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Last Updated     March 4 2019
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Consequences And Casual

Dinners, Desserts And Consequences
Inthe SPA Highport     Having come back to the suite to find the others gone, Mikah and Zimzod had cut loose on a mission to defile!  After hitting Aiden's bedroom and the dining room table, they'd also "stained" Fesic's luggage after his brief cameo appearance.  Next, they'd shifted into their bedroom, to continue their sex-tivities.  Fesic had gotten a "show" when he'd gotten back from his trip to find Zimzod "riding" Mikah on the dining room table.  Leaving when he realized "the show" wasn't gonna end just because he was home, Fesic had gone to a bar.  There, he'd met a female spacer and was in her rented tube, spending the night with her.  Emkir, Aali, Terin and Aiden had gone to visit the Scout base, where they'd been invited to dinner by Scout Leader Udagis.  While they ate, Rol and Jocelynn had been eating dinner at the Knight's Order House on the starport.

After eating, Rol and Jocelynn decided to spend some hours at the Order house.  While Rol and Jocelynn were finishing dinner, Jocelynn admitted, "I probably shouldn't have made a scene out of myself chasing after the General like that."  Rol answered, "I have to admit I am somewhat curious as to if you knew him or not?"  Jocelynn shook her head as she said, "No, but...  I get kinda crazy when I see high ranking officers, I guess.  And, after being frozen for a year and a half, I guess I'm still kind of out of sorts."  Accepting what she said, Rol nodded and said, "I can understand that."

Looking more directly into Rol's eyes, Jocelynn asked, "By the way.  What did he mean when he said you were a glory hound?"  Rol said, "Oh" as he worked to mentally decide how to best answer that charge?  He then continued, "Uh, well.  You have to understand that...  Um, the world I came from is not exactly one of those 'main stay' Imperial worlds", in a leading tone.  Jocelynn could only nod in agreement and say, "I hear you on that one.  I came from one too."  Again, Rol nodded and continued, "Yeah.  Well, on my world, if you had a steam line, you were a king." without explaining what he meant by 'steam line'?  Jocelynn only responded, "Oh!"

Rol went on, "So, to me.  Getting off that world was the biggest thing to happen to me in my life."  Jocelynn nodded and said, "Again, I understand that."  Part of her mind was cast back to thoughts of the frozen border frontier mining world she'd come from.  Restating a bit, Rol then said, "So, to me, getting off that world was a really big thing when I was a kid" in a rising tone which almost made the statement a question.  Stepping beyond the circle of those words, Rol said, "So, when I got into the Marines, I really wanted to both make a name for myself and I really wanted to pay back the Imperium for getting me off that world.  So, yeah.  I was a little eager."

Nodding and smiling as she got what she thought he'd meant, Jocelynn asked, "A little gung ho?" in a leading tone.  Rol just answered, "Yeah.  Very gung ho." in a chagrined tone.  Still, he was pleased he'd gotten past having to admit he'd really been more of a danger addict and adrenaline junkie than having acted out of a sense of a debt to the Imperium.  When Jocelynn nodded and accepted that with an "OK", Rol went on explaining, "But I was stuck in as a motorpool tech for a while.  And then, I convinced them to send me to OCS."  Jocelynn was surprised and grunted an "Oh!"

Rol moved on, saying, "And, again, I was determined to make a name for myself.  And, Yeah.  I took some chances.  I decided to volunteer for any kind of adventure I could get myself into."  Again, Jocelynn nodded and said, "I can understand that.  Believe me.  I came from the same type of upbringing, I guess.  I grew up on an ice world.  Literally at the edge of space."  Reconsidering how 'Imperialist' that sounded, Jocelynn reselected her words and said, "Well, the edge of Imperial space.  I mean, you could see the Belgardian Sojurnate from my world."  That was a statement as most Imperial worlds only saw foreign stars as the most microscopic of specs in their skies.  But she remembered the three stars of the star nation Belgardian Sojurnate as having been bright and prominent in Aster's skies.

When Jocelynn also said her world was close enough to keep tabs on the Trexalon system, her words also added meat to the ledge leaning over the border.  A Sword Worlds colony in expansionist centuries past, before being pulled or been beaten back, Trexalon was a wanna-be power in the space designated "District 268" by the Imperium.  While the region was currently non-Imperial space, the empire had been investing in a number of client states to grow them into the stepping stones to expansion there.  And those plans stuck a rock in the gears of Trexalon's own plans to carve out a star empire of their own.

Too small to fight the Imperium directly, the government of Trexalon had engaged in a number of shadow conflicts over the last century with the Imperial client states Collace and Tarsus.  Conditions in the Tarsus system also made it difficult for the Imperium, because they still embraced the open and legal use of psionic powers.  A stance that made it hard for Imperial authorities to fully embrace that system and provide more complete support against Trexalon.  That meant "small actions" and privateers were Trexalon's chief weapons where anti-piracy patrols and show-the-flag fleet tours were the main Imperial weapons when speaking of public visibility.

Jocelynn said her home system was out 'beyond the Glisten system' and Rol admitted, "I've heard of the Glisten system."  She laughed at his unspoken joke of 'who hasn't?', which more politely suggested she was babbling than any other comment could have.  Continuing about her home world, she said, "You don't want to go there."  Rol challenged, "Can't be too bad compared to my homeworld" in a grim tone.  Jocelynn answered that saying, "Same thing with me though, basically.  My parents died when I was very young, though, and one of the other...  One of their friends took me in and adopted me after they were killed."  When Rol asked how they'd died, Jocelynn said, "It was a mining accident.  It's pretty much a mining world because there's nothing else out there you could do.  So, it was one of the same things.  One of those worlds you grow up trying to get out of."

Rol listened as Jocelynn said, "And I tried to join the Navy, but they didn't want me.  So, I joined the Marines and found a real home.  And, you pretty much know the rest."  With a laugh that was a bit nervous, Jocelynn said, "You pretty much know the rest of my history.  I mean, I went special ops and was in the Fifth Frontier War, mostly in the Lanth subsector.  And, that led to the misjump, where you found me, thawed me out from my popsicle stand and that's it."  A bit uncomfortable with how grateful her tone had gotten as she finished up, Rol said, "Ah, well.  I understand how it feels for you to see it that way" and waved off her thankfulness for acts which were really the crew desperately trying to save themselves.

Shifting to his career, now he'd navigated the more difficult to explain bits of his history, Rol said, "In my case, I'd become an officer.  So, that meant that I'd ended up in charge of other people."  Rol glossed past the fact that any NCO like Jocelynn had been was also a person charged with leading other people.  Indeed, every officer worth their rank knew the NCO's were the ones making the really bloody decisions in the middle of pitched battles.  And keeping things together when the orders from on high made life difficult for the average grunts.  While Jocelynn didn't take it that way, Rol never realized how much of an insult she'd missed or ignored.

Trying to tie the pieces she'd heard together, Jocelynn interrupted him to ask, "So, you're saying that people got hurt?  Like, you lost members of your team?"  Rol shook his head as he corrected, "Not then.  I didn't really lose anyone until a lot later."  Nodding, that brought Jocelynn back to her conversation with the General, and she said, "Being in the enlisted ranks and working my way up the ranks, though, like I said, I tend to geek out when I see these really high ranking officers because I always wanted to be one some day."  Nodding with a smile that recognized her 'grass is always greener' impressions, Rol said, "I understand that.  But I have to tell you something here though.  You know the Corps is always going to be there for us, but we're not in the Corps anymore."

Jocelynn admitted, "I know.  And I'm still coming to grips with that too", and Rol continued, "Well, here's something to think about too."  Reconsidering his tack, Rol stopped and then asked, "Let me ask you this.  What do you think of our crew?"  At first, Jocelynn just laughed nervously because there had been so much activity in so little time.  Despite that, she'd still only seen very little of them in reality.  Schooling her emotions, Jocelynn matter of factly said, "Well, I owe you all my life."  Pausing, she repeated, "You gave me my life back and there's that to consider."  Continuing in an uncertain voice, Jocelynn said, "I haven't had a lot of time to get to know all of you, but it seems like an interesting group."

She smiled and Rol chuckled as he sardonically admitted, "That's a fairly good way of putting it.  Yeah."  Nodding, and in a bit of a sheepish voice, Jocelynn herself admitted, "Um, challenging Emkir to a drinking contest probably wasn't the smartest idea, but.."  With a smile, Rol cut her off there saying, "But you learned that lesson." and they both nodded.  Jocelynn continued past that, "I like the Captain very much.  And, Zimzod is, like, my hero.  He's pretty cool."  She didn't see Rol wince while swallowing his own opinions of Zimzod, as a bit of a loose cannon.  Still, Rol joked, "It's the battledress.  The Battledress gets everybody."

Not noticing Rol's wince, Jocelynn continued, "The others, I don't really know.  Aali's very sweet.  The others, I don't really know yet.  Terin and I...probably got off to a rough start but, that may change.  I don't know.  And Fesic?  I've only spent a few hours with him between all we've had to do.  And he was away all this week."  Jumping in, Rol asked, "In terms of people you would trust with your life..." and Jocelynn cut him off in turn.  She told him straight, "Well, you guys gave me my life, so obviously I trust you with it."  Seeing she wasn't able to guess through the vague fog Rol was spreading, he decided to find another way of being even more vague."

Speaking in metaphors rather than getting to anything like a point, Rol said, "OK.  Let me put it another way.  Think about the Marine combat teams you were working with."  Nodding, Jocelynn said, "Yeah?" in a tone that invited him to continue.  Rol then asked, "Would you expect any of these guys to be in that combat team?"  The question was, in itself, a stupid thing to ask because none of the crew beyond Rol had anything like the training her people would have been through.  So, only Rol could have qualified for such a team, and that was what he'd asked.  Not at all what he'd meant to ask?

Not sure what it was Rol wanted, mostly because he hadn't really come out with anything that made sense, Jocelynn decided to level set with him.  So, as he said, "Let me rephrase that", she cut him off and told him, "I came from a very, very highly specialized group of commandos.  So, I would have to see everyone in combat, I guess.  But, you all seem to work together very well.  Aali, I'm extremely impressed with.  With the way she pieced together three ships to get the Flare up and running using little more than bubble gum and string.  Running out of thoughts on which to evaluate them, Jocelynn asked, "What are you asking me?  I'm not sure?" which was fair because Rol had not formed a real question.

Nodding, Rol said, "The point is, we're a ship's crew." and Jocelynn answered, "Right?"  Again, her tone inviting him on.  Continuing, Rol added, "And, we watch out for each other." which was no more than members of a combat team would, so Jocelynn was still at a loss for what Rol was after?  Rol again added, "Because there's no one else to watch out for us." which was true.  A marine could always look for fellow teams in their own formation or flanking formations, or follow on forces to step in.  Still, Jocelynn commented, "That's kind of the way a Marine unit is too", because the members of any Marine team would pull together in an incident, cut off or no.

Despite that, Rol couldn't see he was still dancing around his point too vaguely, and wasn't going to get what he wanted.  For her part, Jocelynn wished he'd just get to the fucking point, which was good news in one way.  If anyone had been listening in, in hopes of gaining information, they might have died of apoplexy because of Rol's inability to make a clear and understandable statement!  Nodding at Jocelynn's comment, Rol admitted, "Yes, it is.  And we're a bit more eclectic than any Marine unit" to which Jocelynn laughed and said, "You could say that again."

Trying to continue, Rol said, "But, you know, that's just the thing.  We are people who have, more or less, come together from different walks of life.  And we watch out for each other, because there's no one else to watch out for us here."  Jocelynn nodded and gave an "uh huh" as she thought to herself, 'That can describe any fireteam or squad of marines who'd joined the Corps from different life paths and found themselves on the bleeding edge of a battle.  So, she really, really hoped Rol could find his way to an actual point somehow.

Coming in from an entirely different tack, Rol suddenly said, "We're not disloyal to the Imperium.  We're not criminals, but we do have to look out for ourselves."  All Jocelynn could guess was that he was leading to was some confession.  That, they'd somehow planned to plunder the strike carrier before they saved her as she answered, "Oh.  I completely understand that."  In hopes of cutting through the pea soup Rol was spreading in his failure to make a point, Jocelynn asked, "Are you asking me if I'm ok with walking the line, legal-wise?"  Rol said, "I just want you to understand that being in a ship's crew is not the same as being in the corps."

Again, that was a needless point.  The many vast differences from being an enlisted member of a government funded and controlled organization which spanned the entire empire were manifest from being part of a very small team where everything they needed was either earned through their actions or something they'd have to do without.  Jocelynn admitted, "Well, I wouldn't expect anything to replicate what the Corps gave us."  She continued, "And, I understand people have to make their way in the universe, know.  Rol nodded and said, "OK."  Again stuck guessing what it was Rol wanted, Jocelynn then confidently said, "I'm not going to run off, if that's what you're asking?"

Setting his head to the side, as an animal would while trying to figure out what a human was doing, Rol took yet another tack, saying, "I've had my ship lost out from under me with this crew", referring to the loss of the Hotel California.  That was also a senseless and emotionally thoughtless comment because Jocelynn had not just lost her ship, the Regina's Storm, and that ship's entire crew.  But, she'd lost her team, which were her entire circle of close friends and the only family she had!  Continuing, Rol tried to finish, saying, "I just wanted to let you...  Give you an idea...  Again, not having any clue what Rol was on about, Jocelynn asked, "A choice?" as if saying she could choose a different path forward from the moment.

Still, Rol stuttered forward, "A thought as to...  You know...  Being part of this crew...  This is a...  Stepping in again, Jocelynn assured Rol, "I know what you're getting at.  I know what it means to be part of a tight knit unit where you sometimes only have yourselves to rely on.  In truth, Jocelynn had no idea what Rol was reaching for, but hoped what she'd said would settle things until he could take the time to figure out what it was he wanted to ask??  A small but horrifying voice in her head even had to wonder if this was what Rol was reduced to mentally when he faced the idea of asking a girl to go to bed with him, since dinner was over.

Sadly, for Jocelynn, Rol wasn't done and wasn't giving up.  He continued, saying, "Well, this will be the second ship I've had with this crew", which was again thoughtless and possibly emotionally hurtful.  Lucky for him, she didn't take it that way, and she chuckled in a commiserating way and actually gasped, "Oh no."  Picking up on the other side, Rol went on, "But my point is that we've come through each time."  Hoping to change topics and get away from whatever manic topic had hobbled Rol's ability to communicate, Jocelynn said, "From what I've seen while we were out there in space, this ship is a lot better than your last one.  Her tone was both happy and hopeful.

Rol nodded, saying, "True, but given what we went through recently, this crew has definitely done amazing things.  Feeling she had to respond, Jocelynn answered, "I believe it."  Continuing the thread, Rol said, "They're a good group.  And, they're gonna be surprising."  When Jocelynn laughed and said, "I'm sure", Rol answered, "You have no idea."  After a pause, Rol continued, "But, we're very happy to have you because I think you're going to be something we needed in this crew."  Looking down, and in a more nervous tone, Jocelynn said, "Well, thank you.  I hope to..."  She then admitted, "That's part of the problem.  I feel so useless right now.  But...  I don't really have any skills other than combat and demolitions.  And, while that could be fun, I'd really like to be able to help Aali in engineering, but I have literally no engineering skills."

