-system status boards.  In the cargo bay, Rol had been returning to the iris valve to the jump drive engineering section when the ship shook, and he'd suddenly lost connectivity with the ship!  Almost exactly as quickly, he pulled into an embryonic ball and hit a stud causing him to roll slightly before expanding his posture in a way only experience and training allowed.  The result was that he extended his legs down until the magnetic soles of his boots hit the cargo deck and stuck.  Rol had gotten Very lucky the deck hadn't pulled far away from him.

The rest of the crew watched or reacted to the intruder while Rol's "mission one" had become, "Get Back In The Damn Ship!"  Rol did move as close to the forward wall of the bay as he could, so he had the most 'ship' around him if something went wrong again.  He did that in the cargo bay while Fesic and Zimzod had managed to get their shots off first again.  They hit a fuel tank, identified thanks to the obvious outgassing of hydrogen, and hull section amid-ships.  Annoyingly, they traded more damage to the same section of the jump drive compartment that'd been hit before.  The ship shook with the damage and more lights went red in the engineering section and on the bridge.  It was now certain they weren't jumping home until repairs were done, if they could be done in the field at all?

In the cargo bay, Rol knew things weren't good but had no idea he was moving directly toward the intruder's apparent favorite target!  Still, he managed to hold tight and stay with the ship as he carefully moved toward the iris valve.  On the bridge, the computer had actually managed to tag the intruder for type and class!  While the starship had apparently been heavily modified, it looked like it had started life as a "Steed" Class personal transport.  For one thing, that class should have had aerodynamic wings on its sides, which were missing in this version.  Fuel tanks on those sides must have made the hull thicker where they'd been wrapped around the rest of the ship to maintain fuel tank volume.  It also meant their engines were proportionately more powerful, and could move them much faster than the California.  In a race for the flying bit, the California would lose.

Bouncing that to the gunners, Terin also packetized the data and send it to the SDB commander along with the sensor logs from the battle to date.  After the weapons recharged, the intruder got the next shot off first but it went wide.  A cheer was raised when they returned fire and watched the sensors for any results?  What they saw wasn't what they expected, when the sensor display suddenly flared and briefly blanked out before resolving back to the starscape...only, without the intruder!  There were moments of quick and brief confusion throughout the Hotel California until each of those watching sensors or looking for the target realized it must have exploded!  Fesic saw he'd hit hull in the micro-seconds before the blast, so it had to have been something Zimzod hit, but was at a complete loss for an explanation.  This happened while Rol got into the jump drive compartment and started grimly reporting the battle damage he was now seeing.

Having hoped for a prize ship out of the battle, Terin desperately searched for anything that might be a recoverable chunk of the intruder to grab, but found nothing on a vector they could match easily.  And, he saw nothing large enough to warrant burning some of their remaining fuel to re-target and chase.  Especially since they were currently on track to reach the flying bit and see what that was?  At best, it would be either their speculative cargo container or a piece of the exploded satellite which the government of Regina would pay for.  At worst, it would be a chunk of their cargo bay door.  The math said it wasn't likely the bay door, given how the shock wave had hit the door to separate if from the ship.

Having heard all the talk about things before the battle, and after Rol's report, Zimzod decided the flying bit might be their speculative cargo and hopped on the comms asking, "Can we get moving on getting our cargo back now?"  When Terin asked what he was talking about, Zimzod explained and Terin went with it despite the fact the math didn't support that guess either.  But, when Mikah doubled down that they should just get moving while Aali and the others checked out the battle damage, Emkir and Terin moved to up their thrust and commit them to the six-hour long chase.  Terin also sent an update to the SDB commander, saying they'd update their damage as they could but hoped to recover the unidentified sensor object before it was lost into the atmosphere of the gas giant.

After sending an update to the SDB commander, they also took the time to package the data and additional updates to send to Regina, which was two light hours away.  Securing from her station after confirmation the battle was over, Aali joined Rol in the jump systems compartment to see some rather large holes in the hull, exposing the compartment to space.  Worse, one of their jump capacitors was simply gone.  Of the next capacitor aft, only half the unit remained.  With a sinking heart, Aali realized they weren't jumping anywhere anytime soon.  Especially since the local base was an SDB base, and system defense boats didn't have jump drives.  So, they'd never stock spare parts for jump system repairs.  They weren't fixing this until they got back to Regina prime, or until someone came from there to bring them parts.  And, delivered parts would be even more expensive.

