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The End Of This
    Ride


The Morning Before

INS Regiona's Storm     After a week of interesting highs and lows, the crew sat around the suite's dining room table sharing breakfast.  Zimzod had returned from his "vacation" the day before, and Rol had learned on Thursday that he wouldn't be facing legal charges over his war record.  So, after taking his deposition over the charges against Sir Jeremy, Rol had been told he was free to leave the system.  On that note, Mikah said she'd been told they would be getting back the repaired Hotel California on Sunday, and they were cleared to leave Regina too.  More than that, Mikah was told it would make tracking down and killing the rumors about them much easier for Regina's law enforcement if they left the system sooner.

Before they left, Mikah said she had to finish her shopping, and most of the crew knew she was hunting the ingredients to make more vargr juice.  Since they were not getting the Hotel California back until the next day, she had the time.  Mikah also decided she needed a pair of gyrostabilizers for her laser carbine and her "new" gauss rifle.  As she said that, Terin asked if they planned to go to Instel-Arms or the warehouse?  Mikah said, "The warehouse" and Aiden asked if that was the place he'd gone shopping?  Mikah told him it was and Zimzod said he'd go shopping with her.  So, the couple finished eating and got ready to go out.

As Mikah and Zimzod were leaving, Emkir and Aali told the group it had been Emkir's birthday two days before.  Mikah admitted it had been her birthday twenty days before and would be Zimzod's in four days.  Wanting to leave that conversation behind, Mikah and Zimzod went to grab the smaller of the rented air cars and get out to hunt down the last ingredients she needed.  That took her most of the morning and cost her Cr 100 before they stopped for lunch.  After that, they planned to go to the weapons warehouse so she could buy her gear.  While Mikah shopped, Zimzod did his best to find actual coffee, but was disappointed each time.

After Mikah and Zimzod left, Aali and Emkir finished their breakfast and decided to hang out in the suite and relax for their last day before getting back to shipboard life.  Rol decided he'd have to start looking into specialized gear in order to explore the worlds and moons of the Sonthert system.  What he saw was that the worlds he and Terin had been interested in were far enough from the system's primary that the average temperatures of those worlds were worse than arctic.  The average temperatures on Laurasia centered around -152 degrees C, on Mynbou, it was -266 degrees C and on the "water world" of Oseaan, it was -149 degrees C.  So, most of Oseaan's surface was a global ice cap of frozen chlorine, broken periodically where the peaks of submerged mountains pushed through.  Not someplace anyone was going for a dip in the surf!

Rol realized he'd have to check out hostile environment suits, because those were conditions that would destroy the average vacc suit and would even damage armor made to survive in space.  A basic suit was hardened and proof, for up to fifty hours, against corrosive environments, and even less than that against insidious environments.  The basic suit only had six hours of air, and no food or water even though there was room in the suit to bring a snack bag.  Spending more credits got more functions, including more air and better internal feeding and support systems.  Adding even more credits added better sensors and other "services".  Especially for the more intense environments like the worlds they wanted to check out.  Eventually, Rol found a nice balance for Cr 50,000 each and saved that information, to talk about with Mikah when she got back.

Still, Rol did detail the information on the suits, which were not "person specific", and which he could adjust using his armorer skills.  From the basic unit, the more expensive unit had increased resistance to corrosive and insidious environments, which were standard adds as the cost rose.  Past that, this version had an internal computer and communications system.  That could be linked to a basic network which would allow the installed and improved sensor suite to track each suit "in the network" in the event of an emergency.  Rol saw the suit could be optimized for hyper-arctic conditions and could also mount an arm-mounted heat probe to melt off ice.

While Rol spent the morning researching and shopping, Aiden went to the building's gym to do his physical therapy.  He also spent time after that wading in the pool, given his understanding of swimming.  Terin had gone for a run before his breakfast, then spent his time on his computer studies.  Fesic decided he would spend a few hours before lunch working on his lock picking course before switching to his college work until after lunch.  Soon enough, Aiden, Emkir, Aali, Rol, Terin and Fesic had lunch in the suite while Mikah and Zimzod spent Cr 20 each on lunch out.

After lunch, Mikah wanted to visit the warehouse, to buy gyrostabilizers for her weapons.  While they were there, Zimzod asked about weapons lockers and fireproof ammo boxes.  The sales people there were happy to show Zimzod what they had and discuss the different methods they could be installed.  Because the staterooms of each crew member were rapidly being filled by their collected gear and toys, Zimzod had to consider setting up lockers along the back wall of their cargo bay.  Soon, Zimzod agreed to spend Cr 750 to have the lockers and parts delivered, uninstalled.  Zimzod figured the crew would build out the lockers while in jump.  As Zimzod set that up, Mikah bought a pair of weapon-mountable gyrostabilizers for Cr 1,000 total.

Finishing lunch, Mikah suggested she and Zimzod see a movie.  Zimzod said, "Let's see something smutty." with a smirk on his face.  Mikah laughed as Zimzod said, "It's gotta have a little action in it, though."  Mikah smirked back as she said, "Then it won't be porn, because you won't get any action in that."  Zimzod agreed and they went off to find out what was playing?  At the same time, Aiden had finished lunch and figured he needed to replace his casual wardrobe.  So, he went out to find a local shop and see what he could buy?  Eventually, after finding clothes to his taste, Aiden spent Cr 300 on a week's casual clothes.

While Aiden was buying more gear, Rol spent some time considering what he didn't need before packing his new stuff into the ship.  Returning to the ship, Rol considered selling off his vacc suit, in favor of his sealed combat armor, but realized he could not wear the armor in zero-atmosphere civilian settings.  Looking over the rest of his gear, Rol realized he'd developed a collection of three six-shot snub pistols between the two he'd owned and the gift from Duke Luis of Lunion.  He also had a survival knife he felt he no longer needed and still had the unsealed combat armor he'd replaced with the sealed suit.  So, Rol packed that gear up and went out to Instel-Arms to see what they'd pay for it?

The arms dealers welcomed Sir Rol in and appraised what he'd brought.  They were honest to tell Rol the knife wouldn't likely get him more than a few credits, so Rol figured he'd keep that.  They offered him Cr 100 each for the pair of snub pistols, and Cr 5,000 for the unsealed suit of combat armor.  After Rol agreed to the prices, they transferred payment to him and he went back to the suite to do some calisthenics.  When he got back, Rol found that Emkir and Aali had decided to throw an impromptu birthday celebration for Mikah, Zimzod and Emkir, himself.

Brewing A Party

     Emkir and Aali had gone through the remaining fifty bottles of booze they still had aboard and found the four best bottles they could for the event.  When he'd first discussed the idea with Fesic, soon after lunch, the gunner said, "I'll order the cake" and started hunting on line with the butler's help to find someone who could deliver one by dinner time.  When Aiden got back to the suite, he nodded to the news before checking for a contact link to the local TAS facility.  With that, he called and set up to have a new High Passage delivered.  He'd decide what to do with it later.  After that, he paid more attention to Emkir's party idea.

By then, Fesic was in the process of ordering a "very elegant" cake and a delivery of chocolate and vanilla ice cream.  Terin wondered if Fesic was helping plan a kid's birthday party or something elegant?  Considering the crew for a moment, Terin realized it would not matter either way.  Rol decided to order three Cr 2,000 gift cards with birthday greetings printed into them.  One, Rol had printed specially with the image of an FGMP-15 on it, specifically for Zimzod.  Along the same lines, Aali had looked to see if he could get an inflatable FGMP-15 toy, but found she'd not be able to get one delivered in under a week.  But, with the ship lifting off well before that, she didn't have the time to wait.

Checking the mass marketers on Regina, Aali was able to find a "large variety" soaker type ty gun shaped like an FGMP-15 in a collection of toys meant to celebrate the Imperial Marines who'd fought off the Zhodani.  Aali found she could order one to be delivered the next day, so she had to make due with printing out a page until the toy got there.  That cost her Cr 25.  Fesic had finally settled the cake and ice cream for Cr 350.  Aiden had gone online and ordered party hats and favors, streamers and other decorations.  Aiden also quietly ordered a set of "special gifts" for the three birthday victims.  Quietly, Aali had spent Cr 10 on some ribbon and a bow, for Emkir's "gift".

For Emkir, he spent Cr 20 on an electronic copy of the Kama Sutra and a Cr 50 first aid kit.  For Zimzod, Aiden ordered a pound of whiskey flavored ice cream costing Cr 30, and for Mikah, he spent Cr 25 on a 1,000 tablet bottle of pain killers.  Beyond that, he spent Cr 75 on "quality" party favors and having them delivered.  Seeing that, Emkir got an evil idea and ordered an antique-looking Cat-o-nine-tails to give to Mikah.  That cost him Cr 100.  Having bought his gift cards, Rol set about working with the butler to set up a music track for the evening, and get speakers setup by the building staff.  Terin finished up his studying and went on line to have three sets of "select teas of Regina" delivered for Cr 100 each, which he planned to give as gifts.

By the time the movie Mikah and Zimzod saw ended, it was mid-afternoon and he decided he wanted to buy Mikah a gift.  So, he took her to a dress maker, to have a gown made.  Because this gown would also be a gift for Zimzod, he said she should have something "slinky" and sexy made.  Mikah selected an emerald green, shimmering smooth fabric like silk.  Mikah made sure she explained what kind of slinky sheath dress she wanted, with the fabric fitting close to the skin.  She also explained that she expected it to flow and not be "clingy".  She also wanted the gown to be sleeveless and backless, with a neckline showing cleavage but not plunging.  The merchant offered the dress for Cr 400 before Zimzod made it clear they would wait for the dress that afternoon.  Still, the dressmaker honored the deal as they waited.

Realizing they needed to get Emkir gifts, Zimzod stepped out of the shop while the work was being done, and got a Cr 200 gift card for Emkir.  While he was out, Zimzod also got Mikah black fishnet stockings to wear with the gown while, in the shop, Mikah was ordering Spiked black pumps on Zimzod's card, to go with the gown.  Along with the pumps, Mikah checked the city's merchant web for a high-end cigar shop that delivered.  From them, she ordered Zimzod a humidor and six boxes containing a variety of cigars.  The humidor cost Cr 150 and the six boxes of cigars cost Cr 100 each.  Each box held 25 of a specific kind of cigar.  With her order, she paid for delivery to the suite.  Then, she ordered two bottles of wine for Cr 100 each, one red and one white, for Emkir, and also set them to be delivered.

With their shopping, and the gown, done, Mikah and Zimzod returned to the suite.  On the way, Zimzod got a call from the warehouse, asking where to deliver the weapons locker gear?  He remembered the ship was still being worked on, so Zimzod said he'd call them back.  Then, he called the engineers working on the ship and made sure they could oversee the delivery.  After working things out with them, Zimzod called the delivery service back and told them to put the supplies in the ship's cargo bay.  Still, when they got back to the suite they were surprised to walk up on a bit of a line, formed at the door.  And the people in the line were delivery people!  Mikah noted that one was obviously Zimzod's cigars and humidor.  But, Mikah wondered, who were the others?  And Zimzod had no reason to expect anything to be delivered to the suite. 

Making their way past the delivery people, they noticed most of the stuff being handled was gift-wrapped.  The cigar shop delivery man had a "follower" robot behind him which carried the humidor and cigar boxes, and Mikah had to think to herself, 'Wow, that came fast!  Zimzod only stood and eyed the goods.  Zimzod and Mikah walked into a suite mostly decorated for the coming party.  Looking around at the others there, Mikah asked, "So, what's up?"  Before anyone else could answer, Rol said, "We're celebrating that Munarshu isn't around anymore!" and got laughs from almost everyone in the room.  Without missing a beat, Zimzod answered, "Damn!  If I knew you guys were doing this I would have had a picture of him printed out so we could play pin the tail on the jackass!"  That got even more laughs.

After Mikah and Zimzod got back, the rest of the deliveries were received and the party shifted into high gear.  Other than Aali's "special gift" for Emkir, and the FGMP-15 toy which would be delivered the next day, each of the crew stepped up and gave out their gifts to Emkir, Mikah and Zimzod while Rol played DJ.  Aali did give Zimzod a picture of the toy that would arrive the next day.  Mikah was quite pleased when Emkir played up his gift of the cat-o-nine.  Rol said, "May you all get what you most want" as he handed out the gift cards.  Aiden got laughs with his presentation and the whiskey flavored ice cream he gave Zimzod got added to the party food.

After that, Mikah gave Emkir the two bottles she'd ordered for him.  Thanking her, Emkir reserved the bottle of red while having the butler open the white wine and put it with the other bottles to share.  Next, Zimzod gave Emkir his gift card and Fesic announced the cake and ice cream were his gift.  Terin stepped up next, handing each of the three a collection of the Teas of Regina, which he'd bought for them.  As he did, Terin specifically said to Emkir, "This should help your arm with the healing."  While Mikah and Emkir thanked him, Zimzod asked Terin, "What?  You couldn't get coffee?"  Hearing that, Mikah broke out laughing.  As the rest joined in on the laughing, Terin made a face and said, in a voice of disgust, "Eww.  Never drink the stuff."

After that, the presents were set aside or taken part of as the party went on into the night.  As things relaxed into fun, Mikah went into her bedroom and changed into her new gown, coming out to wow the crew.  She also made sure to show up carrying the cat-o-nine she'd been given too.  The drinking started and Terin and Aiden made the conscious decision not to get too drunk.  Mikah and Zimzod didn't choose not to get drunk but they also didn't plan to stay in the living room too late because there was a brand new gown Zimzod wanted to drop on the floor of a bedroom.  Similarly, Aali had to "get ready" so Emkir would see her wrapped in a ribbon and strategically wearing a bow when he came into their bedroom.


Getting Ready To Go

     As everyone woke, on their own or to an alarm, they came out to a bit fancier a breakfast than they'd gotten used to.  The special meal was explained by a card set on the table that congratulated the crew on being short one member.  Having been one of the three to get up earliest, Aali knew they'd be getting the ship back around noon that day.  So, she decided to start packing things up and preparing to move out of the suite, which woke Emkir sooner than he would have woken.  Rol also started packing after breakfast.  Mikah wrote notes as she ate, planning to have a crew meeting when everyone was awake.

Aiden had woken next, and Mikah also started packing what he could as she waited for the others to wake.  But, she tried tno to wake Zimzod.  Seeing that everyone else was getting ready to move back aboard the ship, Aiden joined the packing crowd.  Once Zimzod and Fesic woke, they saw the way things were moving and figured it was time to get things done.  Fesic started a load of laundry, to keep things clean before he packed up.  Zimzod just looked to join in packing while those who had already packed were able to relax and watch the news or vids until it was time to do something else or move.  Seeing everyone was up and had eaten, Mikah called a crew meeting.

With everyone's attention, Mikah said, "OK.  So, we're gonna be leaving soon.  Probably not today, but in the next day or so.  But we have to decide where we're going, what we need before we go there, and decide to come up with a game plan.  When Sonthert was brought up, Terin got everyone's attention.  He told them, "Since the ship is not jump-4, we can't go straight to Sonthert.  The closest system to Sonthert which is on our way is the Ghandi system.  To get to Ghandi, we'd have to jump through the Plume, Denotam and Calit systems.  Then, we can jump to Ghandi and then to Sonthert."  In the pause, Emkir brought up delivering Zach's body and dealing with Brian's books.