Rol shrugged that away, saying, "We're all part of the crew."  Nodding, Jocelynn's tone rose towards confidence as she said, "Yeah.  I'll find my place eventually.  Right now, I feel like a third wheel but I do have skills that could hopefully come in useful if ever needed.  Relaxing in his seat, Rol smiled and said, "Take it from the guy who shoots things if they need to be shot, and cooks things when they need to be cooked.  We all find our place in the crew."  Nodding, Jocelynn returned to the only real thing she could tell Rol, "Well, like I said, I owe this crew my life so I would like to stick around and find my niche, as they say.  Nodding, Rol assured her, "I don't think that will be a problem."

Not As Advertised

     Having let dinner drag as long as it could, the couple decided to check out the table-top display to see what activities were on offer?  That covered both things happening in the Order House and events on the station which could be of note.  The first item they saw was listed as a "Virtual Fashion Show" being set up for six Knights and their guests.  Looking into that, they saw it was a combined presentation from most of the Order House's venders, where holographic models would wear or carry and show-case a large selection of their goods.  So, it was more or less a sales presentation.  Given the size of Jocelynn's purse, she wasn't thrilled about it, nor was Rol after their earlier shopping foray.

Another small group of Knights were organizing a 'Cliff climbing' expedition that would leave from the Order House, boarding a privately chartered shuttle down-world.  There, the group would land in a natural preserve in the Central Union.  In the park, they would take part in a VIP climb of one of the more famous mountain faces on-world, with support staff and gear they either brought, bought locally or rented.  In addition, each climber would be able to set their level of challenge separately, with the teams coming together for camping events as possible.  Of course, climbers who camped "on the cliff" would only be able to socialize with those climbers who'd secured themselves close enough to join portaledges or other suspended camping gear.

Looking for something on-station for that evening, neither Rol nor Jocelynn bought into the three-day trip.  Another "exhibition" trip to the world below would take visitors to an "Old Town" museum and working farm in the Confederation of Mesak.  This museum was reputed to be as accurate to the era after colonists first settled Inthe.  Well before strategic needs brought in the military, along with increased trade and technology.  That trip would happen the next day, and would also be shuttled there and back aboard VIP chartered transports.  The next item was advertised as a "Holographic Zoological Exhibition", and would be presented in a hall within the Order House.

There, guests would enter the holographic experience of an "eternal zoo".  Passing through intersections, those visiting would see directions to either classifications of animals by scientific type, world of origin or level of visitor interest.  There would also be a menu of special events like "feeding times", "birthings", etc...  After viewing each single, or group of selections, the visitors could then make more selections or just exit the display.  Other options available would be to scale the 'length of distance' visitors had to walk between selections, allowing for those who enjoyed or did not enjoy hiking.  The experience could also be modified for environmental comfort for each separate group.  The selections available for this display covered all the various wildlife of the Regina subsector.

In another section of the Order House, the display indicated a group of eight Knights and guests were preparing to sit for a viewing of the Documentary: "Olav I: Admiral and Emperor", that would cover his historic life.  Born Olav Plankwell, Olav hault-Plankwell had joined the Imperial Navy and risen in the ranks.  In 589, with the beginning of what became known as the 'First Frontier War', Admiral Olav hault-Plankwell had been a senior Admiral when the Outworld Coalition invaded.  While Imperial forces suffered heavy defeats against the invaders, Olav rose to become Grand Admiral of the Marches.  He then led the Spinward Marchs Fleet against the invaders and was credited with recovering much of the Jewell subsector before finally forcing an armistice.

In 604, having finally won the battles needed to push back the advance of the Outworld Coalition and end the war, and with his victorious fleet at his back, Olav drove into the Imperial core to protest the lack of support sent to the Marches by Empress Jaqueline and the Imperial Navy.  After finally encountering and defeating the fleet led by Empress Jaqueline, and with her death in that battle, Admiral Olav hault-Plankwell proclaimed himself Emperor Olav I.  His fleet gave the Moot no choice but to confirm him.  Sadly, Olav was only the first of the "Emperors of the Flag", when his declared ascension by "Right of Assassination" opened the door to the reign of Barracks Emperors.  A series of Senior Naval officers assassinating the current Emperor or Empress with the certainty they could do better.  Or, who just wanted the power.

That led to the beginning of the Imperial Civil War, and opened the door to the Zhodani and Outworlds Coalition with the onset of the Second Frontier War.  Despite the negative events which came to pass following Olav's actions, his birthplace on Rhylanor remains a minor tourist attraction, and some of the crew had actually visited it during their stays on Rhylanor.  It was the sort of thing that was drummed into all children at some point in their schooling on the higher tech, or better connected, worlds.  Sadly, neither Rol nor Jocelynn had learned more, in their childhoods, than that Olav had been an Admiral, an Emperor, and that he'd been involved with both the First Frontier War and Imperial Civil War.  So, both found learning more about the man an interesting idea.

Checking the table-top display, Rol figured out how to get them to the small room in which the presentation was starting, and updated the computer that he and Jocelynn would be joining those who'd already attending.  They then settled their bill, Cr 85, which Rol covered, and moved off to see the documentary.  In-house people movers and grav lifts made sure they got their as quickly as they wanted to, and they did step quickly to be courteous and not delay the screening for those they'd be joining.  Still, they really hadn't thought about just who they'd be joining until they arrived and entered the space.

The event listing had only included a list of attendees by the title of "Knight" or "Guest".  What it didn't show were any other details about the attendees.  That meant they hadn't expected to see anyone in a military uniform in the room, which is exactly what Jocelynn saw when Rol opened the rooms door for her and swept a hand to indicate she should lead the way in.  The five foot, ten man appeared to be wearing an Imperial Naval Lieutenant Commander's rank and looked quite fit for his height.  The tan-skinned man had medium curly blonde hair, and stood close to a woman in a black-and-white patterned dress.  She also had blonde hair, though she wore hers longer.

Still, Jocelynn's shock wasn't that an officer was there, because many military officers earn titles.  What surprised her was that she recognized him!  Though, he'd not been a Knight when she knew him as a Lieutenant.  Back in 1108, when Jocelynn had first been assigned to the INS Regina's Storm she'd been forced, as all personnel serving aboard any naval ship were, to complete shipboard qualifications.  That was generally handled aboard Imperial Navy ships by the Senior Petty Officers assigned to the ship's tactical department.  They were overseen by one of the junior officers in the tactical department.  In that case, the man she saw amid a cluster of civilians had been the Lieutenant assigned to oversee the classes and training for her batch of new recruits.

While she tried to remember his name, Jocelynn recalled that the ship would have just received orders to proceed to the Lanth battle front back then, to confront and blunt the Sword Worlds invasion in that part of the sector.  While combat was heavy, the invading Sword World fleets were concentrated in the Lanth system and seemed to have a target fixation.  That meant they didn't widen their front and achieve both deeper strikes and the occupation of more Imperial worlds.  It also gave Imperial forces further trailing in the sector time to move spinward and ether defend worlds which were originally lightly garrisoned or join the defense of Lanth, eventually breaking the siege of that system.

The Regina's Storm would only spend the bulk of a year handling counter-siege duty before she and her squadron joined the drive into the Sword Worlds itself!  Eventually, the Storm and her sister ships would drive as deep as the Gram system itself, after participating in securing the Dyrnwyn system.  It was a note of pride that Jocelynn and her team could brag about having put "counter invasion boots" on the ground during dirtside attacks in both of those systems.

Seeing the Lt. Commander, Jocelynn couldn't stop herself from saying, "Holy Stars!" in surprise.  While she was able to grab back control from her reflexes after that, the officer and others looked up as she entered, followed by Rol.  The look of surprise obvious on the Commander's face as he saw her told Jocelynn he did at least recognize her.  Hearing her outburst, Rol stepped up next to her quickly, and scanned the room and group to try and identify anything or person she might have felt threatened by.  But the couple could see the people already in the room were as surprised to see them arrive as she had been to see the commander.

While Jocelynn could only vaguely remember something that 'might be' his name, she knew she'd be able to read it off the nameplate on the man's uniform blouse when they got closer.  Still, from the current distance, Jocelynn waved and said, "You were a Lieutenant aboard the Regina's Storm Sir.  Right?" in a welcoming tone.  She continued, "I don't know if you remember me, but we both served aboard the carrier at the same time."  Nodding, the man answered her, "I do remember you coming aboard.  And I recall you were an NCO of some rank, though I have to be honest I don't remember exactly what rank."  Nodding, she interrupted him saying, "At the time, I was an E-4, Sir.  I remember you were assigned to the ship's tactical department at the time."

After a pause, Jocelynn continued, "It's good to see a familiar face!  It's been a while since I've seen one."  When they stepped up, the officer offered her his hand and they shook while she saw the nameplate read, "Girkuuur".  The Commander introduced himself and his wife, Lefyleb, and Jocelynn introduced Rol.  Somehow, during the exchange, she got the feeling she'd had no need to do any introductions from her side.  Even while she felt that, the officer told her, "Actually, neither one of you needs an introduction.  I simply forgot your name at the moment in the surprise of seeing you.  I apologize.  And, we've all seen the news coverage."

The man continued, "We found it amazing that anyone survived.  We'd sadly written the Storm off."  In a tone that said she'd just been remembering her losses, Jocelynn needlessly said, "Yes.  I was the only survivor." and the man gently reminded her, "Yes.  So we read."  When she then asked what ship or office he'd been assigned to, or what he was doing, he stopped her and reminded her there were other introductions to carry out.  Looking up, Jocelynn noticed the obvious outstanding person in the room after Commander Girkuuur.  That was the elaborately dressed female Vargr in a bizarrely colored gown.  Such garish color combinations were a trait of the vargr race, thanks to the specifics of how they saw or did not see colors.

What made her more notable, as Jocelynn suddenly focused on it, was the circlet on her head.  A circlet that, in its surprisingly simplistic form, managed to indicate County Rank.  This female vargr was a Countess!  Commander Girkuuur introduced her as "Countess Athkazuk".  The Countess had fur of mostly browns and blacks with waves of red and striations of grey running through it.  That told both Rol and Jocelynn she was an older female.  Jocelynn curtseyed and politely said, "Nice to meet you, your Excellency."  Rol gave her a formal bow from the waist.  Beyond her name, Commander Girkuuur told them the Countess had been the Captain of the INS Retrinbrunn.

The others in the room had all ended up working the lead bridge positions aboard the Light Cruiser, and become friends as a result.  Like Jocelynn and her team of marines, they were thrown together and had spent the rest of the war bonding into a family.  Eventually, the ship was caught in a nasty fight in the Heya system(Regina), against the remaining Vargr fleet designated the "Uthith" fleet.  There, she was critically damaged and suffered more than sixty percent crew casualties.  More than half of those had been fatal, including her First Officer.  While the Countess had been Knighted earlier in her life, the survivors of her bridge crew had all been elevated for the ship's heroic actions in that battle.

Nearing the end of the war, they'd been scattered across the marches, and hadn't had any chances to gather together.  So, when events conspired to bring them all together in the Inthe system, they decided to schedule the documentary in the Order House instead of renting a small hall.  Their experience suggested every Imperial student would have learned this, and likely seen the documentary in their schooling.  So, they were certain no one would join them and they'd have the viewing room to themselves.  So, it was a surprise when someone did, not to mention that the "someone" were Rol and Jocelynn, who'd both been persons of interest entwined in the local news stream.

While Rol thought to himself, 'If they hadn't wanted people to show up, they wouldn't have done something which would have been advertised', Jocelynn politely said, "I hope we're not intruding?"  In answer, the Countess smiled, which both Rol and Jocelynn found interesting on the face of a vargr, and invited them to join in because they'd just been planning to hang out.  Now, they wanted to talk with and get to know the two a bit.  An awkward moment then came up when Jocelynn was welcomed to the Order House and asked when she had been knighted?  The assumption was that she had visited the Order House on her own.  She admitted she wasn't a knight, and was spending the evening with Rol.

Belatedly, Rol explained that Jocelynn was his guest, and there at his invitation to get to see what the life of a Knight was like.  After that, a couple of those in the group chuckled and the countess did something they took to be a chuckle.  But Jocelynn hadn't spent much time with vargr and Rol spent most of his time shooting at them or blowing them up.  The Commander said, "This is hardly representative of the life of a Knight, Sir Rol" in a very dry tone, and finished, "and I'm fairly certain you know that."  Still, there was an 'almost curl' to his lips that suggested he was holding in a laugh and that took the sting out of the words.  Rol just answered, "I didn't want to break her expectations."

After the initial jokes and comments, the group invited Rol and Jocelynn to sit with them as the introductions started.  They'd already met Commander Girkuuur and his wife.  They first found out the Countess lived downwell, on Inthe, after leaving the military.  And she worked for the Imperial Ministry of Justice as an investigator.  Her office supported the Marquis and other Imperial organizations interfacing with the five countries on-world.  The teams she worked with worked to investigate Imperial crimes committed by locals including the local governments.

Lt. Commander Girkuuur said he was on his way to a new assignment in a Naval shipyard in the Pixie system.  In his new job, he interacted with design firms making ship fittings and devices and worked the design specs to see if they could cut any deals.  That let the couple travel from system to system to meet with ship's system builders, and they didn't actually live in the Inthe system.  It turned out the next Knight was actually the 'commander's ride'.  He was introduced as Sir Eremag Ukhuku, owner and master of the jump-four IMS Baasii Gishii.  One of the benefits the commander had in his job was the freedom to pay his friend Sir Eremag to fly him around the Marches.  So, when they knew he was coming to Inthe, they figured they'd set up a small reunion.

The next man, a six foot-four, blue eyed and fair skinned man with short black hair had traded on his former military rank to start high in 'Social reclamation', and had risen even higher since.  When he was asked if he dealt with prisons, Sir Shunuke laughed and said he didn't.  What he did was travel to those systems where populations had been badly affected by the war and work with local authorities to help repair cultural damage.  To help shattered societies recover instead of further fracturing or collapsing.  His specialization was in the soft sciences of mental repair rather than the construction work of rebuilding.

The last of the group was a five foot-five, green eyed woman who's ruddy complexion contrasted sharply with her medium white hair.  She worked with Sir Shunuke as a team, but were not a romantic couple.  After the introductions were done, the knights made it clear they were delighted to have a chance to get to know Rol better than the news stories, and to have a chance to learn about Jocelynn at all.  Rol did his best to project the idea Mikah's crew were free lancers, travelling from system to system, doing what they could to help out.  As he did, the Countess enjoyed making snarky comments about some of the "services" she'd heard the crew had "provided".  She'd apparently heard of the "work" done by Lady Mikah and her crew.

For her part, Jocelynn made it clear she'd only just returned to her life and was trying to find her footing.  Most of the others nodded but the Countess gave Jocelynn a particularly wolfish smile before asking her, "And, where do you see yourself in five years?"  The question certainly put Jocelynn back on her heels as she had to stop and think before answering.  Starting slowly, Jocelynn said, "Well, your Excellency, I haven't even thought five days ahead.  But, I know my days in the Corps are behind me.  That's for sure."  She left unstated that she was sure she could re-enlist if she wanted, but didn't really want to follow that path.

