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Last Updated     March 29 2019
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Botching The Job

Fade To Drink

Inthe SPA HighportAiden had spent the evening watching vids in the suite's living room while Terin worked at his infuser research.  Outside the suite, Fesic and Aali had been filming the fighting/drinking game the others had come up with.  In a rented dojo, Emkir had been bounced out of the fighting and injured his tailbone.  Despite that, he refused to stop drinking, so he also had issues standing while not being able to sit without pain.  Rol, Mikah and Jocelynn were also having issues standing thanks to the drink.  Zimzod was unstable, but could still stand as they prepared to return to the suite.  After cleaning up, they secured the room with a "turn-over" locking code that told the owners they'd left the compartment.

Zimzod, Aali and Fesic helped the others into a called port-cab.  Or, 'carried him' in Emkir's case.  In the cab, Mikah cheerfully and loudly said, "Let's go to a bar!" and Jocelynn agreed.  Fesic said he'd agreed as he quietly programmed the cab to take them back to the hotel.  Arriving, and while Aali and Fesic conscripted hotel employees to help get the others back to the suite, Jocelynn complained, "Hey!  This isn't a bar!"  Answering her, Fesic said they had a bar in their suite.  He even said he'd add the two bottles of bourbon to it.  And they were already at the hotel, so the ladies went with it.

Not wanting to mix drinks, Mikah and Jocelynn cracked open a second bottle of the low-end bourbon after grabbing seats in the suite's dining room.  While she poured, Zimzod and Fesic joined them.  Rol had a hotel employee help him prop himself into a chair at the table so he could join in.  With the first cups poured, and as they sipped, Jocelynn said to Mikah, "I don't know what jobs we're lined up for past going to this "Sir Brian's" family or whatever, but I happened to see on the news, two days ago, that there was a substantial reward being offered by Duchess Delphine."

Pausing to remember the meat of the reward offer, Jocelynn continued, "There's a lost ship called the Kard Damasc, which was apparently captained by a Lady Katherine hault-Evers..."  Waving that away with her hands as she cut Jocelynn off, Mikah kept her face properly schooled and said, "Huh!  Don't worry about that."  Trying again, Jocelynn asked, "You sure?  It's a Cr 100,000,000 reward." and Mikah simply shook her head and said, "Yeah.  No."  While Mikah brushed it off again, Rol told Jocelynn, "It's just one ship among how many thousands?"  Hammering the nail into the coffin, Mikah said, "It's a needle in a haystack." with an authoritative tone that suggested the search was impossible.

Turning to him, Jocelynn asked, "Hey Zimzod.  Did you see they've deployed anti-psi battledress?  That's pretty damn cool."  Zimzod, who'd forgotten or missed that note in the report from the Esalin system, asked "Really?" while Mikah grumped, "We need that for everyone here."  Aiden just snarked at that, "You're still having problems with your snipe hunt for an FGMP-15." in a tone which suggested they weren't likely to find anything like that for sale.  However, the truth was they could even likely order anti-psi kits for their combat armor because the Fifth Frontier war had made anti-psi products stylish.  They just had to raise the money to spend, buy them and have them installed.

They all knew the Esalin system had been an experiment between the Imperium and Zhodani Consulate.  Originally settled by the Imperium in 835 TI, it had been taken by the Zhodani in 1082, during the Fourth Frontier war.  But, as part of the armistice that had ended that war, the two empires declared joint control and neutrality of the system in 1098.  In the opening moves of the Fifth Frontier War, the Zhodani secured the system and began taking control of all Imperial legal and military assets.  Then, in 1110, it was retaken by Imperial forces who have maintained control of it since.

In the years since the end of the war, Imperial authorities had agreed to repatriate those Zhodani who wanted to go home.  They'd also agreed to let the Zhodani interview the ones who wanted to stay, even understanding the Imperial laws against psionic powers.  Of course, the Imperial authorities refused to allow the interviews under any chance of psionic manipulation.  So, the interviews would happen in psionically shielded chambers, and the Imperium had moved in brigades of psionically shielded troops, in the case of hidden psionic cabals.

Betting on the cost of such upgrades, Zimzod just raised his glass and said, "Shut up and drink."  Jocelynn verbally smacked him back, raising her own glass and saying, "This is for you grandpa."  That got lots of laughs from everyone in the room, including Zimzod.  Ending the laughter with confusion, Fesic wondered if anyone in the room was familiar with any rumors of celebrity love children in-system?  Aiden broke the brief silence, asking if there was a specific celebrity or love child Fesic wanted to talk about?  But it turned out no one even knew who the local celebrities were, much less which of them had any children, legitimate or not?

Rol changed the subject, saying, "I need a drink after that."  Jocelynn followed that, saying, "Let's get the hookah out!"  Aiden said Terin had already gone to sleep and Zimzod said, "I'll wake him up!"  Everyone laughed as Zimzod stood unsteadily and paused to keep his balance.  Then, some giggled while he unsteadily walked to Terin's bedroom door and disappeared inside the bedroom.  Out of their view, Zimzod moved up to Terin's bed and started kicking it until Terin woke up.  Looking up through eyes still filled with sleep, Terin asked, "What's up, Zimzod?"

Zimzod just gave Terin the largest smile he could, and loudly said "Hookah time!" in a happy voice.  After a surprised moment spent staring at Zimzod, Terin realized there was no way to change Zimzod's mind, so he said, "Alright.  Give me a few minutes." and started to get up again.  Accepting that, Zimzod staggered back to the table to refill his glass while Terin got up and pulled a shipsuit on.  It would be a few minutes before Terin could pull out and set up his hookah so the others went back to drinking.

By the time Terin came out of his room with the hookah's carry case, he found Mikah, Jocelynn and Fesic still drinking and chatting with Aali.  Like Rol, Zimzod had succumbed to the drink, and was head-down on the table next to his glass.  Shrugging, Terin started to set up the hookah while Fesic asked the others to help him move Zimzod and Rol into their beds.  Aali agreed it was time to herd the cats into their beds after all.  They moved the drunks as Terin decided to use only half a packet of flavored herbs instead of putting the hookah away because Zimzod wasn't awake anymore.

With the deadwood removed, Fesic returned to nurse his one drink and Terin decided not to start drinking that evening.  Jocelynn was happy to see the hookah, so she could get a bit of flavor before bed.  She and Mikah continued to drink until the evening ended in darkness of one or another kind for all.  Still, that didn't take long as they each took a hit or two from their stems and did their best to finish what was in their glasses.  After that, they each found sleep in their beds or at the table.  Then, Fesic made sure they ended up in a bed afterward.

Rising From The Undead

     It was early morning, and Terin was the first to wake.  He could only complain that it was earlier in the morning than he preferred.  So, he stepped through his morning routine and then took care to clean and store his hookah.  After that, Terin checked his posts to see if anyone had commented on his questions about the infuser?  Sadly, he wasn't surprised to find he hadn't gotten any answers.  Terin then worked at researching anti-allergenic oils, as well as pain blocking oils, until a chime came from the suite's door.

Opening the door, Terin found himself facing a delivery man who was, ironically, looking for one "Sir Terin".  When he was given the box and asked to sign for it, Terin realized it was the duster he'd ordered.  Thanking the man, Terin brought the package into the suite to open and unpack.  After he removed the duster, Terin saw "in real life" that the mesh he'd ordered embedded into the coat had made it stiff, and he had to force it to straighten out.  Unhappy with the results of his idea, Terin figured he could possibly sell it on a lower tech world, and perhaps get even with it after all.  But, he'd have to hold onto it until he had that chance.

Jocelynn and Zimzod were the next to wake, and the fuzz that kept Jocelynn from thinking straight was nothing compared to the massive and pounding hangover Zimzod could feel even before he'd opened his eyes.  His pain was so great it was the reason he realized he was even awake.  Zimzod was also figuring out that his mouth was so dry it was as if he held a cotton ball the size of a dreadnaught in it.  Turning his head hurt, and even thinking of seeing if Mikah was awake hurt.  And while Jocelynn's pains were less than Zimzod's, she still felt every one of the aches and bruises she'd gotten in the fighting the night before.  Jocelynn decided to take a nice long hot bath after taking some pain killers.  She also planned to drink many glasses of water to rehydrate.

Knowing what the shifting blood pressure would do to him no matter what he tried, Zimzod decided to sit up, and then to stand.  Bearing through the pain, Zimzod forced himself to an unsteady stance, and then stood a while to just master his balance.  Finally steady enough to try for more, Zimzod set aside the idea of water when he spotted Mikah's medical kit.  Reaching for that, Zimzod took a hit from an analgesic injector.  Zimzod then grabbed a hand grenade-sized capsule of oxygen and hooked himself up before moving on to the fresher for some healing water.

The staggering passage to water was challenge enough, both in balance and in pain.  First, Zimzod spent some time drinking at the sink.  Then he filled a glass and drank it.  Next, he filled another glass and, still in his clothes from the day before, made his way into the suite's living room.  All the way, he took care not to spill any of the water.  There, Terin was working at a terminal when he noticed Zimzod's approach in the apparent role of the living dead!  Even worse, he noticed the cringing pain Zimzod reacted with to the suddenly brighter light levels in the room.  When Zimzod turned to the comms, mumbling about calling house services for sunglasses.  Terin told the suite controls, "Apartment.  Lights on full" and then yelled, "HEY ZIMZOD!  HOW ARE YOU DOING?" in a happy shout.

Nodding as much as he could stand, Zimzod thought to himself, 'So, that's the way it's going to be.' and turned back to his and Mikah's bedroom.  Staggering back there, Zimzod got hold of some wads of cotton to stuff into his ears before returning to Terin.  On the way, he also grabbed his k bar with a grim smile.  Moving back into the living room, Zimzod had decided to get some sunglasses from Terin, who was always wearing them.  Even if he had to skin the pair Terin was wearing from the Darrian's face.  He'd settle for another set, but would enjoy that option...less.

Terin had been waiting on Zimzod's return, and noticed both the blade in his hand and the tufts of "something" sticking out his ears.  Terin also noticed the expression on Zimzod's face as the other man regarded him during his approach.  Terin ordered the room, "Lights, forty percent." just before Zimzod grimly demanded, "Give me your sunglasses or I will kill you."  Rather than simply handing Zimzod his glasses, Terin held up a finger before stepping into his bedroom to dig through his gear.  When he returned, he did so with another set of sunglasses to offer Zimzod.

Zimzod took the glasses, saying "Thank you.  I appreciate that."  He also put the k bar down and said, "OK.  I won't kill you at this time."  After that, Zimzod planned to go shopping for his own set of sunglasses.  Just out of the fire, Terin decided to poke the bear from what he hoped was 'outside the cage', as he asked, "Feeling pretty good this morning, huh?"  As he hung ten, riding a wave of bad karma in Zimzod's face, Terin had no idea how much of a debt he'd started building behind the scenes.  In Aiden's bedroom, the sleeping scout was woken when the lights in his room suddenly came on full, thanks to Terin's global command to the apartment's systems.

In her fresher, relaxing as the heated water filled the tub around her, Jocelynn was surprised when the lights suddenly came on full!  Flinching at the sudden change, Jocelynn then shouted out, "Who's fucking with the damn lights?"  A shout no one else heard, given the walls between her and the others.  Not knowing what caused the glitch, Jocelynn then ordered her lights back down.  In his bedroom, Rol was also woken and covered his eyes, groaning in pain against the sudden lights, but didn't feel more of a hangover than a thought-dampening fuzziness to go with his dry mouth.  Still feeling many pains, including the ache still living in his groin, Rol moved into the shower to clean up, sooth his aches with hot water and even rehydrate as he caught the spray of water in his open mouth.

Having decided not to kill Terin just yet, Zimzod decided he needed caff, and knew the pain and effort of getting into the suite's kitchen to make it would be worth it.  Terin watched Zimzod make his slow and unsteady passage before turning back to the research he'd been doing.  What he'd found, so far, was that many of the pills he hoped to make and sell oils for were actually covered by the commercial pharmaceutical companies in-system.  In fact, the local coverage was a lot more broad because of the relatively lax drug laws in the on-world nations.

More difficult, where there was a homeopathic cottage industry, Terin knew the buyers preferred trusted sources.  "That new guy, just visiting off the starship" tended to be branded with the reputation of snake oil salesperson.  In fact, the more Terin did research, the more he realized these might be issues he'd have to face even in other systems.  And, where such drugs were illegal, or even such untested treatments offered, there could be other more serious legal penalties.  He realized that highly regulated markets could even have him arrested for offering a "comforting tea" free of charge, because they hadn't been tested and verified for safe use by a local government agency.

When Rol finally came out of his bedroom, Terin was still doing his research while reconsidering how to make money from his infuser.  Zimzod was worshipping his caff and, for all the universe, still looked as if he was a member of the living dead.  For his part, Rol wasn't very stable himself, nor was he walking with his normal gait.  Especially favoring a wider swing step that gave his "personal bits" more space to reduce the risk he'd accidentally cause even more pain.  Rol was particularly surprised by the hose connecting Zimzod's nose to a small oxygen bottle!

Pausing, Rol told Zimzod, "You look like I feel." in a sympathetic tone.  It took Zimzod a moment to get up the energy to answer, "Yeah, besides the...  Aside from the nut kicking part." and Terin laughed at that.  Zimzod finished up, "They still feel pretty all right."  Rol answered, "Hey.  I still got them."  When Rol asked how his head was, he also noticed the cotton in Zimzod's ears for the first time.  Rol then asked, "Can you hear me?"  Zimzod said he could and Rol asked, "Are you sure?  I can speak louder." with a smirk on his face.

Zimzod assured Rol he could hear what was being said, and waived off the offer to speak louder.  When Rol offered to cook Zimzod something special, to help his head recover, Zimzod said no, pointing out, "Since my woman is the one who kicked you in the nutz, I don't need any payback."  Terin laughed at that and Zimzod reminded Rol he'd left himself open for the jibe, which was a double tap since he'd left his groin open to Mikah's attack in the sparring the night before.  Soon enough, things quieted down because the food was served and the men spent more time eating than trying to one up each other.

Mikah eventually woke to find herself in the grips of a hangover that, like Jocelynn, was not pounding her with pain but filling her head with "fuzz".  Going through her morning routine, Mikah also saw her medical kit had been "pawed through".  What she could see, at first, was that an oxy-breather had been taken.  Grabbing the kit and treating herself, Mikah later saw a pain killer injector had also been taken.  She did her best to re-hydrate, and took a pain killer herself.  In their bedroom, Aali had also woken and gone about starting her day while Emkir was still out cold.  In Fesic's bedroom, he hadn't had enough alcohol to need to worry about being affected, but knew he should hydrate himself anyway.