Mikah reminded the crew they'd been told by Duke a'Plena of Vilis that his people had traced Brian's parents back to the Wypoc system.  That meant they were either there or had left there more recently.  Nodding, Terin said that was a single two parsec jump from Regina and easy to get to.  But, he pointed out, if they did that, they'd then have to jump from Wypoc to Plume before heading to Sonthert afterwards.  Still, everyone agreed that going to Wypoc first would be better because it could lead to a lot of money.  And, it would finish things off with Brian's books, one way or another, so they wouldn't have to get all the way back to Wypoc later, to finish the job.  After that and Sonthert, they could continue to the Five Sisters Subsector and drop off Zach's remains.

Agreeing, Mikah still wanted to figure out what they needed for the Sonthert job and stock up before leaving the system if they could?  That said, everyone turned to Rol and Terin because they'd been the one's responsible for researching the locations in the Sonthert system which might have the base that "might be there".  When they started talking, Rol and Terin explained that they'd learned a good deal more about the specific worlds they'd first briefed the crew on before.  They had first covered Lauasia, Oseaan and the moon, Sonthert I Theta See.  Terin had also brought up the moon "Theta Ee" and they had both brought up the mining colony on Vlei.

The big questions were mostly, "Why are there space ports on worlds no one lived on?" and "Why is it no one lives on these worlds where the basic data says they might be earth-like?"  And Rol and Terin had found the answers to the second question first.  Working even deeper into the data they had and launching some of the simulation files that came with the data, they learned that the worlds, and moons, were so far from the system primary that the climates on those bodies were all hyper-arctic.  That meant not only that they could not explore them with standard cold weather gear, but that they should not explore them even with vacc suits or combat armor!  In fact, if they were to leave the interior of the ship or cutter, they'd need hazardous environment suits.

When that came up, Rol told Mikah about the what he'd learned of the suits.  Mikah then considered the cost and asked how many people they would need to explore?  The crew discussed that for about ten minutes before the idea was that they'd need a three or four-man team.  Mikah jumped into that, saying Aiden was their pilot and sensors.  And Aali was their engineer.  She, herself, also saw no value in her going.  Emkir might still be healing too.  So, that meant the initial team would be Rol as "security" with Fesic for technical support and Terin and the "scientist".  So, they'd need four suits for an exploration team.  "And", Mikah added, "They'd need a fifth suit for someone to wear if they needed to mount an emergency rescue."

When everyone nodded, though not everyone liked their role or lack thereof, Mikah nodded and said, "OK.  So, we have to buy and have delivered five suits at Cr 50.000 each."  After making sure everyone was up to speed, Mikah told Rol to order the suits and use ship's funds to pay for it.  Rol nodded and went to comm Instel-Arms and order the suits.  Calling Instel-Arms first, Rol confirmed with the representative what they wanted and was told they would check and re-contact him when they confirmed their inventory and ability to deliver.  Then, Rol called the warehouse.  Both contacts gave him the same answer, and he returned to the crew saying they'd call him back.

While Rol had been making his calls, Fesic asked if Mikah wanted him to check out both carrying XMail, since they'd be jumping to Wypoc, and look for cargo to that system?  Fesic also brought up looking for repair or replacement parts for the cargo sealing system.  He wanted to know if they were going to consider spending a lot of cash to repair the system or try to sell off what they had instead?  When Mikah questioned how valuable having the system was, she was reminded that many systems with lower tech levels won't have cargo sealed to interstellar standards.  She was also reminded they could charge for that as a service.

When Emkir said they'd need it if they wanted to check inside any cargos, to make sure the shipper was being honest, Mikah very firmly said, "We're not doing that anymore!!" though she didn't make it clear if she meant 'checking' or 'carrying questionable cargoes'?  Mikah did suggest what she meant by following that up, saying, "The next person who does that will be shot.  No questions asked." in as firm a voice.  Shifting back to the sealer, Mikah said, "If we're going to have it fixed, you're gonna have to find out how much it's gonna cost us to get the parts here?"  Fesic said he'd get on that and also look into checking the x-mail and finding cargo for the Wypoc system.

Getting back to the Sonthert system, Terin also added to what they had discussed with data he'd worked out for the worlds they were interested in.  He said he'd dug into their orbital locations and likely distances from each other.  Because they were in the outer-most orbits, they were likely to be from a week to a month apart.  That meant they'd have to plan to land or travel to where they could pick up hydrogen again after each stop, even if they had to purify it.  That was a concern because a month in flight could tap out their normal space fuel and threaten their life support.  So, that was something else to consider.

Terin's best recommendation was that they would be making a lot of micro-jumps in the system once they knew when they'd get there and what the orbital positions of each world and moon would be?  Mikah agreed with that, and asked Terin if he and Rol had looked into where that would be on each world, but Terin said the files didn't have that much detail on the surface of the worlds they planned to explore.  Especially the world that was likely covered in frozen chlorine.  So, they needed to do more research on water sources in the system.  About then, the suite's comms buzzed and Rol was told it was the warehouse calling.

Getting on the line with them, the rep confirmed the warehouse only had two suits they could gear up as the crew wanted, and deliver later that day.  Rol asked them to hold and updated Mikah on that.  Worried Instel-Arms might also have an issue with their order, Mikah looked at the clock.  She realized they'd have the ship back before the delivery could happen, so she told him to order the two suits to be delivered to the ship for testing before they paid.  The warehouse representative agreed to that and they cut the line.  In the meantime, Mikah had more to think about and they all had to pack up and clean out before they got the ship back.

Getting Organized And Gearing Up

     It was just after noon, as they sat waiting and watching the vid, that the call came saying they could have the ship back from the engineers.  The butler was able to drive them all to the port in the larger of the air cars they'd rented as a "last ride" before she returned to the building and turned in the vehicle for them.  Staffers at the building helped them load all their gear and packages into the air car, and they were passed by port security without having to land for an inspection.

Settling down, Mikah told the others to move all the gear into the open cargo bay while she and Aali dealt with the engineers and did a final inspection.  Emkir and Fesic also had to take it easy as they were both still recovering.  While that work went on in the background, Mikah had the lead port engineer take her and Aali through the repairs.  Part of that did delay the ship loading process as Aali performed some function tests on the new cargo bay door.  Zimzod also saw the pallets with the gun locker and ammo boxes loaded up in the cargo bay.  While that gear would not take up as much square cubage, it took up enough floor space that they'd lose another ton of cargo carrying capacity, so he pointed that out to Fesic.

Fesic nodded, but was disappointed because that reduced their carry capacity to only six tons.  Soon enough, Mikah and Aali signed off on the repairs and everyone was told to get their gear moved into their staterooms.  Aali activated the androids to help move gear, especially for Fesic while Emkir helped her as much as he could to move their stuff.  As part of the process, Mikah and Rol checked the food stores, which were well stocked enough for the trip to Wypoc.  Mikah was also told by the port that they would be refueled when they were ready and only had to notify the port when they planned to lift? 

After Fesic had all his gear situated and checked on the gear which had stayed aboard the ship, he went to the cargo bay to get more details on the cargo sealer system and the modules which needed replacing.  He saw the two damaged modules were rack-mounted, "slide in and out", pressure-fit units which could be identified by their module numbers.  While Fesic did that, and after he and Aali had settled their gear, Emkir met with everyone on the ship and told them to check their vacc suits and the support gear for them.  He suggested that if anyone had any needs, they could make one last order before leaving port.  On top of that, Zimzod told everyone he was ordering them all vacc suit patch kits.  He had Rol call the warehouse and order eight kits, each of which came with five patches.  The warehouse said they could give them the eight kits for Cr 70, which was a discount.

Fesic checked the module data on the cargo sealer components and then got about his work.  A call to the X-Mail office told him that they would load two tons of xmail cargo into their safe if the ship could confirm it would lift inside the next three days.  Fesic checked with Mikah and then confirmed they would be lifting in two to three days and was asked for their berth information so the cargo could be delivered.  He gave them that data and was told the cargo would be loaded later that day.  That would be Cr 10,000 for carrying the two tons to Wypoc.  After clearing that call, Fesic logged into the Credo-Down port cargo system and listed their ship as able to carry six tons to Wypoc and open to consider speculative cargoes.

Fesic then checked the listed freight and speculative cargos available and saw a shipment listed as "biochemicals".  The total shipment was seven tons, so they could buy six tons if they wanted.  The cargo was selling at Cr 35,000 per ton, which meant they'd have to spend Cr 210,000 to buy the cargo and then hope to sell it for a profit in the Wypoc system.  When Fesic notified Mikah and Zimzod about that, Zimzod asked what the odds were that they'd make a profit, but Fesic couldn't really answer that question.  He did know the tech in Wypoc was low enough they could not manufacture the chemicals there, which was why they were considered import goods there.  Mikah wanted to know if the system required ridiculous trade certifications like they'd seen on Lanth, but Fesic didn't know that either.

Fesic said the Wypoc system was a low population system under a representative democracy living on a relatively dry world with a corrosive atmosphere.  So, Terin, who'd overheard the question, guessed they'd be desperate for higher tech stuff like this.  Mikah said they could consider the cargo but Fesic would keep looking because this was only the first cargo he'd found and there may be more.  Nodding, Fesic started looking for replacement modules for the cargo sealing system which could be bought and delivered before they launched.  While he was doing that, Rol got a call from Instel-Arms telling him they could deliver four Hostile Environment Suits.  Having already ordered two from the warehouse, Rol got Mikah involved and she bought three of the suits from Instel-Arms, to be delivered later that day.

Eventually, the Warehouse had a port tractor deliver the two suits and Mikah had Rol test them before accepting them.  While the suits were large and bulky, they could be stored in the ship's locker and moved through the needed hatches, so they did not take up even more cargo space.  Mikah also had Rol, Aiden and Terin clear space in the ship's locker.  It would be tight in that space keeping the five suits in there, but they were needed.  They were doing that when Fesic reported he'd located replacement modules for the two damaged pieces of the sealer, and the seller wanted KCr 250 each.  So, that would cost the ship half a million credits to buy them and get the unit up and running.

As the day burned down and they waited for the Instel-Arms delivery, Mikah contacted the Seneschal's office and notified them the California would be launching in the next three days for the Wypoc system.  The Instel-Arms delivery finally came and Mikah supervised while Rol tested and confirmed the suits before signing off on payment and delivery.  After that, Rol discussed the suits with Zimzod while the rest of the crew continued to work at settling the ship and starting up the systems.  Aali gave the androids their orders to prepare the ship and pulled her list of gear she needed to repair the damaged they still had from the battle with the pirate.

Knowing the time left on world, Aiden decided to list one of his High Passages as a "quick sell" on the port network and see how much he could make.  That evening, as he was relaxing, Aiden got a buy offer of Cr 5,500 and accepted that. 


Finishing Up And Settling Deals

     This day began with Aali and Emkir teaming up with her engineering and his computer skills as they worked to confirm the parts cost to completely repair the androids during the jump.  Terin started out the gate gathering data to prepare for the jump plot to Wypoc.  Fesic went about researching the chance of finding used or less expensive replacements for the cargo sealer.  While he was working at that, he got a call on his comms.  Answering, the man who called identified himself as a business man and asked if Fesic wanted to make KCr 200?  In an enthusiastic and pleased voice, Fesic asked, "Who wouldn't?" and chuckled.

The man explained he had a shipment which had to be rushed to a customer in the Wypoc system and it had special handling requirements.  When Fesic asked about those, the man paused before admitting he wanted the cargo to "not be inspected by Wypoc customs".  In a flat tone, Fesic answered back, "I'm sorry.  That's illegal."  Putting on a friendly face, the man asked, in a caring voice, "but, wouldn't you want to make KCr 200?" as if that was a perfectly normal business offer.  Still straight faced, Fesic answered, "Not illegally.  No."  In a voice that was just "not" annoyed, the man said, "Ok, thank you." and he cut the comms.

Continuing his search for cargo over the day, Fesic did find a firm selling three tons of electronic components they said would sell well on Wypoc.  The note on the port's trade web was asking Cr 13,000 per ton, so that would cost 39,000 Cr total.  Comparing that to the Biochemicals, Fesic liked the chemicals better because he assumed the more expensive the "buy", the better the possible profit.  Where they could only try to charge an extra few thousands for something that cost Cr 39,000, they could try to charge over ten or twenty thousand more for something in the hundreds of thousands.  That assumed they didn't over pay for the speculative cargo to start with.

Fesic had not investigated the relative value of the cargo "on Regina".  Added to that, he had no real data on the value of either on Wypoc.  Based on how he felt, Fesic eventually spoke with Mikah, and got the approval to buy the biochemicals cargo.  Still, the pallet with the gun lockers and hardware took up space and so did the damaged cargo sealer system.  So, they could only carry six tons of cargo.  Buying six tons of the speculative biochemicals lot for Cr 210,000, the seller promised to have the cargo on their deck by that evening.  Emkir agreed to that and let Mikah know the cargo would be able to be loaded that night or the next morning.

Doing his stent work and physical therapy, Aiden offered to help the others with gear, testing systems or anything where extra hands might be needed.  Terin did stent work, class work and made sure to finish up his nav-plot prep work.  Zimzod also worked with his stent and told the others he wanted to have classes in combat tactics and non-verbal communications, like hand signals, in the ship's lounge during the jump.  Mikah relaxed and watched vids while being available to make decisions or solve the problems she was certain would pop up.  Fesic didn't find better prices for the cargo sealer repair parts.  That night, Zimzod got Mikah to dress up again, to see if he could get her stripped and in bed again faster, while making sure not to damage the gown.  Everyone else relaxed and got ready because they planned to lift for Wypoc the next day.  So, the last night on Regina passed quietly


Getting Off The Ground

     Everyone planned to be up earlier in the day, knowing they had to seal things up and be ready for launch.  At breakfast, Mikah told everyone they'd be launching at noon if they could get the clearance and told Aiden to handle that with the port.  Aali had finalized her list of spare parts for the androids and called to see if she could get them delivered before they launched?  She was told they could make it before launch, but she'd be charged a fee for the rush.  When she waved that off, they said the parts needed, which were mostly simple fixes, would cost Cr 10,000.  Aali had gotten permission to use ship's funds for this, so she waved off the cost even with the added Cr 1,000 delivery fee.

Rol spent his morning checking the internal video systems and generally checking the condition of the ship's interior.  He also helped Fesic move the cargo into the cargo bay before settling in to do some stent work.  In his checks, Rol confirmed the engineers who'd worked on the ship had only touched those spaces and systems they were ordered to repair.  They didn't stray or explore anything they should not have nor did they wander or touch anything unexpected.  Soon enough, the crew began last minute items and preparations before taking their launch positions.


A Sudden Flash, Then Darkness

     After taking some breaks and other measures to relax while burning the twelve hours out of Assiniboia's jump shadow, Aiden was the pilot and Terin had the number two seat as the navigator.  Mikah sat her position on the bridge while Emkir went down to engineering to manage the ship's computer from there while Aali worked.  Zimzod took his place in the ship's port-side turret and Fesic manned the bridge gunnery console.  Seeing Aiden and Terin gear up in their vacc suits, Mikah told everyone to get in theirs too.  Zimzod got into his battledress and Fesic decided to get into his combat armor.  The launch went as expected and they easily made their way to the 100 diameter jump limit.

On the bridge, Aiden activated the ship's jump drive, releasing massive amounts of energy from the ship's jump capacitors onto the lanthanum grid.  Those on the bridge with him saw the harsh blue-white glare created as the released energy flared and tore a hole in the fabric of normal space, and the ship "fell" into jump space.  As Aiden confirmed entering jump and went about shutting down the ship's normal-space systems, Terin was confirming jump-entry before shutting down his work station.  In engineering, Aali managed the systems from her main engineering workstation while having the androids start bleeding energy off the maneuver systems and beginning basic maintenance on those systems as they shut down.  Emkir monitored the engineering computers as this was done.