Getting passed that, Jocelynn said, "I owe these people my life for rescuing me from the Regina's Storm, and I feel, at least for the foreseeable future, I'd like to see where this crew might take me?  They have been very kind to me and, like I said, I literally owe them my life at this point.  So, I believe I, at least, need to repay them somehow."  Jocelynn got some nods with that as she left unspoken the fact she was a part owner of their ship thanks to the board of inquiry.  After Jocelynn avoided putting her foot in her mouth, they turned to Rol and asked what kind of jobs he felt their crew were looking for?

Saying, "Well," Rol paused to take a breath and consider his answer.  Into a sudden silence she obviously had not expected, Jocelynn muttered, "Ones that make lots of money."  She was surprised that her voice was not nearly as quiet as she thought it would be, as stole Rol's soap box.  As suddenly as she felt her personal embarrassment, it was washed away by the roaring wave of good natured laughter her comment caused.  When the laughs died down, Rol answered, "Right now, we're just trying to remain solvent.  We've got a new ship and we'd like to see what we can do?  Maybe we'll go in for some cargo hauling."  Nodding, Jocelynn admitted, "Honestly, I have yet to stretch my legs outside the Corps, so I'm up for different things."

Sir Eremag asked Rol if he thought his crew were up for adventure at all?  Rol happily said, "Yeah.  I think we are.  I'd say we've had quite a few adventures and I think we'll have more to come."  Hearing that, the Countess said, "I'm sure my friends and I will keep that under advisement" with what they guessed might bave been a satisfied expression.  Jocelynn looked at her and happily said, "Yes!  Please do!" while Rol said, "Always looking for new friends".  Jocelynn nodded and said, "It's always good to make new friends."  Suddenly, Jocelynn surprised them all by asking if they'd be willing to share their contact information and, just as surprisingly to Rol, they all did.  Rol then watched as each of the Knights and the countess bumped their contact data to Jocelynn's Ident.

From that point, the group settled in to conversations about interests, experiences and socializing.  Rol and Jocelynn were accepted, but knew that wasn't just because they were "currently" famous.  They knew that the Knights were seeking some specific value in each of them, as well as the value of the crew they were connected to.  And, that was on top of any connections they or the crew might have.  During the chatting, Rol realized that the Countess seemed to know everything about the crew's last visit to Inthe, and what they did to combat the vargr gangs.  This despite the fact IRIS had made it clear, at the time, what they were doing was "not" of Imperial concern.  So, he had to wonder about her interest in the events?

Other members of the group asked about the battle in Rhylanor, when the team emerged from jump into the fight against von Kreden's ramshackle fleet.  Rol was asked about where he was, what he had done and experienced during the battle?  He had to admit he'd just been the 'Marine on board' during the battle.  He could only say he stood ready to repel any borders if that was needed.  Rol could describe some of the actions of the crew during the fight and more of the reactions afterwards, but chose to keep his comment conservative on those.  Still, Jocelynn listened as this was a new bit of the crew's history she was learning.  Rol was also asked about his impressions of Arch Duke Norris, from the time the crew spent with him.

Thanks to what Commander Girkuuur knew about her, Jocelynn was asked about her experiences aboard the Storm, before she was put in a low berth.  The Knights were interested not only in what she had lived through in the parts of the ship's history which were known, but also in events that went unreported because the ship eventually mis-jumped.  They didn't ask any questions which were sensitive, or touch on things that were too personal.  Still, both Rol and Jocelynn never felt like they were being sized up to see what 'kind of piece' they were or where they could be placed on the board.  Even though they both knew that was most of what was happening.  In the end, Jocelynn told them the crew were in port for at least the next five days, before they got their new ship from the yard.

Shooting Off Mouths And Rumors

     At the Scout base Annex on station, Aiden, Terin, Emkir and Aali had been invited to dinner by Scout Leader Udagis.  After he'd made the invitation, Udagis had taken Emkir and Aali on a tour of the annex while his people had collected Terin and Aiden.  Aiden, Terin and Aali had gotten paid for their Silver Asteroids and they all got in on the last parts of the tour before returning to the base's officer's country.  There, they relaxed and talked until it was time for dinner to be served.  Udagis also invited in some of his senior officers and scouts and everyone was introduced around.

Gathering to eat, the four crew were surprised just how well Udagis had prepared to feed them!  The feed bag that was laid out for them was quite a little feast.  Along with the Scout Leader and the four crew, he'd invited a number of senior scouts to join them, and it was very clear everyone had heard of them.  In conversation, it was even more clear they'd all seen the news of Aali and Emkir's wedding and Aiden's Knighting.  They'd also heard much of Emkir's very famous father too, or his public facade at any rate.  What slowly became even more clear was that the Scout Leader was more interested in "who he could connect to" through the crew's connections than the crew themselves.

There was still a good bit of talk about adventures during the war before things finally turned political.  That reprieve even lasted through dinner, so things didn't turn until the after-dinner drinks came out.  Not that Emkir or Aali were impressed with the booze.  It didn't live up to the fancy bottles they were presented in, or Emkir's expectations.  Of course, there never was a conversation Emkir thought he couldn't "fake", so while the others Really wanted to 'leave soon', "The Admiral" waded in.  Sadly, Emkir spent more time thinking about how he wanted his audience to react than his exact wording.  That meant he sonn tripped over his wording, saying, "The smartest thing I ever did was marry this woman.  The second smartest thing I ever did was have the Arch Duke officiate at the wedding."

Hearing that, Udagis and his people sat up even straighter!  They'd hoped to connect with politically powerful people who could do good things for their careers.  Or, perhaps, someone well connected, who could hook them up with more powerful or influential people that could help their careers.  And there was Emkir, bragging that he'd had the Arch Duke officiate for them!  This suggested Emkir was the jackpot and they perked up and dove in, asking how long he'd known the Arch Duke, or what role he'd perhaps played in Norris' ascension?  Unaware of their specific hopes and how his random brag struck a spark in the room, Emkir was caught by surprise and tried to figure out just what he'd said to cause such reactions??

Slowly, Emkir was able to make sense of the sudden interest from his host and the other officers.  And, as he realized just what it was he'd said to set them off, Emkir did his best to back-peddle.  He tried to explain that the Arch Duke had really demanded the role as a publicity stunt, and what he'd said had just been a bad choice of words.  Of course, he only made matters a bit worse when he admitted, "Well, we helped him out with a few things".  That cemented his relationship with the Arch Duke in the minds of the officers.  Especially when they asked Emkir what things he'd done for Norris and Emkir had to admit he wasn't permitted to talk about it.  Watching from the side lines, or in Aali's case, trying to get Emkir to shut up, or wishing she could say 'Ix-ney on the Ulduggery-skay!'  Terin and Aiden could only be glad they'd not stepped into the sudden feeding frenzy.

It also didn't help that one of the more common rumors about their crew was that they'd been doing things secretly for the Arch Duke.  They were even rumored to be part of his 'dirty tricks' squad.  Having said 'We did things for him' and 'We can't talk about that' was almost an explicit admission the rumors were true!  Aiden stuck to boiler plate statements like, "Yes, it was an honor to be Knighted by Her Grace."  All the while, wishing he could slip a knee under the table to kick Emkir in the groin and shut him up.  Past that, he made sure to keep silent on any political conversations.  Terin's out was his claim to have joined the crew too recently to have been involved, even though that was an obvious lie.

While Emkir worked to move from "jackpot" to "let's get some cards and play", the officer sitting next to Aiden spotted the weapon in his belt holster.  He asked, "What is that?" in a very interested tone.  That had the effect of getting Emkir out from under for the moment when all heads turned to that part of the table.  It also took Aiden a second or two to realize the man was asking about his custom snub pistol.  Trying to be as low key as possible in his tone, Aiden said, "It was a gift from the Grand Duchess on my elevation to Knighthood."  Coming on the heels of Emkir's performance, that only pumped more hydrogen into the flaming political feeding frenzy.

Udagis and his officers were certain these people were playing things far too modest and they only had to find a way to hitch their stars to these people, to benefit their own careers.  Those who hadn't really cared about the "what is that" comment were struck by Aiden's answer as the officer next to him asked, "Really?  Can I see it?"  Realizing he couldn't politely refuse, Aiden carefully withdrew the pistol from its holster and warned the officer, "Please do not touch the grip, as it has been DNA-secured with a grip-taser.  Before you reach for it, let me disarm it."  Aiden then made a show of setting his right forefinger in the fingerprint reader slot before he moved the now-enabled selector switch to "inactive".

Again making a show of removing the clip and clearing the weapon completely, Aiden handed it to the officer to examine.  Pointing it at the room's ceiling, the man examined the weapon and asked, "This is a very interesting design.  Who came up with it?"  Aiden started to answer, "I designed it myself.  I've always enjoyed..."  And that quickly, Aiden was even more the center of attention as most of the scout officers leaned in.  The man holding his pistol asked, "Really?!  you're a gun smith?"in a tone that was both excited and impressed.  The man's tone also made no attempt to hide both the interest and surprise since Aiden's comment made claim to significant skills.

Realizing what he'd said only too late, like Emkir, Aiden started to back peddle.  "No.  I did design it..."  He then realized he was again off in the wrong direction and restarted, "I designed the parameters for it, and the gift from the Grand Duchess was an appointment with her personal gun smith and payment for his work making the weapon.  So, the gunsmith and I had a very long conversation and I gave him the parameters I was interested in.  And he did wonders with it."  The conversation continued as the officer asked if Aiden minded them passing the weapon around the table?  Aiden nodded and let them all check it out despite his feelings of separation anxiety.

Talking about the pistol led to a conversation about favorite weapons, which was much more comfortable ground for Aiden, Terin, Aali and Emkir.  Eventually, after Aiden had his pistol back and holstered again, they spent a fair bit of time talking about weapons before the talk again circled back into political waters.  Thanks to the revelations and verbal mis-steps, all four of the crew knew that was something they couldn't get away from unless someone made an excuse.  So, they begged off because they had to return to the rest of the crew, to see what Lady Mikah had planned?  And playing the 'Lady Mikah" card trumped any last minute diversions Udagis could suggest.  The evening came to an end as the four grabbed a kart back to the suite.

Scents And Smokes

     In the suite, Mikah and Zimzod's batteries had finally run down and they were snuggling in their bedroom.  Unfortunately for Mikah's plans to call house cleaning to the suite before Aiden returned, it was about that time that the party of scouts got back.  Stepping into the suite, Emkir noticed "something" smelled off.  But it was Aali and Aiden who were almost physically smacked in the face by the intense sexual "scent" in the space.  And, that was only in the suite's entry passage!  Stopping short, Aali exclaimed, "What the fuck?!", which clued Terin in that he'd missed something.  Aiden also reacted while Emkir turned to Aali agreeing, but asking "What is it?" in a confused tone.

Not pleased at all, Aali said, "Lots and lots of rubbing, maybe not involving the usual orifices." in a seriously disapproving tone.  In more of an annoyed tone, Aiden complained, "Thank you Aali.  I did not need that image in my head.  I had enough running through.  Thanks for the addition." as if his delicate mental sensibilities were all that mattered in the situation.  Not giving a shit for his self-important antics, Aali simply said, "Your welcome.  Glad to be of service, as it were." with an honest if brief smile on her face.  Aware'something' was up, but at first but not sure what, Terin caught onto the conversation and then figured out the smell.

The four reached the point where the entry hit the suite's living room and Emkir let out a loud shout of "INCOMING!"  Hearing that in their bedroom, Mikah unhappily grumbled "The kids are back."  That happened while Terin deliberately stepped over to the rooms atmospheric controls and set the rooms air circulation to 'high', to clear the room.  Looking back at Mikah, Zimzod nodded and said, "Make the call", knowing she'd planned on calling the hotel's cleaners in.  Rolling over in their bed, Mikah grabbed the comms and called the hotel to ask for a crew to come to their suite and clean the place within an inch of eternity.  Then, they swallowed their giggles and braced themselves for the moment when Aiden stepped into his bedroom.

The first thing Aali wanted to do after finding themselves in the center of the mess, was step back out to the hotel's passage and not deal with the situation.  But Emkir looked at Aali and told her they had to get into their bedroom and grab some of the nice lemony-scented cleaners they'd bought worlds ago.  In fact, they'd been carrying those along with them for just this sort of event.  After turning up the air refreash rate in the common spaces, Terin moved into his bedroom and very happily realized the smell "out there" wasn't also "in here".  Closing the door to his bedroom, Terin decided it was time to call the shop from which he'd ordered his custom duster, hoping to change his order.

Getting a worker from the shop on the comms, Terin introduced himself, gave his order number and said he wanted to make a change to his order.  Terin started to say he'd reviewed the order and decided he wasn't happy with it, but the worker interrupted him to say the duster had already been shipped.  Terin was told it would arrive in the next day or so.  And, because it was a custom order, Terin realized he was stuck with the duster.  Accepting that, Terin simply said, "OK.  I'll be in touch with you later." and then "No" when the clerk asked if there was anything else he could do for Terin?

While Terin changed the suite's air exchange systems in the living room, and Emkir and Aali had gone to their bedroom, Aiden went to his bedroom to escape the mess in the suite's common areas.  Hoping to relax in a clean space, Aiden was completely surprised by conditions in his bedroom.  Not only were the smells even more nasty there, but there was a huge wet spot on his bed where Mikah and Zimzod had obviously "gone to town".  After recovering from the surprise and looking around, Aiden got the impression there hadn't been a single surface in the room which they hadn't used, except the ceiling.  Maybe.  Turning on his heels, Aiden left the room on a mission.

Finishing his call, Terin decided to ask who wanted to join him, to enjoy some mild hallucinogenics from his hookah?  After he grabbed the gear and spread it out to be set up, Terin turned to step out of his room and see who was in the suite's common spaces?  Leaving his bedroom, Aiden had stepped into the living room and turned towards Emkir and Aali's door.  Almost at the same time, the couple were coming out of their room with spray bottles in their hands.  Looking at the bottles, Aiden saw they were some kind of lemon scented antiseptic cleaner!  Nodding to himself, Aiden stepped up to the couple and snatched the bottle Emkir held and turned back to his bedroom door saying, "I'll return this to you later!"

Holding back his laughter, Emkir happily told him, "We don't expect any of it back!"  Hearing that, Aiden stopped, turned back over to them and snatched the second bottle from Aali's hands with even less manners than he'd shown Emkir.  Aiden then turned back to his bedroom door.  Looking down as he moved, Aiden saw the bottles advertised the contents as bacteria killing surface cleaners with a lemon-vanilla scent, and didn't have to think hard to figure out why the couple had those ready to hand after their own escapades?  Realizing they weren't the air fresheners he'd hoped for, Aiden yelled back, "I'm investing in lysol, you assholes!"  He then stepped into his room and started to close the door behind him.  Laughing, Aali said, "I told you he'd be praying for a vanilla scent!"

She was almost interrupted by Aiden, before he did close the door, when he leaned out with an expression on his face suggesting he wanted to do anything else.  He then said, "As much as it hurts me.  Thank You!"  Almost collapsing in laughter, Aali tried to get out a "You're welcome" before the pilot disappeared.  Laughing, Aali repeated, "I told you he'd be praying for a vanilla scent!"  Emkir just stood amazed and croaked out, "I never thought I would see the day!!"  Meanwhile, inside his bedroom, Aiden was even more annoyed to see he was holding "cleaner", not deodorizer.  Not believing cleaning would help the disaster someone had turned his room into, Aiden turned up the room's air exchangers and started spraying the cleaner on any surface he thought was clean to start, not wanting to touch the mess.  So, he entirely wasted what he'd rudely stolen from the couple.