Of course, that assumed there were no other issues to deal with, and the big ass holes in the hull represented another of those.  If the lanthanum grid was substantially damaged, that would make jump either impossible or significantly dangerous.  Having seen what there was to "see", Aali started running diagnostics while asking Rol to locate and check on the androids, to see how they'd fared in the battle?  Rol moved off to hunt the androids while Zimzod told Fesic to take the bridge gunnery post and he took a rest break.  Like crews had during the war, Zimzod would take a few hours sleep and relieve Fesic, so he could rest.  That kept crews from working to exhaustion and dying of mistakes or collapse.  Terin also took over for Emkir so they could swap rest periods.

Mikah set an in-ear alarm piece to wake her and then injected some sedatives, to keep Munarshu out for at least the next day.  She then secured herself to a bed in the med-bay, to stay close to Munarshu, who was still out cold.  By that time, Rol had reported back on the location of all the androids and their apparent condition and gone to rest.  That let Aali run some tests and do some investigation on the 'droids, so she could multiply her own work values.  WALL-e was the first 'droid she checked and it had been in the main engineering compartment and was completely undamaged.  The number one engineering 'droid had also been in the main compartment and undamaged.  Androids number two and five had suffered moderate visible surface damage and number five had also lost some work arms.  Number four appeared only lightly damaged.

That was the good news.  The bad news was that engineering android number three was completely off line and had visually suffered heavy damage.  It lay there and Aali wasn't sure if it was worth anything more than spare parts?  Disappointed by the butcher's bill but happy it hadn't been as bad as it could have been, Aali set the working androids to investigate and diagnose damage to each other.  Her job design required each working android to run a full diagnosis of every other unit, so that inconsistencies would point out issues in the 'droid making the mistake.  She then routed WALL-e to handle system checks of the damaged jump drive, for her report to Mikah.  Then, Aali took a few hours off to sleep after rigging some alarms from the engineering computers to ring to her cabin and stent through a comm dot.

Discussing Options

     After everyone who could had gotten some sleep, and before those who waited would bunk out, Mikah woke, checked on Munarshu and then called a crew meeting.  Her first item of business was a report on Munarshu.  She said he'd recover and wouldn't be happy about it, but when was he ever happy?  Then, came Aali's report, which was now updated with the data from WALL-e and the other diagnostics she'd set to run.  From that, they had three issues.  Damage to the jump drives meant they were jumping "nowhere".  The hull punctures were a concern both for jump performance and for pressurizing compartments during repairs.  Finally, they had lost some fuel, but covering all their options showed that the fuel loss was meaningless.  Even worse, the repairs would easily cost over MCr 10 just for the jump systems alone!

Terin said they should call the SDB's and ask for help.  They'd gotten closer, but were still far behind thanks to the hard burns the California made to catch the flying bit.  Aali reminded him and them that ninety percent of the damage was to their jump systems, and SDB's didn't have jump drive systems.  They were spacecraft, not starships.  When Terin still pushed, claiming they could give hull plating, Aali reminded him those wouldn't have the lanthanum grid sections they'd need to have in their ship's hull plates.  So, the fix would be temporary, not proper.  And given that, the base commander wasn't likely to approve the use of his supplies for their needs despite the circumstances.

Rol asked, largely for confirmation, if the lack of a cargo bay door would affect their ability to jump?  The answer there was 'No and Yes'.  No, it largely wouldn't be an issue "usually", if the rest of the hull were intact and the rest of the system working correctly.  But, if they had jury-rigged the jump system to get it working, there were issues and variations of power flow already.  Add to that, the lost and damaged sections of the lanthanum grid thanks to the holes in the hull.  Adding the fluctuation in power values caused by the missing bay door to "that", and Aali said they might have a much larger problem.  One they might not be able to see until they initiated a jump bubble, so, too late!