Checking the numbers on her engineering computer, Aali was satisfied with the power levels as she watched the jump governor sub-computer report its data to her on-screen diagnostics.  That device fed the massive amounts of energy to the circuits distributing it to the ship's lanthanum grid as the power was released from the zuchai crystals.  Aali was just getting ready to log a normal entry to jump space and lock her workstation when an alert chimed and appeared on her screen.  It transited from "warning" to "Critical" faster than her eyes could have tracked.  As quickly as that happened, the ship "shuddered" and klaxons began going off in the engineering spaces while Emkir looked up to Aali for orders.  At the same time, an audio and visual alert went off.

Sadly, Aiden, Aali and Emkir only had a brief instant to notice the alerts before catastrophe struck.  While the ship had burned out to the distance of one hundred planetary diameters, Aiden had activated the pre-jump systems to generate the energy needed for the planned jump.  Aali had monitored as the ship's jump power systems drew hydrogen from the jump fuel storage and burned it, pushing the created energy into the ship's capacitor array.  Those capacitors were made of zuchai crystals.  These were, so far, the only material found which could not only store the massive power but release if in the slow metered levels required to maintain the jump bubble until the ship finished its transit.

Short months before they'd made this jump, the crew had been in a shootout with a raider above Regina's outer-most gas giant.  After taking damage to the ship's jump capacitor array in that battle, they'd cut an agreement to "loot" the engineering section of another pirate.  That ship had been captured by the local system defense boats, and they dealt with the local SDB commander.  And despite all the tests Aali could run before hand, there had been a flaw in one of the capacitors taken from the prize vessel.  A flaw which now caused not only the complete failure of that capacitor, but which released all the energy held by that component into all the engineering sub-systems it was connected to.  That not only included the engineering computers and controls but the next capacitors in sequence and the jump power control systems.

The tidal wave of power flowed down and burned through the ship's power conduits, either frying cut off breakers in some pathways or overwhelming others completely.  That sent system killing charges into other sections of the ship's power grid.  Systems and consoles reached by the waves of power burst in electronic pyrotechnic displays throughout the ship.  On the bridge, Aiden had, literally out of reflex, grabbed his console when he felt the ship shudder.  Terin, who was sitting in the second seat after managing his jump plot, had been leaning forward slightly as he paused between switching his console displays from navigation to a high-level monitor of ship's systems.

Not far from the "flight crew", Mikah sat her "command station" but did not have her hands on any controls.  That meant she got a good scare thanks to the surprise, but no burns.  Behind Terin, and to Mikah's left, Fesic sat at his gunnery console and saw the electronic flares begin as he dove for the deck, covering his head in the very real chance of an in-compartment explosion.  But like Aiden and Terin, the gunner had also had hands on his console when the panel began to erupt.  On top of all this, the four could hear the ship's alarms and reflex took over.

Despite the burns on his hands, Terin tried to finish switching to his ship's status screen, trying to work around the damaged parts of the console.  Aiden worked to switch to a jump status screen, hoping to confirm if they were in or out of jump?  Mikah tried to activate her consoles, but was afraid they had been burned out.  Fesic had tried to lock his station down, to prevent any accidents from the weapon systems due to the obvious electrical shorts.  As that happened, the compartment went dark except emergency lighting and the last thing any of those on the bridge remembered thinking was, "OK, this is real bad."  Then, as the ship shuddered again, and more significantly, they each blacked out.

In the ship's lounge, Rol was carrying out his role as "ship's troops" and waiting for word they had transitioned into jump.  While he felt the shudder, Rol was much less attuned to shipboard issues even after all the time he'd spent on the California.  So, he ignored the first shudder and was not concerned until the lights in the compartment started to flicker!  At the same time, Rol could hear raised and concerned voices coming from the open valve to the bridge, though he couldn't tell what the issue was?  The last things Rol remembered before darkness were sudden cascades of electronic sparks spraying from various electrical systems around the space before the ship suddenly shook even more violently.  After that, he remembered no more about the events happening at the moment.

As had become his habit, Zimzod was in the ship's dorsal, port-side turret.  He tended to sit the ride out from in-system to the jump point in case they ran into any unwanted company.  And, after reaching the jump point, Zimzod liked to reward himself by watching what he could see of the light show as jump energy flowed to the ship's lanthanum grid and all the space he could see outside his turret viewport sparkled, burned and glowed first blue and then white.  And then, as he watched, the light would normally fade to the grey formlessness of jump space.  But this was far from normal, as several of the systems crowding him in erupted in electronic flame!  Making things that smallest it worse, the turret spun slightly before coming to a 'locked and dead position'.  Ignoring burns to his cheeks for the moment, Zimzod's first concern was getting back to the ship.  The passage was half-cut off thanks to the position of the turret.  Zimzod was just starting to work that first problem when he blacked out.

In the ship's engineering section, Aali and Emkir had more of a warning than anyone else in the ship.  That let her dive from her station as systems all around her exploded or burst into flares of electronic discharge.  Her first reaction was one of fear, as she shut down her stent link with the commdot she'd linked to the engineering systems.  Despite the assurances about the safety of the link, Aali was an engineer and this was a tolerance she did not want to test.

Scanning the compartment from the deck, Aali could see some of the androids folding their arms and attachments back into their cores as they secured themselves to prevent damage.  And, she saw that Emkir had dove from the console he'd been working at.  First, he rubbed burns on his fingers, like hers, then lurched to go for a fire extinguisher.  As the flares and new explosions seemed to be dying down, they started to rise, to start assessing damage.  Doing this, they each felt another sudden shudder.  Then, both Aali and Emkir blacked out, never completing the rise.


Zimzod's Worst Birthday Ever!

     As far as anyone could tell, they'd been out cold for hours.  Waking, Aiden checked his cron and saw it had been seven hours!  After those on the bridge had all woken, they broke into teams, and checked their stations, working back to the ship's computer systems.  They found only a handful of the consoles could be activated after suffering the damage they had, if they had power sources.  But, most of the bridge power and data feeds were fried.  In the ship's computer compartment, Fesic found the circuit cut-offs had saved the computer, but the compartment had nothing but emergency lighting power.  So, like the bridge, the ship's computer was mostly off line.  That meant that, after two days work to diagnose, it would take another two to three days to try and connect power to enough of the ship's remaining systems to see what they could see and find any hope of rescue or escape. 

In the engineering spaces, Aali and Emkir first took stock of what they could.  Aali was very pleased that the androids had all shifted into emergency isolation mode just as the shit hit the fan.  So, despite still being damaged slightly from the fight with the pirate, they were all more or less in good working order.  And, having the androids working was a chunk of good luck.  The down side of that was that she needed a power source to keep them charged with, or they'd only be working for a week at the most.  Still, while the ship's power plant was Aali's second order of personal business, she also needed the androids working on other priorities.  But first, Aali needed to spend time with the ship's life support systems, in order to see if anything else even mattered?  If they couldn't breath for more than a few days, they were dead no matter what.

Standing grimly beside Aali, Emkir looked at the very dim emergency lighting and knew he needed to get her flashlights so she could get the power running again.  To make matters worse, a survey of the ship showed that their jump bubble seemed to have deformed as it collapsed.  Lucky for them, that did not happen to any manned part of the ship, or someone, or more than someone, would have died.  Horribly.  But they did find that Aiden's stateroom had been 'ground zero'.  Also, Terin's stateroom had been affected, but they'd have to cut into the spaces to sort through anything that might be left.  From what they could tell, there would be more left in Terin's stateroom than Aiden's, but the good news was still that it had not killed anyone.

After he'd woken, Rol had few actual shipboard skills to offer the effort.  What he did have was some skill with communications devices.  That meant he was working to gather every piece of comms gear the crew had, to see what he could piece together or build on, to try and reach out for help or rescue?  Still, his skills were more basic than he liked, and Rol could only count on periodic help from those with electronics skills.  They were more important working to get the life support, sensors and some maneuver power back on line.  Still, because screaming for help might be the crew's only hope in the end, Rol did get some help.  After a few days, Rol felt he could broadcast out to the local neighborhood and hoped he could hear any answer they'd get.  But their neighborhood reach was only very local.

Five days in, Aali could tell the crew they only had three weeks of air and water left on what she had working so far.  Rol had what he could of their comms up and running, but had nothing to report other than calling for help and listening for rescue.  Emkir recruited Zimzod to help re-set consoles while Mikah and Fesic worked on re-running wiring runs to critical systems.  While they did that, Terin and Aiden worked with their hand-comps and other personal tools to try and figure out where in space they were?  After nearly a week total, the pair were pretty certain they were in the neighborhood of the Inthe system.  Ironically, 'in the neighborhood of' only meant 'within two parsecs of'.  And that meant they needed jump capability or an amazing stroke of luck to get any closer to rescue.

Aali's report at least gave them options.  They still had just over a month of breathable air and a trickle of water purification from what still worked of the life support.  And she said that if she could get the power plant back up, she felt she could give them more than ten to twenty percent of the plant's output.  At the moment, there was barely more power flowing than they needed to keep the androids and power tools going.  Repairs to the power plant would improve the life support situation.  But, she emphasized, it would be a daily struggle to keep the plant and life support running at all, as she would be relying on damaged components.  Still, she also admitted they needed some sensors if they were to find any support, and maneuver if they needed to get themselves to anything they found.  The crew working on reconnecting bridge systems knew they needed power if any of that work was going to matter.

By the sixth day of that first week, the shock and concern of the misjump were wearing down and things were getting tight.  One bit of good news was perhaps the worst news.  Over a year before, they had bought a huge amount of ration meals, which had been stored in the ship's locker.  That meant they wouldn't starve, but the food they had was like chewing on packing materials.  So, live or die, they were not gonna enjoy trying to survive.  Still, the sixth and seventh days saw very small levels of power, life support and the first feeds of energy to the bridge.  After that achievement, Aiden was able to test what he could of the ship's sensors.

A Glimmer Of Hope

     Aiden's test told them they still needed to get more power to the bridge.  Aali shifted her work to the power plant along with the balance of the androids, though she still kept two of the 'droids on their life support.  By the ninth day, Mikah and Fesic had had re-run power cables harvested from other parts of the ship as they wrote off the cargo bay and anything intact they could find in the jump section of the ship's engineering compartments.  Still, spirits were slowly dropping as they found they had to rotate "health breaks" in the undamaged cutter.  The only good news so far was the word that they could get some of the sensors up and running at last.

Along with the ship's communications systems, Aiden had been talking with Rol about what limited electronic feedback he'd gotten.  The patterns of static, stellar background noise and other electronic waves could point out where to look first, even without any positive response.  Finally, it was the afternoon of the 11th day after the misjump when Aiden was finally able to spark up the sensors and see what he could.  What he first got was an idea of the "neighborhood" into which they'd jumped.  Based on his readings, there were nothing but asteroid belts and gas giants with moons which appeared dead.  Still, it would take months with their current damage to even try and explore or confirm that, and he couldn't see any data from the far side of the system's primary star.  That news alone made their situation even more grim.

From that point, Rol, as the ship's comms expert, worked with Terin and Aiden as they swapped shifts working with the sensors.  Mikah and Fesic worked on electronics where needed while Aali continued working to fix the life support system and power plant with the 'droids.  Zimzod joined in with any work to strip parts and hardware or move and install or jury rig anything.  As the ship's computer became less important, Emkir became the ship's steward, managing meals and other needs for the crew while also being 'extra hands' whenever required.  Things finally broke on the 13th day, when the sensors detected a drop in solar interference from the system's star.  Into that 'gap', Aiden was able to pump their active sensors.

Despite the excitement over the opening, it was still more than an hour after Aiden increased the scan that they were able to get any data back.  Still, that data suggested the briefest of "hits" on something metal.  Aiden doubled down on the hit even as Rol did his best to focus their comms systems into that region too.  They hoped to get any trace of a signal.  At the same time, between their scanning work, Aiden and Terin did their best to plot the contact, and better understand what might be out there?  Theories ranged from a mining ship or small one or two-man exploratory base to a large and mostly metallic asteroid.  So, the news wasn't all good or even necessarily promising, but it was something.  At least, not for another hour.

That was when Rol reported an actual broadcast pattern in the background wash of energy coming from that region of the system.  This got Emkir involved as Rol pumped the feed to the computer and Emkir used the on-system software to try and clean up the broadcast.  In the end, all Emkir could say was that the 'broadcast' was not natural in origin, was very weak where it reached them, and had a structure which suggested it was a repetitive message.  Immediately, that suggested to the scouts that their "location" had been miscalculated and they might be in the interdicted Djinni system.  That would explain a possible Imperial ship or interdiction satellite repeatedly broadcasting a warning to those illegally entering the system.

The problem with that was that the Djinni system did have what was referred to as a "mainworld".  Granted, their ship's library data said the world was uninhabited, but it also said the world had an atmosphere and oceans.  And there was nothing like that on their scans.  Terin also firmly stood by his math and Aiden was willing to back him up on that.  So, that didn't explain the contact or why it would be in an empty solar system broadcasting a message?  Thoughts again ranged from something to do with a naval exercise to smugglers.  Though, they'd have to be the universe's dumbest smugglers to be broadcasting their presence that way.  But, it was 'something'.  And something meant hope.

Keeping their sensors and comms focused on that sector of the system, Aiden, Terin and Rol concentrated on trying to cut through the local stellar interference and learn more.  Meanwhile, Aali had more work to add to the weight on her shoulders as they saw they might have to get closer to whatever the sensors had hit.  Especially since they were nearly halfway through the month Aali guessed they had on the life support when they woke up.  That meant, no matter what, Aali had to hit the life support hard unless the sensors said they had rescue knocking on the hull.  That also meant Aali had to get the crew fired up about helping her fix stuff to stay alive.

A Place To Go and Way To Get There!

     Just over forty hours later, Aali had had some success at both her primary goals.  The life support system was now good for two to three additional weeks, and they were getting thirty percent power from the plant.  Ironically, as "living" got closer to normal even if they were stranded in space, they'd hit a new problem which reminded them of events in Regina after their jump drive had been shot out.  They'd only planned for a two-parsec jump, but had filled the fuel tanks, so they had a full single-parsec jump's worth of fuel in the jump tanks, but were now running low on their normal space fuel.  The transfer valve which had been rejected, in fact with some level of force, could now have done them some level of good.  Especially since the ship was almost as good as dead.

It was yet another situation which had Aali designing a fix, even though she had no idea where she was getting the spare parts and material from?  Not to mention, the time or breathable air?  Still, Aali pushed the process of working the problem facing her, and planned to work the next problem once she fixed those in her face "now".  The bad news was that morale on the ship was also not in her favor.  It had been almost two days since they'd had any good news from the sensors or comms and now had to ration the ability to use any electronics.  of course, that made "how" any work using the bridge systems was done even more important.

After reviewing the data they'd gathered after the first sensor contact was made, Aiden and Terin had realized the system's star had experienced a sunspot event at the time.  Examining that data, Aiden said the sudden change in the star's output in their sector of the system was what made the contact more visible.  The result was that Aiden had made some setting changes to the sensors under very low power, which would hopefully help cut through the background interference.  With the same information, Rol had made some changes in the comms systems too, however he was much less skilled than Aiden was with the sensors.  Now, the crew were watching for new sunspot activity.