Mikah made the call to hotel services while Zimzod decided he'd try to clamp down on any panic that could be starting out in the suite.  So, he rolled out of the bed and strode out into the suite's living room to start spreading the word the cleaners had been called.  Unfortunately for them, Zimzod didn't bother stopping to throw on any clothes before he did.  In the living room, Emkir and Aali were still recovering from their laughing fit when Terin came out of his bedroom to ask if anyone wanted to share on his hookah?  He'd just finished asking them that when Zimzod appeared from his and Mikah's bedroom completely naked.  Ignoring that, Zimzod took as official a stance as he could while announcing, "House keeping has already been called."

Having heard Terin's invitation, Zimzod then casually said, "Hook it up.  I'll hit that" and moved towards Terin.  Eyeing Zimzod from the waist up, Terin loudly exclaimed, "Put some clothes on!  Put a jump suit on, or something."  In their bedroom, Mikah had slipped into the shower, to clean up and get dressed before coming out into the suite.  When Terin told him to take a shower before joining the party, Zimzod gave him a 'weenie wag', trying to spin his cock like a burlesque dancer's nipple tassels.  Zimzod then thought of the size of the showers in the suite and was ready to bet Mikah was in theirs.  So he went back into their bedroom to join her.  While he did, Terin returned to his bedroom to get the hookah ready, and pulled out a packet of mild hallucinogenics.

When Zimzod got to their bedroom, he called to Mikah, "Hey Mikah.  Is there room for two of us in there?"  Mikah firmly called out, "No!"  Then, for reasons he didn't know, she added, "Use Terin's".  Accepting that, Zimzod grabbed a set of clean clothes and then walked back out to the living room, still naked, and made his way to Terin's bedroom.  Terin had returned to his bedroom, intending to set things up for people to smoke there.  Emkir and Aali watched as Zimzod re-appeared and crossed the living room before going into Terin's bedroom.  Zimzod walked into the room carrying his clothes and loudly saying, "Hi!  How are ya?"  Seeing Zimzod again, Terin pointed to the door and said, "I was planning on setting it up in the living room."  With a grin on his face, Zimzod answered, "OK.  I'm here to use your shower" in a gleeful tone.

Annoyed, Terin told him to use the shower in the suite's guest fresher but Zimzod told him, "Mikah said to use your shower."  Not backing down, Terin demanded, "So??  When do you ever listen to her?"  Fixing Terin with a look, Zimzod flatly said, "She's the captain", daring the navigator to deny Mikah's authority, even off the ship.  Hammering that in, Zimzod continued, "That was a direct order buddy", and laughed at Terin's expression.  Throwing up an arm in disgust, Terin answered, "Fine!  Go ahead" in a disgusted tone.  Hearing this exchange from outside the room, Emkir and Aali were leaning on each other laughing.

Terin took the hookah out into the living room, to find a place to set it up while Zimzod invaded his shower.  The water came to the heat setting he set as Zimzod checked out all of Terin's shampoos, washes and other body cleansing goods.  And spilled most of them all over the shower stall.  At the same time, Terin had gone to the dining room table to set up the hookah and found it had been "used" by Mikah and Zimzod.  He then went to the living room and checked out the comfortable seats, to find those had also been "used".  They, and the couch, had been "slimed.  Seeing Terin's growing disappointment, Emkir invited Terin to set up in his and Aali's bedroom.

After Terin accepted that, and stepped into their clean bedroom to set things up, Emkir grabbed his comms and called Mikah.  In the shower, Mikah didn't answer, so Emkir left a message that they were all in his and Aali's bedroom, enjoying "fresh air".  He said Mikah should join them when she was ready.  By the time Mikah was dressing and Terin done setting up the hookah on Emkir and Aali's bed, a chime rang from the suite's front door.  Mikah hit the intercom for the whole suite and told Aiden to answer the door, since she was sure he'd been the one doing most of the stewing and whining.  Without many more options, and muttering imprecations under his breath, Aiden agreed and went to let the cleaning crew in.

The first view the cleaning crew had of the people in the suite was Aiden.  He'd opened the door with an invisible dark cloud of malevolence enshrouding him, and spray bottles of antiseptic cleaning spray in each hand.  Looking him up and down, the senior member of the team asked, "You called for us to come clean the suite?"  Aiden's shoulders visibly relaxed and he said, "Thank god the calvary's here."  The group were a team of human and android workers, carrying their supplies with them, to add to what was already stored in a closet in the suite.  Attempting a joke while they entered, Aiden said they might have to wipe the memories of the androids after the job was done.  Of course, this mess was nothing special to them.  And, they recognized Aiden's histrionics as the pilot inflated a "speck" up to planet-shattering proportions, just to justify his need to feel personally offended.

Following the team in, Aiden watched as they divided to teams and specifically directed one of those into his bedroom saying they needed to hit that room hard.  With another two teams taking the living and dining rooms, one of the remaining teams first went to the room belonging to Jocelynn.  The two remaining teams went to Mikah and Zimzod's room and Emkir and Aali's room.  When the knock came at Emkir and Aali's door, they called out that the room didn't need to be cleaned.  Mikah had slacks on and was standing in her bra, about to put her top on when a knock came at the door Zimzod had left open.  Expecting the cleaning crew, she told them to come in rather than watch her get dressed from the hall.  The team Emkir and Aali waived off shrugged and went to work in Rol's room.

After getting dressed, Mikah checked her comms because she saw a its message light blinking.  Listening to Emkir's message, Mikah went to join the others around the hookah.  By the time Mikah arrived, Terin had not only set up the hookah, but gone back to his bedroom to shout to Zimzod that they were all in Emkir and Aali's room.  Outside his room, Aiden had been watching as the cleaners literally ripped the room apart.  They removed not only the bed clothes but were removing the mattress too!  Other cleaners had removed all the cushions from the couch and seats in the suite's public spaces and Aiden's room as well.  They were cleaning from the bare metal out.

When Terin passed him, after telling Zimzod where they were, and as Mikah came to join the party, Terin asked Aiden if he'd be joining them?  At first, Aiden said no, while standing there holding on to his meaningless anger at the prank.  When he said he just wanted to get some sleep and forget the night ever happened, the group around the hookah heard and told him that the hookah would help him get to sleep.  Especially since it would easily be at least half an hour before the team in his bedroom were done and he could rack out.  And they could see he couldn't easily find a clean place to sit until his room was done, having taken to standing in the living room reading from a tablet while he waited.

Aiden was still standing there when Zimzod finally came out of Terin's room, now fully dressed.  Seeing Aiden, Zimzod moved over and asked, "Aiden.  Why aren't you part-taking with everyone else?" in a tone that was mildly concerned.  Aiden stood and considered what answer he wanted to give until Zimzod smiled an evil grin and said, "By the way, I banged her pretty hard against that wall there", and pointed to the spot where Aiden had been leaning.  Aiden's only response was to attempt a steely glare back at Zimzod.  Sadly for him, that failed to be anything more than a sad affectation as he also flipped Zimzod the bird.  Zimzod stood there casually as he asked, "OK, what are you pointing at" in a conversational tone which told Aiden his isolationist and self-martyring antics were meaningless.

Eventually, seeming to get off his high horse, Aiden decided to grab a beer from the suite's cooling unit and join in.  But first, Aiden also grabbed a mug from the kitchen and filled it with water.  He then came into the room with the others and walked over to where Zimzod had settled before pouring the water over Zimzod's head.  Aiden poured while saying, "Bad Doggie".  Zimzod flinched and evaded some of the water while everything that flowed off him soaked into Emkir and Aali's bed, annoying them.  While some were shocked and Emkir actually laughed.  Aali growled, "OK.  Now we do need a cleaning crew in here" with a glare at Aiden, because she and Emkir had not been at fault for the evening's events.

Getting past the surprise, Zimzod also busted out laughing, though he admitted he should have not gotten dressed for it, no matter what Terin said.  That only got more laughs.  Turning to face Aiden, Zimzod said, "Dude.  Take a hit off the hookah.  It'll kill the bug up your ass."  Emkir joined in ragging Aiden for his isolationist attitude, saying "I don't think it'll rust out that steel pole but at least it'll give it a tug."  Zimzod added to that, "It'll give a little lubricant, maybe."

Repercussions And Relaxation

     Not realizing his regular behavior was making him the odd man out, Aiden tried to verbally cut Emkir, saying "If there was anyone who would be an expert about rods up asses, it'd be you."  That was, sadly, the most ridiculous thing said in some time and Zimzod only laughed at Aiden.  Zimzod then chuckled, "Yeah.  Good times." with a comfortable smile on his face.  Emkir protested, "Excuse me.  I'm a happily married man!"  The rest of those gathered had to wonder what Aiden's real issue was?  Emkir was the most laid back person on the crew, and Aiden was regularly the most up tight himself.  Ignoring the stupidity, Aali called for a clean up team for the bed as the others ignored Aiden's glowering and prepared to move the hookah again.

The party ended up in the living room, since that space had already been completely cleaned up.  Moving in, the workers started stripping and removing the couple's bed.  About this time, Rol and Jocelynn returned to the suite after the small gathering at the Order House had broken up.  Walking in, they realized the suite smelled "Very antiseptic", with a hint of lemon/vanilla and was filled with all sorts of odd activity.  Trying to sort it all out, they noticed a small team of people removing Emkir and Aali's mattress while another small team held a replacement ready.  Yet another team seemed to be finishing replacing Aiden's bed.  They could also smell a hint of burnt herbs as they turned to look into the living room and saw the reason.

Coming up to the group, Jocelynn asked, "Did we miss the party?"  The crew looked up to see the couple in their finery and couldn't miss their outfits.  Emkir's, "Well, well, well!" came on top of Mikah asking, "Well, what have we got here?"  And some of those around the hookah also noticed the bags from a clothier.  Jocelynn cut all the comments off saying, "No!  No!  No!  This first!" as she gestured not only to the gathering around the hookah but the remaining members of the cleaning crew too.  Terin pointed at Mikah and Zimzod saying, "Everyone missed the party except them two.  Which is why the cleaning crew is here."

Switching topics, Terin then asked, "You guys look rather spiffy.  Where have you been at?"  In a flat tone, Rol answered, "We've been making contacts."  Terin responded, "Oh, really?" at the same time Mikah suggestively asked, "With each other?" and got laughs from everyone but Rol and Jocelynn.  Letting the others off the hook, Jocelynn said, "We went to the military museum, and then had dinner at your Order house."  After a brief pause, she continued, "And we felt a bit underdressed, so we bought new clothes."  As she finished up, Jocelynn raised her arms to throw a pose.

When Rol then joked, "What about you guys?  Why aren't you trying to kill each other?"  The group responded in chorus, "We're having a hookah party."  In a confused tone, nodding towards the team moving a new mattress into Emkir and Aali's room, Jocelynn asked, "And, why are we getting new beds?"  That got some more laughs.  Those died down and Zimzod told her, "No.  Not everybody."  Nodding uncertainly, Jocelynn said, "Oh.  OK, why are they getting a new bed?"  In a more serious tone, she then asked, "What did you guys do?"  In a small explosion of answers, Aali said, "We didn't do anything" while Mikah and Zimzod both competed to explain that Aiden had thrown water on Zimzod while he was on the bed.  And that explained why Zimzod was all wet, now that Jocelynn noticed it.

Things started clearing up and Aali said, "Aiden poured water over Zimzod's head while he was sitting on it." and Emkir added, in a voice suggesting he was still surprised by his statement, "And he's still alive!"  Turning to Zimzod, Jocelynn asked, "And, what did you do?"  Zimzod just smiled and said, "It was terrifying space monkeys." with a huge smile on his face.  That caused even more laughs, and then they told her and Rol, "Come join us."  Jocelynn said she would, after she got changed into more casual clothes.  Rol agreed with that, and the two went to their bedrooms to change before returning.  Before they sat down with the others, Jocelynn did thank Rol for a lovely evening.

For the rest of the evening, the group hung out and got mellow while Fesic and his "date" enjoyed their night in her rented tube.  He knew nothing about her except the fact she'd soon be out-bound on her family's ship.  While the group in the suite's living room enjoyed the smoke, Rol and Jocelynn told the others about meeting Countess Athkazuk and her people.  Not having been involved himself, Zimzod let out a loud "Boring!" at one point, and later suggested he might jerk off there in the living room, to the laughs of the others.  Rol turned to Jocelynn and said, "I told you we had an eclectic crew."  Beyond the off color joking and other pleasures, the crew eventually drifted off to sleep.

News And More

     In their bedrooms at 7am, Aali woke next to a still snoring Emkir and Mikah was still sleeping when Zimzod woke next to her.  Jocelynn also woke in her bedroom.  While Aali and Jocelynn both decided to go back to sleep, Zimzod got up and went out into the suite's living room to watch the news.  Zimzod saw the chef and his people had arrived to cook them breakfast as he got into the suite's dining room.  Aali was able to get back to sleep but Jocelynn spent nearly twenty minutes trying before she gave up and got going with her day.  She eventually stumbled, half asleep, out of her bedroom to grab a mug of caff and join Zimzod watching the news.

    Inthe (B575776-9  A  Ag  423  Im  F8 V)                            Date: 257-1113
    A statement was released earlier today regarding operations to recover
    the "Regina's Storm" and "Hotel California".  Per the statement, read
    by Lt. Commander Irlarma Eminmam (Er-Lar-maam Em-In-maam), teams on
    station investigating and securing the wrecks have been preparing for
    this operation since the initial survey teams arrived and confirmed
    the presence of, and conditions of, the hulks.

    With the recent arrival of the mass transport class freighter Shaidki
, operations will begin to install the hulks aboard the freighter
    for transport to the Macene system.  There, the Imperial Navy maintains
    both a significant ship servicing station and the Spinward Marches
    Sector Depot fleet.  Indications from the statement suggest the
    "Hotel California" may be sold off 'as is' in a civilian market at a
    reduced price given the repairs the vessel would require.  An Imperial
    Navy investigations team is expected to carry out an extensive
    investigation of the carrier.

    A further release from the Naval office of Public Information
    confirmed that work covered additional efforts to resolve all the
    mysteries of the ships.  Forensic work done on the computer of the
    yacht formerly known as the Coronal Flare, before she was turned
    over to her new owners has been investigated.  Based on that data,
    high-level teams of astrogators have been working on hopes of
    reconstructing the flight paths of the yacht's cutter.  While
    the Lt. Commander admitted that hopes of finding survivors was
    non-existent, he did confirm that success in this work would close
    up loose ends.  In addition, the Lt. Commander confirmed that the
    same work will be carried out once computers aboard the "Regina's
" could also be properly accessed.

    Kwai Ching (C503758-A  Na Va Ic  320  Na  K3 V)                            Date: 130 - 1113
    An update has been received on news of an attack on the Kwai Ching
    system, in District 268.  That the system had been "raided" on the
    date 014-1113, by a small fleet of "unidentified starships".  The
    raiders were supported by armed and armored mercenary ground troops.
    While details are sketchy, it is apparent the starport was
    systematically plundered.