The food had been served, and the others had eaten, or were eating, when those three came out of their bedrooms.  Zimzod still looked very much like a visitor from the world of the undead as he sat and went about letting his body recover.  Noticing the cotton, Mikah asked Zimzod, "Why are you foaming at the ears?"  He answered, "It seemed like the thing to do."  Nodding, Mikah asked, "Do you need more oxygen?" but Zimzod checked the bottle and saw he was good for a couple more hours.  Pointing, Mikah asked, "Who'd you steal the sunglasses from?"  Zimzod pointed with his chin as he said, "Terin".  By that time, Rol had recovered enough to pull out his Ident and snap a picture of 'Zimzod of the undead!' while saying, "Smile!"

Those who were in the dining room were eating when Aiden came out of his bedroom asking if anyone else had noticed something wrong with the lights?  Most of those at the table turned to him with half of them saying "No" or innocently asking, "No.  Why?"  Especially Terin.  Aiden quietly marked yet another personal attack against him in his ledger of Aiden vs the universe when he noticed one or two of them couldn't hide their smirks or giggles.  Rol asked Aiden if he'd been hitting the hookah again the night before, as if there was some confusion on Aiden's part.  Aiden only answered, "No.  I was actually getting real sleep."

Rol thought he'd get a good snark in, saying, "Well, I don't remember." and Aiden got the better of that saying, "I guess someone clocked you up-side the head and you lost." in a tone that clearly said he wasn't surprised.  Mikah just chuckled and said, "Wait til he tries to stand up!"  Aiden asked, "Oh?  Do tell?" and Looking around, Mikah asked, "Who's got video?" with an evil smile on her face.  Both Aali and Fesic had been filming and they both moved to upload their data and show them off on neighboring screens in the living room.

Thanks to the ability to use voice control, they were both able to hone in on Mikah's crotch-mashing strike quickly.  After that, they were able to give commands like "back up", "loop" or even have the screens zoom in on specific parts of the action.  Having two different angles made it even easier to cover every second of the action from the moment Mikah made contact through the sudden bulging of Rol's eyes to the final bounce as Rol hit the mats for good and all.  While those in the living room watched and laughed, Emkir woke in his bedroom alone.

In the immense pain of his hangover, Emkir staggered towards the fresher, suffering even more intensely thanks to the pain in his tailbone.  Still, he dragged himself to the fresher and quickly sucked down three glasses of water.  After that, he went through every packet he had, desperately searching for a pain reliever that could make it all go away.  Sadly, Emkir's desperate search came to nothing, and he realized he had only one more option to seek.  Staggering some more, Emkir dragged himself into a shipsuit so he could go out and beg Mikah to make it go away.

In the bathroom connected to her bedroom, Jocelynn was finally done with her bath and wrapped herself in a towel to dry off.  Then, when she was ready, she changed into a shipsuit.  Stepping into the living room, Jocelynn looked around while hoping the fog would clear.  Seeing Zimzod, she moved over to the table and sat across from him.  Looking at Zimzod across the table, Jocelynn could only say, "Wow.  I didn't think we beat you up that bad."  Smiling back at her, Zimzod joked, "Well, the guy who wins usually looks the worst.  Before anyone could answer that, Emkir and Aali's bedroom door opened.

Into the silence, they heard Emkir's voice come out in a thin, reedy and almost querulous tone.  They listened while Emkir begged Mikah for drugs.  Watching the man, Emkir almost clung to the door jamb like it was his only anchor to the universe.  And it was the only thing keeping him standing, as far as he was.  Mikah stood, saying, I can get you anything you want" with a smile on her face as Jocelynn joked, "For a price."  Zimzod disagreed, saying "No!  No!  He provided entertainment." as if that covered any charge he'd have to pay.  That settled one choice while Emkir clung to the door begging Mikah for drugs with his eyes.

Things quieted down when Mikah told Emkir, "Go lay down.  I'll be in in a minute."  Soon after, Mikah found Emkir suffering on the bed and set her medical kit down to get to work.  Emkir made it clear he wanted only two things from Mikah.  One thing to make the pain go away and another thing to make him go back to sleep.  Mikah nodded and said she would, but she'd first give him water.  When Emkir said he'd had water, she gave him more anyway.  And Emkir was happy to take what she gave him.  While he drank, Mikah told him she was also going to set him up with oxygen too.  When she finally had him set up and told Emkir she was going to give him something for the pain, he started to bless her in the name of the many gods and goddesses he'd never believed in.

With Emkir lying face down and finally calming down, with the pain in his head starting to fade, Mikah ran her hand scanner over Emkir's tailbone, to see what more she could do there?  Annoyingly, her initial diagnosis was still the right one.  If he was in less pain and more functional, she'd have him visit a chiropractor.  But that wasn't possible, and the best she could do there would be to hit him with muscle relaxants.  That would let the bones and nerves properly settle back into place and heal.  Outside in the living room, Zimzod wanted to wander into Emkir's bedroom and heckle him but he was still not moving well himself, when he moved at all.

And Add Festival Lights!

     Mikah came out into the common spaces to find the others talking about what they were planning to do next, and that brought up Wypoc.  Brian had been born and raised there.  The world was a molten core - rocky world that was larger than most.  Sadly, that was one of the very few "good" things about the world.  The atmosphere was an insidious mix of hydrofluoric, hydrochloric, and sulfuric acids.  With a small amount of prussic acid for those who really liked having everything including the festival lights.  The atmospheric pressure at the surface was approximately 2.5 atmospheres, and an orangish haze was ever present.  Forty one percent of the world was covered in a rich and corrosive soup of amino and atmospheric acids.  Most Terran proteins were immediately broken apart by one or more of the ambient acids.

When Jocelynn demanded, "Why would anyone live there!" in a horrified voice, she was told, "Mining".  The three hundred or so thousands of permanent residents had established a representative democracy to run their world, but were also significantly dependent on outside help to maintain their domes and industrial needs.  While the laws would sound harshly intrusive to outsiders, that was misleading because their system was also very safety oriented.  Still, a significant legal and over-watch system exists there, and anything that would be seen as increasing the risk of danger to the population was regulated.

The one major settlement, under a set of interconnected domes and other structures, was supported by outer settlements as well as an Imperial Marine facility for Hostile Environment Equipment testing.  Overhearing the conversation when she returned to the living room, Mikah interrupted them.  In a half mystified and half insulted tone, she asked, "So, let me get this straight.  Brian's parents were living someplace else, and they chose to go back to this planet?"  Raising his glass, Aiden snarked Yup!" in a tone that said there was no explaining stupidity.  Mikah firmly judged them, saying, "Not very smart."

Still, they reminded her that she had no idea why they left in the first place?  She didn't know why they left, or even "how" they managed that?  Because the place wasn't particularly wealthy, nor were its people.  So, how they got out was a big question.  Wypoc was currently a non-industrial and non-agricultural world, and their insidious atmosphere was an incredible level of nasty, so far from merely "corrosive", with acids and protein breakers and more!  To answer Jocelynn's question, the system's chief exports were the exotic chemicals and even minerals extracted from Wypoc's ocean and atmosphere.

The bulk of Wypoc's trade income was directed at maintaining the technology that protected their enclosed cities and mining tech.  That was because their local technology base, while firmly interstellar, was still lower than the levels that made the corrosion resistance needed to keep their domes from dissolving or collapsing.  One advantage Wypoc had was their advanced work on the use of acids, for batteries and other uses.  That would reduce the need for more exotic metals and materials for more advanced batteries and uses.  The next issue with the system was fuel, because the world only had a downport, and an E class port at that.  So, despite Mikah's claim, "We are not taking the ship into that!", they'd have to land at the port if they wanted to find and meet with Brian's family.

Knowing fuel would be "really" expensive there, Terin asked what worlds they had to pass through to get to Wypoc?  Pulling up a map on one of the terminals, they saw they "could" jump directly to the Wypoc system, but would have to buy fuel there if they did.  If they didn't jump there directly, they could stop in the K'Kirka or Rech systems first.  But fuel would be expensive in those systems too.  There was no natural water in the K'Kirka system and violent storms in the atmosphere of Rech meant you had to pay a service to bring the water into orbit if you couldn't get a landing certification.  But Rech would cost a bit less, as an agricultural world.  So, they had to figure out which system to jump to so they could refuel for less than they'd have to pay elsewhere in the cluster.

And the Rech system was a bread basket, so they couldn't bring food from Inthe either.  That meant they had to start investigating what trade goods might be valued in the Rech system, to plan what cargoes to look for locally.  The only real "issue" with visiting Rech was that the starport only had a "D" class rating.  So, they'd have to buy unrefined fuel and process it through their purifier plant.  While it would be less expensive, it would also eat processing time while they also did their engineering resets.  And, visiting Rech would let them then make a single-parsec jump to Wypoc, with their cargo bay filled with food and with enough fuel aboard to jump up to three more parsecs when they left that system.

A Sudden Change Of Direction

     The more the others talked about "flight stuff", the more Zimzod's mind wandered until he thought about the crystal again.  While he expected someone from IRIS to pick it up sometime that day, it sat in a drawer in the bedroom he shared with Mikah.  He decided he'd feel better if he put it in the room's safe until that agent showed up.  Thinking better about doing that himself, because of how he felt, Zimzod asked Mikah to do it for him.  Overhearing Zimzod, Terin asked, "What crystal?" and Mikah snapped "None of your damn business!" with a taunting look on her face that barely hid the fact she was about to bust out laughing.

After that, Zimzod described where he'd put it and Mikah went to lock it up.  But, when she got into the bedroom and checked, the crystal wasn't where he'd said it was.  When she told Zimzod that, he first said it should be.  Then, he got himself up and shambled into the bedroom to check for himself.  And it wasn't there!  In fact, after considering the empty drawer for a moment, Zimzod realized that wasn't the only thing missing, because he'd also put the cracked crystal he'd gotten during the EMT ride along in with it.  So, both were gone.

Zimzod's first thought was to tell Mikah, "I think we had a visit from our friends."  He'd meant that IRIS had broken in and taken the crystals, but they weren't sure which one was the item Zimzod called about?  The fog in his brain kept him from remembering he hadn't told them what it was he had called them about?  That was because he didn't want to talk about it on the comms at the time.  So, while he didn't remember that, there would have been no way IRIS would have targeted the crystal without talking to him.  About that time, the chime at the suite's front entrance let them know they had a visitor.

In the living room, Terin said he'd get the door and went to answer the chime.  The bored looking woman waiting when he opened it was in her thirties, wearing a pencil skirt and top.  She looked Terin up and down and said, "I'm here to see Sir Zimzod.  Is he available?"  While her tone was on the flat side of conversational, her manner of speaking left Terin with the feeling there had been a firm command in there too.  Not sure why he felt that way or why he was suddenly feeling "on guard", Terin said, "Can I take your name please?"  She responded with a firm and sudden "No", that was not snapped but certainly promised some kind of violence.

Nodding, Terin said, "Umm, I'll check.  Hang on a bit." and closed the door before returning back into the suite to find Zimzod.  Making his way to the door of Mikah and Zimzod's bedroom, Terin said, "Um, Zimzod?  There's a young lady at the door asking for you.  She wouldn't give her name."  Terin continued to give a thumbnail description of the brunette.  When Zimzod told him, "Just let her in.  Chances are, I don't know who the fuck she is anyway", Terin was even more surprised and confused by his reaction.

It took him a beat or two to process that before turning back to the living room just as the others there noticed the arrival of the woman in the space.  Seeing her surveying the others in the space, Terin said more or less to himself, "OK.  She'd just walked in through the door.  Also noticing her, Rol asked, "Hello?  Do we know you?" as Mikah snapped at Terin, "Did you lock it?"  Terin stumbled over trying to answer and mentally review his actions at the same time.  Deciding to be more polite, Jocelynn asked, "Can I get you something?  Water?"

When Zimzod saw her, it struck a memory.  Improbably dredged up through the hangover haze, Zimzod remembered the woman telling him that 'their issues in New Port Dunslade were of no Imperial interest'.  That was when he called IRIS for help the last time the crew had visited Inthe.  Mikah wasn't far behind Zimzod as she saw the woman and realized she was an IRIS agent.  "That" IRIS agent.  Looking at Zimzod, she said, "You called and said you had something for us?"  Again, it was stated as a question.  It even sounded like a question.  But, no one mistook the firm command wrapped inside her words.

Realizing just how awkward the moment was about to become, he admitted, "Yeah, I did." in a hesitant tone and stressing the word, "did".  He then continued while grabbing at the most likely fall guy he could think of, "Apparently, the cleaning crew we had in here the other day relieved us of it."  The agent raised an eyebrow and asked, "Explanation?"  Mikah stepped in while Zimzod suffered a sudden post-alcohol cognitive delay and said, "We had a cleaning crew from the hotel in, to clean the entire suite."  Picking up from there, Zimzod continued, "And two items are missing.  The item I called you about and another item."

Not really appearing interested in playing twenty questions, the agent realized there had to be a reason Zimzod wasn't being all talkative and open in this room filled with his people.  And she only recognized half of them herself.  So, she only asked, "And, is the nature of this second item the same as that of the primary item?"  When Zimzod said, "Yeah, no.  Or, I don't know." the agent grimaced and told Zimzod, and all the others, "Well, I guess you have a problem then."  Her tone made it clear the crisis was only going to crush them if it came down on anyone.

Zimzod admitted, "Yeah, I do." and the agent said, "If the item 'is' what you think it is, then it's going to trace right back to you when it gets found."  Zimzod was amazed how incredibly accurate the agent's threat was without her even having any clue what it was he'd called them about.  And the threat was both very real and very accurate.  Hoping to mitigate any of the effects, Zimzod told her, "Well, I told you where I found it." in a resigned tone and Rol asked, "What did you get us into this time?"  Zimzod nodded and said, "OK.  Let me chase this down and I'll get back to you."  Shrugging, the agent said, "You know where to call us." and left the suite with Terin, Jocelynn, Aali and Fesic wondering just who the hell she was and what had just happened?

Turning to Mikah, Zimzod said, "We have to chase down the cleaning crew." just before Terin asked, "Alright, um.  Can we get an explanation so we know what the fuck we're doing here?"  Despite the situation, some of the others laughed at that before things settled down again.  Zimzod just answered, "No." in so simple and direct a manner that was brutally blunt.  Leaning back on his heels, Rol asked, "When do we start killing people?" in a mildly annoyed tone.  Zimzod looked at him and said, "I'll be doing the killing" in a very quiet tone and Mikah said "I told you not to call those people."

Trying again, Terin began, "You know, there's this whole trust thing here with the crew..." and Zimzod cut him off.  Saying, "Uh.  Yeah.  Trust me, you don't want to know."  At the same time, Zimzod's mind was starting to work again, and he was realizing he couldn't use any official means to resolve this problem because he couldn't admit to having data on an Ancient site without ending up buried in some planet's burning radioactive core 'for reasons of Imperial security'.

Zimzod's initial thought and action were to call down to the Hotel's security office to say two items had been stolen from his bedroom.  When he told the person who answered that one was a cracked data crystal and the other an intact crystal, they had their first chance to remember the crystal with the supposed Ancient site data on it.  That memory led to a huge sinking feeling when they all realized how dangerous a situation they were now in.  Even if they had no idea who the woman had been?