Aiden did regret not having the specialized hardware and programs the Dawnstar Horizon had been equipped with, as he watched for another, better chance to scan the system.  They still scanned for a number of hours at various times around the clock, but had been forced to cut back thanks to the ship's power issues.  In fact, Aiden was just rigging the consoles for a period of scanning when he noted the readings shifting in their favor again!  Letting the rest of the crew know, Aiden lit up the sensors and burned them in-system hard.  Rol was soon there with him, and opening up with the comms gear too.  And as they worked, there was even more of a change in the background noise.

It was still more than an hour before the pair could announce any results, but the results they came back with surprised everyone.  Aiden could now say, with complete certainty, that the "hit" was a ship.  And not just a ship, but he would bet it was a capital warship!  This meant it was one hundred thousand displacement tons or more, even up to millions of displacement tons.  These were battle cruisers, battleships, fleet carriers and dreadnaughts.  What Rol had to say was even more confusing if much less complete.  Rol could confirm the ship was most likely the source of the broadcast he was still receiving fragments of.

Rol also confirmed the broadcast still appeared to be repetitive.  But knowing that from the earlier event, Emkir had been able to run even more analysis routines and they suggested the ship's broadcast included repeated self-identification.  Rol and Emkir characterized the message as saying something like, 'This is the INS Ship Name.  Be advised Some Message here.'  As they discussed it, no one in the crew could come up with a reason an Imperial capital warship captain would have their ship operating in that way.  Except, possibly, if that ship too had been stranded.  After Aiden and Terin plotted out the location, with an admitted relative degree of uncertainty, Rol said he was certain a ship of that class would be better able to broadcast much better even at this range and under these stellar conditions.  So, he could not suggest why they could only just barely receive fragments of the message?

Still, Mikah knew this meant a crew meeting was needed.  Sitting there trying to 'patch in place' only promised it would take longer for them to die.  It wasn't saving them.  This ship was a chance to be saved, and still the risks they'd face trying to reach it might even break that work.  And Aali also made it clear the California was dead, and would never jump again.  But it was the only chance they had, and their options were running low.  Hearing this, Aali made the point that they would have to create a way to shift fuel between the jump and normal space systems if they wanted to make the transit.  She also said they'd need to at least get the life support operating better, and they'd have to keep the ship's power plant alive.  Getting nods around the table, the challenges were recognized and the choice was made to work on those jobs while trying to get close enough to contact the warship.

Dialing In The Destination

     After another week filled with work and jury-rigging systems, Aali had diverted power to the maneuver drive while others worked to re-route fuel.  So, the schedule on the ship was set and everyone had their duties while burning towards the contact.  Fesic and Mikah had the most skill in electronics work, so they were on the most critical support teams.  Much of the time, they worked with Aali in engineering, trying to keep the life support and power plant alive.  And once, for three hours, the ship was left drifting in a coast, when the power plant had died.  During those hours, the crew lived on stale air and worked under hand lanterns and emergency lighting.  More dangerously, the ship was now coasting at the increased vector they'd built up with no knowledge of what was in their way.

This was important because they had to know very far in advance what could hit them or they might ram.  The faster they moved, the less able they were to fire side-thrust bursts to push their flight path out of the way of on-coming threats such as drifting rocks.  That meant they were flying blind.  It also meant their calculated "thrust plan" had been interrupted.  So, they'd have to have Aiden re-plot the flight plan once they knew they had the power, and the engines, back on line.  The new plot would not only change how hard and long they would be up-thrusting, but would also change when they would flip the ship to decelerate to try and match vee with the sensor hit.  They had also been sparking up their comms and sensors more as they'd closed the gap.

Now, they were less certain they were seeing a capital ship, and were still working to narrow down the possible tonnage of the ship.  Either way, it was much smaller than what they'd originally thought and were sure it was actually less than a quarter million displacement tons, if not even smaller.  Some doubts had been raised it was even a warship, and there was some concern for the type of civilian ship which might be lurking in deep space like this.  Still, there was now a chance these were deep space salvagers, which meant they could be rescue.  If, that was, they were honest.  Still, the California had built up enough of a vector that they were committed.  They could now only slow to match vee or over-shoot.

After three hours hard work and much cursing, the power was back but parts and materials were becoming more and more scarce.  They'd recovered some material when they'd cross linked the jump fuel system, but only finally came to that result when they admitted to themselves that the Hotel California would never jump out-system again under its own power.  The ship was as good as dead, and they hoped it would not suffer its final failures until it had gotten them to some kind of rescue.  They only hoped this mystery ship they'd begun tracking was that rescue, because they feared what it could be if not.  Still, they had nearly crossed half the six hundred million miles distance from where they'd started at 2g thrust, unable to reach their full 3g rating thanks to the damage.

They still expected to have another four days under thrust until they would arrive, and were using any and all spare power not devoted to life support to their forward sensors.  Everything else that was left was devoted to keeping the needed ship's systems running.  And everything the crew had was devoted to that one hope, which also managed to present a barrier keeping all the personal flare ups from boiling over.  Soon, as the days burned past, Aiden and Rol were finally able to brief the crew on their conclusions, which were both good and bad.  But possibly "very" bad.  Meeting with the crew, Aiden was almost entirely certain the ship they were approaching was an Imperial Wind-class strike carrier.

Their ship's Library Data had very little on the class, except that it had been built up in numbers just before the Fifth Frontier War, and was a 75,000 dTon strike carrier.  The standard carrier of its class had in the area of 750 crew including up to eighty fighter pilots.  The bad news was that she was drifting beyond incredibly quiet where she appeared to be "sitting" in space.  And "sitting" likely meant drifting.  Aiden also said they had gotten enough readings to suggest there were also lessor "hits" in the area of the carrier, which might mean salvagers, if they were lucky?  Or worse if they were not, and Aiden wondered when they ever got lucky?

Within the last two days, Aiden had been able to tighten up his scans, and he could confirm the largest ship was an Imperial Wind-class Strike Carrier, and that she was drifting in space.  Close by her, Aiden had also found another ship, which was four or five hundred tons in size.  He called that ship "Bogey 2".  There was also a small craft of some kind, but he needed to get closer to the ships to confirm that.  What bothered him the most was that there seemed to be no sign that either of the ships was under power.

The "broadcast" appeared to be coming from the small craft, not the carrier or Bogey 2, which readings he couldn't explain at all.  And they could also make out the full broadcast, which played out, "This is the INS Regina's Storm.  We are in crisis after suffering a misjump.  Most of the crew are dead and some of the survivors are evacuating in the cutter we still have.  We ask anyone receiving this message to please send rescue."

Finally closing to encounter range over the next two days, Aiden had been able to take reading from all three craft.  The small craft appeared to be an Imperial naval cutter.  The larger 'small ship' was a 440 dTon "Solar Wind-Class yacht.  And finally, there was the strike carrier.  Visibly, the carrier was in very rough shape.  Normally, the "main" compartments of the carrier formed a rectangle with beveled upper and lower deck walls, so that a cross section of the ship would form an octagonal shape which had been stretched out to each side.  The aft of that section was largely flat while the front of the section tapered to meet the extending "neck" of the ship.

To either side of the ship's main section, there were two-deck high connecting compartments to stand-off hull sections.  Each of these contained additional engineering spaces as well as fuel tankage and weapons mounts.  The ship's "neck" extended ahead of the main section almost two thirds the length of the main segment, and housed five decks with most providing access to the forward cutter and gunnery positions.  And, the top-most deck housed the ship's spinal meson gun.  Or, used to, and now housed the remains of a drifting wreck.  As they closed, Aiden focused more and more on the shape of the drifting hulks.

The naval cutter seemed to be intact, and was the only craft showing any sign of active power.  The yacht also appeared intact, if dead.  Aiden got no life or power signs from the ship, nor even an identifying transponder ping.  That said the ship's power and batteries were that far gone.  As they closed, Aiden could use both the densometer and vis-light sensors to find the ship was named the IMS "Coronal Flare", and that she had a cutter bay which was open and empty.  But, the naval cutter wouldn't have come from that ship.  It came from "what was left" of the strike carrier.  And the menu of visible damage to that ship, which had been the INS "Regina's Storm" was extensive.  Especially, when compared to the deck plans they had in the e-book "Battles of the Spinward Marches", which Rol had bought in Regina.

After their approach and a few "rolls" around the site, they saw the carrier's forward "neck" seemed to have been "twisted slightly" and warped down and to the ship's port.  That was, the remains of the neck, which were nearly blown clear of the ship entirely.  The whole bottom deck (designated in Rol's book as deck 6) had been blasted apart from the inside by explosions blasting out of the hull.  Since that space contained missile magazines, there was no question what had exploded.  And the damage, which could only be described as "a gash made of connected explosive pits", appeared to expose the fifth deck, which had been the Flag deck, where an Admiral would command from.  Aiden couldn't yet tell if the "pits" had punched up into the forth deck, which would have been the command deck and have housed the bridge.

The third deck aft was supposed to house a small-craft berthing two cutters.  But the bay had been blown out due to explosions which seemed to come from the compartments housing engineering systems and fuel tanks.  Vis-light sensors could almost peer hole into a space which seemed to hold devastated engineering systems.  The damage to the ship's forward compartments had ripped the entire forward section to vacuum and had even appeared to rip up into the forward focusing and enhancing systems of the ship's meson gun.  The cutter bays on the second and fifth deck were also blasted open to space with only the one remaining cutter giving evidence of the fate of any of the small craft.

In addition to that, Aiden could detect a hole puncturing into the carrier's hanger deck on the forward port from deck 5.  While he couldn't "see" how bad the damage was, the densometer could.  Another blast of some kind had ripped out of deck five and maybe also the deck four.  Either way, the blast had exposed the launch deck hanger space on deck four too.  On top of everything else, the crew could see many bodies floating in the space near the carrier.  Very few of them seemed to be wearing any part of a vacc suit and none appeared to have completely suited up.  Looking up from his sensors, Aiden grimly announced the carrier wasn't going anywhere, and suggested they pray the yacht could jump, because Aali had pronounced the Hotel California a dead ship too.  Still, this close they could see there was a very small and nearly dead power source aboard it.  Yet another mystery.

Twenty two days after waking up from their misjump, Aali told the crew they'd never likely get the California to jump again, and she could only give them three to four weeks of life support.  When some of the others pointed out she'd been regularly extending that over the past month plus since the misjump, Aali said that was by using up her supplies on hand.  So, unless there were more usable supplies on the drifting hulks, the California was no more than a coffin.  There were no visible holes in the hull of the Coronal Flare, so she hoped they could salvage parts from all three ships to get the other yacht up and running.  The only "good news", was that that ship could normally jump as far as four parsecs at a time, so even damaged, they might hopefully get the parsec they needed to reach the Inthe system and scream for help.


A First Look

     Bringing the ship to zero vee, to drift near the wrecks, Zimzod was all for boarding the wrecked ships to see what they could find?  When Aiden asked about the naval cutter, which appeared to be the only one with any power left, Zimzod suggested they board that craft first.  When Terin mentioned the very dim power source they'd detected on the carrier, Zimzod said they should check that out too.  The only other "obviously" strange thing was that the cutter bay aboard the drifting yacht was open and empty, which led them to guess someone had fled aboard their cutter, in hopes of rescue.  When Zimzod said they had their own cutter to explore with, Terin chose to look at the positive side, saying, "Well.  Now, we have two cutters!"

Aiden cautioned them, reminding the crew they needed to check that cutter out first.  When they were reminded they had only three weeks of life left, Zimzod suggested they check out the yacht first, because it looked like it was their only chance of getting out of things alive.  Agreeing with that, the next question was who was going?  They decided Zimzod would go with Mikah, Rol, Aali and Aiden.  Before they all geared up, Fesic asked if the California's sensors would pick up life signs from the wrecks.  Aiden said they normally would, but pointed out that the damage they'd suffered might keep that from happening.  Still, Aiden said they were close enough he figured they'd see anything in these ships.

After they all geared up with their combat kits before boarding.  Emkir took the California's bridge while Aiden flew the Probe.  Fesic took the co-pilot's seat.  They watched from the California as Aiden piloted the Probe through an easy run between drifting hulks.  The yacht they were checking out had been named the Coronal Flare and they were barely settled in the yacht's cutter bay when the first problem cropped up.  Without any power at all, the bay didn't seal after they settled, and the team had to make their way from the cutter to the yacht in zero-g.  That meant they had to help Aali and Aiden along as they moved.

It also meant that the ship's batteries had been drained, so there was nothing left aboard, and they'd have to force their entry in a vacuum.  Zimzod led the way, with Rol following up to help force the hatch.  That was easier because of Zimzod's enhanced strength, but once they had the hatch open, they saw nothing but a dark hole within.  There wasn't even emergency lighting.  Seeing no other options, Rol blinked in the pattern that activated his infrared vision augment.  Unfortunately, the ship had been a dead hulk long enough that Rol got no definition.  Every surface he could see was the same temperature and there was no heat source to refract from them.  So, Rol switched back to normal vision and activated the lights on his helmet.

As they began exploring, Aiden asked if Mikah wanted him to return to the California's to pick up Emkir, Fesic or Terin?  She reminded him that they had not volunteered to come, and so they were the away team.  Mikah then snapped at Aiden, "If you want to stay on the cutter and be ready to go, that's fine." in a tart and annoyed tone.  After that, the team moved out of the cutter onto a small catwalk in the darkened bay.  From there, it was through the hatch Zimzod and Rol had opened and into a lightless passage.

The passage led to the left and right once out of the hatch.  The left turn seemed to lead to the inner valve of an airlock.  The right turn seemed to lead to a junction of passages which then turned to the right and left.  Zimzod could see this better than the others because of the sensors in his battledress.  He could also see a hatch descending from the deck in front of him and a hatch leading up to the next level, with a ladder on the passage wall, to the left in the junction of passages.  That was, assuming there were decks above and below, but Zimzod was more concerned with finding the ship's engineering compartments.  At a guess, they figured those spaces were in the ship's aft.

Nodding, Zimzod carefully moved into the junction of passages, with Rol backing him up.  Mikah had Aali follow them, to stay protected in the center of the group because she was their only engineer.  Aiden followed Aali and Mikah covered their back door.  Turing left, Zimzod moved the twenty five meters down a new passage to an Iris Valve with a hatch above it, presumably leading to the next deck up.  As with the other hatches leading above decks, there was a ladder embedded in the passage wall.  Zimzod expected the iris valve would lead to the ship's engineering spaces because the ship didn't go back much further.

As they followed Zimzod, only Aiden turned to look to the right before following the others.  He saw that there was an iris valve forward of the intersection another twenty meters.  that meant the single set of passages combined to allow movement from the ship's nose to its tail on this deck, with no portals to either side, except connecting to the cutter bay.  Not real comfortable with those facts, Aiden mentioned it to the rest of the boarding party.  Aali considered that math and realized it added up to a fuel deck.  That meant that the deck they were on held something in the nose, engineering in the aft and the cutter bay while the rest of the space had to be devoted to fuel storage.  Aali mentioned her thoughts to the others while Zimzod investigated the iris valve.

The valve was cold and dead with no power or battery backup.  So Zimzod realized he'd need a way to cut through it or blow through it if they couldn't power it up.  When Zimzod asked if anyone had a power source with them, Rol suggested Zimzod's battledress.  But there was no way to interface his suit with the valve.  Leaning against the wall, Zimzod said, "We have to get in here to see if there are any parts we can use to power up the California."  Aali chuckled grimly and told him it was gonna take a shipyard to get the California to jump again.  As they reminded Zimzod that yacht could be their best bet to survive, Rol recommended they explore the rest of the ship before doing anything that might damage it.