    The Kwai Ching system has been noted as a neutral system in the many
    different conflicts sparking up in the region known as District 268.
    Five parsecs riftward by trailing from the Wonstar system, and four
    from the trailing Imperial border of the Five Sisters subsector, the
    main world has provided a neutral setting for talks between many of
    the belligerent systems in the region including talks between the
    Imperial-supported Taurus and Collace systems and the Imperial-Hostile
    Trexalon system.

    This report contained no comments from the office of Her Grace,
    Duchess Muktheswara of Glisten regarding the issue.  The report also
    does not contain any comments from Admiral Lord Gustav Elphinstone,
    the appointed Naval Governor of the Five Sisters subsector.  When
    addressed with the report, the office of Marquis Ukhamgar released
    the following statement:
        "While any aggression against innocents, Imperial or non-
        Imperial are both horrific and highly disturbing, the
        Marquis is certain that those members of the Imperial
        government are doing their utmost to lend care and
        assistance to those who have been affected by this attack.

        Every Imperial citizen should be aware that such actions
        outside our borders affect our interstellar relations with
        the worlds and powers in District 268 as well as star nations
        such as "Sable des Etoiles", "Belgardian Sojurnate" and
        Mal'Gnar Primarchic", in the Trojan Reaches and Beyond sectors.
        We only hope that any assistance the Imperium can provide will
        help heal the wounds and pain the attack caused while
        restoring as much as possible of the losses to the raid.

        Imperial citizens should also understand that Imperial forces
        will have been dispatched to work with our allies in this
        non-Imperial region in hopes of tracking down this criminal
        fleet to assure no future raids are attempted in Imperial space.
        For further details on any naval response to the event, citizens
        should request relevant information from the Imperial Navy's
        Five Sisters subsector public information office.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F  2  Hi Cp   810  Im  M2 VI)                            Date: 240-1113
    In a joint statement released today, the offices of the Imperial
    Ministry of Colonization and Duke Leonard's office have chosen a
    course of action regarding the Bevey system.  With the approval of
    the Deneb Domain, His Excellency will continue the blockade of the
    Kegina and Bevey systems.  At the same time, the Subsector Senate
    have approved an invitation to the Spinward Development Corporation
    to assist in resettling population from the Bevey system.

    At the same time, the forces of Rhylanor in place on Kegina will
    continue to enforce the segregation of immigrants and natives,
    while protecting the existing laws of the initial Kegina government.
    Reports from that system indicate a steep reduction in incidents
    between the two populations.  At the same time, the council
    installed in replacement of the Bevey government proceeded to
    restore order and a respect for interstellar law in that system.

    In addition, the Office of Duke Leonard has seconded prosecution
    against those former Councilors of the Bevey World government along
    with those assigned to manage the forced immigration program.
    These prosecutions will be held in the courts of the Rhylanor
    subsector under the administration of the Subsector Ministry of
    Justice.  Legal experts believe the trial may last as long as two
    standard years.

    Roup (C77A9A9-7  S  Hi In Wa  A  323  Im  F9 V)                            Date: 236-1113
    Officials of Count Evan's government stood vigil at Roup's main
    starport to greet Her Excellency, Baroness Meshrumiikiim on her
    return to the system.  Baroness Meshrumiikiim escorted the body
    of her late husband, famed toy maker Shiaangi Meshrumiikiim from
    the Ruie system.  His Excellency had been in that system on a visit
    intended to help raise up the poor children of the many nations on
    that balkanized world.  Sadly, it was during that work that the
    seventy eight year old toy maker suffered a fatal heart attack.

    Word of memorials are being received from across the subsector.
    Condolences have, and continue to, arrive from the subsector's
    notable, including the newly installed Duchess Seldrian Aledon.
    As further condolences continue to arrive in-system, a larger
    memorial is planned in their home system.  With no word yet from
    Her Excellency on her future plans, some speculate the possibility
    of a museum based on her husband's work.  Rumor suggests that a
    number of high-profile corporations have made offers for access
    to His Excellency's workshop and designs.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F  2  Hi Cp   810  Im  M2 VI)                            Date: 239-1113
    Orders from the Imperial War College and Rhylanor Subsector Naval
    command have ordered all forces to maintain readiness to support
    forces in the Aramis and Regina subsectors.  These orders are in
    preparation of possible increased and intensified raiding from the
    vargr extents.  Strategic analysts and other command college
    staff have been re-called from leaves and orders have been sent
    to speed up regular maintenance at all subsector naval yards.

    With news from the Gvurrdon sector of instability in the Commonality
    of Kedzudh, anonymous high-ranking officers suggested it was possible
    former vargr naval commanders might even bring fleet elements in
    to raid border Imperial systems.  While members of the Admiralty
    have stated that rumor is extreme, Naval command did admit that
    this will certainly add ships and guns to those raiding and create
    conditions to increase the number of raiding bands.

    A few of those officers on record, including Imperial Naval
    Commander Lurlargir admit this will be a challenge for border
    defense forces.  One serving Vargr officer, Lt. Commander Gaenkaogh
    seemed to take this challenge as an "Excellent chance to show my
    skills and grow my career!"  Lords of the Admiralty had no comment
    on the possibility of eager officers adding hydrogen to the fire.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F  2  Hi Cp   810  Im  M2 VI)                            Date: 239-1113
    The office of the Navy of Rhylanor have announced that the firm
    Sangumshi, Kushidkhar and Fledtombur have been retained to design
    a new class of system monitor for the Rhylanor system.  This decision
    follows the announcement made by Duke Leonard, on 106-1113, that
    funding streams had been created for several multi-million ton
    defensive platforms after recent attacks and instability in-system.

    As stated in earlier reports, the stations, when finished and manned,
    will provide mobile bases as massive defensive monitors.  Stepped up
    recruiting has already been undertaken both for qualified enlisted and
    officer ranks.  Training efforts have already begun on the earliest
    enlistees while a large pool of enlisted, NCOs, and officers are
    being sought from the planetary navy's existing force.

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  703  Im  F7 V M8 D M6 V)                       Date: 241-1113
    The office of the Duchess' Seneschal invited TAS and other news outlets
    to join their officers at the port, today, to see Sir Jeremy depart for
    Capital.  Per the judgement of the Court, Sir Jeremy will travel under
    arrest until handed over to the Emperor's Guard.  Once done, Sir Jeremy
    Lewis will be placed at the hand of the Emperor's justice for his crimes.
    With his departure, the case in the system of Regina is closed.  The
    courier ship INS Tamybdim will be escorted by a naval squadron and Sir
    Jeremy will be accompanied by a member of the Seneschalate of Regina.

    Frenzie (A200436-A  N  Ni Va Cp  110  Im  M2 III M3 D)              Date: 215-1113
    In a statement, Fleet Lord Admiral Giimsu Ardume has confirmed talks
    with the governments of Thanber and Dekalb have been concluded.  Per
    the advice and administration of Lord Khalega, who traveled there from
    the Mora system, these systems have accepted 'Client State' status.
    Conditional to that agreement, the Imperium has agreed to invest in
    both systems with both financial and military aid.

    While the form of the agreed on aid was not spelled out in the treaty
    documents, most experts expect them to include work to upgrade the
    Dekalb system starport.  Further expectations would be construction
    of an Imperial Scout base and X-Boat way station at the B Class port
    in the Thanber system which would help drive more trade and traffic
    through the port.  Establishing a friendly trade route leading to the
    Retinae system and the Imperial bases there would be the main benefit
    to the Imperium.

    Diplomatic sources suggest this issue is a thorny one due to the
    proximity of the systems to the Querion subsector border of the
    Zhodani Consulate.  Placing a base and port in Thanber in addition
    to Retinae would put two Imperial bases three parsecs from the
    Querion system, the Zhodani subsector capital.

    That would strategically constitute an Imperial "first strike"
    capability following the first of the frontier wars the Imperium
    has won.  This, as some military strategists say, could suggest to
    hard line and conservative Zhodani leaders that the Imperium has
    decided to start building for the next war without considering a
    lasting peace.

    Hammermium (A5525AB-B  Ni Po  535  Im  M3 III)                            Date: 183-1113
    After three month's careful work by the Hammermium Corporation
    and other prominent social organizations, unrest in the system has
    been calmed.  Along with this calming have risen a number of social
    change movements demanding additional rights and freedoms.

    Ironically, financial analysts have confirmed the system's economy
    has cooled on a rising percentage.  This unfortunate fact has borne
    out the Count's original warning that protests and conflict could
    damage the growth of wealth the population were now fighting to enjoy.
    An additional side effect are the rising prices not only of luxury
    goods but even goods of higher quality or items considered "expensive".
    Imperial authorities have, of course, maintained a 'hands off' policy
    unless the situation damages the local trade economy significantly.

    Garrincski (B632520-7  S  Ni Po  410  Im  M0 V M7 D)                     Date: 241-1113
    Reporting on the efforts of his fleets, Admiral Uuela has provided
    the following updates:
    In the blockade of the Natoko system, increased Imperial and colonial
       naval and marine forces have succeeded in sealing the system.  Any
       and all vessels which seek to deliver cargo to, or pick up cargo
       from the system are subject to extreme searches including the
       provision for data searching all computer files.  Vessels deemed
       'questionable' are even forced to submit to transhipping their
       cargo and passengers to in-system vessels to complete their

    In the search for signs of the ghost fleet, reports over the past
       months have covered minor engagements with one or two vessels of
       questionable origin.  However, there was no evidence tying any
       of these ships to the ghost fleet.  The Imperial Scout squadrons
       under fleet command have been carrying out not only the search
       of known sites at their core and along their fringes, but have
       been visiting uninhabited systems and even stars without planets.
       Unfortunately, there are more such stars than grains of sand on
       the beaches of the universe.  And such a search will be vast.

    Risek (A325579-A  N  Ni  401  Im  M5 V  M3 D)                            Date: 250-1113
    With the continued arrival of colonial ships, officials of the
    newly elected Podesta government have replaced their provisional
    predecessors.  With the new government having settled in, one of
    their first extra-solar acts was a petition to the Rhylanor Senate.
    The newly elected immigration and colonial authorities have asked
    permission to travel to the Kegina and Bevey systems in hopes of
    enlisting the immigration of specialists, technicians and scientists.
    It is expected that this petition will be granted when the Senate
    next convenes.

    Porozlo (A867A74-B  Hi  201  Im  M1 V M9 D)                            Date: 241-1113
    The nearly year-long war between New Jindabyn, Sertao Forros and
    Ko Qiquiang continues to burn on Porozlo.  Despite all attempts
    to broker peace on and off world, New Jindabyn and Sertao Forros
    continue to strike at each other while both have made advances
    into Ko Qiquiang.  Despite the best attempts to remain impartial,
    some few Imperial corporations and organizations in-system quietly
    admit, off record, that they won't miss the nation of Ko Qiquiang,
    should it fail.  This is because that nation is one of the more
    conservative Private Ownership bloc nations.

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  703  Im  F7 V M8 D M6 V)                      Date: 239-1113
    News from Atora, on Regina suggests the Second Spinward Marches
    Point-To-Point race is reaching its most difficult and exciting
    point!  With the first competing ships reaching the Kinorb system,
    their masters must next reach the Nasemin system and then move on
    to Aramis without crossing into the Deneb sector.  Will they try
    to cross the gulf between Kinorb and Nasemin or cross back over
    more established trade routes?

    Viewers will be reminded there have been three vessels lost to
    this race, with the most famous being Sir Yaricht's private jump-4
    yacht.  Six other ships have left the race after suffering system
    failures or withdrawn after their owners admitted they'd fallen
    hopelessly behind.  The racing ship team of General Shipyards are
    known to be competing with a specialty ship built and crewed by
    Tukera specialists and sailors.  It is not known how close that
    edge might be and who holds it.  Odds on all the remaining twenty
    three competitors are scattered across the board with the favorites
    and long shots being cheered at each port visited.

    Unfortunately, the search continues for those ships and crews
    reported missing.  Both public and private efforts to search
    for those crews continue both in search of specific crews and
    under the auspices of the Traveller's Aid Society and other
    interstellar and scientific organizations.  While no successes
    have been reported by organized efforts, even accidental cases
    are maintaining or raising hope.  Such was the case when the
    crew of Lady Mikah Kirlim mis-jumped onto the site of both the
    IMS Coronal Flare and Regina's Storm.  Despite the lone survivor
    they were able to recover along with saving themselves, such
    successes against all odds can do no less than raise hopes.

    Skull (C2237C7-9  N  Na Po  601  Im  M1 V M0 VI)                       Date: 218-1113
    Admiral Lord Edward Montcroix has submitted an updated report
    to the Sector Governor and Grand Duchess Delphine.  Per the
    public sections of the report, the permission granted him by
    the former system Marquis and the Duke of Rhylanor allowed the
    Admiral to make use of all forces available in that system's
    Imperial Naval base.  Thanks to the coup backer's having their
    plans forced into the open early, the Imperial Navy and Marines
    have been able to join elements of the Imperial Army which had
    been in-system.

    Ground Commander, General Sir Akuegvarr has stated that his
    units have garrisoned all key points and placed a security
    presence in all dome and under-city locations.  Imperial Marines,
    operating cooperatively under separate commands, are sweeping
    all spaces in hopes of locating and neutralizing stragglers.
    At the same time, local law enforcement and government units
    are working to assess the damage and loss, which include seven
    voided domes and significant loss of life.

    Condaria (E54779B-5  Ag  901  Na  K3 V M0 D)                       Date: 241-1113
    The government of the Condaria have announced the intention to
    act on popular agitation since the end of the Fifth Frontier War.
    Just beyond the borders of the Darrian Confederation, the world's
    population have often been visited by Darrian trade vessels. This
    showed them the benefits of the Darrian economy and technology.
    Since the Imperial and Darrian victory lifted the risk of Sword
    Worlds invasion, the people of Condaria have pushed to request
    membership in the Darrian Confederation.  With the invited help
    of the Darrians, the world government will spend the next months
    preparing for a year-long vote on the full annexation of Condaria
    into The Darrian Confederation.  The Darrian Embassy has
    stated the world will retain their existing Bureaucratic Government.

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  703  Im  F7 V M8 D M6 V)                 Date: 240-1113
    Sources in the non-aligned Pequan system say a diplomatic team
    which arrived some months ago, from the Federation of Arden,
    continue to talk with the system government on a series of issues.
    Despite the world's earth-like climate, the colony is small,
    and the nearly seven million population lack the technology to
    create more than a subsistence agrarian society.  Complicating
    matters for them, the two major powers refused to assist and
    even suggested the system surrender its sovereignty to
    the new Arden government.

    Facing a refusal of support, the man who is essentially Pequan's
    dictator had first refused any further non-trade contacts with off
    world missions.  A diplomatic team from Arden were finally allowed
    to land and discuss beneficial trade options for both interstellar
    nations.  While no decisions or agreements have been announced,
    outside observers suggested that where there is smoke, there is
    fire because the team have remained on world for the past three
    months.  In addition, local observers have noted an increased
    integration between visiting Ardenese diplomats and their
    Pequanese counterparts.