When the operator asked questions, Zimzod said, "What I need is the information on the cleaning crew that was here in the suite."  Zimzod was asked why he wanted that and said, "Because I have two items that are missing, and I would like them back.  No questions asked."  Cautiously, the operator asked, "Are you suggesting that the cleaning crew stole from you?  And do you have any evidence that is the case?"  Zimzod flatly accused, "Yeah, they were the only ones in the room that were not part of my crew."  Of course, the operator had seen many cases where a theft had been carried out by one member of a party while the others in the party had been absolutely certain "their friends" were above accusation.

Then, they'd started accusing everyone in range until the truth came out just like Sir Zimzod seemed ready to.  Slowing things down to get a more complete statement, the operator told Zimzod the hotel would send someone to the suite to investigate.  Despite that, the operator made it clear the hotel would handle the issue properly and not be giving out any information about their employees to members of the public, even if they were guests of the hotel.  The operator did promise the hotel would do its best to insure Sir Zimzod was kept aware of the investigation as it proceeded.  They also said it might take a day or so to provide the first update.  With that set, Zimzod decided it was time to take more drugs, drink more water and drag himself back to life.

In all the activity, Fesic finally got a chance to ask what was missing, now that Zimzod was off the comms.  Mikah told him it was two data crystals, and that one was cracked.  Hearing that, Fesic suggested they search the suite to see if they found them.  Not taking Fesic seriously at all, Zimzod said, "Ok" because having everyone else searching the place top to bottom would keep them busy while he figured things out and made decisions.  The next hour was a process of ripping things down, moving or lifting things and searching until the hotel investigator arrived.

When he did, the man wanted to speak to everyone who could answer any questions about the missing items.  Of course, the first person he wanted to speak with was Zimzod.  And Zimzod was certain that the crystals disappeared after they had the cleaning crew in, two days before.  When he asked where the crystals had been before they disappeared, Zimzod showed him the drawer.  Before asking any more questions, the investigator checked under and behind the furniture and in the obvious places.  He also checked how close the location was to the trash bins, which was not at all.  Following that, the investigator asked Zimzod what reasonable evidence he had that the crystals had been taken by the cleaning staff?

Zimzod again stood on the fact that, as far as he knew, the cleaning staff had been the only people in the suite other than his crew.  The investigator didn't tell Zimzod how many times he'd heard that from families or organizations where it turned out to be an inside job.  And, the man didn't discount the chance it could actually have been a break in, but he had no evidence of that either.  Yet.  He did ask, "And, it's not possible that one of your crew members is playing a prank on you?"  Zimzod firmly said, "Absolutely not." in a quiet but determined tone.

Different Investigations

     Next, he asked Rol what he knew of the crystals and Rol told the man he didn't really know anything about it.  He said he knew they had some crystals, but not what was done with them or anything else.  The investigator then asked if Rol had seen anyone enter or leave the suite, or that bedroom, that should not have been there?  Not mentioning the agent who had "just walked in" earlier, Rol answered, "Not that I can remember.  No.  I was out of the suite at the time."  Asking where he'd been, Rol said he and Jocelynn had been at the Order House until later and only arrived at the end of events that evening.  When the investigator clarified that they did see the cleaning staff, Rol admitted they did but didn't see who went into what bedroom?

Talking to Jocelynn next, he first asked her if she knew about the crystals?  She answered, "I don't know what they were, but I was with Zimzod in the store when he bought one of them.  The other one, I have no idea about.  He then clarified which one of the crystals she knew about and she said she'd not known about the cracked one but knew about the intact crystal.  He then moved into checking to see if her answers matched up with Rol's as he had her go through what they had done that evening, and what they had or had not seen?

When Jocelynn admitted they'd seen staff moving mattresses around, he asked if she saw anyone moving into or out of Mikah and Zimzod's bedroom?  She said they'd only seen people go into Emkir and Aali's bedroom or Aiden's.  Next, the investigator spoke with Aali.  First, he asked about her knowledge of the crystals and she said she'd heard that Zimzod had bought one of them.  She also said she had no idea what was on it, and that she thought Zimzod had some concerns about it but really didn't know what the big deal was?  She continued, "But I seriously doubt anybody in the crew would have taken it from him."  Picking up on her words, the investigator asked, "So, you said they were of some concern to him.  Can you elaborate on that?"

Aali shook her head and said, "No.  I don't really know."  The man asked, "Did it make him nervous?  Afraid?  When you said, concerned..."  Aali cut him off there, saying, "Not...  Interested, I'd say.  People, you know.  People tend to keep things close to their chests.  So, I don't really know..."  Realizing Aali was pulling thoughts out of the air in order to not say what she was thinking, the investigator cut her off to ask, "Did you see anybody going into Zimzod and Mikah's bedroom?"  He hoped that by shifting gears, her reaction would say more than her made up words.  Unfortunately for him, Aali didn't have to think to say no, because she hadn't.

After that, he realized he was done with her so the investigator asked where Emkir was?  She explained Emkir's "medical situation".  Nodding, he called for Fesic, to ask what he'd experienced during the events?  Outside of that, he asked if Fesic was aware of anyone who'd entered or left the suite that shouldn't have been there?  When Fesic said he'd been on a trip for the past week and only just returned, the investigator asked about events since his return?  Fesic said he hadn't noticed anyone like that or even known about the crystals, except for their having said they had gone missing.  Fesic then recounted his actions while sweeping the suite to see if they had been misplaced, fallen behind something or been moved by someone else?

When it was Terin's turn, he said he knew nothing about the crystals and said he was busy with the hookah instead of paying attention to the cleaning staff.  When asked if he'd seen anyone in the suite who shouldn't have been there, Terin said he'd have harassed them hard if he'd seen them.  Nodding the investigator then turned to talk to Mikah, asking, "So, tell me about these crystals?"  He already knew there was some special quality to them, or the data held on them, and suspected that was a key to this issue.  Considering before she spoke, Mikah said, "Yeah, he bought them at the scout base and we were looking at them."

Hoping she could skirt the full truth, Mikah continued, "We saw some interesting stuff on the crystal and hoped we could get rid of them."  Nodding, the investigator asked, "What would make you want to get rid of them?"  Shrugging, Mikah decided it was time to ram her way through the man who was supposedly there to help them.  She followed her last up with, "Above your pay grade." in the firm tone of someone making her point a command.  Mikah followed that up saying, "I'm a Lady of the Arch Duke's court.  That's all you need to know."  The investigator accepted that as he said "OK" and considered how little responsibility this 'Lady of the Court' and her people had shown with what was apparently secure data.  But, he also knew when it was time to give up.

Finally, he asked Zimzod for a description of the staff he knew had been in that particular bedroom?  Zimzod admitted he had not seen the staffers who cleaned the room but called Mikah over saying she'd seen them.  When asked, Mikah was able to give a spot on description thanks to her photographic memory.  Using a specialty software package, images of the staff members she described were created while she spoke or offered corrections.  Finally, Mikah confirmed the images and the investigator thanked her for that help.  After checking his notes, he returned to Zimzod saying, "Sir Zimzod, I have no evidence at this point that a crime has actually been committed, but I have people to question."

With that, he held up the tablet with the images on it and stopped the protest Zimzod was starting.  He said, "I understand the crystals are missing, but there is still no specific evidence they were stolen."  The tone he used was polite but let Zimzod know there was no reason to try and argue the point.  Finishing up, the investigator said, "With that, we will investigate and get back to you.  It may take us a day or so to do that."  Giving Zimzod his contact data as Zimzod said, "OK", the investigator closed up his tablets and left the suite.  After he left, Mikah and Zimzod checked the hallway outside the suite and looked for hallway security cameras.

Seeing those, Zimzod came back into the suite talking about the idea of checking out the footage from them, but Aiden said the hotel would never let non-staff see their video.  Aiden also said the video wouldn't do any good because the crystals could have been slipped into a pocket, so they wouldn't be seen by the cameras.  The other bad news they all knew was that the only real result the hotel wanted was to have their facility and staff absolved of any crimes.  So, if there wasn't any evidence a crime had been committed, that would suit the management just fine.  Short of that, they knew the investigator would check the video for any non-staff breaking into the suite outside the guest's knowledge.  But if there was no other obvious evidence, they'd be happy to close the case saying "No evidence of a crime".

They also knew there were limits to how long they could wait and how hard they could push.  If they pushed too hard, the hotel could check them out and put them out on the deck.  And, it would be three more days before they got the ship back.  They didn't want to roll the dice on getting housing anywhere else on-station after something like that.  And, they only had three more days before they had to get the ship back up and running.  With the investigator saying it would not be until the next "day or so" before they reported back, the crew would have two days or one to resolve the situation.

Another issue that was raised was what the investigator might do if he did find the crystal and reviewed it?  Especially after Mikah had snapped at him about how the crystal's contents were "above your pay grade."  What they didn't consider were the questions which had to be crowding the investigator's head, such as, "If this was so important and the data so secure, why had they not called in actual Imperial authorities?"  And that was beside the question of how they had left such a secure item lying around and managed to lose it in the first place?  One thing they could bet he was thinking was that they had lost it and were afraid of what their bosses would say.  So they were trying to hide that fact until it was found.

Changing Directions

     While everyone in the suite considered the situation, Jocelynn asked, "Alright, well, let's think.  How can we do this our way?  You have good descriptions of them so we can sit people at points around the hotel watching for these people.  Then we can question them if we see them."  Terin added, "If we can get someone to hack into the videos, we can get a look at them.  Seeing Emkir hadn't come back to life again yet, Zimzod asked those in the suite, "Do we have someone who could hack into them?"  Rol suggested whatever they planned wouldn't have to happen "right now" so they could wait for Emkir.

Jocelynn started to say, "So, if we hack into the..." and was cut off by the others who had more skills with computers than she had.  Zimzod, Jocelynn and the others were told you had to have an access point to the computer you wanted to hack into before you could try that.  When Terin suggested they ask the hotel for access to the computer, Aiden snapped, "They're not going to give you access." and the others had to agree with the pilot.  Zimzod said that the other issue with hacking into the system was that they might leave footprints that would lead back to the crew.  Fesic said it was always possible he could do the job without leaving footprints.

Aiden reminded them they still had to find the computer, which meant finding the office it was in.  And, without permission, they'd have to find a way to break into the office unnoticed.  With a smirk on her face, Mikah pointed at Fesic and said, "He can pick locks", joking about his having been caught by hotel security two weeks before.  Jocelynn admitted she had a set of mechanical lock picks, but didn't know how to use them.  Terin also pointed out the hotel might have cameras in the area and they'd have to deal with any recordings too.

When it came to dealing with any of the people who may have stolen the crystals, Jocelynn said she was good with kidnapping and questioning them if needed?  Zimzod considered calling the investigator and making it clear the crystals should not be viewed if they were recovered, but realized that would only increase the odds he would "investigate" the contents if he actually found them.  Eventually, Rol asked if they were going to "take care of" the situation themselves?  Zimzod hedged at first, worried the crew would make an even bigger mess out of things.  Seeing things could get even worse, Mikah decided to deputize Terin to figure out if they could solve the situation?

Hearing that, Rol said, "We're doomed."  Terin then said, "We need to find the people who went into your room.  You've got descriptions of them, so..."  Pausing to consider, he suggested they find places in the hotel to "hang out and read" while watching for the staff members they wanted.  When Aali was skeptical of that plan, Terin said he wasn't the best person for that kind of stuff.  Aiden asked what would happen if the people they were after were off shift?  Since it was mid-morning and they'd been called at night, they likely worked the night shift and wouldn't be seen until later.  And, since that was days before, during the weekend, they could have mid-week days off.

That made it clear they could stake out the lobby and common spaces and not find anyone.  Zimzod said they needed to find a way to use Mikah's descriptions to identify the actual hotel staffers she'd seen, which he was told meant they had to get to the hotel's employee data systems.  Mikah joked about using social media, but they knew they'd have to hack a social website's database, then scan through millions of users with no guarantee the hotel's staff would be on the application, use any real information or have a picture.  So, while the joke might have had a serious edge to it, it remained just a joke.

When Zimzod finally admitted, "I think we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way", Aiden asked, "Burn the place down?" in a tone suggesting he actually thought the crew would try that on a space station.  When Terin wondered out loud if their 'computer expert' could hack into the hotel computers from the outside or needed a physical connection, he was told they would need to find out what kind of system the hotel had, where it might be located in the facility and how it was connected to any networks they might try to hack in through before that could be answered.

They knew anyone with computer training could start hunting for wireless networks while Zimzod watched.  Fesic was the first to grab one of the suite's terminals and start looking.  Next came Jocelynn, who also grabbed a terminal in the suite while Terin, Aali and Mikah also decided to join in.  Aali grabbed her hand computer while the others grabbed terminals in the suite.  While most found the generic "log in" entertainment services page and the various public blurbs, Jocelynn got lucky and found signs of multiple hotel networks.

Remembering more of the most basic computer classes, because they were more recent in her memory, Jocelynn was able to chase down the base addresses for the wireless networks and remember her address definitions.  Those memories reminded her that the different address designations required each of the networks to be functionally distinct.  That meant their broadcasting hardware was also distinct.  So, the multiple networks the others had located along with her were isolated from each other, and all were entirely secure except the hotel's entertainment network.  That offered some publicly available services and a log in for pay-to-use stuff.

Thanks to this information, they knew there were entirely separate networks instead of a single network they could access from one side and launch hacks from, to the other side.  That told them they had to figure out where the office management computer network was and how to get to it to hack it.  Making things more difficult, they needed to figure out what accounts existed if they wanted to hack one of those.  So, it wasn't just a question of hacking a password.  They needed to know an account ID, so they knew what account's password they were trying to hack?

While they were talking about that, Terin announced, "We have a really cool program that can break into shit" and Jocelynn asked, "Do we?" in a surprised tone.  When Zimzod said, "Yeah", Terin groused, "But, we have to wake Emkir up.  And, they were told, the software didn't work wirelessly.  So, they'd still have to find and get access to the computer.  Not happy about that, Jocelynn started thinking 'objectives' and muttered, "There has to be a computer room in this place."  Fesic suggested the computers might be in a communications closet, but that wasn't accurate because the actual computer was not a piece of communications gear.  Nor were they generally marked so outsiders could happen on them.

And if they did find a communications closet, they'd have to figure out what wires went to what services before they could even try to connect to the wiring and try to hack the computer.  It would be much better and easier to locate the actual computer and try to hack it directly.  So, they fell to speculating on where a computer might be, and repeatedly mentioned places like the hotel's Human Resources office.  As they talked, Jocelynn asked if Emkir would even be mobile by that evening and Mikah told her "Emkir could be mobile now if you need him." with a very evil glint in her eyes.  Mikah didn't need to say that Emkir wouldn't have liked it at all.  Hearing that, Fesic said, "Maybe I could just borrow his program if he's not going to be awake."