Zimzod agreed with that, but wanted to know what options they had?  So he turned and asked Aali, "What are our options, engineer?"  She considered before saying, "OK.  There's no interface for your suit there and no mechanical backup."  As she thought through the problem, she did see there was an access panel above the interface.  So, they could hotwire it if they brought a battery and the tools to open the access panel.  Coming to a decision, Mikah ordered Aiden to fly Aali back to the California to get her tools and some kind of battery.  At the same time, she, Zimzod and Rol would keep exploring the yacht.

Splitting The Party

Coronal Flare lower deck     The three helped Aiden and Aali back into the cutter before they sealed the bay again.  After boarding the cutter, Aiden sparked up the drives while he and Aali strapped in and then reverse thrusted the cutter out of the yacht's bay.  After he hit space, it was a simple task to spin the cutter in place and make the short trip back to the California.  Once she was back aboard, Aali went to the engineering spaces to choose which of the tool kits she needed.  Aali also pulled the R2 'droid off its assignment to come with her.  It was the best battery she could think of to bring back with her.

Aali eventually had the 'droid help her move one each of the mechanical, electronic and engineering tool kits.  As she did that, Aiden briefed Terin, Emkir and Fesic on what they'd found so far, as little as it was.  But the fact there seemed to be no visible damage to the yacht's interior was a good sign as far as he was concerned.  So, when they got the word from Aali, Aiden moved back to help her move the kits and settle the android before casting off from the California to return to the other yacht.

While Aiden and Aali ran their errand, Zimzod, Mikah and Rol moved to the forward end of the passage to find a second iris valve.  Along the passage, there were only two rising hatches and the one descending.  The first rising hatch was located in the junction between the forward and aft passages with the passage to the airlock and cutter bay.  the one descending was right by the cutter bay entrance.  And each hatch had a wheel which could be manually turned to open them.  Deciding to do them in order, Zimzod figured they'd test the descending hatch first.  When he moved back to the space, Mikah and Rol gave him the space he'd need as he prepared to engage his battledress-enhanced strength.

Opening the hatch, Zimzod found it opened to free space.  Zimzod realized it must have been a maintenance hatch which would allow work to be done on the ship's belly.  Saying, "Watch that first step.  It's a doozy", Zimzod backed into the ship and closed the hatch.  After securing that hatch, they moved to the hatch in the junction, which was the most forward of the two.  This time, Mikah and Rol stood to either side as Zimzod climbed the ladder and started working on the hatch wheel.  With the hatch opened, Zimzod lifted himself up, half into the space, and was satisfied to see he was in what looked like a ship's lounge.

Coronal Flare upper deck While the furnishings were disorganized, scattered and pushed over, the space could serve no other purpose.  Taking in the space in a slow circular look around, Zimzod saw it was a rectangular compartment with passages appearing to break off to the right and left at the forward end.  He could see three standard room doors spaced out along both the right and left walls.  There was an iris valve visible on both the forward and aft walls with the forward one being on the left side of the wall but leading forward and the aft one being on the right side of the wall and leading aft.  There were also two rising hatches on the ceiling of the compartment, spaced along the forward compartment wall.  There was also a hatch in the ceiling near the aft wall.

As Zimzod started making use of his sensors, he detected one body posed and wrapped in a funerary pose.  Nodding, Zimzod said, "Alright.  These guys died slowly."  Zimzod climbed out of the hatch onto the floor and moved over to see if the body had been maimed or had does from other causes?  All he could determine was that the body had been posed, so they had been "buried in space".  Moving to check each of the doors, the three found that five of the six opened into staterooms which seemed to have been 'tossed'.  The last appeared to be the ship's computer, though it was also completely powered down.

Shrugging at the iris valves he could not force, Zimzod climbed each of the in-set wall ladders and checked the hatches leading up.  Each one of those appeared to lead to a gunnery turret.  During his observations of the innards of each turret, Zimzod could see some level of electronic feedback, suggesting this ship had also had a power surge burn out some consoles and systems.  Seeing that, he glumly told the others, "Great!  We're in the same fuckin boat."  Checking the aft hatch, Zimzod saw that it was also a maintenance hatch, allowing workers to climb onto the top of the ship to do work.  The forward passage to the right seemed to lead to an upper level airlock while what seemed to be a passage opening to the left only led to an electronics closet.  That appeared, to Zimzod, to be fire control for the forward port turret.

By the time Aali and Aiden got back, they'd confirmed the yacht only had two decks and they'd checked every part of the ship they could reach.  They'd also agreed that the forward iris valve in the upper deck likely led to the ship's bridge just like the aft iris valve on the lower deck led to the engineering compartment.  There was also a good bet the aft iris valve on the upper deck led to more engineering spaces, but that meant the ship only had five staterooms, which was real small for a yacht this size.  And they expected the forward iris valve on the lower deck would lead to a ship's boat or cargo bay.

Digging A Bit Deeper

     Aali got back with the tool kits, android and a number of flashlights.  Mikah had to laugh when she saw Aali had also actually grabbed a breaching charge from the California, just in case.  With that and the fusion cutter in her mechanical kit, Aali was fairly certain she'd be able to open up the ship completely.  Still, she needed someone to help her move in the freefall of the ship so Zimzod went and helped her get to the lower deck iris valve.  That was because the ship's engineering section was the most important part of the ship for them to check out.  Mikah and Rol helped with anything that needed to be carried and the android was allowed to move up to where Aali was once she was again face to face with the valve.

Faced with having to hack, cut or blow open the valve, Aali decided to open the maintenance panel and see if she could hotwire the system with power from the android?  Opening the mechanical tool kit, she slowly but easily removed the panel and exposed the wiring and controls for the valve.  Then, Aali had the android expose a wiring harness meant to allow an owner to snap a new tool onto.  Fashioning a "plug in extension" to some spare wire, Aali was able to cut and connect wires from the valve before ordering the 'droid to activate that arm's tool power circuits.  The result was that the iris valve control mechanism powered up quickly and appeared to be feeding power to the valve's motor systems.

With the time having come, Aali hoped and hit the controls to open the valve.  And Aali got a dose of relief as she watched the valve cycle open.  Having what she needed, Aali locked the valve open and then disconnected the wiring from the control panel to the cheers of the others in the passage.  Looking while she cleaned up her tools, before stepping into the space, Aali could see this was an entrance to the ship's engineering spaces.  Directly ahead of her, Aali could see a number of machines and surface-mounted consoles.  To the left, the machinery closed to nearly the wall of the compartment and, to the right, she could see an open space which seemed to lead to an operator's console.  After closing up her tool kits and rising, Aali went to the right, around the systems in her way, and came on a two-person operations console with two seats mounted to tracks in the deck.

Looking closely, she could see some scorch marks and damage, but things here were not nearly as bad as they were on the California.  Beyond that, Aali could see the ship's array of jump capacitors, which "looked" to be intact.  Also in the compound, Aali could see parts of the ship's power plant, jump and maneuver drives.  And while she did see a pair of hatches, one in the compartment's ceiling and the other in the deck, Aali saw no evidence the ship's engineering spaces extended up or down to other decks.  The others followed her into the compartment as Aali confirmed there were no bodies.  Still, there were signs of burns and damaged components on many of the systems they could see.  So, this ship's systems would need some repairs if they could be brought up at all.

Realizing this ship must have also misjumped, Zimzod asked if there were parts on it that could be used to get the California jump capable again?  Aali reminded him she'd said the only thing that could get the California jump capable again was a shipyard.  When Rol suggested that ship was likely in as bad shape as theirs, Aali corrected him.  She pointed out there was less apparent damage in that compartment than in their own engineering spaces.  And, she also reminded Rol and the others that they'd seen very little of the ship they were on.  As she told him not to jump to conclusions, Mikah said, "Well, let's go check out the bridge!" in a tone that was just short of demanding and a little annoyed.

Zimzod agreed with that, saying, "Perhaps their engineer wasn't as brilliant as ours and this ship could be salvaged!"  Then, he said they should keep checking this ship, to make sure there were no surprises, and then check the naval cutter, because it still had power.  Talking about a plan that saved time, after they'd checked out the yacht, they decided that Aiden could fly Zimzod and Mikah to the naval cutter while Rol guarded Aali as she checked out the yacht's systems for repairability.  That would cover two of the three wrecks while leaving the much larger strike carrier for when they could team up again.  They didn't feel they needed Aali for the cutter because it seemed that craft still had power, thanks to the continued broadcast.

After deciding that, the team moved to the iris valve they thought led to the bridge.  Aali again hotwired the iris valve there and found it did.  They found no bodies in that compartment, though there were more signs of burnt consoles and systems.  Saying, "It's regular, not extra crispy", Aali and the others noted that the burns and damage were also less there than on the California's bridge.  When they went back to where they'd thought the ship would have an upper level engineering deck, they found instead a passage with two doors to either side which also ended in another door!  Each of the doors to either side led to four more staterooms.  These were rigged for crew, not passengers, so they had bunk beds.

Moving into the remaining door at the aft end of the passage, they found themselves in what looked like a looted clinic!  That space also had a door to their left, as they looked through the entrance, and a wider sliding portal to their right.  Checking the space, it seemed there had been a panicked period of treatment, which Mikah guessed was for burns and broken bones from the residue left behind.  Checking the door to the left, they saw it opened to a small surgical room with lockers for supplies and an operating table.  But, the thing that caught everyone's attention, beyond the surgical table, was the wall-mounted autodoc!  Sadly, they couldn't tell if the device worked, because the ship had no power.  That compartment also showed signs of panicked use before both spaces were emptied of supplies in the apparent evacuation.

Going back into the clinic, the team then crossed over to the right side, as they had seen it coming in the door(actually the port side of the ship).  Opening the larger sliding door, they saw a passage that continued to the port hull and then turned up, back towards the ship's nose.  But again, it was the contents of the space that mattered.  Because the space was lined with eight low berths!  That begged the question why the crew had not tried to survive in those devices?  When they tried to test those units, they found the devices were not "military grade" and their batteries had been drained, so they could not test them either.

Stopping to have a team meeting, they called the folks on the California to update them.  When Aali said the damage on the Coronal Flare seemed to be much less than on the California, Emkir misread her tone and cheered, "Salvage time!"  Zimzod corrected Emkir and explained that the Coronal Flare was more likely to be able to be revived than the California.  So, he said they'd have to "vamp" the California and Regina's Storm to see if they could get the Coronal Flare working?  That decided, they figured it was time to send a team to check out the cutter, because it still had power.  Something they needed because the California was dying.  While they did that, Aali would start working on figuring out what was busted aboard the Coronal Flare?  That would hopefully start her on a parts list for things to see if they could pull from the other wrecks?

Leaving Rol with Aali "just in case", Mikah, Zimzod and Aiden went back to the Probe for the trip to the naval cutter while Aali went back to the Coronal Flare's engineering compartment to start investigating.  Reaching a zero-vee position aside the cutter was easy, because the size of the strike carrier was large enough to have drawn both the cutter and Coronal Flare into a "drifting orbit" of the larger vessel.  Once close enough, Aiden extended the Probe's docking collar and they made a "hard seal" with the airlock on the other cutter.  Testing the airlock, they were happy to see the minimal power still fed the lock too.

Discoveries, Good And Bad

     Mikah and Zimzod cycled the airlocks, with Zimzod in the lead.  As the inner lock opened, they saw the interior of the cutter.  Stepping in, they saw nothing.  No people, bodies or cargo.  Turning to the flight deck, they were instantly very happy they were wearing sealed suits as they saw two decomposing bodies.  Using his battledress systems to test the atmosphere in the cutter, Zimzod saw there was very little oxygen in the craft's air supply.  Mikah examined the bodies and saw they'd both been shot through the skull, and she was pretty sure their deaths were suicide.  Zimzod looked over the bodies and said, "Looks like they gave up" in a disapproving tone.  In addition to the bodies, the interior of the cutter was covered with the discarded wrappings of rations they'd eaten before dying.

Moving to check the pilot's console, Zimzod looked for anything which could give them a date when the ship had become stranded?  Mikah moved up beside him and checked, seeing that the cutter's batteries were almost dead.  They'd need to get the cutter to a fuel source before they died, and if they had arrived a few weeks later, they may have not heard the distress call at all.  That meant they had to get the cutter's computer up and running so they could get it to the California.  There, they'd have to manually pump fuel into the cutter to bring it back to life.  Or, they could have Aiden tow the naval cutter to the ship.  That way, they could get the computer up and running after getting the power plant going.

In the hours Zimzod, Mikah and Aiden worked on recovering the naval cutter Aali used the android with her as a mobile battery to try and explore and test what she could.  As she worked, Aali realized it would take her at least twenty four man-hours of work to complete a basic survey of the Coronal Flare's engineering systems, to see what she might be able to do with the wreck?  That meant she'd finish what she could then, and then return to the California to get sleep before returning the next day and likely the day after, if not the next two days, to complete the job.  Aali hoped the others could get the naval cutter up and running, so she could use it as a docked "rest area" where she could take breaks as she and the androids worked on the yacht.

Having gotten the naval cutter back to the California, the three drafted everyone except Emkir to help manually pump fuel into its tanks.  Unfortunately, the life support system on the cutter had died, so they could use the craft for transport but not for non-augmented rest or refreshing their vacc suits.  As they did that, they called Emkir to have him hack into the cutter's computer so they could control the system.  Happily for Emkir, he had the cracking software on his hand computer, so he was able to interface that with the cutter's command console and managed to quickly reset the cutter's access credentials. With that done, the crew had two cutters working, even if they had no atmo in one.

with that, Mikah said she could take one cutter over to the Coronal Flare, to help Aali.  She figured she'd take the Probe over so Aali could get a rest and recharge.  Then, Mikah could use her electronics skills to help Aali.  At the same time, Aiden could pick up Rol and he, Rol and Zimzod could do a search of the Regina's Storm for that small power source before they ran out of hours in the day.  Then, everyone could gather back aboard the California to eat and sleep.  Zimzod was up for that plan because the strike carrier was a very large ship and he hoped to find all sorts of goodies over there.  He even hoped he might find an FGMP-15, given how badly damaged the ship had been because of events.

So, after they mixed and matched, that left Terin and Fesic on the California and Mikah and Aali on the Coronal Flare while the rest took the naval cutter to the wreck of the Regina's Storm.  Emkir drove Mikah to the Coronal Flare and then began working on recovering the cutter's logs.  As they approached, Zimzod had Aiden fly a close pass over the wreck to see what they could.  Up close, the remains of the sixth deck, where the missile magazines had been, was just plain gone.  They could also better see where blasts had ripped up into the fifth deck and even punched holes in the fourth deck.  Those areas were so ripped up they didn't want to use that space for entry because of the risk of ripping open some armor an a shredded ribbon of metal.

The bad news was that the sensors showed the faint power signature was in one of the areas of significant damage.  The "better news" was that it seemed liked it was coming from deck four or even deck three, so it may have been far enough from the devastation which had punched up from the magazines on deck six.  The question was, how to get to it?  Using the data from Rol's book, they went looking for any cutter docking stations which might still be intact enough to use.  That search led them to a station in the ship's heavily damaged neck which was still "mostly" there.  But, as they circled and searched, they saw an area of the neck which had been completely blown open.  Zimzod realized he could grab a tow line and jump to the wreck from the cutter.