    Mora(A99AC7-F  2  Hi In Cp  112  Im  M5 V)                            Date: 200-1113
    With the interstellar situation surrounding the newly
    declared Federation of Arden unsettled, authorities on
    Mora state the Imperium is happy to observe what develops.
    A spokesperson from the Grand Duchess' diplomatic team
    have said it would be better to watch than to try and force
    developments from outside.  Defining the reason for caution,
    Baron Sir Iirke Lukaur said, "Imperial authorities and
    forces can always intervene and enforce our will, or a
    solution which makes sense from our point of view.  But a
    solution that is an imperfect fit could create a long-
    smoldering anger at best and a sudden military conflict at
    worst.  When you consider the climate in the region, and
    the anger over damage done to the independent systems during
    the Fifth Frontier War, it would be unfortunate of us to
    impose because of our assumptions."

    Other diplomatic sources suggest the situation may be more
    complex than just sitting back and watching.  Other schools
    of thought point out the Federation would not be pleased that
    the Imperial decision also meant there would be no extension
    of military support.  This response to Arden's request for
    the sale of arms and ships has to set the Federation's hopes
    back on their heels.  Other more conservative observers point
    to the occupation of the Zenopit system as a reason for caution.
    While the Zenopit government had originally agreed to join the
    Federation when invited, it seems that may have not worked out
    as hoped.  The response seen from the Federation was to
    "invade" with armed forces and force regime change!  That is
    a very short and nasty record to hang hopes of peaceful
    relations on.

    News from the Zenopit system show that conditions in-system have
    settled down.  With troops from the neighboring Arden system
    firmly in control of all key sites in the Zenopit system, the
    population appear to have accepted the change of leadership.
    Still, economic and social leaders appear to remain in place as
    well as most governmental leaders.  This move was not much of
    a surprise to experts in interstellar relationships because
    Zenopit had been colonized by Arden originally, and the two
    world governments had always been closely interconnected.

    Beater (B685686-A  M  Ag Ni Ri  610  Bw  M4 V)                          Date: 180-1113
    In further news from the Sword Worlds, reports have reached
    the Beater system that the Excalibur system government has
    collapsed!  A world with no atmosphere, Excalibur had been
    ruled by a feudal technocracy, with their ruler having been
    toppled by a loss of power due to the Fifth Frontier war.
    The rush to fill that void led to a breakdown of key services
    and halted some major industries, leading to work outages
    and major losses of income.  After several uprisings in-system,
    the remaining Excalibur government collapsed suddenly.

    After reinforcing the downport facilities, in-system Imperial
    commanders initially reported an inability to protect or account
    for dirtside military bases or weapons caches.  While there have
    been no actions taken to attack the ports or naval bases,
    Imperial commanders have recalled and recovered personnel
    on-world to secure facilities.

    From all reports, it appears the Excalibur system is descending
    into civil war.  The Admirals in control of occupation forces
    in-system have stated they believe the warring factions will not
    intentionally attack Imperial personnel.  This belief is based
    on the level of organization and back-up capabilities any such
    attack would bring down on them.  As a result, the world has been
    designated an Amber zone and it is recommended Imperial Citizens
    not attempt to land in-system.

    Esalin (C565673-8  Ag Ni Ri  A  223 Im  F3 V M5 D)                          Date: 201-1113
    Following on the agreement signed by the Council of Cronor,
    the first fleet of liners have arrived in the Esalin system
    to repatriate Zhodani citizens.  Restricted to high orbit
    until the they can present their credentials, the Imperial
    Navy have fortified their personnel with psi helmets.  In an
    impressive logistical move, the entire 1831st Lift Infantry
    Brigade have been outfitted with newly developed anti-psi
    suits of battledress.  This precaution has been put in place
    due to the concern of Zhodani Tavrchedl', or Thought Police,
    accompanying the Zhodani delegations.

    The repatriation process approved by Imperial authorities,
    will allow those who wish to return to Zhodani space to
    leave without restriction.  Light handed, this policy also
    permits the removal of valued artworks and other cultural
    resources.  Following the repatriation of those who desire
    to leave their homes, the Zhodani will be allowed to meet
    with those of their citizens who wish to remain in Esalin.
    Of course, these meetings will happen under controlled
    conditions, preventing psi-talents within the delegation
    or members of the Tavrchedl' from 'bending' the desires of
    residual residents during any interviews.

    Not pleased with the conditions, the Zhodani have accepted
    them none the less.  The Ambassadorial delegation were most
    displeased to learn that the world's psionic registry had
    been used to separate out those with psi-talents early on,
    to assure those who wished to leave "truly" wanted to
    without undue influence from those with psi-talents impeding
    the honest desires of the population.  In a brief and less
    than friendly moment, Zhodani Ambassador Nevizhiench was
    quoted as saying, "Perhaps this is for the good, and the
    emotion-locked Imperials will learn from those who stay
    behind how a truly honest and open society lives."

    Mora(A99AC7-F  2  Hi In Cp  112  Im  M5 V)                            Date: 200-1113
    In a stunning and historic move, the diplomatic delegation
    from Sacnoth, attending post-war settlement talks, have
    agreed to a slate of requirements to allow an Ambassadorial
    Embassy in their planetary capital!  In a move that was even
    more of a surprise, the Ambassador from Sacnoth, granted
    plenipotentiary powers by his home government, have agreed
    to permit Imperial military forces in-system appropriate
    to the defense of Imperial diplomatic soil!

    With the move so unexpected, Imperial Ambassador Count Sir
    Lehilne, a third-generation emigre from the Sword Worlds,
    requested they suspend talks for an impromptu celebration.
    While not planned in advance, Her Grace Delphine and His
    Grace, Arch Duke Norris were close enough to personally
    join in on the evening of festivities which followed.
    Follow on negotiations today are said to be simply resolving
    language issues and settling the final treaty.  Resolution
    of these talks opens the path for a temporary diplomatic
    station to be moved into place in less than eighteen months.

    Also present at the talks, Ambassador Lady Inger Martinusdtr
    Vik was said to be delighted at the sudden breakthrough.  Her
    Ladyship is said to already be well integrated with the various
    diplomatic delegations and has been pleased to be able to bring
    the parties closer together.  This despite a moment of concern
    which is still the source of rumors when Lady Inger apparently
    brought a number of senior delegation members from various Sword
    World governments to visit the offices of New Stars, Ltd.  This
    visit caused Imperial intelligence agencies some concern given
    the origin of most of that firm's workers and owners.  The sudden
    flurry of news stories eventually caused some short-term and minor
    protesting from more conservative members of Mora's population.

    Mora(A99AC7-F  2  Hi In Cp  112  Im  M5 V)                            Date: 199-1113
    A press conference was called today, in the Mora highport public
    affairs office, on the subject of unresolved lost vessels.  While
    not an unusual location, the meeting had been convened by Colonel
    Sir Arkheuur of the Grand Duchess' astro-physics research staff.
    After a reminder of multiple recent lost ship mysteries, Sir Arkheuur
    focused the media on the loss of the IMS Kard Damasc, the personal
    yacht of Lady Katherine hault-Evers.  Those assembled were reminded
    Lady hault-Evers had been a personal associate of the Grand Duchess.

    Sir Arkheuur reviewed the last known hours of the Kard Damasc
    and all flight preparations made by Her Ladyship and the other
    passengers, which the media were reminded included a number of
    both Imperial nobility as well as military officers and
    government representatives.  As each person was mentioned, their
    military, government or aristocratic credentials were given.

    Once the preliminaries were done, the ship's known flight plan
    was covered, from her initial lift in the Mora system to her
    last departure, from the Gileden system with her destination
    stated as the Rhylanor system on 067-1112.  From there, the
    trail had gone dark despite significant military, civilian and
    private search efforts.  Even reviews of such deep space sensor
    arrays as exist in systems like the Rhylanor defensive arrays
    have led to no new information on the lost Far Trader class yacht.
    Because of that, and while there is little hope of any new data,
    Her Grace is offering a Cr 100 million reward on any new discovery
    that can be proven to resolve or update the case.

Rol was the next to wake up and join the two watching the news.  Emkir eventually woke up to find Aali still sleeping beside him.  Not knowing she'd woken earlier and gone back to sleep, Emkir decided to start whispering in her ear and undo that work.  After Emkir succeeded in waking Aali, she was all about getting up and getting into her day.  When she started to roll over to get out of bed, Emkir tried to roll her back into bed for his own nefarious interests.  Despite his obvious interest, Aali pushed her way out of bed and made it clear it was time for breakfast.  Giving up on morning nookie, Emkir and Aali both did their morning routine and joined the others for breakfast and morning news.

In her bedroom, Mikah woke to see Zimzod was gone, and went back to sleep.  Terin also woke about the same time, and stepped out of his bedroom after his morning routine to have breakfast.  After that, he went back into his bedroom to clean out his hookah and stow it properly.  In his bedroom, Aiden woke and went through his morning routine before resetting his room a bit and reloading his pistol.  After that, Aiden grabbed breakfast and did a bit of physical therapy before working on his stent.

Despite his having slept in, Fesic woke to find his companion was still out cold.  Quietly, Fesic made his way out of the tube and down to the common bathrooms.  After he did what he could of his morning routine, Fesic went back to the tube and saw the girl was still sleeping.  Grabbing her foot gently, Fesic pulled a few times until he could see she was waking up.  With that, he asked if she wanted to have breakfast?  She said 'sure', and got up to clean herself and get dressed.  When she was ready, Fesic took her out and paid Cr 20 for their meals while they sat and chatted.  That lasted until she checked her chron to see she had to start getting back to her ship and not be late returning from shore leave.

Sharing Then Shopping

     When Fesic got back to the suite, most of the crew were up and had been watching cycles of the news.  Noticing when he walked in, Jocelynn said, "Well, hello!"  Fesic waved and said, "Hey everybody" and Rol answered, "You look chipper."  Smiling, Fesic said, "Oh yeah.  This has been a long time coming." in a very satisfied tone and without a care that the others had no idea what "This" was?  Given the insanity of the night before, Aali joked, "There's been a lot of that going around."  Realizing the suite smelled of cleaning agents, Fesic snarked, "Glad to smell things are smelling a lot more pleasant around here."  Some of the others laughed while Rol said, "Oh, well.  You missed yesterday."

Rol was surprised when Fesic flatly and bluntly said, "No.  I didn't."  His tone left no doubt he'd run into something the night before, about which they hadn't heard.  When Rol asked, "Do tell?" Fesic very emotionally said, "Oh No!!  No!  I'm gonna forget about it as soon as I can!"  Having kept quiet to that moment, Zimzod looked at Fesic and taunted, "Penis envy.  Huh?" in a very satisfied tone.  Jocelynn just muttered something under her breath as she dropped her face into her right hand.  After a silent pause, Zimzod urged Fesic, asking, "Just a little bit?" while he held up his right hand with his thumb almost an inch from his index finger.

Fesic just shrugged it off saying they'd have to measure things out to find out.  Hearing that, Jocelynn said, "I think there is some merit in this measuring off contest."  Rol, who had been borderline staring at Fesic as he wondered what he thought the gunner had experienced said, "You seem to be a changed man."  Looking back at Rol, Fesic asked, "What's the matter Rol?  Penis envy?" and got some laughs of his own.  In a very satisfied tone, Rol answered, "I've never had that problem."  Jocelynn only shook her head and muttered, "Oh, boys." despite her role in egging things on.  Getting back to penis measuring, Zimzod asked Jocelynn, "Do you wanna hold the dick?" in a challenging tone.

Certain he was just posturing, Jocelynn boldly said, "Sure!  I'll hold it.  We're really gonna do this?"  That was followed by comments about measuring the men while they were flaccid or erect before Rol stood up and said, "OK men.  Let get them off."  At that point, Jocelynn panicked and said, "OK!  I was kidding!  I was kidding!"  After a few more jokes and comments, that topic died and Fesic got to tell those in the living room about his trip.  That came complete with pictures and videos he'd taken.  Jocelynn and Terin got into the pictures but the rest didn't really care for it.

When Zimzod got bored with the pictures and went to step away, Fesic asked him what system they might be headed to, so he could start the search for cargo.  Zimzod said he'd talk to Mikah and get back to him.  After the pictures, Aali went into her stent work and Emkir decided to wrap himself in a book.  Rol decided to do some checking on the history of Lieutenant General Nekinm.  He learned the General had firmly been a career staff officer, rising through the ranks after unspecified and unimportant commands in his early career.  The only time he could have been said to have been spent near "the front lines" happened in the Efate system, in 1107 when the Zhodani first invaded.  He had been attached to a Marine command supporting Imperial Army formations in-system.

The Marines had been dedicated to supporting the Imperial ports and other key structures during internal security and counter insurrection operations.  Because of that, it wasn't surprising the command elements of the unit could be shifted to orbit and an evac starship even as they directed the Marine's defensive operations.  In the end, the command elements had been withdrawn with a surprising number of their warfighters recovered to their ships.  After that, the General had the luck to have been staff for commanders who either performed as well as possible in defense of Imperial space or were as successful in leading liberating Imperial systems later in the war.  A result of that was that his war career had been a road map of some of the key battles of the war.  Rol next hunted for how and why the General had been knighted?

That seemed to have happened due to his role in the 23rd Imperial Fleet's mission to retake the Mirriam and Calit systems in mid-1109.  That action organized Imperial naval and marine assets to strike deep into what was, at the time, the Zhodani rear.  The move cut off the Zhodani 40th Fleet's communications and escape routes.  General Nekinm had been decorated for the role he played in designing assault plans seen as key to re-taking Imperial naval facilities captured by the Zhodani.  The overall record Rol could find on public networks, and out in the open, was positive except for a slight reversal with the retreat from Efate.  That was until those events were better understood in light of the then-opening events of the war.

After spending the hours before lunch searching, Rol hadn't found anything that might concern him if the man did turn up with a job offer.  Still, he decided he'd keep looking, just to be sure.  After Terin finished cleaning his hookah, he went to the hotel's workout center and did PT before doing stent work.  Rol joined in on the stent work in the time between his research and lunch.  After Fesic asked him about cargo hunting, Zimzod did stent work and got some exercise in.  Aiden had missed the news and most of Fesic's pictures while doing his stent work and physical workouts.  Catching just the end of the picture show, he sat in the living room and just hung out.  After he finished showing off his pictures, Fesic went into his bedroom to unpack, do laundry and incinerate his luggage.

When he stepped into the room, though, Fesic realized everything there, including his luggage, had been cleaned within an inch of its life.  Seeing that, he decided he could live with the luggage afterwards.  Still, he spent the rest of the morning unpacking and doing his laundry.  Like Rol, Jocelynn had some tracing to do, only she wanted to learn more about the Countess and her people.  Everything she found on what was admittedly a public network, dovetailed into what she and Rol had been told the night before.  She did find the INS Runeamber, the Light Cruiser the Countess had commanded, had ultimately been decommissioned due to battle damage in the Heya system.

Jocelynn also found that the Countess's crew had been knighted by Admiral Sir Lurnaanki, Son of Duchess Ramasawamy Opania Shumma of Pretoria, and elevated a Duke in his own right.  The knightings had been battlefield elevations after the battle in the Heya system, in which the Runeamber had been wrecked in a seeming suicidal run on the vargr dreadnaught Ghonk Faing.  After Jocelynn learned what she could, she went for a walk on-station.  At the same time she and Rol had been working the local networks, Aiden had gone for a swim.  Getting back, Aiden sparked up the vid screen and went looking for weapons documentaries or militaria programs.