Reacting to that, Aali said she had a copy of the program too.  Fesic nodded to that, but suggested they still wait for Emkir because he had the most experience with the software.  Still, most of the crew had seen Emkir use the software, but had no idea of its full capabilities.  All they knew was that it was a tool Emkir used and that he was some kind of crypto-electronic god.  But Aali knew, and she also realized they were in the soup, so she had to burst the bubble.  So, she got everyone's attention and explained the truth about Emkir's god-like powers.  She told them that while Emkir was the best and most trained computer tech they had, his "magical hacking powers" weren't magical at all.  They were all due to the program he had on his hand computer, of which she had a copy.

All that was needed was to wire a connection to what was being hacked.  Those in the crew who didn't know about the package were amazed both at the capabilities of the software and the extent of the lies to make it seem to all have been Emkir's skill.  While she never explained how Emkir got the software, she did say it could hack any electronic system it could be connected to, but it had to he hard-wired into the target device.  So, while she could give them a copy to use, they still had to find the computer to hack.  That looked to be, from their guesses and theories, the human resources computer.  Because that would have everything about each employee from their pictures on down.

Looking for any shortcuts they could find, Zimzod asked, "What about that guy Wyss?"  Mikah, Aiden and Rol remembered he had been the starport security administrator before becoming the new chief of police for the city of Newport Dunslade.  While they remembered he mostly worked in the downport, he had been the overall security administrator.  So, Zimzod suggested they try to reach him and see if he could help?  When he was asked what he planned to tell Chief Wyss, Zimzod said his plan was to tell the man something very precious had been stolen and he needed to get it back quickly.  Hearing that, Terin asked how many people Zimzod wanted to bring into their operation, because he was worried any secrets would get out.

Brushing off Terin's concerns, Zimzod stepped into his bedroom and made the call.  Wyss was happy to hear from Zimzod, given how they'd worked together against the vargr gangs.  When he asked Zimzod what was happening, Zimzod told him about the stolen thing he needed to get back.  Considering that, Wyss asked "What kind of something are we talking about?"  Deciding that they were on comms and that wasn't very secure, Zimzod said, "I think we need to talk about that privately."  Raising an eyebrow at Zimzod, Wyss asked, "How soon do we need to talk in person?" in a skeptical voice.  Zimzod just answered, "As soon as possible."  Nodding, Wyss said, "OK.  I can hop a shuttle and be on the high port in five hours."

After Zimzod announced the police chief of the downport city was coming to visit and help them, Terin asked how wise it was involving the authorities?  Calming his concerns, Zimzod explained all about how Wyss and his friends had set up an illegal and very high-tech ring of vigilantes, and how their crew, at the time, had joined in with Wyss' crew to carry out a very illegal attack on a couple of vargr gangs.  Zimzod made it clear that while he and Wyss had both been shot during the operation, they'd carried out a large number of what were legally murders.  And, as a result of that, they broke the backs of the vargr gangs and Wyss became the police chief after the mayor ousted the previous chief.

Zimzod also described the party, which led to Zach Wood losing his pistol and Emkir's creation of the 'Cult of Emkir', not to mention Emkir shooting the shit out of the leg of their chief witness.  And now, he was coming to help even if he wasn't related to the hotel.  And even if the hotel's security was not controlled by the port's, he might have low friends in valuable places who could help the crew ID their thief.  While Zimzod was cluing the new crew in on Wyss, Rol got permission to do some "recon" in the hotel, but was told not to get caught.

Rol's primary plan was to wander the floors and public spaces of the hotel and note the locations of doors marked "Employees Only".  While moving, Rol did his best to appear to be casually wandering the hotel's spaces and not stand out or be noticeable, and to absolutely not look like he was casing the joint.  He also did his best to look at what passed for "invisible" in the hotel's public spaces.  Mostly, those who were invisible were the uniformed workers passing through the hotel's spaces.  Some kinds of guests were also less noticeable to him, but he noticed they were noticed by the staff.

Rol's thoughts turned to how he and the others could "become invisible" while moving through the hotel?  The best answer was to look like the staff, in their uniforms.  That not only meant being in a uniform or uniform-like outfit but also looking like the locals.  So, Aiden was out because he was an albino.  Not that he thought anyone could get Aiden to take part without whining and complaining the whole time.  The more he planned out his work, the more Rol wanted to do his best to get close enough to overhear any employee to employee conversations, to see if they mentioned anything the crew could use.

After Zimzod was done with his history lesson, Fesic suggested they try to present themselves as technicians who were there to do work on the hotel's computers.  Of course, this ignored the fact that the hotel likely had their own IT staff, like they'd had their own locksmiths when Fesic had been caught previously.  The idea also ignored the fact that the hotel management would know when any computer update was planned.  Ignoring those points, Terin said the plan wouldn't work because the crew were all known to the hotel staff.  Zimzod cut him off, pointing out the hotel staff didn't know all of them, but did remind Fesic the hotel's security did know Fesic.  And, he said they'd likely prosecute Fesic if they caught him trying to violate the hotel's security again.

Fesic accepted that, but continued to suggest that if they had to break in, they do their best to do it during an off-shift period.  He specifically suggested that if they were going to break into the HR office, it would likely be empty overnight, if they could figure out where it was?  Jocelynn pointed out that the hotel's HR might not even be in this hotel's campus.  Aiden reminded her that they were on a space station, so it would be on the station even if it were not in the actual hotel itself.  The more they looked at doing whatever they did at night, the better the chances seemed that Emkir would be awake, but they still had to wonder how functional he'd be?

Still, despite the revelation of the hacker program, Emkir was still their most capable and well-trained computer tech.  Deciding they needed more information to use when they did do whatever they came up with, Fesic decided he'd wander the hotel looking for a place where he thought hotel employees passed with a greater frequency.  Then, he would find a place to sit with his hand computer and try to appear as if he were busy with some project while he hoped to eavesdrop on them to learn information that could be valuable to any plan.

Yet Another Plan

     After Fesic set off on his plan, Jocelynn came up with another idea.  She wondered what might happen if she just went to the front desk and told them she was considering a job at the hotel?  She had just been rescued from the wreck of the carrier she'd served on and, after being checked over and found healthy, been discharged from the military.  While she had accepted a job with the crew, that wasn't common knowledge and many might have decided she was staying with the crew because they rescued her and she had nowhere else to go.  So, the job hunt gambit could work.

They talked about Jocelynn's idea and she decided to try it, then went out to the front desk.  In the meantime, Fesic had found a place to sit where the largest concentration of hotel employees were passing and was overhearing a lot about people moving out or returning from cleaning rooms.  Before she left, Jocelynn cleaned up and changed into a pant suit.  She also doped up her resume, using her military background to angle her skills toward hotel security.  Then, she made her way to the hotel's front desk, flashed her best smile and told the staffer there she was interested in a job.

Asking her to holding on for a moment, the man picked up a comms pad and made a call.  He then told the person on the other end about Jocelynn,  Ending the call, he asked Jocelynn to wait a few moments.  Shortly after that, Jocelynn was met by a younger, dark-haired woman who wore more professional clothing, though the outfit still had some fashion of the staff uniforms.  Greeting the woman, Jocelynn said, "Good morning, ma'am.  I was wondering, after being a guest here at your lovely establishment for a few weeks.  I was wondering if, by any chance, you might be hiring for security?  I'm interested in looking for steady employment."

Looking Jocelynn up and down, the woman introduced herself as Idbarga Aniesh, and said she was part of the hotel's HR group.  When Idbarga asked what her current work situation was, Jocelynn said she was between jobs at the moment.  Saying she'd just been discharged from the Imperial Marines, Jocelynn handed over the tablet with her resume.  When Jocelynn started to explain some of her former duties, Idbarga suddenly stopped her and asked, "You're that Marine.  Aren't you?" in a surprised tone while raising her hand and pointing.  She finished, "The one who was on the dead ship."

When Jocelynn admitted, "Yes, that was me." Idbarga said, "Why don't you come back to the office and we can talk." in a suddenly warmer and more friendly tone.  Following Idbarga through a door, into the back offices, Jocelynn was then taken back to the hotel's human resources office.  While they walked, Idbarga asked, "Our understanding was that you had been hired by that Lady, Mikah, and her crew.  Has that changed?"  Jocelynn told her, "I'm just exploring different options at the moment.  I'm not one hundred percent sure what I want to do?  But, I just wanted to see if maybe there was a chance I could make a go of it here?"

Nodding, Idbarga said, "Well, let me take a look at your resume", and kept up polite chatter while she went over the document.  Jocelynn could tell Idbarga was only partly doing her job while she also got to spend time getting to know someone who was famous, if only for a moment.  In truth, she wouldn't have recognized Jocelynn if it hadn't been for the things she'd said as she'd handed over her resume.  Gazing over her desk, Jocelynn noticed the young and unmarried Idbarga had no images of family, but many of different places.  Recognizing some of them from a beach she'd visited while training on-world, Jocelynn guessed they were of places on Inthe.

Pointing to the one image, Jocelynn asked, "Oh.  Hey!  Is that Ithosig's Beach?  My friends and I visited it in breaks from training back in 1107, before the war.  It was gorgeous."  While she and Idbarga talked about the pictures and the woman's travels, Jocelynn got to look over the computer on her desk, and plainly saw it was hardwired to a network.  That meant she knew both where the HR office was and where there was a computer connected to the main system containing the employee records.

Reviewing the responsibilities of the hotel's security staff, Idbarga apologized because the hotel was only looking for lower level security employees at the time.  She explained that those would be uniformed team members while the more experienced, plain-clothed teams had been with the hotel for years.  Listening to Idbarga talking, Jocelynn considered she just could meet two men she knew if the woman brought her to visit with them.  Those would be the two who'd brought Fesic home the day he'd lost his lock picking kit and lessons.

Still, Jocelynn thanked her for her time and even offered, "Maybe, if you want, if you don't have anything to do one night.  We could go out for a drink or something?  What time do you get off?"  Idbarga was thrilled with that offer, and said she was done at 5 pm because she worked day shifts, so they could go out that night if Jocelynn was free?  After she said she'd see what she had planned, Idbarga escorted Jocelynn out of the office and Jocelynn returned to the suite.  Walking into the space, Jocelynn announced, "I know where the HR computer is, and the woman I spoke to works the day shift."

Nodding, Zimzod said, "So, that means they work shifts." and Jocelynn agreed even though that didn't tell them if human resources would have a night shift?  When she told them she'd agreed to go drinking with Idbarga, Aiden suggested she could ask questions like 'Who works at night?' while she was out drinking.  And, she could do it with an open comms, so those listening could overhear.  When Fesic got back after her, he told them what he'd overheard.  Sadly, he'd heard a lot of talk about the general work of the staff, but he'd overheard nothing that helped them with what they planned.  When Rol returned, he said he'd come to see he could sneak in and out of the staff-only rooms if he were dressed right and could pretend to be new.

Preparations And Information

     Neither man had run into anyone they could identify as management for the hotel, so they had no news of that.  Jocelynn told them what she'd learned and Rol said, "Good job."  Jocelynn thanked him and Zimzod agreed, saying, "I knew we hired her for something."  They all laughed at that.  It had been more than three hours since Zimzod had called Wyss and they'd all had lunch as the day had progressed.  Now, they shared what they'd learned and started to plan while Zimzod waited for Wyss to arrive.

Idbarga had said they'd go to a club off hotel property, so she could relax, and Jocelynn considered how she should dress?  She also considered how to hide her comms?  When Jocelynn wondered, out loud, about hiding her comms, a few of the others said they might have discreet comms units they could lend her.  Jocelynn said she only had an ear bud that connected to her comms, and she was concerned that would be too obvious.  Mikah said she had an ear-comms unit she could loan Jocelynn, and they could decorate it to look like jewelry.  Talk of how to decorate the ear comms went on as Zimzod reminded Jocelynn that she could tell Idbarga she had to be available should the crew need to contact her and Jocelynn admitted that.

Rol brought up the idea of using a micro-camera and they thought about how they could connect a camera to the comms too?  Since Jocelynn was going to a club, Fesic asked her to draw a map of the back offices to the HR office and she did.  She also told them the hall to the office was not behind the hotel's registration desk.  But, they might see someone going into the hall through the employee entrance if they were watching.  That got them talking about creating a distraction at the registration desk.  Zimzod reminded them they could use the hacking software loaded into a hand computer to unlock any secured doors in their way.

When Terin asked about how soon Emkir might wake up, Mikah reminded him she'd given him drugs to sleep.  That meant he could still be out for hours.  Beyond that, the crew started planning while they waited for Wyss to arrive.  Zimzod hoped Wyss might be able to get them free access to everything they needed.  In the time he had, Fesic loaded the cracker software to his hand computer and then made a backup of the computer in case they got caught later.  Then, he spent the time trying and practicing with the hacking software.  Hearing Fesic was backing up his computer, Zimzod told the others to smash their computers if they got caught.

Fesic told Zimzod that might not help, because the storage could be recovered and used in another computer.  He told Zimzod he'd set up a control on his computer so he could fry the storage if he was caught.  Talking about that, Zimzod realized they had an even bigger problem if anyone got caught with the computer.  Because they'd promised IRIS they'd handed in all the copies.  So, if hotel security caught them with a copy, or more than one copy, they'd be in deeper shit than they'd ever been in before.  So Zimzod had to explain things to Fesic and Terin.  And, not in front of Jocelynn, because there was too much she should not know.

Taking Fesic aside, and not mentioning IRIS at all, Zimzod reminded him of Munarshu and how he was likely buried under a prison at the moment.  Zimzod then told Fesic that what happened to Munarshu would seem like the greatest wonder in the best carnival compared to the shit they'd be in if anyone...  Anyone, found that software on any captured computers.  Fesic said he'd make sure to fry the computer, and then smash it too.  Zimzod accepted that, and they went back to planning and preparing.  Eventually, Wyss arrived from the downport docking bays.

Any News, Even Bad...

     When he arrived, the reunion was a happy one and Wyss said he couldn't complain when Zimzod asked how he'd been?  Despite that, Wyss brought things quickly to the point, reminding Zimzod he'd wanted to talk about something that he couldn't on the comms?  He also reminded Zimzod he'd spent some credits to "hot-rocket" up to the high port to talk.  Promising to reimburse Wyss for the flight, Zimzod started to talk but Wyss only looked around at the others in the room.  Understanding, Zimzod led him into the bedroom he shared with Mikah.

Starting right in, Zimzod said, "OK, what I've got is a highly sensitive piece of information that got stolen by the hotel cleaning staff.  And, I need to get it back.  Looking at Zimzod critically, Wyss asked, "Are you absolutely certain it was stolen?  Do you have evidence that says that?"  Zimzod answered, "I don't have any evidence that says that, but they were the only ones in the suite except my crew, and my crew wouldn't take it.  Nodding, Wyss asked, "Is it possible someone else broke into the suite when you were not in and stole what you lost?"  Zimzod complained, "The only way we could know that would be if we could get a look at the security video, and typically there are some restrictions."