Tying that off, the others could use the line to crawl across while the line would also hold the cutter close to the wreck for them to return to.  Also, to protect the cutter and free Rol and Zimzod up to move faster, Zimzod told Aiden to wait on the cutter for them to call or return.  With the plan set, Zimzod jumped and secured the line before Rol used a d-ring to jump along the line to cross over.  After they secured their position, they saw they were on deck five at the moment.  But they couldn't climb up to the next deck where they were, thanks to the dangerously shattered metal of the hull and other components.  Looking aft, they could see the twist and bend in the deck, which even created a ten-foot tall artificial horizon preventing them seeing the end of the companionway they were in.  Looking at Rol, Zimzod said, "Man!  They butt fucked this thing hard!"

Rol agreed and said, "Let's hope we don't meet what did it."  As he said it, both men realized how stupid the comment was because what caused it had been a misjump.  From what they knew from the book Rol had bought, they knew they were on the "Flag deck".  That meant they'd find the Flag bridge further aft, where an Admiral would command a fleet element from.  Still, that would not be the ship's actual bridge, where the ship's Captain would have commanded the vessel from.  That would be a deck up, on Deck four.  Zimzod did wonder if there would be anything of use on that deck, but that really depended on what was left intact on it.  They could use a set of stairs, or an open lift shaft, because they thought the power signature was coming from the third or fourth deck, not the fifth.

Eventually, they made their way aft, close to the forward bulkhead of the flag bridge.  There, they saw a pair of lifts, one to the port and the other to the starboard.  But the shafts were not empty and they couldn't see a way to clear them.  So, they worked their way through a set of cut back passages into what the book said was officer's quarters.  Passing through those compartments, they made their way into the Flag Bridge.  What they saw there was a large group of very dead officers and ratings.  And none of them appeared to have been in vacc suits.  This told both men that whatever had happened to the ship to kill these officers, it happened very suddenly and very fast.  Few of them showed signs of even trying to react.

Pointing at the bodies, Zimzod worked to put some gravity into his voice as he got Rol's attention and said, "Rol.  Floaters."  Past that, he couldn't keep his face straight as he chuckled.  Looking closer, they saw the systems in the space looked very high-tech.  It appeared this ship had been fairly new and the tech used to construct it was top of the line.  Still, a number of the work consoles were obviously fried while others were not.  Both men knew it would take a bit of time to work through the compartment to find any good components if they needed them.  That compartment had exits to either side, one of which they'd used to get into the space, and to the aft.  Knowing they were too far forward in the ship to locate the power signature they'd detected, the men started moving further aft.

This exit led to an area of stateroom blocks which were not officer's country.  From where they were, the power hit would be further aft, somewhat starboard and up a deck or two, so they looked for open holes, blown up to the deck above from below.  Exploring and avoiding dangerous ribbons of ripped and bent metal, the men eventually found a hole they could use to jump up at the same time Zimzod's battledress sensors began to pick up traces of the energy source!  When they made the leap, they found themselves in what was left of a cluster of escape pods.  Checking out the pods, they seemed to have been blasted, damaged or otherwise knocked out early in the events that overtook the ship.  So, they were of no use to the crew when disaster struck.

Zimzod's sensors led the pair out of a labyrinthine cluster of escape pod structures which had been warped and twisted even as some areas of the deck had been blasted, twisted or even ripped away in segments.  Following the sensors, they were ironically led "into" a similar maze of blasted and damaged low berths.  After half an hour exploring that deck from the flag bridge, the pair of men finally came on a low berth which appeared to actually be active!  Looking into the berth, they could see a woman who was obviously an Imperial Marine, because she was in battledress, except for her helmet.  That was also in the berth, but off to the side.

One Mystery Solved

     Getting on their comms, Zimzod started telling everyone about their discovery.  Thinking they'd have to get the low berth back to the California, Rol asked him if that was even possible.  Both men considered it for a few seconds until Aali said it would likely take an engineer to remove the berth if it was possible.  If not, they'd have to find a way to seal and pressurize that section of the Regina's Storm to get the marine out of the berth alive.  And, they'd also need Mikah to be there, because it was "normally" advised to have a doctor supervise waking up low berth passengers, and this was by no means "normal".

One thing Zimzod and Rol wondered about was why that low berth had power but nothing else seemed to?  Rol mentioned that he'd heard low berths could work as survival pods for a period of time, but that begged the question why some of the other berths were not powered up?  Neither man had an answer to that where there were pods that looked like they were otherwise not damaged.  As for that one pod, they figured it could have an internal battery of its own, but they had no idea how to check that either?  So, Zimzod said they'd need to get Aali over to the carrier to check out the pod.

Hearing that, Mikah interrupted and said they had to take care of themselves before adding another body to their team that had to eat and breath.  On the comms, Terin suggested that she could help with heavy lifting and moving parts because she was in battledress.  So, waking her up now could help them survive.  Mikah shot that down for the time being, telling Terin they needed to at least get better life support before waking the marine.  In the category of "not helpful", Zimzod got back on the line as he looked over the marine and enthusiastically said, "Yeah guys, she's pretty hot too!"  Not the sort of thing you want to do when your Fiancé was the doctor who'd be in charge of helping wake her up!

In a tart voice, Mikah told Zimzod, "If you want to disconnect the low berth?"  Adding even more emotion to her voice, she finished, "Go right ahead!"  That got laughs from the rest of the crew.  Even though she could not see the motion, Zimzod just shrugged and said, "Just sayin'."  Mikah repeated, "Go ahead and disconnect her." even more tartly.  Getting past Mikah's reaction, they eventually decided not to do anything about the marine for the moment.  So, with the mystery of the power source solved, until the pad's battery died, Zimzod figured it was time to go searching.

Checking the data from Rol's book, he figured they should see if they could find an armory or morgue(location aboard ship where armor is storage) in the wreck.  But it didn't take them long to get to the edge of a huge gap in the wreck where the devastation was complete and there was nothing left at all.  And, the book said the armory he was looking for would have been ten meters into that blasted devastation.  So, Zimzod had to accept he would not easily find any toys and was wasting both power and air he couldn't replace.  On top of that, Zimzod could detect enough damage and missing hull sections that he knew some of the ship's fuel and engineering had been blasted away too.

After a few curses for the lost material and toys, Zimzod told Rol they should head back to the cutter.  Rol agreed and the two began making their way back to the cutter while also looking for large holes which would make it easier to not only get out of the wreck and back to the cutter but return to the low berth if they decided to do anything about the marine.  Eventually, they decided to go back to Aiden and return to the Hotel California.  Still, was nearly as difficult getting out as it was getting in, because they had to go back to where Aiden was, because they'd tied a line between the wreck and cutter.  While they took their time and moved with care, Emkir had been working on the logs of the naval cutter.  Not sure how far back he'd have to go to get the full story, Emkir figured he'd start with the last log and work back.

To his surprise, Emkir found out he only needed to listen to the most recent log after all.  The log had been created by a Lieutenant Commander Amshiudu Nakuiis, who claimed to have been one of the senior surviving officers from the carrier.  He said he and a flight rating had left the wrecked ship in the cutter hoping to blast messages for help out to anyone who might hear and respond.  He said they'd misjumped from the Adabicci system Imperial Naval base on 017-1112, when they were deploying to patrol the Tenalphi, Wardn, Olympia and Smoug systems.  Doing the quick math, that meant they had misjumped seventeen parsecs!  And, that they had been adrift for 532 days!  That was almost a year and a half ago!

The log continued that it had been just more than none weeks since the misjump and a group of survivors had been sent out in the direction of a system they thought was populated in the only their surviving cutter.  But, they'd lost contact with that group and were now running out of air themselves.  So, he figured he'd use his last log entry to explain what happened?  At the time of the misjump, the ship's captain had ordered a large number of the crew be put into low berths until they knew who they needed awake for damage control and repairs, to conserve air and food supplies.  Shortly after they'd secured those they could in low berths, systems started catastrophically failing and many of the crew in and out of the berths had died.

As the crisis got even worse, systems exploded and, in the panic, a group of spacers forced their way into one of the ship's cutters and broke free of the carrier even though they were still in jump space.  The commander was certain they'd died.  Crew cohesion never came back even though a small core of the crew still worked to try and keep the ship together until they were out of jump.  Crippled and drifting, some of the crew tried to organize in still functioning sections of the ship, but most of their systems were dead.  They eventually figured out there was a populated solar system just over a parsec away, but soon after that a mutiny broke out over the remaining ship's cutters.

In the fighting, a massive explosion was set off on the third deck, in the fighter hanger.  That blew the compartment open to space.  Fighting also drove another group to try to flee in a cutter.  But the fighting ended up causing the cutter to explode.  Finally, after the fighting had died out, they organized those still alive and sent some survivors towards the inhabited system, even though it was too far away for them to reach in a cutter.  After that, he and one of the ship's surviving members of the astrogation department took the last cutter so they could continue to broadcast a GQ message and hope to reach any help at all.  He promised to send rescue after the other cutter if it came.  And, with it having been weeks since they'd heard from the other cutter, they figured that cutter's life support had failed and theirs was now failing too.  So, he and his partner were taking the only exit out that they could as air and water had run out.

After he'd heard the tale, Emkir commed the others and spread the word about what he'd learned.  The fact the ship had been adrift for almost a year and a half surprised them.  And, the fact the Lt. Commander never mentioned the Coronal Flare left them with a continued mystery.  That meant the yacht could not have misjumped into local space until after the 60th day of 1112.  That meant the yacht could have been adrift for over a year too.  Mikah acknowledged that and said she'd work with Aali for the rest of the day.  Still, that meant they had twenty days left before they were dead in space.  So, they had to plan.

Aali figured she'd have to spend the next day searching through the Coronal Flare, and likely the day after too, to see what she'd need to get that ship's power, jump and life support working.  After she started telling people what was on her shopping list, it would be up to the others to search through each of the wrecks and find her the parts, or something that could be jury rigged into a needed part.  For the rest of the crew, it came down to how much they could help Aali with their electronic or mechanical skills, or how well they could hunt down and recover parts, which meant being able to move things too.  The good news was that even largely unskilled crew members could be teamed up with one of the engineering androids.  The 'droids could locate and help uninstall parts on the other wrecks, and then the crew could move them to where someone flying a cutter could pick them up and get them to Aali.

That meant they mostly needed more people skilled and equipped to moving gear in zero-g.  Aali was the first person to say they'd likely need to see if they could wake up the marine Rol and Zimzod had found in the strike carrier?  Rol jumped in after that, reminding them that this new person may be a marine but may have been a member of a damage control team, and might have skills that could help them.  He admitted she wasn't likely a minor in engineering, but she might have electronic, mechanical or other specialized skills that would help.  Aali jumped back in, saying she probably knew her way around the ship.  That brought them to what would be needed to recover the marine?  They knew they'd need Aali to deal with the low berth, and they figured they'd need Mikah because a doctor was often needed to help revolve people from a low berth.

That meant the day would end differently than Aali had planned.  Aiden was called to move the Probe to the Coronal Flare and pick up both Aali and Mikah.  Zimzod and Rol, who had been returning to where Aiden waited for them, were told to find an access point close to the marine in the low berth so they could guide Mikah and Aali in when they arrived.  Emkir was told to bring the other cutter and dock it to one of the external hatches of the California, then power it down to not waste fuel until it was needed.  Then, Emkir joined Terin and Fesic on the California's bridge.  As Emkir moved his cutter, Aiden moved to the dead yacht to play taxi.

As Aiden flew Mikah and Aali to the strike carrier, the ladies got their first "up close and personal" look at the wreck and could see that ship was 'Ripped...To...Trash!'  Thanks to the data from Rol's book, Aali knew generally what hull spaces should house what parts of the ship's engineering systems.  Aali was most disappointed to see that some of the hull spaces she'd have hoped to explore were simply gone or had been badly blasted.  The most hope Aali could see was that she knew the ship's core jump systems were gathered around an aft and central column of compartments.  That area had seen some damage when the deck four cutter bay had been blasted.  So, there was significant damage in that area, but she hoped to find some parts in any undamaged sections.

Aiden was helped in his approach by a signal generated by Zimzod's battledress.  After he pulled in close to the hole Rol and Zimzod had found to use, Mikah helped guide Aali across to the wreck while Zimzod stood ready to catch.  Aali just tried to pull herself in and help Mikah in missing all the jagged bits of tearing sheared metal.  After Zimzod helped the women down to the deck, Aali decided it was a little beyond the point to ask permission to come aboard.  Following the men, Aali and Mikah were led to where the marine's low berth was located.  As they arrived, Rol decided to get in a joke playing on the powered up status of the berth, quipping, "The hot marine is over here."

On first examination, Aali had to admit there was power to the berth's systems, but she could not tell where the power was coming from?  Before doing anything, Aali checked the berth's systems and Mikah checked the marine's vitals.  Both appeared to be healthy, though Aali couldn't really see how much more juice was left to feed the berth?  And they couldn't just wake the woman up, because she wasn't wearing her armor helmet.  And activating the berth would, at some point in the waking process, open the berth in the vacuum and kill the woman.  They realized that meant removing the berth, so they could move it somewhere pressurized to open it.

Before they could move it, Aali knew she had to figure out where the berth's power was coming from?  Since the next berths were dead, and they couldn't damage them 'even more', Aali figured she could have the others help her remove the berths to either side of the marine's.  Then, she could see if she couldn't find what was connected to the one working unit, or not.  Of course, the damage to almost everything around the site made working on even the dead berths "fun".  In the end, it was thanks to Zimzod's battledress and the enhanced strength it gave him that they were allowed to rip away the two units surrounding the energized one.  And that, just barely even with the battledress.

After finishing clearing space, Aali was able, despite her vacc suit, to get in far enough to see that there was no power conduit running to the low berth.  Or, at least, not one that was energized.  So, the power source had to be internal to the unit.  Checking out the damage to each of the damaged units they removed showed Aali where to look on the still working unit.  Both showed evidence of an energy "flare" on the same section of each unit's back panels.  That suggested there had been a power spike which burnt out critical systems in each berth, and killing the crew members in them.  As Aali ripped open those panels, she found a distribution circuit that received power from either the ship or a battery, and fed it to the berth's systems.

Following those back, Aali found what was left of the batteries in each of the dead berths.  Aali then got out her tools and unsecured the working berth while having the guys held it in place.  Then, she had Rol and Zimzod carefully turn the still working unit.  When she could, she opened up a similar set of panels on that unit and exposed the still working battery on it.  Aali could then, again carefully, test that battery and saw the juice in it was fading.  Either they get the woman out of the berth in the coming week or they don't bother at all.  Seeing that, Aali announced it was time to get the unit completely loose from the ship and get it somewhere pressurized to open the can.

That meant Aali worked when needed but mostly commanded the situation and everyone else pitched in to get the berth clear of its mounting hardware and get it out of the wreck.  Aali had planned to spend ten hours working on the other yacht before calling it a day, but it took nearly an hour to get the low berth clear.  So, Aali realized she was doing less on the yacht that night, after they woke the marine.  If they did it on the Probe, the only thing left was to get back to the California and see what gear they could set to recharge before getting some rest themselves.  Finally, Rol, Zimzod and Mikah got the berth out of the hole in the carrier.

Looting The Wreck

     Moving Aali and the berth over to the Probe was a much easier job, though Aiden did have to void the cutter to open the cargo loading hatch.  Not one to waste any resources at this point, Aiden used the cutter's systems to suck its internal atmosphere back into the craft's storage bottles and not lose it to space.  Then, Mikah and Zimzod moved the berth into the cutter while Rol helped Aali make the return jump.  With everyone aboard, Aiden closed the cargo hatch and repressurized the cutter.