After eating, Zimzod started making advances on Mikah, but she said she wanted to go to a museum.  When Zimzod asked what kind of museum, Mikah snarked, "A musicals museum." and Zimzod said, "I guess I'm not going with you."  Being ditched by Mikah, Zimzod decided to go hunting thrift and consignment shops on-station.  Mikah considered what kind of museum she wanted to go to while Fesic asked Rol what he wanted to do?  Rol said he'd planned on spending some time on the network pricing food for the ship when they got it back.  After a pause, and with a smile on his face, Rol said that they could find a gym and do some hand to hand practice if Fesic wanted to?

Not really interested in spending his afternoon getting beat up, Fesic heard Jocelynn say she was done with her web search and wanted to go for a walk.  So, he asked if she'd mind some company, and they went off to visit some of the port's green spaces.  After lunch Terin had also taken a terminal, to start trying to put back together his lost collection of herbs and medicinal plants.  He'd been annoyed to see he'd lost his entire collection during the misjump.  So, he dove into the message boards and other net-resources and contacts he'd found or made.  Emkir and Aali also went swimming after lunch, while Rol continued price shopping for food stores after Fesic chickened out and walked away from his offer.  After the swim, Emkir and Aali planned to go window shopping on some of the nearby concourses on the station.

Zimzod rode though their section of the station doing searches for estate sales and thrift shops for nearly four hours, and spending Cr 50 for his kart rides from place to place.  Sadly, while he saw a lot of stuff for sale, none of it sparked his interest.  Zimzod did get to see a good cross section of the local habitation module in which the hotel was.  And, he got a good idea of how to get from some places to others.  But he ended up going back to the suite empty handed.

When they left the suite, Fesic told Jocelynn that he'd visited a number of the parks in that module of the port station.  When she asked, Fesic admitted he'd found a park he liked better than the others, and they decided to go there to spend a few hours.  After that, Jocelynn asked Fesic if he'd had any plans and he admitted he'd just wanted to get out into the green spaces for a bit.  Since he didn't have any plans, Jocelynn asked if he knew of any museums nearby?  Fesic admitted he'd not checked out any museum locations.  Synching her hand computer to the local network, Jocelynn did a search for local museums they might check out.

Since any port was at least part tourist attraction, and every part of the port was also somehow related to getting people to spend money, Jocelynn saw there were any number of museums.  Of course, due to issues with space and artifact transportation, the larger and more significant museums were down on the planet's surface.  So, many of the large or 'large volume' artifacts in-system were represented holographically on-station.  So were all the zoological venues on-station.  Still, presentation by hologram could make even a very small space seem much larger and the technology did provide an "as if it were real" experience.  Especially where hyper-processor controlled pressor beams provided resistance-based sensations.  Chatting quickly, they decided to go visit the "zoo" and grabbed a kart.

Having left the suite after telling Zimzod she wanted to visit a "Museum on Musicals", Mikah stepped to one of the many communications-network panels mounted to the passage walls and checked for actual museums in the area.  After a short search, Mikah tracked down an interesting museum of sculpture.  The brief on the collection said they had a number of displays from rough hand-cut carvings, done using primitive methods using chisels and grinding hand tools, to techno-assemblies and even the results of AI-computers with laser and other cutting tools set to randomize activities based on the actions of the guiding artist.  After that museum, Mikah returned to the hotel to do a workout in the gym near their floor.

Not aware Aali and Emkir had gotten Scout Leader Udagis to give them a few cases of ration bars, Rol was looking for pricing on those as well as a full food selection for the ship.  He was happy because the mainworld was an agricultural world, meaning prices on food and natural materials were lower than other systems.  So, restocking the ship would cost less.  And they had to do that because they'd lost or eaten all but twenty ration bars in the misjump.  Making sure to cover his due diligence, Rol checked three sources on each item he bookmarked, and also made sure the suppliers he flagged would allow for a delivery to the ship at a time after the purchase was made, with billing to follow delivery.

Eventually, Rol came up with a number of prices and worked it down to Cr 315 for ration bars, three months of "Ordinary" meals for Cr 1,350 and one month of "High living" meals for Cr 4050.  He was pleased how cheap the prices were coming in.  He also made sure herbs and spices were included in the meal packaging, and generic drink mixes like generic caff.  Rol also decided to try and price a stock of chocolates and confections, because of the hot chocolate tasting the other night.  That came to Cr 500, which was expensive, but was a luxury since he priced the closest thing to "Terra chocolate".  For an additional Cr 75, Rol saw he could restock his cooking spices too.

Wrapping that up after just over an hour, Rol saved his notes to present when talking to Mikah.  He then went to do a workout before returning to the suite.  There, he found Aiden watching some kind of show on military weapons seemingly centered on handguns.  Of course, Rol knew that was one of Aiden's chief interests, so he sat down and joined in to watch.  After finishing up their swim, Emkir and Aali looked for the sort of shops that would sell to middle or low-upper class shoppers.  One of the things they happened on as they wandered was a store that actually sold paper-based books.

The shop had a collection which gave a broad enough representation of the system.  The owners also knew they catered not only to the local reading public but to interstellar buyers who found paper-based books a novelty.  In the local cluster of solar systems, only the Paya system would have matched Inthe for growing lumber.  Sadly, an asteroid had hit the planet in 1075 and the entire global environment was actually still getting worse, though that was slowing down.  Even worse, almost all the population had fled the world, and those who remained had set up their own government and branded those who fled traitors.  They refused the traitors permission to return.  So, the world was easily centuries from not only being able to grown tradeable harvests, but having the population needed to develop any such industries.

Emkir knew, as he and Aali walked into the shop, that these books wouldn't have any major value because they'd been newly printed recently and weren't antiques.  Still, Emkir felt a small thrill being there.  Emkir went looking for travel logs, illustrated real-life "tourist adventures" and art books of the surfaces and vistas of Inthe and other worlds or moons.  They found an entire "Other Worlds" section, that catered to those who wanted to see distant worlds but didn't want to, or couldn't, travel, for several minutes before an employee came to ask if he could help?  Emkir smiled and admitted they didn't see actual paper books where he was from, and asked if the shop had any books created in an old "four-color" printing format?

Caught on the spot, the woman could only admit she knew little about the actual publishing side of the industry.  She thought the books were all written to computer files, and then printed on rolled paper which were then cut into leaves that were then bound into books.  So, she didn't think they were printed in any way other than laser printing.  Still, if Emkir was interested, she showed him and Aali a catalog of books they didn't have in the shop at the time.  If they were interested in a title, it could be ordered.  Then, the file would be sent to the print computers and the book fabricated for pickup the next day.

A Find Or Two

     Aali was more dedicated to browsing for anything that struck her fancy while Emkir had his more specific interests.  Emkir asked the clerks if they had any older, or antique books?  He wasn't surprised when the clerk apologized and repeated that all the books were computer generated.  She did say that was done using the finest fonts and inks, with the best natural supplies.  After they had returned to their browsing again for a bit, a man stepped over to them.  The taller man was so well dressed that he could have been a higher-end customer.

Apologizing while introducing himself, it turned out he was the shop's manager, and said he couldn't help overhearing their interest in antique books.  When Emkir nodded, the man handed them a card.  Emkir read the address on it and the manager said that location was a shop on-station.  It specialized in the collecting and selling of antiques.  The manager told Emkir they might have artifacts like what he was looking for.  Emkir thanked the man while taking a better look at the address code on the card.  The place was in the same station module as their hotel, so it wouldn't be that difficult to get to, even though the module was large enough it would take some time.

When the manager stepped back from them, Emkir and Aali decided to go explore this new shop and see what they found?  So, they called for a kart and were on their way.  Getting to the antiques shop, the couple started to browse while the shop keeper watched with a friendly eye.  They wandered through aisles filled with things that were either actually old or only looked it, with much of the goods lightly covered in dust.  Aali was soon surprised when she happened on something which was at least four hundred years old, if not five!  It was an extremely old slide rule, marked with Vilani numerals and characters.  Emkir could tell the characters and numerals were in a very, very old font.  The slide rule came with some sort of synthflex storage sheath and even a printed sheet of instructions!

Neither the sheath or instructions were original to the slide rule, but the sheath was also old.  Aali had barely noticed it before she knew she wanted it.  Looking at the price, she saw it was listed at Cr 2,500, which she thought was bargain enough for the ruler.  Calling the shop keeper over, Aali didn't bother trying to haggle and asked to buy it.  After she handed over her Ident to pay, the shop keeper wrapped the artifact as befit a treasure and put it in a simple but stylish handbag to carry out.  Happy with her buy, Aali planned to mount it on the wall in the ship's engineering section.  That done, the couple went out to wander the local concourse before grabbing a kart back to the suite.

They hadn't walked far when the two noticed a high-end liquor store!  When Emkir saw the place, he knew he was going in just as firmly as Aali knew she couldn't stop him.  Inside, Emkir enthusiastically said, "I think we need to replace the whiskey."  He also considered buying Kahlua, but Aali remembered they had two bottles of that.  Emkir wandered the aisles, getting a feel for what they had while also looking specifically for single malt whiskeys.  When he got to the whiskeys, he saw the range he'd expected, from low cost 'rock gut' to high-end and high-priced special reserve label brands.  The prices for a liter bottle ranged from Cr 10 to Cr 5,000.  The "really special" stuff, costing more than Cr 5,000 wasn't kept in the shop, but could be delivered when ordered.

Emkir soon settled on a liter bottle of Hankar brand whiskey, from a village high up in the Kanksua mountains of Confederation of Mesak.  The altitude of the distillery, along with the cooler mountainous were advertising points, and a single liter was priced at Cr 80.  While Emkir and Aali shopped out on the concourses, Terin had been hunting hookah supplies, herbs and spices for his research kit, analogs which could stand in for the research items and more generic "entertainment" herbs.  What he found, for Cr 700, covered thirty percent of his research-grade needs, eighty percent of the generic tea herbs and spices he could use instead of the research-grade stuff.

For the hookah, he bought twelve flavored charges, two mild hallucinogenic and one charge that was highly hallucinogenic.  The flavors ranged from "mild and smooth" to bold to pungent or "packing a punch".  The total cost Cr 280 for the herbs and Cr 20 for a replacement satchel to store them all in.  After those buys, he went looking for material for his infuser.  What he wanted for that would be more medicinal than recreational.  Especially because the reserved oil from many plants could be used without psychoactive effects when the same plants used more in a complete for could cause mild to extreme reactions.  Looking into that, and what he could by in-system, Terin decided to do more research on what he might need.  That would take him the rest of the day and evening.

Adding Color To Commentary

     Everyone had returned and while dinner was finally served, the crew talked about their afternoons and what they bought or not.  When Terin told them about his shopping.  Emkir sparked up at that, saying he'd like to stake some of that purchase, and gave Terin Cr 100 because he'd enjoyed the hookah party.  That got a general wave of approval, but no additional donations from the rest of the crew.  After that, Rol took the chance to bring up what he found on buying food for the ship.  When he itemized what he'd found, and said it would cost around Cr 6,000 total, most of the crew fixated on the ration bars and gave a muted "Yay!" which was almost more than five percent Not Fake.

While they all knew the bars they'd survived on during the misjump were the only reason they survived, no one was even nearly happy with the possibility of having to eat them again.  Suddenly, Aali reminded Emkir, and told the others, that Scout Leader Udagis had set up to send them two cases of his ration bars, as a gift.  To be delivered to the ship.  Emkir happily said, "So, we'll have extras!" without considering that Rol would reduce the numbers he planned for his buy.  Before they told Rol to change his numbers, they asked Rol and Emkir how many bars were in each case?  Mikah emphasized that she never wanted to have to eat them but was happy to have more than they might need than have too little if they did.  The answer from Emkir was 360 bars which each gave three days food.

That meant they had four month's worth of bars coming from the Scouts.  With that, Mikah added, "After four months in a misjump, we might just want to kill ourselves." and everyone laughed.  Still, she told Rol to buy enough bars for another month, just in case.  Mikah also told Rol to buy one more high-end month of meals and one more month of "Ordinary" food too.  That meant half a case of Rol's new bars for Cr 80, Cr 315 for ration bars, four months of "Ordinary" meals for Cr 1,800 and two months of "High living" meals for Cr 8100.  That would be a total of just over ten thousand credits, and Mikah approved that.  She also told him to lock in those prices and set up for the orders to be delivered to the ship when it was ready.

Never happy, Terin asked about taste versus size, and was reminded that if they were ever fucked again, they'd care about having 'more in a compact space' than 'less food that was better tasting'.  They also talked about putting different caches of bars in different parts of the ship.  That was because jump space had intruded into the ship during the last misjump.  It destroyed almost everything in Aiden's stateroom and a lot of what had been in Terin's.  If they had the ration bars in only one place, and it was hit by jump space physics, they'd be screwed.  So, spreading the wealth, as it were, was safer.  Especially since they'd have three and a half cases of bars to spread around.  When the talk of food ended and they looked around to see if anyone else wanted to bring up something at dinner, Zimzod barked out, "What about booze?" at almost the same time Jocelynn asked, "Who wants to brawl?"

Despite how popular booze was with the crew, the idea of brawling brought everyone to a dead halt!  After the pause her outburst caused, Zimzod turned to Jocelynn and said, "I take it you don't like booze?  We could get drunk and then brawl."  Hearing that, Jocelynn half-shouted, "Yeah!"  After that, the whole crew broke down into commenting and joking about the idea of drinking while brawling, or getting drunk first and then brawling.  While getting drunk was becoming less and less something they wanted to do, it was becoming more likely some of them wanted to do some brawling.

When that point was reached, Mikah said they had to check the station's spaces on offer, to see what any kind of gym or other room would cost for the evening?  Jocelynn persisted, asking, "You guys wanna get drunk first?" and Emkir joked, "Let's get drunk then fight"  Aali could only wonder what her husband's lack of brains was leading too at that point?  Aali only said, "How could that possibly go wrong?  Here, hold my beer." in a sarcastic tone.  Finally, it was asked who wanted to fight and Rol, Emkir, Jocelynn, Mikah and Zimzod said they did.  Aali wanted to ask Emkir why, but kept silent because she trusted Mikah not to break him any more than she could fix him.  Even though the 'getting drunk' part suggested getting sloppy, which increased the risk of accidental damage.

When Mikah saw Emkir wanted to play, she sharply said, "Emkir!  No chairs!" and got laughs or groans from most of the crew.  Emkir just held up his hands in a defensive move and said, "No chairs.  No problem" in an agreeing tone.  Emkir did bring up the idea of buying and using big hollow but flexible bats to fight with and Jocelynn agreed that sounded fun.  That meant they had to log into the shopping network and see if they could find any to buy?  A check on the computers did quickly show they could buy an evening's rental of a dojo nearby for Cr 500.  Mikah agreed to pay for that out of ship's funds.

After renting the space, they had to decide if they were actually going to drink and, or, get drunk?  When it was pointed out they didn't want to get drunk first, Zimzod asked if they were driving themselves to the dojo or not?  He was told they'd take the station's karts.  Rol suggested making the brawling session a drinking game of some sort, and they spent ten minutes talking about different ways to do that.  During the chatter, Emkir bragged that he'd get better than the others the more drunk they got, but was reminded he'd very likely get beaten down before the first drink.