Nodding again, Wyss asked, "But, you can't say for certain that it was the hotel's cleaning staff?" and Zimzod admitted, "No, I can't say for certain, but if I could look at the footage..."  Wyss interrupted him, saying, "Right" and he then 'flatlined' the issue for Zimzod.  Wyss continued, "Before you can say 'this definitely happened', you have to consider all the things that might have happened.  The fact is that someone could have broken into the suite, and you have no idea.  Still, you are making claims that are going to make the hotel immediately antagonistic to what you want rather than friendly."

Taking a breath, and with Zimzod's attention, Wyss continued, "OK.  So you've made an enemy out of the hotel already.  Right?"  Zimzod first said "Uh" as he tried to find a different answer.  But, he finally simply said, "Yes."  Waving that away with his right hand, Wyss said, "OK.  Water under the bridge.  So, you know it was stored in this drawer, in this location, in your bedroom, and it disappeared between when and when?"  He looked up as Zimzod thought and said, "Between the time the hotel cleaning staff were here and this morning."  Looking at Zimzod, he asked, "So, you specifically put it in that place just before they arrived?"

Shaking his head, Zimzod said, "No.  It was there before that but that was prior to that."  Nodding, Wyss asked, "So, when was the last time you actually saw it?" and Zimzod told him he'd put the crystals in the drawer a day and a half before they had the cleaners in.  So, Zimzod was forced to admit the crystals could have disappeared any time in the two days including the time the cleaning crew had been in the suite.  Accepting that, Zimzod asked, "Is there any way we could get access to the hotel's security video?"  Wyss answered, "Unfortunately, I'm the police chief of Newport Dunslade, which is a position in the Republic of Inthe."

He then said, "This is a Starport Authority controlled station and the two jurisdictions are widely separated."  When Zimzod ventured, "Didn't you used to be the head of security for the port", Wyss admitted he'd been, and had friends he could ask for help from.  But, he also said he had to be able to give them some evidence in order to get their help.  So, you're going to have to explain to me why this thing is so important?"  Trying to be cagey first, Zimzod told Wyss he'd bought it in a thrift shop and had no idea what it was at the time.  And, he had to get it into the right authorities.

When Wyss asked who they were, Zimzod said, "The right authorities are Imperial."  Wyss asked if Zimzod had contacted the Marquis' office to ask for help and Zimzod said, "Not yet." Wyss told him that would be the best next step.  Zimzod told Wyss, "I just want to get this resolved before I have to involve the Imperials."  Rocking back on his heels, Wyss asked, "OK, why?"  Zimzod answered, "Because it got stolen out from under my nose, and I'm very upset about that."  Nodding, Wyss said, "So you're trying not to end up embarrassed, is what you're telling me?" and Zimzod said, "That is correct." Wyss said, again, that he could reach out to his friends for information and help, but also asked what was the lowest level of success Zimzod could accept?

From Wyss, Zimzod admitted he only wanted to confirm who had been in and out of the suite, and nothing more.  When Wyss asked "And I'm sure you want names?" Zimzod said he did.  Wyss made sure Zimzod understood that they had to be sure anyone had been involved before they gave out any names.  Wyss also said it would be bad if they gave him names and the stolen crystals turned up in another place, in the hands of another person.  Wyss made it clear that he could best help Zimzod by speeding up the investigation if he could.  Zimzod accepted that, and understood that even that would step on people's toes.

They both knew that Wyss would have to push to find out who had reviewed the video, to learn who'd actually been in and out of the suite?  That would be the only way to confirm who the thief could have been?  Zimzod realized Wyss was saying he would not burn his bridges with people and step on toes only to "expedite" the investigation.  So, Zimzod had to give him more information.  Coming to a decision, Zimzod stopped dancing around the issue and explained the entire situation to Wyss.  When he was done, a wide-eyed Wyss could only ask, "Really?"  Finally, Wyss agreed to help, and also gave Zimzod some advice.

Wyss told him, "The hotel security staff are not here to solve your problem.  They're not even here to be interested in having to solve your problem unless solving your problem turns out to be good news for the hotel.  And, at the moment, solving your problem means saying, 'No.  Nothing happened.'  So, I can guarantee you that, while they may not have come back to you yet with it, they have definitely already looked at the video to see who had entered the suite or not.  In fact, the fact that they haven't gotten back to you yet suggests they've looked through the video and haven't seen anyone enter or leave the suite but your people...and theirs."

Wyss continued, "That's worse for them because if something was done, it was done by either your people or theirs."  When Zimzod nodded and accepted that, Wyss speculated, "So, they're probably working on a 'no evidence of a crime was found' outcome, and that would be a case closer."  Accepting that, Zimzod asked if there might be any way Wyss could get him a copy of the video.  Or dossiers on the people who went in or out of the suite?"  Wyss only shook his head and asked Zimzod why he didn't just break into their offices and download the data from their computers?

Zimzod admitted they had been planning on that, but decided to try and be the nice guy about it.  Zimzod thanked him for coming to the highport and helping, and Wyss said he'd still do what he could.  On that note, Zimzod asked if there was any way Wyss could help him know the layout of the hotel and Wyss said he could do that.  He jacked his hand computer into the suite's terminal and then jacked a crystal into the hand computer.  After some keyboard tapping, Wyss disconnected the crystal and handed it to Zimzod saying, "These are the entire layout and floor plans of this hotel."  He said he also included a read me file that would tell them exactly where the computer was.

When Zimzod told the others about the floor plan, Jocelynn asked if she still had to go drinking with Idbarga and they asked if she still wanted to or not?  Zimzod asked Wyss if he knew the staffing schedule of the hotel and Wyss said he could find out.  But Zimzod realized that might take time the crew didn't have.  Fesic also suggested to Jocelynn she should try to steal Idbarga's employee access card while they were out.  Before Wyss left, Zimzod paid him the Cr 75 it had cost him to shuttle up from the surface.  Wyss thanked him and said his excuse for coming to orbit let him stay on the station for a few days, so they could invite him to the party once things were solved.

Looking at the map Wyss had given them, they found it was very detailed, giving much more information than Jocelynn had seen.  They saw the room Jocelynn fingered as the HR office was only two doors down from the actual computer room itself!  While the others went over the floor plans, Aali went to check on, and wake Emkir.  Despite the many suggestions how she should do that, Aali went into their bedroom and shook his shoulder.  When she did, Emkir wasn't pleased to be at all awake, and didn't want to wake up.  He also wasn't coherent at all.  Despite what Emkir wanted, Aali pushed to force him to wake up, so he could at least advise them.

Aali finally got Emkir awake enough to demand why she was waking him and she told him they had a situation.  Feeding him caff, Aali told Emkir about the crystals being stolen and everything she knew.  She also did her best to gently explain how she'd had to tell the crew the truth about his hacking skills.  Fixing Aali with a look, he "did not" shake his head as he said, "I leave you people alone for a day and the whole universe goes to crap."  Submitting, Emkir said, "OK.  Fine.  Help me get cleaned up and dressed."  Eventually, Aali came out of the stateroom with a very dented and broken looking Emkir.

Seeing them, Rol said, "You're up" just before Aiden pointed and, in a voice with some affectations, said, "It lives!"  Terin said, "Nah.  I think it's a zombie."  Aali heard that and said, "Well, it shambles."  Even after Aali had explained it to him, they had to go over things two more times before Emkir was firing on all cylinders.  Mikah also hit Emkir with a pain killer, muscle relaxer and a stim.  At last, they had Emkir awake and functioning enough that they could see he wouldn't be any use going in to get the information.  The best they could hope for was to have him on the comms during the operation, to advise and help.

Fesic said he wasn't very worried about using the cracker or being able to do the work.  And, he'd worked with the program and found it very user friendly.  His only concern was that the hotel had already caught him at some mischief before.  So if they caught him again, they'd prosecute this time.  Terin said that if he got caught, they'd all end up getting prosecuted, no matter what.  Fesic asked if he was going in alone and Mikah volunteered Rol to go with him.  Zimzod also reminded them they couldn't bring any weapons with them, because that would vastly increase the chances of them being detected.

With the others, Jocelynn asked if they wanted her to meet with Idbarga at the same time they moved in to hack the computer or if they wanted to do things in a staggered schedule?  Zimzod was still waiting and hoping Wyss would come through for him, so he wasn't sure.  He thought about that while Fesic asked how he'd recognize the right people after he'd gotten access to the employee files?  Any number of ideas were suggested until he was just told to copy the data and bring it back to the suite.  Then, Mikah would be able to look through the employee pictures at her leisure.

Rol next mentioned his work on helping them "look like" hotel employees.  Done with his research, Rol had gotten on the stations shopping network and started ordering items while also paying extra to have the orders delivered within the hours they had.  He eventually paid Cr 150 for the items.  That talk moved on to the need for a distraction, so they could get into the back offices without being seen by anyone at the front desk.  Fesic and some others suggested they could wait for a distraction to happen so they could use it.  The general attitude was against triggering a distraction until Aiden asked, "If you don't trigger a distraction, can you guarantee one will happen on its own?  And, if not, will you wait there all night?  And call it off in the morning?"

Fesic agreed they could have a backup plan, in case, but it was Terin who pushed for them to cause the distraction so they knew exactly when it would happen and when all the others should move.  Of course, that's where Terin went into left field, suggesting they stage some kind of fight or larger distraction.  Fesic countered that, saying they only needed someone to get the attention of the people at the desk and keep that until the others were in the door.  Finally, Zimzod got a call on his comms and he found himself talking to the IRIS agent again.  Seeing Zimzod on the line, she simply asked if he had an update?  Zimzod said, "We're working on it now." and she asked if there was anything he could tell her?

Zimzod told her it had been someone who'd been in and out of the suite, so they were working on identifying the person or people.  Nodding, the agent said, "If you get me a name, I may be able to help you."  He thanked her and contact was broken.  Going back to the others, they were concerned with the possible security systems in the hotel's back office.  Terin suggested they try to wipe the systems after they broke in, and Rol said the security system was likely isolated from the others.  So, they'd have to search for that one too, if they wanted to do that.  Fesic also asked how long they expected this to take, based on the distances on the floor plan?  They guessed a maximum of seven to ten minutes plus the time it took to access and copy the files.

When Fesic asked about any information from Zimzod's contact, Zimzod said they were still waiting on that and couldn't count on it being "that day".  Taking a look at the floor plans Wyss had given them, Fesic did notice that camera positions were marked on the map.  Looking closer, he also saw there were no marked camera positions in the private spaces of the hotel.  Only in the public spaces.  And, in the public spaces, Terin was worried about avoiding the cameras there, so Zimzod suggested they keep their faces turned away from any cameras they pass.

Soon enough, they started putting the entire plan together.  They would use a distraction as well as Jocelynn's friend and hiding their faces from cameras in a staggered set of operations.  Zimzod, Emkir and Aali would "hold the room" with Emkir being on comms to help with the computer if needed.  Jocelynn and Mikah would both dress up for the club, and leave together.  But, Mikah wouldn't be with Jocelynn when she met Idbarga.  When Jocelynn and Idbarga went to the club, Mikah would go to a café.  There, she and the others at the suite would wait while Jocelynn used her open comms to gather intelligence.

After they felt Jocelynn had gotten what they needed, or as much as she would get, Mikah would return to the hotel while Fesic and Rol left the suite heading for the hotel's main atrium.  Rol and Fesic would then wait near the atrium until Mikah arrived.  When she did, Mikah would go to the hotel's front desk and claim she'd lost her key card.  She would do her best to engage all the workers at the desk, which should be two people maximum.  After she had their attention, Fesic and Rol would make their way to the door to the back offices.  She hoped to keep those at the front desk busy while the two got inside.  Then, Mikah was to return to the suite to wait for what happened next.

They were finalizing their plan and disguising Jocelynn's comms when the call came from Wyss.  He told Zimzod hotel security had certainly viewed the security tapes and confirmed the crew and hotel staff had been in and out of the suite.  Zimzod knew that meant the hotel wouldn't want any evidence of a crime to be found.  Because stolen crystals could be hidden in one's pockets, the video wouldn't prove anything and there wouldn't be any other evidence.  The hotel could then close the case by saying the crystals must have been lost because there was no evidence of a crime.  So, Zimzod knew they had to get to the employee records and ID the workers who'd been in their bedroom for IRIS.

Before Idbarga called, Mikah and Jocelynn had finished working on the ear comms Mikah had lent for the cause.  Testing the unit, they were sure it worked and they were ready for Jocelynn's part of the mission.  They also had dinner.  Then the call came from Idbarga, saying she'd gotten done with her work for the day and was ready to meet up with Jocelynn.  Fesic and Rol went to change into the uniform costumes that had been delivered after Rol had ordered them.  Taking a seat in the café she'd selected, Mikah sat, listened on her comms and waited.  She would eventually be hit on by a few of the men there and spend Cr 10 on nursed drinks.

In the club, Idbarga had invited many of her friends to "show off" her friendship with the Imperial celebrity.  Jocelynn quickly realized that if Mikah had come with them, Idbarga might have had a coronary.  It turned out to be all about Idbarga enhancing her own ego and reputation while she could, but the club was ok and the party was fun.  It was also an ego stroke for Jocelynn, because of the number of guys who had no idea who she was hit on her anyway.  And, there were some who did know who she was and wanted to get with her because of that too, for whom it was an added incentive.

Nursing her drinks and being polite and nice to those around her, Jocelynn did her best to stay close to Idbarga, which was easy because it served the hotel worker's plans too.  Eventually, Jocelynn was able to start mining information, and asked how long Idbarga had worked at the hotel?  When she said she'd worked there five years, Jocelynn asked if she liked it.  Idbarga shrugged and said she did, and she got to meet interesting people with a tip of her glass to Jocelynn.  That's when Jocelynn swung for the big hit as she asked, "At least you don't have to work the night shift.  Right?"  Brushing that question off, Idbarga said, "Oh, I'm HR.  I don't work evenings."  When Jocelynn followed that up with, "Did you ever?" Idbarga said, "Not with HR.  HR only works during the day."

Jocelynn still kept up the chatter, asking "Did you ever?" and Idbarga told her She had, because she'd been part of the hotel's cleaning staff.  Acting surprised, Jocelynn congratulated the woman on having worked her way up.  Idbarga smiled and gave Jocelynn a smug, "Well...Yes." and Jocelynn got the feeling there was something there the woman wasn't saying.  Still, Jocelynn asked, "Do you still have friends on the crew?" and Idbarga said she didn't.  She then said, "There's a lot of turnover in that group." and Jocelynn admitted, "I would think so.  Yeah."  Jocelynn kept up the chatter until she got to the lanthanum star question.