When Terin asked how long it would take in real-space to just fly back, he was told it would take roughly three weeks and they had to lock down the numbers better.  Ironically, that was his job, along with Emkir.  It also brought a new issue, because they had just under four weeks of fuel left for their normal space systems.  So, they'd have to create a way to pump some of their spare jump fuel from their jump tanks to their maneuver fuel tanks.  Not too hard, but also not easy for a small crew with a damaged ship.  While it would delay them more, they could ask for help with that from the SDB base.  Mikah decided that was the best plan to go for after they'd recovered the flying bit and identified what it was?  Packaging all their data again, they sent updates to the SDB commanders, their base and Regina Prime.  Then, Mikah sent the second shift to sleep until they got close to the flying bit.

Rhylanor - Cloning Day

     The gestation period for Aiden Radetsky's clone finally resolved in a medical facility on Rhylanor as the pilot's new body was decanted and the staff began the process of cleaning and preparing it for a re-load of the man's most recent brain-scan.  While they worked, they hooked the body up to various tubes and sensors to support, check and examine this new version of Aiden's 18 year old body to be sure no flaw would cost them the money needed to re-gestate a new clone.  It was the client's job to destroy the newly created body in ways their malpractice insurance wouldn't be forced to cover after he returned to his recently interrupted life.  Soon enough, it was time to move him into the refusion chamber while other staff completed their checks of the electronics, data and file states to be sure they'd be loading the correct mind into the correct body without flaws or other actionable errors or mistakes.

After everything had been checked and double-checked, they were ready to finally download the client's mind scan into the waiting brain.  Some hours later, they removed the data crystal and began their tests before setting into the system a clean crystal and running a complete data scan of the body's newly loaded mind.  The newly minted Aiden Radetsky remained asleep while they ran comparison checks of the mind-files, to yet again double and triple check.  Finally, it was time for them to move him to a semi-private room and wake the client to begin full on testing of the clone.  Months ago, Aiden remembered the crew being rushed to prepare to leave the Rhylanor system.  Ms. Vik had left the ship with squads of battledressed troops sweeping the ship for her possessions while using extreme prejudice.  This happened just after the new guys had signed on and even picked up a passenger with a really weird name.

When Aiden woke, he realized he wasn't in his stateroom on the ship, or even possibly on the ship at all!  It appeared he might be in some kind of medical facility!!  Trying to understand his situation when he became aware of things, Aiden realized there were med-techs hovering nearby and possibly even a doctor.  The room he was in didn't look like an emergency treatment room or operating theater.  Still, there were a lot of high tech machines and gear with a number of wires and other items connected to various parts of his anatomy.  Trying to work out the exhaustion Terin still felt, his unexpected surroundings and his memories, he muttered "wha happen'd" to the best of his ability.  The voice he heard was "not his", and the way his throat felt told him part of the reason why?

It turned out the one he thought was a doctor actually was, and she stepped forward and said, "Mister Radetsky?  It may come as somewhat of a shock to you, you died.  Your insurance kicked in after that, and we have just completed the process of cloning you.  All Aiden could think of doing was to emphatically snarl, "FUCK!" as the medical staff let him take his time reanimating.  Assuming someone on his crew was responsible for his death, Aiden tried to get better control of his mouth and asked, "So.  Which bastard do I feed feet first into a wood chipper?"  After a pause, Aiden semi-growled "What now" and was told he'd have to work through rehabilitation.  To get his body moving, and start the process of training it to function like he remembered his original body doing.

They explained he'd be quite a bit weak until he worked the body out and got it moving regularly.  And, they added it would be some time before he was able to put significant effort towards running or other actual athletics.  After initial rehabilitation, he'd have to do longer term rehab and occupational rehab.  But he could do that in gyms or on exercise equipment aboard a ship if need be.  They did point out his new body was scar-free and biologically aged 18 years old.  Dealing with the most important items first, Aiden made sure his middle finger worked so he could salute those he wanted to show the proper level of respect to.  Sitting back after that happened, Aiden smiled as he said, "Good!  The important stuff works."