After stripping out of their gear and taking a moment to rest, Aali announced, "Time to kiss the sleeping princess."  She got chuckles from the others as they moved in to again assess the berth and woman.  Aali again assured the systems had enough power to activate the "wake up" sequence while Mikah got her medical kit ready.  Just being suspended in a low berth was dangerous and could be fatal.  Every time a commercial ship carried passengers in low berths, there was a "Low Lottery" where each of the suspended passengers pay a credit and guessed how many of them might die, before they were put under.  The winner got the cash unless they were one of the dead, in which case what happened to the winnings often depended on the ship's captain.

So, Mikah knew that no matter how hard they worked, the marine could still die no matter what she or Aali did to try and save the woman.  After a final check to make sure everyone was ready or out of the way, in the case of Aiden and Rol, Aali triggered the wake-up sequence.  Zimzod was told he'd help Mikah when she went to work trying to help the woman wake up, or trying to save her life if needed.  Half-way through that sequence, the berth's transteel facing began to open up and Mikah could start reaching in to place bio-sensors on the woman's exposed neck, face and head.  It was not long after that when the marine started going into apparent convolutions.

One of the reasons Zimzod was dragooned into helping Mikah, along with his medical training, was that he could open the marine's battledress quickly if needed.  And that suddenly became necessary as Mikah began to scan the woman and realized she was in the beginning of an apparent cardiac arrest!  Reacting to that, Mikah grabbed her injector and switched it to an adrenal-oxy hit and several cardo-stimulants, to try and kick start the patient's heart.  Ironically, by the time Zimzod had the front carapace of the marine's armor open, exposing the body sleeve under the armor, Mikah had hit the woman's neck with the injector and had her heart responding and correcting its rhythm again.

Still, it had been dicey there as it first seemed Mikah had not hit the woman hard enough with the drugs she'd used.  There was a moment where Mikah thought she had to step back and wait for Zimzod to get the armor off and take more intensive steps before the woman seemed to stabilize and begin recovering.  Mikah had even found seconds during the crisis to question if she'd set the injector to hit the woman with the correct drugs?  Then there was a moment of tension release as Mikah snapped at the patient in her mind, blaming the bitch for trying to make her look bad.  But Mikah had more self-control than to actually say that out loud.  As the woman recovered, Zimzod let the carapace of her armor settle back on her chest, but did not re-seal it.

Jocelynn knew she was waking up, and she also knew something felt bad.  In fact, something felt "really" bad.  Even worse, for the moment, Jocelynn didn't remember why or when she had gone to sleep?  She did vaguely remember emergency alarms and some feeling of crisis.  Still worse yet, it didn't feel like the alarms or crisis of combat.  Opening her eyes, Jocelynn saw figures in the fuzz that kept her from seeing anything clearly for a moment.  Then, as her vision cleared up, she realized she was looking into the scarred face of a woman she did not recognize.  As the focus of her vision widened out, she saw others in combat armor, vacc suits and one trooper in Imperial battledress.

Finally getting enough control of herself, Jocelynn tried to ask, "Who the hell are you?" in a voice that came out weaker, more than thready and less strong or demanding than she'd planned.  Part of Jocelynn's mind wondered at how many different properties her voice could hold as the unfamiliar woman demanded back, "Who the hell are you?"  Still, there was no accusation in the woman's voice nor was there necessarily any hint of command.  And that only confused Jocelynn even more.  Any doctor on the INS Regina's Storm would have known who they were waking up and why?  And as she spared some effort to notice the bits of her surroundings she could see, Jocelynn wasn't sure what compartment this was aboard the carrier either?

Things got even more confusing when the woman said, "We just rescued you" in a voice which gave her nothing more.  All Jocelynn could tell is that there 'may' have been a hint of 'you owe us something' in that voice even though that made even less sense!  Events were coming back to Jocelynn now.  There had been an emergency.  The ship had misjumped and the Captain had ordered many of the crew into low berths.  She, had been ordered into a low berth.  And she had no idea who the people around her now were, but she was sure none of them wore anything she would recognize as a uniform.  Even the battledressed trooper did not have any expected or recognizable insignia or unit identifications.

Trying to pull things together, Jocelynn said, "Whoa.  Hang on.  Where am I?"  The woman hovering over her said, perhaps a bit tartly, "You're in a low berth."  The tone also said, 'Hint!  This is something you should know'.  Taking these things in, Jocelynn also realized this woman was in combat armor herself, and had removed her helmet and armored gloves.  And, she realized she must be in some small craft or small services bay.  She also realized she was laying on her back in some sort of machinery even though she'd been put into a low berth, in a standing position.  She did reach down to check herself for injuries and realized - remembered - she was still in her battledress.


Beginning To Recover

     Figuring anyone who woke her must have been authorized to do so, Jocelynn started with the basics, saying "Sargent Jocelynn Guerrek.  6079th Imperial Marines, Special forces, Black Sun commandoes.  Where the hell am I?  The last was asked because she remembered being put, standing, into a low berth in a bank of those units but now seemed to be lying in a lone unit in a strange place.  Mikah answered, "Well, we found you on the IMS Regina's Storm and we rescued you off of there."  Jocelynn first repeated, "Regina's Storm", Yeah.  I was serving on the Regina's Storm..  Mikah cut her off, saying, "You misjumped", hoping to jog the marine's memory.

When Aiden added, "Badly", Jocelynn said, "I remember the misjump because they told us to get..."  After a pause to remember, she continued, "I remember the alarms and...and...yelling, low berths, and..."  There was another pause before Jocelynn said, "That's all I remember."  Zimzod was the first to say, "Good.  You missed the fun part." but all the others joined in with that quickly enough.  Remembering another chunk, Jocelynn suddenly asked "Where's the rest of my team?  Where's the rest of the crew?" with a voice thick with concern.  There were a number of attempts to answer but the only one that came out of the babbling that was understandable was Aali, grimly saying, "You're the one who lived."

When Jocelynn asked, "I'm the only survivor", those around her agreed with her until Rol's cautious tones cut through the confirming comments, correcting, "You're the only one we found.  Aali followed the silence Rol's comments caused, saying, "Yeah.  We don't think there were any others."  Quickly after that, Mikah said, "That's the good news." in as bright and cheery a tone as she could muster.  As Aali started to say, "The bad news is...", Mikah interrupted the engineer saying, "The bad news is we're in the same boat."  Aali confirmed that, saying, "We're about as fucked as you are."  When that only confused Jocelynn and she started to stutter questions like "what?" Mikah again stepped on the other's attempts to answer, saying, "We misjumped."

When Jocelynn asked what the date was, Mikah told her it was nearing the end of the 187th day of 1113.  In a dull and exhausted tone, Jocelynn reacted with muted surprise, saying, "Wow.  It's been over a year." and Aali agreed, "Yeah."  No one wanted to do the math which said it had been almost a year and a half!  Trying to think of anything to say to that, Jocelynn told them, "I made personal logs, but I doubt they're intact at this point."  Beyond that, her words faded because she had no idea what had happened?  As if reading her thoughts, Zimzod muttered, "You don't even know what the ship looks like."  As Jocelynn admitted, "No I don't", Mikah said, "Yeah.  The ship's destroyed."

Zimzod looked down at Jocelynn, shaking his head and looking grim as he said, "As one marine to another, that ship got butt fucked hard."  Jocelynn made a face and asked, "That bad, huh?"  Sadly, and almost to herself, Jocelynn muttered, "We had only jumped from the Adabicci naval base for a patrol of the Tenalphi system."  That told them she had some ideas of what her ship was doing but had not been briefed on all the ship's orders.  Mikah shook her head and said, "Well, now we're outside of the Inthe system.  As Zimzod joked, "Well, you're way off sister", Jocelynn had a surprised look on her face and asked, "Inthe!?  Isn't that, like, fifteen parsec jump?" in a completely surprised tone.

Standing around the woman still on, and partly in, the low berth, they nodded and Mikah even said "Yeah" before Jocelynn muttered, "Oh my god."  Trying to add some humor to the situation, Zimzod said, "if it makes you feel any better, one of your Lieutenant Commanders shot himself in the head over it." with a smirk on his face.  Next, Jocelynn started to ask, "How long were we drifting..." before she realized it had been over a year.  As those standing around her made noises of agreement, Jocelynn asked, "Who are you guys?"  Before waiting for an answer, she continued, "You're obviously a marine, sir." as she pointed at Zimzod.

Nodding even as Mikah said, "No", because Zimzod had been most successful in the Imperial Army, Zimzod ignored Mikah and answered, "I'm Sir Zimzod".  As Mikah was about to introduce herself, Jocelynn looked up at all of them and said, "Thank you, by the way."  Mikah then decided to take the 'formal' route and introduced herself as Lady Dame Doctor Mikah Kirlim".  Next, Aali introduced herself using her formal public name, "I'm Dame Aalikiir."  Others from the California had to remember Aali's various names at this point, or were raised Vilani and understood that culture and the use of the five different names a pure blooded Vilani would have.

Still, if Jocelynn, with a Solomani name, knew it or not, Aali had allowed her to know the 'casual' personal name she used with her friends and family.  "Aali" would only be used by her closest confidants.  Professionally, she was "Dame Eikusdi Piirirshu", and she had been married under her formal public name: "Dame Eikusdi Khaanmii Piirirshu".  Wanting to get the group laughing again, Mikah pointed to Rol and said, "And this is war criminal Sir Rol Kaihvos."  Into the pause that caused, something clicked in Jocelynn's mind.  She'd heard that name because any awarding of the Starburst for Extreme Heroism was big news in the Imperial Military.  So, Jocelynn had heard of Rol because she'd seen the news of his decoration with the Imperium's highest military award.

Rol simply nodded his head in greetings and joked, "Former war criminal." with a self-deprecating smile while the others, except Jocelynn, laughed.  In a surprised tone, Jocelynn blurted out, "You mean Starburst for Extreme Heroism decorated Rol Kaihvos?!" in a tone which stopped the others laughing as she recognized Rol's achievements.  There was another silence before she continued, "I know you!  I've heard of you!"  Zimzod joked, "There's a book about him", which didn't suggest the war crimes Rol had been accused of or the comedy they'd subjected him to over it.  So, Zimzod's comment was at odds with the almost nasty smirk he had on his face.

Jocelynn nodded her head and said to Rol, "It's an honor to meet you, Sir." in a serious tone.  Rol answered, "I'm honored to help you and wish it was under better circumstances."  Turning her attention to the others, without it having impacted her that everyone who'd introduced themselves was some kind of Nobility, Jocelynn again began apologizing for her lack of information on what happened to her ship.  Jocelynn then began telling them her unit had been security aboard and performing duties like customs inspections and the like.  Mikah stopped her and asked Jocelynn if she had any engineering skills?

Jocelynn admitted she'd been part of damage control teams and learned some mechanical and material management skills, but not anything like a ship's engineering.  Aali did say, "Well, I'm sure we can use that." while Mikah, Aiden and Zimzod looked glum about the statement.  Rol only nodded without being surprised because he was in the same boat.  As Aiden admitted, "Well, better than nothing", Jocelynn told them she knew the in's and out's of the ship and knew her way around so she could guide them to key locations aboard.  Of course, they knew her comments had to be held against the very large grain of salt which was the damage done to the carrier during and after her misjump.  Damage Jocelynn had yet to see.

When Jocelynn said she could help find and salvage some things, Mikah told her they definitely needed to find the right salvage parts.  Mikah continued, "We have one of your cutters, but the life support is shot, so we need to get that up and running."  Nodding, Jocelynn finally got to the point where she realized there were some questions she had not wanted to ask, but which she knew she had to.  So, she asked them, "Well, before I get up and see it, or return to the ship and get a complete shock, can you give me a run-down of what you know?"

Rol started, saying, "As near as we can tell, the misjump pretty much crippled the ship and did extensive damage.  The survivors tried to survive for a time..."  Zimzod stepped on that, saying "They mutinied."  Surprising her rescuers, Jocelynn glumly said, "Well that was happening before the ship even jumped."  Taking the floor back, Rol continued, "Yes.  In the weeks they spent trying to survive it seems there was a mutiny and, apparently during the mutiny, those who were part of the mutiny detonated certain other things inside the ship.  And that pretty much finished the ship off.  Near as we can tell, the ship is pretty much gutted."

Taking stock of her memories, Jocelynn answered, "You know...  I knew something was gonna happen, because the crew was disgruntled before we even left Adabicci.  And, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be sabotage..."  That last comment stopped everyone listening to her because only a suicidal fool would sabotage a ship's jump systems.  As the wrecks outside the cutter could attest, was rarely survivable.  Not realizing what she'd suggested, Jocelynn continued, "...because that crew was not a happy crew.  We were assigned to security for that ship and we watched the crew deteriorate and I had a gut feeling something was gonna go wrong."  With the others still thinking about intentionally causing a misjump, Jocelynn said, "I kept thinking something was going to go wrong."

Wanting to get this girl back to "Today" and current problems, Zimzod joked, "I guess I don't need to ask you how that worked out for you?"  Jocelynn started to say, "As far as the explosives go..."  Then, she seemed to consider what she'd said and added, "Well, the misjump, I don't know if it was sabotage or not, I'd have to look at things, not that I could tell.  I'd have to bow to Aalikiir's expertise, but..."  As her words faded to contemplation, Rol picked up, saying, "The only thing we know after that is one cutter was taken by a group of mutineers.  And one group of survivors took one of the cutters and tried to find some kind of rescue.  And, we have one cutter here, which had a two-man crew aboard that stayed and tried to signal for help."

Nodding, Jocelynn asked, "And, that's the one that shot himself in the head?"  Nodding, Rol answered, "Both people aboard shot themselves.  Yes.  They lasted as long as they could until their life support gave out."  Putting the pieces together better now, Jocelynn asked, "You all misjumped and I'm assuming your ship is dead too?"  Rol confirmed, "Our ship is pretty much as dead as it's going to be." and Mikah continued, "It's dead.  We still have life Support, but not for much longer.  So, we're trying to get another yacht here up and running, see if we Can get it up and running."  Surprised and confused again, Jocelynn asked, "A yacht?  Where'd the yacht come from?"

Rol said, "We're not sure." as Mikah said the same thing.  Rol continued, "One of our people is trying to get at the logs."  Jocelynn considered the introductions and realized only Sir Rol had introduced himself using any kind of rank.  So, she looked at Mikah, who'd introduced herself as a "Lady" which was the highest Noble rank they'd used and they all seemed to be nobility of some kind.  So, she addressed Mikah and said, "Then, it looks like we've got a purpose."  As almost an afterthought, Jocelynn added, "We've gotta get one of these ship's running."  Approving of the Sargent's forward attitude, Mikah nodded with something like a snap of her neck and agreed, "Yup."

Mikah started to ask, "So, if you can help us with..." before Jocelynn accidentally interrupted her, "So, we're in Inthe?"  While Mikah said, "Yes", Rol hedged, "Well, We're in interstellar space."  Doing the math, Jocelynn said, "Alright.  So, we have to piece together enough to get one ship, probably the biggest ship..."  Stopping in thought, she continued, "You said the yacht, so we've got to get this yacht running."  Mikah followed that by laying out the mission.  "For working space, we need to get the life support of the cutter running.  And then, salvage whatever we can from the carrier and our own ship."

Talking As Well As Walking

     Nodding, Jocelynn said, "Like I said, I know that ship inside and out so I can help you get around."  Zimzod said, "Outstanding!" as they all left unsaid, the fact that Jocelynn had not seen how the carrier had been twisted and blasted into a drifting wreck yet, so they had no idea how much actual value her local knowledge would be?  Intending to put words to action, Jocelynn tried to rise and grab her battledress helmet.  And while she managed to rise to a sitting position on her own, she knew the move had been very weak.  Happily, she found her helmet right where she expected it without having to waste the effort to look for it.