When the skills of the others were stacked up against Emkir's, Terin joked, "Why do you think I'm staying home?"  Aiden threw in, "I don't know why anybody's not bringing a camera?" and Aali answered that, "I am."  What she left unspoken was that she likely hoped to be able to show Emkir what was left of him after that evening if he ever got the stupid idea to try this again in the future.  That surprised everyone, and Aali was asked, "Oh, you're coming?"  She answered, "I'm coming but I'm not fighting."  Aali was also asked if she planned to stick a sign on Emkir's back reading 'beat me up please!'  That got a laugh from everyone.  At that point, Emkir's search for bats came up saying they couldn't get them made and delivered in under three and a half hours.

Jocelynn suggested they buy some gloves to fight with, and Emkir was all in favor of that.  But they were both reminded that brawling was a sport for hands, feet, knees, elbows and whatever else they could find to hand.  So, gloves wouldn't nearly cover every threat and they'd have to order those and wait til they were delivered too.  With the drinking game, they could get moving now, and stop at a shop or bar for bottles of booze and shot glasses before heading to the dojo to have fun.  After they agreed to that, Fesic announced he'd go with them, as a spectator and chaperone.  that got lots of laughs from everyone else.

Talk shifted to the kind of alcohol they planned to buy while they mounted up for the trip to the dojo.  That ended when they decided to grab the "least expensive", high alcohol-content bourbon they could get for cheap.  They ended up with three bottles of a rock gut bourbon supposedly based on an old Terran recipe called 'Wild Ride' or something similar.  That cost them Cr 100 for three bottles and the five shot glasses.  After that stop, they went directly to the dojo to play.  Along the way, they talked about what kind of a fight they were going to have?  And how the drinking would work?

It was suggested all the fighters would drink three shots before the fighting even started, but were reminded the booze they bought was fifty percent alcohol.  They wanted to get "some" fighting in before people started dropping to the booze.  After talking up different formats, they first centered on a 'round robin'.  But Jocelynn reminded them all that drinking needed to be a part of it somehow.  Finally, they centered on 'King of the hill', and to choose the order of combat with the person who choose "First" to start out as the King.  Everyone else had to step up, when it was their turn, and try to take out the king to replace them.

From there, it was time to decide how the drinking worked?  In the dojo, the facility had provided a single table, which they'd be billed for if it was damaged.  Again, the first suggestion was to start by taking three drinks each.  That was shot down again, and they centered on each fight ending with the looser taking a shot and the winner two.  But, they recognized the winners would be dropping to the alcohol fast instead of getting into the fighting.  Finally, Zimzod suggested they all fight a round of King of the hill and then they each take a shot before starting the next round.  After a pause, the five fighters all agreed and things were set.

Then, it came down to the advantages and disadvantages of each fighter.  Rol was the tallest, at six foot four.  Mikah was the shortest at five foot five.  When it came to pure dexterity, the fastest fighter was Zimzod and the slowest was Emkir.  For skill, Rol had the most training and experience and Emkir the least.  After that, it came to who could take the most punishment?  That was a surprising tie between Mikah and Emkir, where the weakest was also surprisingly Rol.  So Rol had to use his height and training before his stamina failed.  The rest of it was in the mix as they chose the first fighting order.

The first King, or Queen of the hill was Jocelynn, and she was horrified to find the first challenger was Mikah.  Based on the stories she'd heard, Mikah was the baddest monster on the crew's block.  So, as they joked about no biting or gouging of eyes, Jocelynn was concerned about being destroyed in the first round.  This would pit Jocelynn's height and slight speed advantage against Mikah's training, experience and slight advantage in stamina.  Adding to the difficulty, the rules were "fighting to subdue" so the fighters needed to pull their strikes enough to not actually hurt each other.

The fight began and was hard fought as the two women went at it.  For some time the mix of Jocelynn's slight speed advantage, training and background held even with Mikah's much more intensive training and experience.  Still, Mikah finally got that one perfect striking position and threw the blow that took Jocelynn out of the fight, and Mikah was Queen of the hill.  After it was over, Mikah checked Jocelynn out and confirmed she hadn't actually been hurt.  And Rol was the next contestant.  That pitted Rol's height, and slight advantages in speed and experience against Mikah's stamina.

If anyone had done that complete a comparison between them, they would not have expected what happened in the fight.  Thankfully for Rol, who started off on a bad initial footing, the crew only knew the stories and had low expectations of him based on his past performance with them.  So, it was no surprise that Mikah caught the bad footing he'd started with.  Taking advantage of that, she shifted and did a circling approach that forced him to turn against his stance, putting him further off balance.  Unable to react completely to her moves, Rol took a hard strike right off and was bounced hard, and taken out of the fight.  Rol took it with as much grace as he could while Mikah checked him out for injuries.

When Zimzod stepped up to fight next, Jocelynn pointed and called out, "Now, don't you turn this into a sexcapade!"  Zimzod was a good deal faster than Mikah even though she had a bit more training and experience.  He had the height advantage while she had the stamina to run rings around him.  Some of those watching would wonder if he'd completely recovered from the night before, because Mikah clearly had.  The surprise for those watching was that Zimzod not only rushed Mikah, but managed to bounce her out of the fight right off!  Zimzod then gave Mikah a medical checkup and confirmed there were no injuries.

That also meant Zimzod was King of the hill and it was Emkir's turn to step up to fight.  Taller than Emkir, Zimzod also had the advantage of both speed and skill or experience.  The only hope Emkir had was that fighting Mikah might have tired him out enough to allow him to compete.  Zimzod stepped up intending to throw a leg sweep to take Emkir down and pin him, ending the fight because he didn't want to "really" break the man.  And when the fight started, he didn't, because Emkir only had time enough to take a defensive stance before Zimzod's sweep took him down and the fight was over.  After that was the required medical checkup before it was time for everyone to take their first shot.

While the five were experienced drinkers, and few forgot Emkir and Jocelynn's drinking contest days before, there'd still be a jolt from something that was just more than fifty percent alcohol.  So, there was a jolt, but a single shot didn't knock anyone off balance.  So, they all lined up to figure out who would face Zimzod, as the current King of the hill, and in what order?  This time, it was Jocelynn coming in as the challenger vs Zimzod.  Zimzod had the benefits of being slightly faster and having a bit more experience so, like Mikah, she'd have to dance and tire him out.

When the fight started, Jocelynn managed to hold her own for a good bit, but was eventually bounced out.  After her, Emkir stepped up again with his only advantage being the shot of anesthetic he'd taken after the last round.  Having been hit suddenly while he was setting up in the last fight, Emkir planned to simply dive in and hope for both luck and a soft landing when he went down.  Zimzod's main plan was again, to win but not actually break the Emkir.  Having been faced by the "hopeless but fearless" rush before, Zimzod was easily able to stop Emkir's attack before physically taking control Emkir and putting the admiral out of it.

Only, this time, the put down was harder thanks to of the angle of the fall, and there was a real injury.  Zimzod had avoided Emkir's rush and any strikes while literally grabbing Emkir and throwing him back.  Sadly, the angle of Emkir's landing was bad.  Nearly bent in two at the waist as he flew, Emkir landed hard, right on his tailbone.  His body was then snapped back, and he was lucky his head had dragged behind him, and to the side.  So, when the back of his head snapped down and hit the floor, his back hit first and ate most of the impact.  That meant Emkir didn't suffer a significant skull fracture.  He badly bruised his coccyx and was in huge amount of pain with the twist of his sacrum.  Thanks to that, Emkir wouldn't be sitting comfortably for the next week, easy.

After both Mikah and Zimzod finished examining and working with Emkir, it was agreed he was out of the games, and on light duty for at least the next week.  Mikah promised Emkir she'd give him something for the pain when they returned to the ship.  Mikah also suggested both chiropractic adjustments every other day and a light course of daily muscle relaxing injections.  After that was squared away, it was time for Mikah to face Zimzod again.  This time, more than the last, both of them stepped up with a determination not to lose, and it showed.  More than once, it seemed they'd fight each other to a draw with the others watching, and they agreed this fight might have been good enough to pay to see.  Finally, Zimzod got that one good opening and was ready to take advantage when it came.

Zimzod even smiled and told Mikah, "Remember, I told you not to take it easy on me." as he helped her up.  But, she wasn't hurt and Rol was next into the ring.  Jocelynn joked, "Remember, it's not gay if you grab your own!"  That had been a line of jokes the night before, as they'd sat around the hookah making off-color sex jokes.  To everyone's surprise, Rol stepped in with determination and made sure not to make the rookie mistakes he'd made before.  That led to a tough fought battle between the two that lasted a good bit before Rol got the upper hand and finished off Zimzod!  The outcome was a complete surprise to everyone watching, because everyone except Jocelynn had such low expectations of Rol.

With the second round done, the next set of shots was poured and Rol was toasted for being King of the hill at the round's end.  And, to Zimzod for achieving the first "mission kill" of the fighting.  Emkir took the jokes with good humor while taking off his shirt and rolling it into a make-shift doughnut to cushion his backside.  He also did his best to sit on one cheek only.  Despite that, he did choose to stand as much as was comfortable while planning to spend more time laying on his side in the coming days.  After the second round of shots, which Emkir more fully enjoyed, the first fight of the third round was Mikah challenging Rol.

Having lost to Zimzod, there was no way Mikah was going to let Rol hold the hill.  Neither was Rol interested in rolling over, so the fight was both surprisingly long and even-sided until the end.  When it came, Rol handed up another surprise when he bounced Mikah out!  Those watching had realized that, even in the second round, the fights had stopped being a game and became an increasing level of challenges.  There was no heat, but they were each learning to respect what the others could do.  Even if some of them had to wonder why it took so long for these skills to be shown in some cases?  Not willing to take anything for granted, Jocelynn was next up the hill to face Rol.

The two former special forces operators faced off in another exciting and evenly matched fight, until Jocelynn got the opening she needed.  As quick as any of the others had, she took the opening to strike and Rol was out, leaving Jocelynn as Queen of the hill again.  Still, a good winner, Jocelynn said, "Oh, Sorry." and gave him a hand to help him up.  After that, she smacked his ass as he turned to step away.  Finally, for that round, it was again Jocelynn against Zimzod.  Ready for another exciting fight, the crew were not disappointed!

Jocelynn moved in fast and put her entire initial attack into a move to surprise Zimzod.  More cautious, thanks to the escalating challenge, Zimzod had been looking for more of a surprise than not when he took his stance.  So, he was ready to defend faster than Jocelynn hoped he'd be.  Her first gambit failed, but he didn't bounce her out of the fight either.  Turning further into the battle, the two came together and decorated each other with even more of the bruises each fight awarded before Jocelynn finally out lasted Zimzod, and bounced him out.

Reaching down to give him a hand up, Zimzod enthused, "Yeah Baby! and cheered Jocelynn's victory because she'd be on his side in any fight that was real.  They both exchanged the grunts marines were known for as they high fived and the four of them were joined by Emkir for the next shot.  Despite the physical activity of the fights, none of them were burning alcohol out of their system fast enough to counter an alcohol content just the other side of fifty percent.  While most were not hit too hard, Rol realized he was a bit more unsteady than he should be after the third drink.  Not taking it too seriously, Rol even joked, "Maybe this will help me." and got lots of laughs.

Jocelynn was Queen of the hill facing Mikah, as the first challenger in this new round, and Mikah certainly had a more wary eye on Jocelynn this time in.  The fight was not as long this time, but nether of them was taking it easy either.  Mikah also got more mileage out of her moves than Jocelynn this time, and she was eventually able to beat the Marine down.  Rol unsteadily stepped up next, and joked, "Now, don't get cocky."  Seeing that, Mikah wondered to herself if he should be fighting at this point?  And, as they came together, Mikah just grabbed him in a clutch and put him down by kneeing him in the crotch.  While Rol let out a high-pitched cry and dropped, Mikah asked, "How's that for cocky?"  That got huge laughs from everyone else in the room.  In fact, Aali, who was filming, was certain that would be added to the ship's screen savers!

Still, Mikah gave him the once-over with her hand scanner and even let him lie there, giving him more time to "retire".  When Rol finally recovered enough they could move him out of the way, it was time for Mikah to face Zimzod.  After the laughs of Mikah's fight with Rol, this challenge was more hard-fought and finally ended with Zimzod bouncing Mikah out of the fight, to reclaim his stand as King of the hill.  With this round over, the five of them took another shot, because Emkir wasn't giving up on even rock gut.  Sadly, already having problems sitting, thanks to the tailbone bump, Emkir was now also having problems trying to remain standing, thanks to the drink.

The drink also claimed a victory over Rol, when his endurance failed the contest, even while still not completely over Mikah's "gift" to him manhood.  Mikah still stood firm, but Zimzod was a bit wobbly this time as was Jocelynn.  Everyone could tell the evening was moving towards its end.  Still, the club of three stepped forward and Mikah challenged Zimzod.  Despite Zimzod's wobble, he straightened up firmly when the fight began.  And, despite the many easy shots she was getting in, Zimzod not only took the hits, but managed to clock her firmly enough to bounce her out of the fight.

Jocelynn was surprised to be facing Zimzod, thanks to his reaction to the last shot, and joked, "Which one of you should I hit?"  She still came up to form, as they stood ready to fight, and then stepped in on Zimzod.  Unfortunately, her footing wasn't as firm as her intent and her stance was off.  Thanks to that, she was in no way prepared for Zimzod's strike just as Rol's failed positioning had opened him up to Mikah's attack earlier.  And that quickly ended the fight.  The silence following the fight of a few seconds was broken by Rol, who looked to Jocelynn where she was on the floor and told her, "Don't feel so bad.  He had you outnumbered."  That got a healthy round of laughs.

Still, Zimzod helped Jocelynn up and the three moved to take their post-round drinks.  Despite his very funky wobble, Zimzod turned out to be the only one still steady enough to fight after the latest drink.  On the table, they could see they still hadn't opened the second bottle, so two bottles would return to the suite with them.  Zimzod lifted one of them up saying, "We'll save these for later."  That got smiles from the others in the room, even if some couldn't stand to applaud the decision.  With the fighting over, Mikah and Zimzod checked over the many bruises the fighters had collectedand then checked each other.  They were certain they'd be a "very colorful" crew for the next week.

In the suite, Terin had spent the entire evening continuing his research into infuser needs.  Digging into soporifics, hoping to refine an oil that would help with a person's pain, Terin found it would take roughly a pound and a half of live, or freshly cut plant matter to get an ounce of plant oil.  That meant he had to either find someone who shipped clippings freshly and quickly enough to use, or he'd need to go dirtside to get it.  That also meant he'd have to bring the infuser with him, so he'd have to spend the next morning figuring out how to do that when he could.  Hoping for some easy answers overnight, Terin did post questions about it on his forums.  Still, the odds anyone else would have so expensive a machine and see his post over-night was vanishingly small.  Aiden spent the evening watching vids.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

     Aiden: Watching vids in the suite's living room.
     Terin: finishing his infuser research for the evening.
     The rest: in a rented dojo after the fighting matches, preparing to return to the suite
     They were set to get the ship back on Wednesday, 261-1113

Next: Botching The Job