From there, Aiden was told there was a schedule of at least three days rehabilitation planned for him.  That would make sure he could move about as needed to handle his normal daily needs and to be able to travel if he desired?  They would also give him the on-going self-rehab programs they'd mentioned after they released him.  The doctor couldn't emphasize enough how important it would be for Aiden to push himself through the program and even more, if he hoped to get anything like his original lifestyle back.  That said, the doctor then said a third party had added a requirement to Aiden's care and they were required to tell him he had to report to the Office of the Duke's Seneschal the next day at 10 am.  She did apologize heavily, because none of the medical staff felt the timing was appropriate to what they expected of his physical abilities at that time.

When Aiden asked, "In what? A bucket?" in disbelief, he was told they'd loan him a hover-chair.  Aiden shook his head as best he could and moaned, "Oh, joy.  Rapture."  After that, the medical team spent the rest of the afternoon until an early evening meal working with Aiden to get him sitting up, moving all his limbs and even standing as robotic support units did most of the work.  Much of this work was "confirmation testing", verifying the joints and other structures of his body worked, even if at a very weak level.  Scanners were constantly taking real-time readings of internal processes, even when they finally sat Aiden down for his first, post-animation meal.  Of course, through the work, they did add more resistance when it was proper.

Allowed some small amount of personal time during the meal break, Aiden checked the xmail account he'd had while previously in the Rhylanor system and found he had mail.  Seeing that, Aiden started from the oldest item to the newest.  The newest piece had been sent from the Lanth system, and told Aiden to meet the crew in the Regina system, where they were bound.  There, they would be waiting in Zimzod's fief, in Atora, Regina's capital city.  While that thought initially buoyed Aiden's spirits because he remembered it as a friendly port for them, he also did the math.  That x-mail had been sent just over a month and a half before.  With three jumps from Lanth to Regina, the crew had to have had about a week there to make themselves unwelcomed.  And, he had at least a month of travel until he flew into whatever deathtrap they were busy creating at the moment.

Reading the earlier emails, it seemed they first expected him to be able to meet them in the D'Ganzio system.  That meant they'd been moving faster than expected, which made him wonder what they had been fleeing from?  Checking his accounts and other personal data, Aiden saw his accounts stood at Cr 572,453, which was easily Cr 20,000 more than he remembered having.  So, that would bear looking into.  His other credentials were available as expected on the Ident they presented him with, so he was fully able to manage his assets other than what he expected he'd find back on the ship when he met the crew in Regina.  He was annoyed he couldn't send for his custom snub pistol though.  That meant he'd have to buy the goods and gear needed for him to use while traveling to Regina.  And, he'd have to reach out to Traveller's Aid for help with that trip too.

Aiden also saw he had a notification from his insurance company, who wanted to meet with him at his earliest convenience and before he left the system.  Since his policy had paid out and closed, they wanted to discuss the final issues regarding that payment and his future insurance needs.  Checking his in-room assets, Aiden saw he had no clothes past the paper outfits universal to all major medical facilities where wood was present and paper available commonly enough.  This was the case in the Rhylanor system not because the entirely-arcology enclosed world had a dearth of lumber, but because of the amount of all goods imported to the system and shipped out to the worlds of the Spinward Marches.  He was assured he'd be issued a reasonably decent Cr 100 to Cr 150 value suit of Rhylanori fashion when he was ready to leave the facility.  In fact, he'd get his early, so he could go to the Seneschalate the next morning.

Considering that trip, Aiden used his in-room comms to call the Seneschalate and confirm he would be attending the meeting as scheduled.  When he said he didn't have a suit at the moment, they said that wouldn't matter.  In the time he had left before the evening staff came for his post-dinner physical therapy, Aiden did a small search for news of the Hotel California and the systems they had planned to travel through.  Results came up and he tagged them and moved on from things in-system, like the attack on the Selat Atrara platform, and ramshackle fleet, with the crew's involvement in those events.  Out of Equus, Aiden saw nothing at all that signified any activity related to his crew.