Making it seem a casual, off the wall question, Jocelynn asked, "So, let's be honest.  Tell me, just between you and me.  Did you ever take anything from any rooms?"  Idbarga's reaction was one of horror, and she told Jocelynn "Absolutely not!" in a tone that gave Jocelynn no reason to think she wasn't being honest.  When Jocelynn said, "I know I'd be tempted", Idbarga went on to tell Jocelynn anyone caught would be prosecuted, fired and blackballed.  So, you would never get a job in any connected industry and the junk you stole would never be worth enough to allow you to escape and retire.  Jocelynn nodded and said, "Wow.  That's pretty rough.  Do you know anyone that happened to?"  Idbarga said she hadn't, and that it hadn't happened in a while.

Jocelynn said, "Well, that's good for your hotel", and Idbarga agreed, saying, "Don't want people not coming to the hotel."  When Mikah used the comms to suggest Jocelynn ask her for any juicy stories of things she'd seen over the years, Idbarga said, "You would not believe!"  For the next half hour, Idbarga "regaled" Jocelynn with stories of things she'd seen people, and especially celebrities, do over the past three years.  That even included one guest actually pulling up a box transport and trying to steal most of the furniture from their room!  She told about celebrities trying to sneak paramours into their rooms without the media becoming aware or complaining about being billed for items they pretended were not their fault.  Jocelynn could do nothing more than pretend she was interested.

Right after Jocelynn got Idbarga to admit there was no HR night shift, Terin let Mikah know they were ready for her to return to the hotel.  They timed things so Rol and Fesic would be near the lobby atrium when Mikah got there.  Jocelynn was given the all clear to enjoy herself and reminded to call out on the comms if something happened and she needed help.  Having free time now, Jocelynn had her eye on one of the guys Idbarga introduced her to and made her way to the man to ask him if he'd buy her a drink?  Having hit on her earlier, the guy who's name she'd not caught back then, was all too happy to say yes.

Asking about the basics, Jocelynn learned he was a customer support representative manager with a shipping firm.  His firm sold space in cargo containers and contracted shipping, selling shipping contracts for both on-world and off-world transport of goods.  When Jocelynn asked if he worked with cargo sealers, he said he and his team were in the sales division.  The firm held contracts with ships which mostly worked in-system but had some out-system runs.  They sold cargo space contracts on those ships, so it was the shipper's problem to get their cargo in pods or containers and deliver those to the port to be loaded aboard ships.

If a problem came up with a shipment, or a container got lost, or they had to interface with a shipper's insurance company, those issues came to his team.  Getting serious, for the moment, Jocelynn said, "I'm going to need your contact info."  He asked, "Oh, really?  Would that be my professional or personal information?" with a somewhat leering, somewhat hopeful smile on his face.  Smiling herself, Jocelynn said, "Whatever you want to give me."  Still, she allowed a connection as he bounced his information to her Ident.  Looking to check that out, Jocelynn saw it also came with a picture of his penis!  And while that showed the guy was certainly an asshole, Jocelynn was actually impressed despite herself.

Still, Jocelynn looked at him with her best "mask" face and said, "Thank you.  That's good information to have."  Finishing her drink, Jocelynn then stood up and said, "Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom." using her best 'come hither' tone and winked at the guy.  Looking at her as if he were trying to convince himself he'd heard what he thought he did, he couldn't miss the quick tilt of her head which suggested he follow her.  After she left the table, the guy, who everyone had been calling "Jak", got up and followed her path.  Getting to the ladies', Jocelynn checked to find a couple of women in the room.  Adjusting her look and outfit, and turning her comms off, Jocelynn waited until the ladies left and then stepped out of the bathroom to find Jak there waiting.

Grabbing his hand, Jocelynn surprised him by pulling him into the bathroom, and into a stall before wrapping herself around him as she started grinding her hips and breasts against him!  Very quickly, his slacks were down, her skirt was hiked up and he was driving himself inside her while she kept grinding herself onto him.  From then on, Jocelynn ignored the sounds of other women who might have come in to use the bathroom and made no attempt to keep herself quiet while they had sex.

Virtual And Hotel Pathways

     In the café, Mikah got the word it was time for her to get back to the hotel and be a distraction.  Calling to Rol and Fesic, Mikah confirmed they would be in position and ready to get to the door once she got to the front desk.  Arriving at the front desk, Mikah gave the two workers there her most sheepish smile and admitted to them she had lost her key card to the suite.  Engaging both the workers at the desk was easy, because it was mid-evening and they were bored.  So, all Mikah had to do was keep up a lively and engaging conversation to keep their attention.  At the same time, the workers were so "mock-apologetic" and very willing to help her out.

While the workers at the front desk helped Mikah, asked about her stay and if there was anything more they could do for her, Rol and Fesic made their move.  Getting to the door they had to pass through, they found it unlocked after all their lock picking worries.  Moving into the corridor beyond, they found that space empty, which was another relief.  Getting to the computer room door, they opened it to find the lights out and the room empty too.  With the room to themselves, they closed the door, turned on the lights and began exploring.

While the computer was theirs, the two men found the keyboards and pointing devices had been locked away.  More searching showed they had no idea which drawer or locker held them.  So, all they could do was spend too much time carrying out a hit and miss search.  Especially since the locks inside the room were all physical locks, and the cracker wouldn't handle those.  They were annoyed because they wanted this done and over.  Happily, the computer itself was powered up, and was likely kept running constantly, due to the needs of the business.

Stepping back mentally, Fesic took the minute to do a compete evaluation of the computer before him.  Doing that, he saw a port he could use to interconnect his hand computer, so he could use the manual interface on that.  Explaining that to Rol while he worked, Fesic jacked his hand computer in and started working to connect his operating system with the OS of the computer.  That took several minutes, while he worked and Rol listened at the door.  Not skilled with computers, Rol was only there in case things got "exciting" and he had to get Fesic out.  Soon enough, Fesic had the computers talking to each other in the same language.  That gave him access to the server's file structure.

Now, from the root directory down, Fesic had to search for the employee files.  Ideally, he'd be able to identify that section of the file structure and drill down into a single employee record.  Then, he'd hope there were pictures and names.  Sadly, a simple query of the file system showed the entire HR directory only contained twenty megabytes of data.  When Fesic reported that, Terin and Emkir suggested Fesic just download the entire file section to his hand computer and get out.  Fesic still wanted to make sure he got pictures of the employees before he left.  So he didn't have to come back and do it again.  Fesic was especially concerned because twenty megabytes appeared very small for what he wanted.

Because he was uncomfortable with the file size, Fesic decided to use five minutes to explore and see if he could find an employee record, to validate his search.  Drilling down into several paths of the file structure, Fesic began to see that most of the files had been stored in a sort of self-archiving structure.  Such files had an encrypted key in the root sector of the file, and that was used to decrypt the file into a fully expanded form.  Because the key was embedded in the file, each archived file could be copied to any other computer and still be de-archived.  That explained a good bit of the lack of file space used in the file structure.

Still, after five minutes searching, Fesic hadn't gotten to a directory which appeared to have individual employee records.  While Fesic did his job, Rol searched the space for anything of value, even checking the waste basket in the space.  Finally, Fesic spent less than two minutes downloading the entire HR file structure.  He then shut down the windows he'd used for his work and disconnected his hand computer.  Done with that, he told Rol he was ready and it was time for them to get back to the suite.

Cracking the door as quietly as he could, Rol listened before leaning his head into the hall.  Things were clear to the right, but to the left, and the way they had to go to get back to the lobby, Rol saw the retreating back of a man in a suit!  Holding his hand up to stop Fesic, Rol backed into the room and more quietly closed the door to wait.  The man had been walking away from the door they hid behind, but Rol had no idea where he was going?  Before the door to the atrium, there was a hallway junction, so the man could be going to a room in that hall, to the junction to turn right or left, or out into the atrium.

Rol wanted to give him the time he needed to do whatever it was he planned.  Opening the door and looking left and right again, it seemed the man had stepped out of his visual range.  Nodding to Fesic, he then stepped into the hall and moved a few footsteps down the hall.  Fesic stepped into the hall in the space Rol left for him while Rol listened.  Then, Fesic followed Rol as he began moving slowly towards the intersection of hallways.  Getting close to the corner, Rol was the first to hear male voices in conversation coming from the left.  Listening in, they both figured it was two men who were members of the hotel's security team so they camped and waited, hoping neither man would move in their direction.

In the meantime, listening in from the suite, Terin and Zimzod checked Wyss's floorplan looking for a different way out to the atrium.  Unfortunately, every route out depended on passing through that hallway intersection except an emergency exit.  And, just opening that would sound alarms and was also in direct sight of cameras.  If they went that way, they were screwed.  Even if the confusion of the alarms allowed them to fade into the crowd at first, the cameras would let both hotel and station security identify them quickly.  Looking more completely, Terin finally identified yet another path, which was long, convoluted and ran right past the hotel's security office!

Told that, Fesic and Rol decided to wait things out.  Soon, it seemed luck was with them and the voices started moving off, away from the intersection.  It seemed that anything the men had to do, they had to do together, and in a direction which cleared the immediate area of the intersection.  Making a choice, Rol decided to try a sudden dart across the intersection, to get out before the men did what they needed and one might have to return to the security office, which would bring him directly to them.  When Fesic accepted Rol's decision, they prepared themselves for the sudden sprint.

Getting past the intersection towards the door, they kept moving, now at a fast walk.  They listened to the sounds behind them while keeping their eyes front.  Out in the atrium, Rol whispered that they didn't want to go directly back to the suite, in case they'd somehow been spotted by someone they didn't know about.  Moving to one of the many public bathrooms they knew were near the atrium, the two pulled off their uniform-like over garments to reveal the casual clothes underneath.  They then went out and moved to places where they could mix with the public and even separate before returning to the suite.  By the time they got back there, Mikah was also back.  They then bagged up and dumped the clothing in a public refuse bin outside of, and not related to the hotel.

Getting to the suite, Emkir joined Fesic in transferring the files to a common computer and digging into it.  With both working on the search, it wasn't long before they found the employee data directory Fesic had looked for, and the answer to the mystery of the file size.  Image storage was the biggest file size issue any society entering their computer age faced when it came to long-term data storage.  So, compressing images for later re-use became a developmental prize.  That was either solved by an on-world developer or team, or it was solved by interstellar contact and the influx of technology that brought in.  So, all the images they found in the employee records were archived just like the data files.

Happily, the files were self-expanding just like the other archived data, and Fesic found a routine in the file structure that automatically called up and extracted the selected records.  It took work, between Fesic and Emkir, to create an automation that let Mikah swiftly click or swipe through them at a speed that wouldn't have her scrolling through them all night.  Finally able to get the images to appear in a ten by ten grid, they gave Mikah control and sat back while she scanned.  It took her less than half an hour for her to locate two workers she remembered from the cleaning staff.  It took Emkir and Fesic less than a minute to come up with their names.

While they started matching the names with employee address locations, Zimzod took the names and called IRIS.  Picking up, the same agent simply asked, "You have an update for me?" in an expectant tone that also managed to suggest any calls to her shouldn't waste time.  Zimzod gave her the names of both the male and female worker Mikah had fingered and the agent nodded and said, "We'll be in contact" and the line was cut again.  With that done, Mikah tried to call Jocelynn but found her comms was off!  The last thing any of them had caught from her was that she'd been talking to some guy, then left him to go to the bathroom.

That suggested to Mikah she was trying to dump the guy, and she might have needed help.  So, Mikah asked if Jocelynn had told anyone what club she'd gone to?  They reminded her Jocelynn had met Idbarga, and it had been up to Idbarga where they went, so they had no information.  Rol said, "I don't think we can locate her unless she turns her comms on.  Zimzod stepped in there, saying, "If her comms are off, she turned them off."  Fesic followed that up, saying, "She can take care of herself." with a confident tone

He'd spent the previous evening watching her beat up and get beat up by the others.  Aiden chipped in, "You should hope so", after having seen video of the beatings.  Aiden continued, "If it can beat her up then you are in trouble.  Rol joked, "Then, maybe I do want her to be in trouble." with a smile on his face.  Pointing at Rol and Aiden, Zimzod said, "Like being able to beat up the Major?  Like that's hard?" in a dismissive tone.  Trying to counter Zimzod's insult in a dry way, Rol smiled and said, "I didn't hear you", suggesting Zimzod's words said nothing and were of no importance.  Zimzod just slammed back, "Yeah.  But you felt me." with a smirk on his face.

Breaking in. Aiden asked about Jocelynn and Zimzod said he wasn't worried.  Rol said she was on a night out and could take care of herself.  And, there was nothing they really could do.  So, they moved on with their evening and waited for any word from IRIS or even Wyss.  Doing that, they settled down to watch the news while they waited.

    Quopist (B150679-A  Ni Po De  A  721  Im  M3 V)                         Date: 222-1113
    Word has been released of the highest ratings so far, this season, for the show "The Gauntlet".
    Filmed aboard the IMS Golden Gauntlet, a refurbished Huron Class Cruiser, the game show has a
    high level of popularity where distributed.  Bought as naval surplus, after the removal of her
    weapon systems, the 50,000 ton ship was re-engineered for its current role as a traveling game
    show stage.  Famous for offering citizens of the systems they visit the chance to earn great
    wealth, they broadcast a season filmed earlier while recording new contestants facing each
    challenge.  Of course, older seasons can be found in many of the systems behind the claw.

    Along with that popularity, wherever the ship travels, the company's legal issues follow.  Most
    recently, a wrongful death suit brought by the family of Kuriaainii Shilau in the Rhise system.
    A case made even more bitter thanks to the attempt at retribution by one of contestant Shilau's
    surviving team members.  When the death of contestant Shilau resulted in a loss of all prize money
    from the contest, one of his assistants, a Mr. Ashiise began releasing details of the season then
    being filmed!&nbs That resulted in a lawsuit against Mr. Ashiise, for violation of the signed
    non-disclosure agreement.

    Making matters even worse, associates of Mr. Ashiise then joined in his actions.  That, of course,
    widened the legal case brought by the production company and studio.  In an ironic twist, the news
    waves the lawsuits cause bring in many wanna be contestants.  Of course, offering a contestant Cr
    100,000 and local folk hero status for defeating the gauntlet also had some measure in the steady
    stream of contestants.  The added fact the contestant is able to bring up to nine "assistants",
   who would get paid Cr 10,000 each if they succeeded was another lure.  Added to that are the usual
    stops the Gauntlet makes in impoverished systems almost guaranteeing interest from the hopeful.

    For those who are new to this entertainment venue, anyone can apply to become a contestant.  Able
    to bring with them whatever they can carry, without augmentation, while walking, they can also bring
    up to nine associates as assistants.  Should the contestant make it through the gauntlet's challenges,
    they get Cr 100,000 with their assistants each receiving Cr 10,000.  On the other hand, the production
    company are quite honest that a handful of contestants and their team members have died each season.
    Psychiatric experts admit this is to be expected where even death is less feared than poverty and hope
    overwhelms sense.