As Jocelynn realized she wasn't doing anything "today", the others knew it was later than they'd planned and some should be returning to the California.  Still, Jocelynn wanted to not only sit up, but shift on to the edge of the berth she was in.  Realizing it was more of a "stand up and step out with multiple helping hands" situation, Jocelynn rose unsteadily as Mikah considered what she could give the marine?  Jocelynn also realized someone has loosened her chest armor and guessed it was the doctor.  Still, she took the time to reseal the lose panel for her own safety.  When someone said she looked a bit drunk, Jocelynn just laughed.

She brushed off the comment saying, "I can drink.  I can drink with the best of them.  Got any whiskey?"  Mikah answered, "Ah, not on this cutter.  Sorry."  As other answers started to be offered, Jocelynn just waved them away saying she'd just been kidding.  When Jocelynn muttered about trying to find her former stateroom and her logs, she realized from what they'd told her that her stateroom might not be there anymore.  She didn't realize she'd said that last part out loud until Rol told her they'd not explored the entire wreck yet and didn't know what was destroyed and what was not, so her stateroom "might" still be there.  Jocelynn hoped so, since all her non-duty gear, and even some of that, had been in the space.  Especially the holo-cube images of her adopted father.

When Jocelynn speculated on finding a ship's log, because she was curious to learn what had happened, they told her they'd found her because her low berth was the only power source left on the entire ship.  Aali told her that was only because the low berth had been working on battery power.  Looking around, Jocelynn told them with a look that was entirely sincere, "I hate to say this, and I know you guys are in a bad spot, but thank goodness you came along when you did."  Zimzod suggested she might want to wait on searches for logs and Rol suggested that their own ship was in bad shape and all the time they had left had to be devoted to trying to survive before trying to solve personal mysteries.

After that, the group discussed what they could do on the next, and coming days before Mikah said they should get rid of the low berth, now they'd gotten Jocelynn out of it.  Especially since they had no place to store it.  Jocelynn agreed to that but asked to get her gear out of it before they did.  They all knew military units had coded lockers, where those being placed in suspension could store minimal gear.  Aali and Mikah agreed to that, because they could remove the battery afterwards, before jettisoning the unit.  Aali also figured she could remove the very small amount of life support components from the unit too.

Aali started working to pull the life support components as Jocelynn opened the locker.  She pulled out a gauss rifle, a laser pistol and its power pack, a cutlass in an armor-mountable scabbard and dagger, a small box of ten grenades and a bandoleer with eight gauss rifle clips in it.  Jocelynn also checked a compartment in her armor to confirm she had her armor repair kit, hand computer, hand cuffs and lock pick set.  Still, after Jocelynn got what she could from the compartment, she said she would have to try and find anything left in her quarters on the carrier.  As Aali worked, she mentioned they might want to try and raid the other low berths if any had usable life support components.

Jocelynn said that she'd also like to see if they could find any of the berths her team were in to see what she could salvage?  When Zimzod brought up moving the 'droids to search for parts, Aali reminded him they were not entirely autonomously intelligent and needed some guidance.  When it became apparent Jocelynn needed more rest before doing anything significant, Mikah told Aiden to take them back to the Coronal Flare.  There, he could drop off Rol, Aali and herself.  Then, Mikah told Aiden he could take Jocelynn back to the California until they call for pick up again. 


Getting Back To Surviving

     Before they got to the Flare, Aali finished harvesting what she could and stowing it in the Probe until they got back to the California.  After getting back to the Flare, Aali knew she had to look at the ship's power plant first.  She'd need to know "if" she thought she could get it up and running, and then what parts she might need?  After that, would be the life support.  Finally, she'd need to check the jump drive, but she wasn't going to be able to make a substantial dent in that work "today".  Still, she had a few more hours before she was too tired and needed to rest and they were burning the reducing supply of air, water and power they had, so this was not a vacation.  Still, Aali didn't think she'd work more than a total of ten hours to not exhaust herself.

The plan moving forward into the next day and future was that those without any helpful skills at the moment could help the effort by moving flashlights, other equipment and needs from place to place to help the effort.  Those with flight skills could move the cutters when needed for cargo movement of movement of the life support in the Probe.  After Aali started identifying what parts she needed and where they might be found on the other wrecks, those with mechanical and electronic skills could be sent to hunt those down with the 'droids to help remove them.  That also led to a question of scale?  The yacht would have smaller power plant and jump systems then the carrier might have.  So, the carrier could have the needed part only it would be much larger than the yacht's systems could fit.

So, issues of scale would have to be a component that could be machined down, which most parts with electronic systems in them would not be able to have done.  If they couldn't be machined down, then Aali would have to work with some of the 'droids to see if they could be jury rigged, like attaching and running cables from a huge power distribution cover to the power feed terminals in a smaller distribution block.  Of course, jury rigging systems was not only dangerous because of exposed systems someone might fall against, but could much more easily fail or be accidentally damaged.

And existing parts which might be of the correct size from the Hotel California would force them to shut down their only working life support and power sources if they have to be harvested from that ship.  So, those would have to be the last actions done, and would be best done after they got the naval cutter's life support working, so they had some shelter in addition to the Probe outside their vacc suits and sealed armor.  As Aali worked on the other yacht, all but one of the 'droids were working over the engineering spaces of the California to determine what would be needed to repair their systems.  While Aali knew that wasn't going to happen, that also developed a "negative" database of components not listed, to tell her what "good" components can be pulled from the ship and used.

That was the good news from the California.  The bad news, from the other wrecks, was that Aali had very little to test harvested components with.  And that could put them back in the same situation they'd been in when they looted the capacitors from the captured pirate ship.  But, it was the only answer to surviving without any help.  The hours Aali spent on the Flare's power plant did suggest that the primary damage to that ship had not been that system.  So, Aali hoped that relatively few parts would be needed to get it running.  After devoting her work to that, Aali did give the jump systems a cursory look while Mikah called for Aiden to come get them.

Aali could tell there had been both physical and electrical damage to a number of the system's components.  She'd obviously have to devote more time to examining it, to get any details.  And, she hadn't yet disassembled the power plant to get an understanding of what she might need to repair it?  So, despite knowing she needed to explore the system, she didn't have the time or help yet to do that right off.  The only real good news was that a quick visual survey of the ship's capacitors didn't seem damaged.  Of course, Aali knew where "it looks good" had led the Hotel California to.  While Mikah helped Aali with Rol for extra hands on the Flare, Zimzod had taken a 'droid to the carrier to see if they could harvest any life support components or batteries from the life support pods he and Rol had found.

What Zimzod reported after the hours spent on the carrier was that most of the pods had their power die.  As a result of that, most of the life support systems in them had ultimately been exposed to vacuum, destroying the active components of those pods.  Still, there were components the 'droid he'd brought with him could identify and harvest from the pods which hadn't burnt out.  That left Zimzod with some exploration time while the 'droid worked, but there wasn't much of any use to find unless he wanted to loot brass from the uniforms of the dead.  The crew members Zimzod checked had nothing personal on them when they died and Zimzod didn't want to get lost or caught in the wreckage while trying to explore the staterooms.

By the time Aiden was coming to pick up Aali, Mikah and Rol, Zimzod was also calling for pick up and reported a collection of harvested life support parts.  But, Aali speculated those parts might be purpose-built for the pods.  And even if they were usable, they'd likely be on a size scale which would be very miniaturized when compared to the components of a ship's power plant.  After they picked up Zimzod, Aali took a look at the parts and was certainly concerned about the size issue.  But, she figured she could get some rest and then try to shut down the California's life support short term, while trying to fit in some of those parts.  While Aali didn't say to the others, she was not encouraged.

Already waiting on the California, those who had been or returned to the ship got to meet Jocelynn before she begged off for the need to sleep.  Of course, one issue she had was recharging her battledress.  While the suit was largely well-charged "now", that would change once she started helping this crew with getting things done.  And while she figured Zimzod had a recharge station, that would be needed for his suit.  So, they could only swap on and off if they were planning to work separate shifts.  Like Zimzod working a "day shift" and Jocelynn working the "night".  Still, for the moment, she stripped out of the armor and was only wearing an Imperial marine day undress uniform(fatigues) under the armor.

Before she went to sleep, they brought her in to sit in the ship's lounge where Fesic introduced himself.  Terin apologized, saying he'd offer her tea but he had nothing to make it with at the moment.  They still had not really had the time to dig into his and Aiden's staterooms to see what they might or might not find from the jump bubble deformation during the misjump.  Taking a cue from that, Emkir went into his and Aali's stateroom and came back with some booze bottles and shot glasses.  When he offered that, Jocelynn said, "Now, you're talking!"  For those just meeting her, Jocelynn went over her story again, with Emkir adding in details he'd learned from the cutter's log.  When she finished up, Fesic joked, "Well, cheer up.  Things are much more optimistic here." and it was all Terin could do not to slam the gunner with an open hand.

When Jocelynn got to asking about setting her battledress to recharge, based on her earlier thoughts, they said they'd need to work something out for both suits eventually, but not tonight.  Jocelynn pointed out the suit was charged for now, but they'd have to set something up for her later.  Emkir did tell Jocelynn they could discuss it with Aali since she was their chief engineer.  As they chatted about ideas and possible strategies before Jocelynn crapped out, she did ask to see if she could actually "see" the carrier.  So, they led her up the ship's bridge and Jocelynn finally got a chance to see for herself the horrific damage the carrier suffered.  She even nodded and said, "That must be what Sir Zimzod meant when he said the ship had been butt fucked.

Jocelynn did spend a good number of moments staring at the ship from their distance.  She thought she would point out where technical sections aboard would have been if they'd been closer.  But, the ships were far enough apart that she couldn't point out any specific parts of the over-all carrier.  When she said so, Emkir told her that Rol had an e-book that gave them the basic layout of the class.  Where Jocelynn would be of value was where changes were made in the layout of this specific ship or where specific people were quartered if they had the time to do anything other than look for parts to get systems aboard the Coronal Flare operational.

At best, Jocelynn could scan the wreck for damage and then try to identify a specific hole or scar and say, 'this or that department was near there' on a given deck or set of decks.  When Jocelynn started to talk about the location of the bridge, Emkir said Rol and Zimzod had passed through the Flag bridge and knew the main bridge was a deck above it.  Jocelynn nodded then, and decided this crew knew about the ship's layout well enough.  After that, Jocelynn looked over and asked about the Coronal Flare.  The information Emkir could give was limited because he'd not been over to that ship and only heard what little he'd been told.  Eventually, Jocelynn ate some MRE's and needed to sleep and they settled her down in the med-bay, were Terin and Aiden had been sleeping.

After everyone had been picked up and returned to the California, Aali recommended they use the cutters and cables to tow the ship's closer together and then tie guy lines between them.  That would let anyone in the crew snap a carabiner to a cable and pull themselves across from ship to ship.  It would be slower, but they'd be burning up less fuel and wasting less resources.  Then, Mikah called a crew meeting to set things out and plan what they could.  They also woke Jocelynn up from her nap and had her join in.  When Mikah asked her how she was feeling, Jocelynn said she was ok and said the whiskey helped.  Mikah agreed whole-heartedly with that as she raised a cup of her own.

Turning to Aali, Mikah asked, "OK.  So, what have we got?"  Interrupting, Jocelynn told Mikah the damage to the Regina's Storm was much worse than she could imagine, but said there had to be "something" salvageable on the carrier.  For Aali's suggestion, Jocelynn said there should be recovery webs stored in compartments on what was left of the carrier's flight deck.  Aali said the 'droids were working up repair lists for the California's power plant, but would not complete that for another day or more.  And that would tell her what was good, because it didn't need to be replaced.  Still, that would take at least another day or more to find out and then they'd have to start working on the life support and the jump systems after that.  She made it clear this was not gonna be an "overnight job".

She also said Zimzod had brought them components she might be able to use to improve the life support on the California.  When Aali asked Jocelynn about the fighters, she had to admit she was a marine and was not familiar with the small craft or their systems.  The one good thing was that they could recover life support components from any fighters they found intact.  When Zimzod asked if there would be fighters fully fueled and armed, several of the crew reminded him the ship had likely had them secured for jump.  So, none of the fighters would have been in "ready" status and all of them would have been defueled and disarmed.

Jocelynn did snarl a bit about the jackass who seemed to have set off an explosion, because she thought that might have set off most of the explosions on the sixth deck.  But, given there was also a blast on the fifth deck penetrating into the forth(flight) deck and another blasting away a good part of the ship's forward neck, that was an assumption.  Zimzod was pissed because the explosions from the sixth(missile) deck seemed to have taken out the carrier's personnel armories.  Those were all the ship's troops weapons and armor.  When Jocelynn suggested they get organized and sweep all the wrecks to salvage everything they could so they could use what was needed, Terin interrupted her.

Terin pointed out they had nowhere to store everything they might find.  He and Aali also reminded them they didn't have the time to go randomly hunting goodies.  Aali needed to find exactly what they needed and they needed to hunt for exactly that without wasting time, air or power.  Starting the next morning, they had twenty days to get "something" running or they were dead.  So, wasting time on shit that was not needed was only committing suicide.  Fesic shook his head when Terin finished and asked, "Terin.  When did you become smart?" and got laughs from everyone but the navigator.  Zimzod squinted one eye while looking at Terin and said, "I think it's the lack of tea." as if the drugs in the tea were affecting him.  Zimzod continued, "I think that shit might be warpin' his brain." and Mikah agreed.

When Zimzod and Aali were asked about recharging Jocelynn's battledress, Mikah said they had extra vacc suits if that was needed?  Jocelynn said the vacc suits wouldn't give her an advantage carrying and moving stuff around.  Aali also had to admit it would tax what they had working now to recharge both or even one of Zimzod and Jocelynn's battledress suits.  But she thought it would not be a problem after they jury rigged a recharge station for Jocelynn.  Still, they'd have to send a hunting party to the carrier to see if they could find the remains of any charging stations?  When Mikah mentioned the PLSS systems, Aali said those were much lower in power requirements and only sucked up more of the air they'd run out of soon.

They planned for Fesic to try to mock up a recharge station the next day before heading to the Flare to help Aali.  Of course, there was no guarantee he'd be able to create a whole station out of bits and spare parts in just the afternoon, but he'd try.  Terin said Aali should go work on the Flare while Fesic was working on the recharge station.  Then, if Aali's figured out some parts she needs, Fesic could use one of the 'droids to check if the California or the carrier have that part intact and look for recovery nets to use to tie the ship's together.  And the person who fly's Aali to the yacht can bring Zimzod and Rol and try to tow it closer to the California, so they could tie the two together later with recovery nets from the carrier.

Jocelynn said that would let her explore a little while she was helping to find and recover the netting.  She also wondered if any of the carrier's repair shops had survived the damage?  But, that was something else to explore for if they had time.  That kept bringing them back to the fact that the next morning meant they had twenty days to find the parts to get the yacht's engineering working so they could breath and jump.  With that, everyone being tired, Mikah ended the meeting and everyone bedded down for the night.  The next day would be hard work and they could only hope it ended with some hope they could find the parts needed for the Coronal Flare's power plant.


Where everyone is at the end of the session:

     Everyone is asleep, not yet having woken to "Day two" of work to salvage at least one ship
        so they can survive
     Power aboard the California must be heavily rationed
     By the time everyone from the crew had bedded down, their PLSS' had been active for
        nearly 11 hours.
     Setting those to recharge has taxed both the rationed power systems and damaged life support

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Next: Dealing With A Fixer-Upper