News from the Skull system did have small amounts of involvement by the crew in the early days of what appeared to be a large-scale armed insurgency that was raging on-world!  While the fighting wasn't blamed on the crew, it seemed they had been involved in some of the activities that brought the insurgents to light.  Since then, the Marquis of the system had been sacked by the Arch-Duke and significant units of the Imperial Army had been committed to the fight!  Some of the images he did see showed heavy combat and large-scale destruction in some cities.  After that, the crew would have moved to the Restin system, but Aiden again found nothing to suggest anything had happened there.  That led to the Lunion system, where data from the system's social news told the tale.

Coverage of the elevations of the crew in the Lunion system told Aiden they'd been roped into something on that world.  He also learned that the passenger he remembered, Fesic Anfertirkåsmokt, had become a member of the ship's crew!  For whatever they did, each of them had been given honor positions and created members of a planetary chivalric order by Duke Luis of Lunion.  The next news he found came from the Lanth system, where he learned the Hotel California had been called to the Regina system!  Beyond that, Aiden found no news hits, but saved all the stories he'd located into storage, to read while he was in-transit to Regina.  There had also been news about a terror attack destabilizing a mega-arcology that had nearly crashed down to the world of D'Ganzio-Prime.  Aiden thought that may have happened while the crew was in that system, but there was no word at all if the ship was even in that system at the time?  Still, Aiden saved it with the rest.

Answering The Summons

     After the evening physical therapy, Aiden dropped off to sleep soundly and didn't awake until they came for him very early the next morning.  The staff were wide eyed and perky, and had put away all the grav-assisted devices which made the work easier, because it was time to really get to it.  And it was early, to make up time he would lose when he went to the Seneschalate.  This session started with them getting him in a hospital coat and making him get up, start walking and actually working towards being completely self-mobile.  They even began work on inclines and some early work climbing stairs too.  And, as supportive as they were, they were also aggressive in 'making you put fucking effort into it you lazy ass fucking bastard!'  So, Yay supportive!

Eventually, there was a brief break for breakfast and then it ran into helping him shower, clean, shave and prepare for his appointment.  Then, they got him into a hoverChair and sent him off to the Seneschalate in a hospital-provided vehicle.  At the office of the Rhylanor Ducal Seneschalate, Aiden was greeted after identifying himself and congratulated on cheating the reaper after welcoming him back to Rhylanor.  The first thing they gave Aiden was a loaner comms, pre-populated with contact data for various Seneschalate offices.  They also said they could provide some levels of assistance in some areas.  Surprisingly, Aiden was told the comms was sponsored by his Chivalric Order, the Knight Defenders of the Marches.  So, the comms had their data programmed into it too.

Aiden was also told his "death" had triggered survivor's benefits from the Order, so he had a Cr 5,000 account available there.  He absorbed that while the Seneschalate officer told him that, in case the Order didn't mention it, the death benefits account only closed after the covered individual didn't re-animate.  That meant it would pay out if Aiden was cloned again in the future.  After that, they got to the real reason Aiden had been called in that morning.  He was told he would need a Court-appropriate suit by the next day, because he would be called into court, to be created a Ducal Courier.  Aiden reacted to that with his usual level of paranoia and was told the reason for this action was that he would be carrying data crystals to the Regina system.  Because of that, he was being deputized, giving Aiden the right to order a ship's crew to provide him passage for already scheduled jumps even if it meant forcing other passengers off the ship.  Aiden was told the deputation would lapse when he reached Regina.  Aiden was also told he had to pay for the passage in some way, which included any TAS-provided High Passages he had.

Aiden was then told the first crystal he carried would be delivered to Lady Mikah when Aiden arrived in that system.  When he was told the second was to be delivered to Seldrian Aledon, Duchess of Regina, that got a bit of a head snap.  Aiden actually had to ask what happened to the Arch Duke, since he'd still been the Duke of Regina when Aiden had died.  They said the ascension of the Arch Duke to the Domain triggered the succession.  In fact, checking the calendar, the official ceremony was scheduled to happen the very next day, in the Regina system.  Hearing that, Aiden almost felt pity for the crew and what they might be having to deal with for that.  Ironically, the crew were on the second to last day of their jump on a cake run job while Aiden considered feeling sorry for them.  Aiden was also privately terrified while the paranoia in his head painted scenes of the disasters they would likely cause.  Beyond that, time was spent going over the particulars of the courier work before Aiden was released to continue his preparations and rehab.