While they watched, Aiden mentioned having heard of the show.  Terin also said he'd heard a rumor of one room.  Supposedly, the contestant and friends entered a room that wasn't very far "across" in any direction.  But the ceiling was very high up.  Now in the room, they started drifting up, until they could turn over and walk on the ceiling.  But, all the exits were down on the floor level.  Also, a sign on the wall near the ceiling said they had fifteen minutes to exit the room or be disqualified.  How could they get back down there, to get out of the room before the time limit ended?

    Mora(A99AC7-F  2  Hi In Cp  112  Im  M5 V)                            Date: 194-1113
    In a stunning move, the office of Arch Duke Norris has announced revocation of ownership of the Lewis
    system from the Tukera family!&nbs In addition, His Grace ordered the downgrading of the system's "Red"
    travel designation.  While reports state His Grace expects the world will eventually be opened to
    settlement, his required travel zone downgrade will initially be shifted to an Amber zone in the short
    term.  That will then give Tukera family and non-Tukera settlers already in-system time to come to a
    settlement on the world's management.

    No comment has been made by Leonard Bolden-Tukera, the 19th Marquis Aramis and Baron of Lewis.  Nor
    have there been any responses from the many branches of the wealthy and powerful Tukera family.  It
    is also without a doubt that courier ships carrying word of this action are spreading riftward throughout
    the rest of the Imperium.  And moving ever closer to Capital, where powerful factors of the family
    undoubtably have contacts in the Imperial Court, if not with the Emperor himself.

    Jenghe (C799663-9  S  Ni  323  Im  M0 V)                            Date: 223-1113
    Authorities in-system have provided an update to the Subsector Senate and Duchess on the work to
    upgrade the local C Class port to a B Class.  In his release, Lord Leaarkhi provided the IISS Office
    of Pub Information a report that reclassification of the class B starport is "imminent".  Per the
    release, work has also started on construction of an X-Boat servicing depot adjunct to the port
    upgrade.  This is intended to support growing traffic and communications in the X-boat links with
    Rhylanor, and Rech from Regina.

Getting Answers

     It was late in the evening, with Emkir already asleep, that Zimzod got a call.  It was the agent and she had news for them.  The male "person of interest" whose name they'd given IRIS had received a huge payment earlier that day!  Nodding at that, Zimzod told the agent he planned to pay the man a visit.  Ending the call, Zimzod started to decide who would pay the man this visit with him while spreading the word.  Zimzod wanted Rol and Mikah to come, and Terin said he'd go too.  With things coming together, Zimzod was feeling so good he even joked with Mikah, asking if she had the rusty nipple clips?  She joked back, that she had them, and drugs which could also be helpful.  Zimzod then considered their ability to bring weapons and realized there might be ways for the station to track those weapons even if they had a right to carry them.  So, they might link their weapons to anything they'd do that night.

Zimzod spread the word they couldn't bring any weapons.  Aali said she wanted to stay and watch over Emkir, and Aiden said he'd manage the comms link from the suite and wait to see if Jocelynn reported in?  Rol asked if Zimzod was planning to leave the guy alive and Zimzod said, "Probably not."  Aiden reminded them, they still had to figure out what he did with the crystals before they killed him.  When Zimzod was more concerned with keeping the crystals unread, Aiden reminded him the new owners could have put the crystals on a network by that time.  And, if he did, there was no way of telling how many copies of the crystals had been made by then?  So Aiden said that Zimzod might as well give up on that hope at all.

Coming from her room, Aali said Emkir was sleeping well and she'd check on him from time to time.  With the "visiting team" shaping up, Fesic said he'd come too.  Hearing that, Aiden joked, "You're gonna need a crew box!" meaning a rentable type of station vehicle for five to fifteen people.  Zimzod suggested it would be less trackable if they rented two separate karts and left at two separate times.  But Aiden pointed out the station's computers and investigators could spot all the karts that came to, or near, a crime scene.  Then, when they back-tracked the karts to see if they had anything in common, they'd see they came from the same place even if they left at separate times.

So, separate karts could actually add evidence instead of hiding it.  Station computers could then also tell them who ordered the karts and paid for them too.  When Zimzod suggested they find a nearby club or other place, he was reminded station security would still see their two karts coming from the same location to a point nearby the crime scene.  Still, Terin checked and told them the address was in a Hab-Block, a section of the station made up of residences and not businesses.  So, the decision was made, and they rented a "Port van" for the night for Cr 50.

The end of the ride was an open concourse wider than many on the station.  It rose more than three levels and had a ceiling that simulated a planet's open sky thanks to the lighting.  They also had to give off the proper UV for plants to grow because of all the soil-potted plants that decorated the space.  It was a nice bucolic residential street like any other, with electric vehicles passing through from time to time.  Stepways and doors led up to individual units at many points along the way.  There were no portals that could hide garages because this neighborhood was not affluent enough that those living there might own their own vehicles.

Sizing the place up as they got out, Zimzod knew he had no idea of the internal layout or how sound might carry between apartments?  But he knew there would be very good firewall protection between units, so he could count on that.  Checking the Hab-addresses, Zimzod made sure they were in the right place before moving up to the door.  The door itself was a sliding door which was electronically locked.  Zimzod nodded to Fesic, who moved up and pulled at the door's control panel until he had it off.  Then, he connected up his hand computer and sparked up the cracker software.  While that happened, Jocelynn finally called Mikah and checked in, but had no important information they'd need.

The door unlocked and then opened when Fesic pushed the stud, and they looked in on the darkened entry hall.  Rol stepped in first, followed by Fesic then Zimzod and the others.  Looking around, Rol saw the entry was a residential "main hall" which led into a circular common chamber.  From there, short corridors led to every room in the residence.  Looking the place over, Zimzod muttered to the others, "OK.  Check all the rooms."  The group then split up and went to check all the doors they could find in the apartment.

Opening the door he'd selected, Terin saw a bedroom with a couple sprawled on the bed, asleep.  Next to the bed, there were a number of empty bottles of something alcoholic, suggesting a private party.  Calling back into the hall, Terin said, "Hey guys.  I think I found them."  Terin turned on the lights while Zimzod and the others came into the room.  The man on the bed woke to a groggy and disoriented state when the light came on, and managed to mutter, "What the hell is going on?"  His tone was confused and a bit drunk though, and not quite awake.  In a cheerful voice, Terin announced, "Cleaning service!"

The man woke up a bit more, but showed no sign his mind was clearing up as he wailed in confusion.  Terin moved up, to get around the bed and grab the man, planning to drag him to the door.  Still, he had to get within reach, then get hold of a man who might not want to be grabbed, before levering him off the bed so he could then drag him anywhere.  That happened as Mikah stepped into the bedroom, followed by Rol and Zimzod.  Mikah recognized the man Terin had finally gotten hold of as one of the cleaners who'd been in her bedroom.

Saying that told everyone this was the man who'd gotten the huge payoff.  Mikah was unable to see the girl because they were all in the way.  So, she yelled at Terin, "Get him out of the way, you jerk!"  The girl Mikah was looking for was a brunette and the one in the bed was blonde.  Looking closer because of hair dye, Mikah searched the girl's face until she was sure that woman wasn't the one from the cleaning crew.  After Mikah told the others what she'd seen, Zimzod ordered the man dragged out of the room.  While the woman was still sleeping, Zimzod suggested Mikah "help her" stay that way.  Mikah drew an injector from her kit and hit the girl with drugs to keep her sleeping.

Dragged into the living room, the man was more awake but still showed he was feeling the alcohol he'd been drinking.  That only seemed to increase his confusion.  Watching over him, Terin looked around the space to see if he could spot any security cameras?  If they were there, they were disguised enough that Terin didn't see anything.  While he did that, Rol stepped up to the man and said, "OK.  Let's begin." in a tone calculated to ratchet up any fear or terror the man might feel.  Of course, doing that, Rol ignored and completely missed the fact the man's mental state stopped him from understanding the tone, or what it meant.

Fesic took that time to move from room to room, making sure there was no one else in the apartment.  Leaving Rol to the "prisoner", Terin started tossing the place to see if the crystal might still be in the apartment or not?  He even powered up any computers he could find, to see if he could find any questionable files on them, or even personal notes the man might have made to himself.  Terin doubted it, but even hoped he might have made notes about the people who paid him and why?

In the same tone he'd started with, Rol conversationally told the man he would break both his legs, one by one, if he didn't give them the answers they needed.  Despite the alcohol, and perhaps due to Rol's tone and threats, or Mikah's injector and medical bag, or just the fact he'd been dragged from his bed into his living room by what he saw as a large band of strangers, the man suddenly started promising to tell Rol anything he wanted.  Hearing his promises, Zimzod stepped forward and asked, "You do realize that you pissed me off by robbing me."  Rol resented Zimzod's intrusion but the man's eyes got perhaps a bit wider in fear, suggesting he'd finally recognized Zimzod.

When Rol got down to questioning the man, he told them he'd sold the crystal to a "big, burly guy" whose name he didn't have.  But, he did have an address.  He also gave them a better description than the few words he'd already given.  Despite his first description of "big and burley", the man with the money was described as five eight and thin!  When asked, the prisoner was too frightened to explain himself coherently.  He did say the man wore casual clothes and didn't seem to have a weapon.  He also said the man had a yellowish complexion, and looked like he was some kind of aristocrat.

Zimzod stepped over to the computer and checked the address given, to see if it was a residence of some sort or not?  The search listed the address as "transient housing", which meant it was some kind of hotel, motel or other rental property.  Pushing the "prisoner" further, Rol asked if he'd seen what was on the crystals?  The man said he did, so Rol asked if he made any copies and man said he didn't.  Zimzod stepped in, asking, "What about the other crystal?" and the man said he still had it.  He added that it was broken, so no one would buy it.

Terin asked where it was and the man told him, so they went and got that crystal back.  While that happened, Rol shrugged and turned to Zimzod, saying, "Well, I'm done with him." though he'd not asked the man who else had seen the cryatal's contents?  When Zimzod asked, "That's all the information you can get from him?" and stepped towards the man menacingly, the prisoner cried out that he'd tell them anything?  Zimzod and Mikah both asked how he contacted the buyer, and they were told he'd been contacted by the buyer first.  When Zimzod asked how that had happened, the man said he'd met him in person.  Zimzod then demanded to know how he knew the prisoner had the crystal?

The man said, "I have no idea", which came out more as a desperate plea.  When Zimzod demanded to know what that meant, the prisoner said, "I don't know.  He seemed to know a lot."  In the flat voice that hid his anger, Zimzod asked if the man didn't think that was a bit odd and the man countered, "He offered me a lot of money.  I didn't care."  Looking at the man, Zimzod asked, "Really?  Do you realize that you're too stupid to live?"  The prisoner's eyes got bigger as he started pleading, "Look, I told you where it is!  Please let me go."  Adding a bit of a sneer, Zimzod said, "You told me the address of a hotel.  A flop house."

Panicking more, the man cried, "That's all I know." and Zimzod looked down on him, saying, "Well, you'd better make with the fucking memory real fucking quick."  Still pleading, the man wailed, "That's all I know.  Please don't hurt me."  Zimzod looked at the others and said, "That's all he knows.  What's another dead fuckin' head.  Mikah asked, "How did he transfer this money to you?"  When the man said, "Electronically", she asked, "Where is your Ident?"  He told her and she grabbed it and handed it to Fesic to see if he could hack it?  Fesic wasn't slow in telling Mikah there was no way he could do that.

Mikah took that and told Zimzod to call their people to get them to hack the Ident.  When he did, the agent simply and tartly suggested they get over to the hotel, and cut the line.  Zimzod then asked their prisoner, "How long ago did you sell the crystal to this guy?" and was told it happened mid-day.  Leaning down as he told the man, "OK.  Thank you for your cooperation." Zimzod grabbed the man's head and twisted to snap his neck.  Watching that, Terin could only say, "Damn!" while Zimzod played 'pop-top'.

Trying to decide what to do about the body Terin suggested they just put him back in bed with the girl.  That started a small and quiet argument until Mikah told them to put the body on the floor in the bathroom and pose him like he fell.  After doing that, they were out of the apartment on their way to the other address.  During the rode, Zimzod said he wanted to case the place, but they knew nothing about the layout or exits and entrances.  Zimzod planned to sit in the vehicle and watch the place, accepting it could make them a magnet for security patrols.  When they pulled up, they saw the place was a motel.

Trying to size up the place and decide how to case it, they could only see two entrances or exits on the front of the building.  It rose three levels from the deck floor to the deck ceiling, so there would be no roof on which to exit.  Terin stepped out and volunteered to watch the front entrances.  He then moved to a Buzz shop not much further up the concourse, and took a seat by the window to watch the motel, ordering a drink to nurse.  Terin also planned to scan the motel windows, to see if anyone came to look out of them, but he'd have to have been looking at the right window at the exact same time they did to see them.  Rol volunteered to go around the building's back and check for back exits.  Gettibg back there, Rol saw two more exits and looked for a shop from which to watch those.

The Balloon Goes Up

     Looking at the three-story motel, Zimzod was ready to bet there was no "basement" level intruding on the next deck down.  Seeing Zimzod was trying to guestimate the floorplan of the place with no real information, Mikah recommended he not over-complicate things.  They mostly watched from the vehicle until a security patrol noticed an assortment of people in a rental vehicle lingering on the concourse for no apparent reason.  When questioned, Zimzod said he was just talking with his woman and his friend before they decided where to go.  At first, the officer wasn't sure but decided just to verbally warn them not to linger too long.

After a period watching the front of the place, Terin told the others he'd spotted someone who didn't seem to fit in.  Terin described the guy as almost six feet tall with muscles on top of muscles.  The man, when they saw him, was dressed like he should fit in, but they could see he was intently scanning the area back and forth.  Able to see when his gaze was coming towards where they sat, it wasn't hard to make it seem they hadn't noticed him either.  So, it was a good bet he wasn't that smart.  A few times, Terin even thought he'd been spotted but it appeared the man had written everyone in the shop off because "they had a reason to be there".  They had bought drinks and food after all.

Terin asked if Rol saw anyone like that near the motel's back exits and Rol said he didn't.  Terin decided, "OK.  So, this is definitely a look out.  I don't know if he's working for our mark or someone else but he's definitely a look out.  What do you want to do?"  They all saw the man was just off the left entrance or exit to the motel, which was a good number of steps from the right entrance.  Zimzod reached for the door handle as he told the others he was going to get out, walk up to the man and try to strike up a conversation.

That meant he'd step out of the vehicle and walk directly up to the man, which would set off all the alarm bells he might not like.  Not wanting that herself, Mikah said she'd go with him, and got out with Zimzod.  Mikah also decided to play drunk, helping them fit in with those who would be walking towards the motel entrance.  And the man.  Getting close to the guy, Zimzod nodded and asked, "Hi!  How are ya?"  The lookout just answered, "Bug off!" in an angry tone.  Stopping, and pulling Mikah to a halt, Zimzod smiled and said, "Well, that's not very friendly."  Letting his jacket slip a bit so they could now see the butt of a pistol, the man repeated, "Bug off!" though it was more of a command now.