Done at the Seneschalate, Aiden called the Order House to ask if they could help him with a suit?  Expecting his call, the Knight who picked up the call told Aiden they'd made plans with the rehab hospital.  They were aware, and should have told Aiden, that he was going to be going to the Order house directly from the Seneschalate before returning to the hospital.  That said, he only had to glide his chair out to the car and tell the driver to take him to the Order house for them to help out.  Likeh the first trip he'd taken to the Rhylanor Order House, the massive tower loomed ahead.  The driver parked in one of the mid-tower gravCar access ports and dropped Aiden off into the waiting care of a team waiting for his arrival.

With the suit, for which they had 'scan and print' facilities Aiden had been through before, he was reminded they could help fill all his needs for the month to month and a half or more transit from Rhylanor to Regina.  Beyond travel toiletries and a grooming kit, Aiden bought or ordered five shipsuits, a wrist chronometer, two good suits, a snub pistol with 2 clips ball, 1 clip Tranq, 1 box gel rounds, 1 box rubber rounds and 2 empty clips with a hip holster, a sword and belt scabbard, a handheld computer, about Cr 200 of reader files on "TL 6 to A handguns across known space" and "light entertainment" on a data crystal, a cheap vacc suit with a 12-hour PLSS, a data crystal with a personal entertainment game package and a Cr 25 Duffle bag for luggage.

Aiden also remembered having bought a set of sealed combat armor on Rhylanor on Saturday 217-1112, after taking a loan from Mikah to do so.  But, he figured he'd likely have died in combat, so that suit may have been destroyed.  Expecting that, he ordered a new set of sealed combat armor.  That shopping spree cost him Cr 42,169 of supplies he felt he needed in order to safely get to the Regina system.  Technicians took all the scans needed for the suits and would come to the hospital to handle the alterations needed after the outfits were printed.  After that, the suits would be finished and delivered by midnight so he could choose one of them to wear into court the next day.

During the work, Aiden called TAS to ask for a High Passage, saying he'd need to meet up with his ship in the Regina system.  After taking his data, the concierge who answered his call promised to have a passage delivered at the rehab facility.  Calling the Scout base, Aiden was again, uncertain how he had died and wasn't sure if he still had a belt buckle?  If his body hadn't been recovered, he was sure he would have been wearing the buckle and it might have been lost.  The base services team offered to transport him to and from the base if Aiden wanted to replace his buckle, which would cost Cr 6,000.  Aiden was not happy about that, but wasn't concerned about the two hours it would take if he decided to spend the cash?  Aiden then returned to the hospital for more physical therapy.

The good news was that Aiden was finding his new body was responding, after only a little more than a day of therapy and moving around to meet at the Seneschalate and Order House.  While he wasn't moving very fast at all, much less running, Aiden was relying less and less on grav-Assist devices and other supporting technology.  Still, that only meant the therapy ramped up and pushed back with harder resistance while Aiden worked his way towards his dinner break.  During his break that evening, Aiden dug further into looking for secondary and side stories related to the news pieces he'd saved the other night from the D'Ganzio and Skull systems, downloading them to his new handcomp to read later.

After dinner, he went back into PT, which now started adding 3D work with staircases and other level-changing passages, even including ladders.  One question Aiden was concerned enough about to ask was his weapons marksmanship?  He was promised that, after he was back up to practice, his skills should all return.  Happy with that answer, Aiden dove into the work with a passion,knowing he'd get to sleep afterwards.

Facing The Duke And Installation

     Aiden found this morning especially hateful, because he was woken early to make up for the time he'd lose to the Duke's Court that afternoon.  Still, the first tests showed Aiden was actually doing pretty well, and was on track to be released from rehab sooner rather than later.  Not that he could stop working out any time soon, but they trusted he'd continue his workout regimen or devolve into an immobile mass of flesh and useless organs.  Aiden was also helped in checking out his suits, which were delivered late in the night.  Aiden was pleased at the results, and was assured they were each "barely" acceptable for a court appointment.  That was all he could hope for when he'd decided to underspend while shopping.

After that, the torturers moved in and the work started again.  Still, while they got closer to lunch, they slacked off to let Aiden regain his tone and composure while still doing some workouts.  Then, it was time to clean up and change into his suit before boarding a hospital-provided vehicle to go to court in.  After his early lunch and preparations, Aiden had holstered his new snub pistol and checked the hang of his sword scabbard so he could relax during the ride.  The one "special item" the suit makers insisted on was a small "capette" which Aiden wasn't pleased with, but couldn't remove in time for his court visit.  Aiden was annoyed the short length meant he couldn't properly furl and flourish it.

Despite all the challenges he'd faced, Aiden was greeted by the heralds and advised of expectations by the protocol people before being called into court.  Finally called into the Court of His Grace, Leonard, Duke of Rhylanor, and holder of many other titles, Aiden was greeted and led through the steps of being created a Courier of the Duchy.  This also meant an update to his Ident which would expire after he passed through HIC in the Regina system.  Aiden was then designated the specific mission to deliver a set of messages in the Regina system.  The first "message" was a small fully sealed and seamless metal box which was buffed metal grey and a bit more than the size of one hand.  The only distinguishing mark on the box was a glowing space for someone to place their thumb to read.  Aiden was told that was for Lady Mikah.

The second message was another box, to be delivered to the Seneschalate of Regina.  To Aiden's surprise, he was told the thumbprint on that box was coded to "Duchess Seldrian of Regina".  Accepting his charge, Aiden followed the lead of those in charge as he'd been instructed, until he was done.  After leaving the presence, Aiden had some questions for the Seneschals.  Most important, he wanted to know if they could securely hold the boxes until his physical therapy was done and he was ready to leave the system?  They were good with that, and set up the secure storage before giving Aiden a specific comms code to contact to pick them up at the proper time.  Next, Aiden asked if he could have access to those reports from other systems regarding the crew of the Hotel California?

Because that request was a very very broad and open ended one, Aiden was asked if he could be more specific?  Not realizing how open ended his request was, Aiden said he just wanted to learn about events they had been involved in?  Again, not seeing that this included, "the crew go to an amusement park and nothing happened", the seneschals did their best to inform Aiden he would need to specify "which" events?  Since they couldn't simply push a button and generate a report entitled "Anything Sir Aiden might find of interest".  They had to know what events he was interested in before they could even see "if" they had reports?  When Aiden said, "Well, Skull and D'Ganzio, for starters." he was told they did not have any data on the crew from D'Ganzio.

When Aiden accepted that, they offered him what they did have from the Skull system, which they didn't tell Sir Aiden would likely be nothing more than news clippings he could get himself.  But, with a complete lack of specifics, where it appeared the Knight simply assumed they would glean the specifics he needed with nothing but generalities, there was no reason to kill themselves without a more coherent request.  The seneschals did ask Sir Aiden why he had questions about the crew in the D'Ganzio system?  Aiden said he'd seen a report that something had happened there while he guessed his crew had been in system, so he was curious what he could learn?  After agreeing to check, they said they could download those to his handcomp when he came to pick up the boxes before leaving the system.

Before Aiden could return to the hospital and his PT, he was told his insurance company had been increasingly interested in speaking with him.  When Aiden asked if they wanted him to call them, he was told they preferred he physically visit them before returning to the hospital.  That said, the seneschals told him they were providing transport to the insurance offices from Leonard's court.  After he accepted that and arrived there, Aiden began an apology which was waved off since they'd been notified of events.  Aiden was settled and they congratulated him on his re-animation.  The first orders of business were to have him sign papers certifying he had been re-animated as contracted, was being cared for post-cloning as contracted and the company was covering every bill related to the expense of cloning and rehabilitation.  As contracted.

Following that, they brought out even more documents and covered with him the fact that the policy had matured and was now closed.  Next, Aiden confirmed he still had a "fully functional" stent and they assured him he did, and encouraged him to take the classes still in his possession or able to be bought to learn how to better use the device.  Aiden then asked about opening a new policy to be cloned in the event he died again, in service of his crew?  Nodding, the agent smiled as he said, "Sir Aiden, I am sure you understand we have a much better understanding of your crew and your activities than we did when we first underwrote your initial policy.  That said, this more complete data provides for a much more significant risk category into which you and your ship mates fall.  And that has an effect on the cost of a new policy.  Aiden didn't like the direction the conversation had started to take.

When Aiden was told the rate would be "significantly higher" and asked, he was told the company's interests also included consideration they'd had to pay out the previous policy so quickly.  Then, Aiden was told the policy they would like to offer him would cost MCr 10, paid over forty years, especially given his newly restored youth.  When that came down to, 'how much do I have to pay now?', the agent did some math and told Aiden that, with fees and other costs, he would have to pay roughly Cr 21,000 monthly or Cr 250,000 per year exactly.  To say the least, this staggered Aiden, who had paid Cr 500 per month as a simple merchant ship crew member.  Of course, the members of simple merchant ships don't tend to rush into crisis situation and armed combat at the beck and call of high nobility as troubleshooters either.  Especially dying only six months into the policy.

Aiden looked at the man's most endearing smile and the thought ran behind the pilot's eyes that the agent was paid on commission.  So, of course he was smiling.  When Aiden tried to play the, "Is there a discount because I'm doing this for the Imperium" angle, he was told this was insurance and patriotism didn't pay their bills.  If it did, then every military member of the Imperial Armed Forces would have a cloning policy on enlistment as a standard measure and no one who died in combat would be lost.  But, since the Imperium wasn't paying their bills, there was no discount.  The agent did recommend that Sir Aiden bring the request to the Duke or Arch Duke and see if they were willing to pay for the policy?  Thanking the agent, Aiden said he would have to consider the cost and contact them in the future.

Finishing up with the insurance company, Aiden was back in his ride and back to the hospital for continued physical therapy.  Before they started up again with Aiden, they told him they'd be putting him through a battery of test to measure his progress against being able to release him!  They felt he was making excellent progress in the basic needs of being able to handle himself in society.  This didn't mean he was going to be doing anything "really" stressful outside pushing his body to improve.  Nor would he be nearly back to what he considered normal, he could function at a basic level.  From there, they worked him hard to make up for the lost time before his dinner break.  Then, more PT until it was time to sleep.  What little spare time he had, Aiden spent watching news and then an entertainment vid.  He'd wanted to read a bit but didn't have that time.

Setting The Line

     This morning started with a surprise, when Aiden's medical team actually let him sleep in a bit and start his therapy after they'd served him breakfast.  Rather than seeing the gesture for what it was, Aiden couldn't help thinking, 'So, they want me to throw up'.  After the food, they got moving with the tests and even the team doctor stayed to watch every step of that.  When it was done, the doctor said Aiden had made excellent progress and was doing very well.  Sitting down with Aiden after tests, the doctor said he could request discharge and should be able to get along, with appropriate care and rest breaks.  Not the ringing endorsement Aiden had hoped for.  That said, Aiden was offered the right to end the therapy or to continue.  Given how much the doctor said he'd need to do on his own if he walked out that day, Aiden decided to keep the therapy going.

Friday started similarly, and with even more improvements.  This time, the doctor actually said he'd feel comfortable releasing Aiden but would also understand if the spacer kept the therapy going.  Aiden couldn't tell if that was because he really cared about a complete job or if he knew the job was done, but also knew the cloning insurance would pay for extra days.  To be honest, Aiden wasn't feeling charitable at all towards the insurance company either.  So, when the doctor offered him the choice, Aiden reviewed that he wasn't more than barely able to walk fast.  Because of that, Aiden decided he'd stay for one more night, and counted on signing himself out the next day after at least a morning of tests and more PT.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

     Aiden: Everyone but Aiden: Aboard the California after a chase of the flying bit, preparing for ID and capture

     Aiden: On Rhylanor: Morning of his last day in rehab before booking passage to Regina

Next: Blasted And Re-Assembled