Acting drunk while Zimzod stood his ground for the moment, Mikah asked, "Bug on?" in a confused tone.  Shrugging, Zimzod said, "OK.  Fine.  Fuck you then." and led Mikah on, into the motel.  Up the few steps and inside the lobby, they saw the doors from front and back connected to halls which led to this one rectangular space.  The only two major features of this space were a bank of two lifts and a plexiglass window behind which the "front desk" worker was.  Other than that, halls extended to the right and left with doors to rental rooms.  When Zimzod asked how much for a room, he was asked for how long?  Mikah said "Just tonight" and Zimzod echoed that, the man asked "The whole night or a couple of hours?"  Zimzod said the whole night and was charged Cr 50.

Going up to their room, they stopped on the second floor landing to look up and down the hallway, looking for anyone who might match the description of the yellow skinned man.  But, they saw no one in the hallway.  While they were moving, Terin suggested calling station security and reporting there had been a man in front of the motel with a pistol.  Fesic shot that down, reminding him they didn't want the authorities involved.  That also ignored the fact that if station security took down the look out, it might set off alarms and spook the people they were after.  Even if he didn't work for them.

Still, Zimzod's plan to rent a room so they could possibly see the man they were after in the halls had crapped out too.  Looking for another way to get information, they agreed the lookout had been the best resource.  When Terin said that, Zimzod challenged him, "With you guys?  Chances are that guy is gonna lump the two of you guys up fuckin' rugged, possibly tie you together..."  Terin interrupted Zimzod saying, "No, I'm not saying I'm going to try and take him out.  He's big and burley and has a gun.  All the things I'm not."  Talking about that, Zimzod admitted he could have taken the guy down when he stopped to talk to him, and now regretted not doing that.

This was despite not having a plan of how to do it in a public location and without scoping out where to drag the man to question him without other people seeing?  Terin still suggested he and Mikah wait an hour and leave, to try the same tactic on the way out.  Agreeing, they waited the hour without spending the time looking for how to plan the assault or find a place to question the man?  And then, the clock had spun and the couple were on the move.  More concerned about how it would appear to the man at the front desk, they concocted a story about going out to a club if they were challenged by the front desk man.  They weren't.

Coming out in front, Mikah still acted drunk if less so, and Zimzod again stepped close to the guy and called out, "Hey!  How are ya?" in a happy tone.  This time, the man glared at him and yelled, "Fuck off, I said!"  Zimzod took the moment of the man's bellow to swing an uppercut at the man and caught him unprepared.  At the same time Zimzod swung, Mikah drew an injector she'd had ready and lunged with an upper-hand stab.  The drug in her injector was a fast-acting paralytic which wouldn't cause respiratory failure, and which she could also counteract quickly.  The man actually stepped into Zimzod's punch while starting to raise his hand to go for his pistol.

The result was that Zimzod got him in the chest as his attempted upper cut made early contact.  The hit knocked the air out of the guy and stopped him in place as Mikah's stab came down and the drug was injected into his system.  Very quickly after that, the lookout went down like a ton of bricks.  The action was so quick, and he was so surprised, that he didn't get a single sound out to warn whoever he worked for beyond the initial shout.  Checking, Zimzod saw the man had a bud in his ear that almost couldn't be seen.  Zimzod moved to remove the bud and hold it to his ear, listening to see if anyone had been talking on their comms during the assault?

Zimzod also grabbed the man's handgun, which turned out to be a revolver, and checked his pockets, which turned out to be empty.  In the shop, Terin looked around to see if any of the people there had noticed the very public assault?  He didn't see anyone paying attention to anything but their own business.  That didn't mean no one in one of the other buildings, or up and down the concourse didn't see something, but he had his environs covered.  After grabbing the ear bud, Zimzod looked for the comms mike the man would have had and found it.  Then, it was a question of where to take him to question him?

Zimzod considered crushing the mike, but realized doing that could cause a feedback squelch and alert their target.  If that happened, someone could look out the window and see them dragging off the lookout and freak.  So, Zimzod checked the device, found the battery and removed it.  Only in that moment did Zimzod call out to see if anyone saw any dumpsters?  When Rol said he did, at the back of the motel, Mikah and Zimzod again very publicly picked the man up from the walkway and dragged him along between the two of them.  They then dragged him around the left side of the building, down that alley to the back of the building and then along the also-very-public concourse to where Rol was waiting by the now open dumpster.

Before they and Rol hoisted him into the dumpster, Mikah hit the man with her counter-agent.  After dumping him into the dumpster, they hoisted Rol up and he dropped in, to question the man "in private".  While this happened, Mikah and Zimzod played 'man chatting up woman on the street'.  In the dumpster, Rol wasn't sure how much time he had so he started off breaking a few fingers, to get his "client's" attention.  Then, he threatened to break joints and work his way to more significant damage if he didn't get the answers he wanted.  With that approach, the man quickly gave Rol a room number for the person he was working for, on the motel's second floor.

Rol announced that on the comms and Zimzod said, "OK!  We're on it."  Mikah said, "Let's go!"  At that, Rol asked, "Kill this guy too?" and Zimzod said to just knock him out.  Mikah disagreed and pointed out the guy could identify them, so she said they had to kill him.  Still concerned, Zimzod asked if he'd said who he was and Rol said he'd just gotten the room number and hadn't asked the lookout's name.  When Zimzod asked, Rol demanded his name and the lookout said he was Daspek Kaofman, which meant nothing to any of them.

Mikah had Rol ask who the man worked for and he answered, "I work for my friends", which suggested he was still willing to resist them.  Nodding at his attitude, Mikah told Rol, "OK.  You can kill him."  Rol threw a quick strike crushing the man's trachea, and watched to make sure he choked to death before climbing out of the dumpster.  Again, they had no real information on what faced them inside the room they now had the number for?  They'd not had Rol twist the man's bones until he told them how many people were in the room?  How they were armed or what they were doing?  And, the three of them were headed for that room completely unarmed with any of the information they could have gotten from the now-dead man.

Talking tactics for the first time, Zimzod actually wanted to go in with just Mikah, because he was afraid the front desk man would get suspicious if they were joined by anyone else.  Still, he did tell Fesic he wanted to take the hand computer with him because the doors were electronically locked and accessed with "tap to unlock" key cards.  When Fesic asked if they wanted him to come up, Terin, for the first time, pointed out that they had no idea how many people were in the room?  Zimzod tried to shrug that off but everyone else agreed that Rol should go in with them at the least.  They then spent time preparing a cover story just in case the front desk man challenged them on bringing in a friend.

Acting even more drunk, for the benefit of the front desk man, and cheering about doing "an Eiffel Tower", they passed through the lobby to the lift unchallenged.  They then took the lift to the second floor, quieting down as they did, and took positions outside the door with the room number they'd been given.  Zimzod had the man's gun, but also knew that pulling that trigger would raise alarms and call station security.  So, "if" he did that, they'd have a very limited amount of time to finish what they came to do, get out of the room, downstairs and to a point where they'd be clear of the arriving law enforcement or be able to get past them without being noticed, so they could make good their escape.  And, being caught with the crystal almost guaranteed it would be investigated.

Still, Zimzod knew he could use the weapon as a really good replacement for brass knuckles.  And while they had gone up into the motel, Fesic had moved to the back side of the motel, to cover the exits Rol had been watching.  After Zimzod had Rol pop the door with Fesic's hand-comp to get in the door, he would lead the way from a position off to the side of the opening.  Rol would follow and Mikah would come in last as the medic.  The plan set, Rol popped the door.  Kicking the door right off, Zimzod charged right into the hall.  Doing that, he came face to face with a man who was a few inches shorter than Zimzod but built like a brick bunker house.  Both men were surprised with the encounter, but Zimzod got the first strike in as the other was just starting to react.  The first strike was an upper cut with the revolver held like a hammer.

When his target missed his block, Zimzod got the strike in and knocked the man down.  After that, Zimzod stopped his charge and started kicking at the man's head so he could get a shot at his throat instead of calling for Rol to take him out.  When Zimzod got his opening, he stomped on the man's throat and crushed it.  Of course, the delay he took to kill the man backed up Rol and Mikah behind him.  It also gave those in the room a chance to react to their attack.  Zimzod only looked up and into the room after he'd heard male and female voices and the shouted words, "Get out!" and "Run!"  Looking up, Zimzod had to pull his foot out of the dead man's throat before he charged forward.

Zimzod got to the end of the hall, which opened into the room proper as two gunshots went off.  Both rounds hit the wall to Zimzod's right while he charged into the room, aiming for the first of two armed targets kneeling behind the bed.  There was also a door at the far end of the room which connected to the next room over and Rol and Mikah saw that only after the charging man Zimzod had seen passed through and was out of view.  Mikah snapped into their comms, "Someone's coming out!  We don't know who or where, but they're coming out!"

The person Zimzod was charging was female, and she only managed to bring her weapon in line with his charge as his leap over the bed hit her.  Still, the weapon went off and set Zimzod's ears ringing as he plowed right through her and laid her out.  The other man fired at Rol, but hit the corner of the wall to Rol's left.  Splinters from the hit struck Rol and caused him to flinch.  With her momentum, Mikah slammed into Rol from behind, due to the flinch, and he went down onto the floor!  Doing her best to adapt, Mikah may have stepped on something that could have been an outstretched hand or not, but she kept on going.

With her view of the room cleared for the first time, Mikah saw the man who'd just fired trying to adjust his aim for his changing situation.  To his side, she mentally comprehended Zimzod was down and fighting, but had no time to pay attention to that.  She drove on the man with the gun.  The only tactic available to her was to jump for the bed and then aim a flying tackle at the armed man.  And, she had to do it before he brought his weapon around to the path she was closing on.  Lucky for Mikah, the man hadn't been a trained fighter with combat skills, and also didn't have the strength of morale a combat veteran would.  Still, Mikah didn't know that when she threw her body at him in a 'no guts, no glory' assault.

The man got his shot off, and grazed Mikah up the outer bicep of her left arm as she flew at him.  Despite the shot, Mikah plowed right into the gunman, and they were laid out right alongside Zimzod and the woman he was fighting.  In close quarters himself, Zimzod was open to knocking the woman out if he could but would take a kill to stop her shooting.  Sadly, they were both a might too busy for him to tell her that as they struggled.  Again, training and experience told as Zimzod delivered more than one telling blow.  While the woman wasn't out, the flailing that were her best attempts to fight Zimzod were largely ineffective on attack or defense.

Behind them, Rol had gotten himself up and moved to help where he could.  Somewhere in the chaos, they heard Terin on comms, saying he was leaving the shop he'd been in to approach the hotel because he knew "something" was happening, but not what?  Rol came to stand above the fighting pairs, looking for an opponent while Zimzod managed to pile drive the woman right in the nose.  That splattered her blood all over as the nose broke badly.  While she reacted, Zimzod snapped at Rol, "Get the guy who went through the door!"

Managing to get her knees under her as she readied an assault, Mikah was able to execute a short hop and slam her right knee down on the man's gut.  That stopped him for a few beats as he felt the pain and all the air was driven from his lungs.  Hearing Zimzod, Rol sprinted for the door and rounded into the next room.  Now being eighteen seconds after the first gunshots had been fired, they could all be very certain station security had been called?  They had no idea how long it would take them to respond and each second felt like an hour to those fighting.

Bleeding heavily from her nose, the woman wasn't actually fighting Zimzod so much as she was flailing wildly in hopes of landing any blows that might save her.  She had to know it was a losing cause even as she tried, and Zimzod was countering her blows with skill and landing good shots before he decided to try and stop some of hers.  Grabbing her right arm, Zimzod pulled, twisted and was very satisfied to hear a serious "crack" followed by her scream of pain.  Almost immediately, her eyes rolled up into her head and she fainted away.

At the same time, Mikah suddenly found herself with an open target with the man under her desperately trying to get air back in his lungs.  With the man pinned under her, Mikah leaned down and clamped both her hands on his throat, denying him any chance at getting air in his system.  He started to panic and struggled against her.  Seeing Mikah still fighting the guy beside him, Zimzod pushed himself to his feet and lined up his foot to miss Mikah's hands.  He then swung a full force kick to the man's head.  Without even knowing the kick was coming, the man was knocked out cold after Zimzod's boot connected.  After that, it took Mikah a beat or two to recover and disentangle from the man and stand.

By the time Rol got into the next room, the room's main door was open into the hallway with no sign of the person he'd been told to chase.  After another sprint, Rol hit the hallway in time to see the man actually standing in the distance waiting for the lift!  With shots having been fired already, Rol could only wish for a gun of any type as he started his charge.  Sadly, he didn't reach the lift until the man stepped into the car and the doors had closed.  Hitting the call button, hoping the car hadn't started moving yet, the call button lit.  He got no other response.  So Rol looked for the stairs, which were at each of the far ends of the hallways.

Both Fesic, in the motel's back, and Terin in the front had to watch two doors, and had no idea which door anyone might come out of?  Terin posted himself in the middle distance between both doors, figuring he couldn't cover one door without giving up on the other.  So, either way, he'd have to run if someone came out of either door he covered.  Fesic chose to post himself closer to the left door.  Still, he was a few steps from the entry steps to that door, so he could try to give chase if someone came out of the right door.

With Rol having gone after the third person, Mikah grabbed Zimzod before he followed, and said they should search the room.  The first thing they found a crystal reader in the mess, that had been dropped.  Picking it up to check, Mikah spent a few seconds on it before she realized it had been "burned", so its circuits were fried.  There was a datapad on the floor too, and it seemed to have been dealt with the same way, so someone was hiding something.  The two then did a quick search of the room, to see if the crystal had been hidden there?  Coming up with a blank, they started to leave the room and motel as Zimzod hit the "Fry" button Fesic had built into his own hand computer.  So that system was now dead as a rock too.

Rol had made the sprint down the hall to the stairs and down to the first floor, but was well behind the third person.  Terin and Fesic had been expecting "something" but it was still a shock when Terin saw a man burst out of the right-side motel door and leap down the entry steps to turn on his foot to take off directly away from where Terin had been standing.  Sucking it up, Terin was a runner and he took off after the man.  And while he was a runner, he was a distance runner.  Unfortunately, Terin had to sprint to keep the man from getting far enough ahead in the initial chase that he could slip into a door and disappear while he was too far from Terin for the navigator to figure out where he went?

Along with everyone else, Fesic heard the cry Terin let out and knew Terin was giving chase.  Still, he didn't know at the moment that there wouldn't be others coming out of the motel.  That was until Mikah and Zimzod echoed the call from Terin and said the man they wanted had gone out the front.  Trying to sprint even though he was a distance runner, Terin was surprised to see the man pulling away from him!  Giving up on the over-confidence he'd left the mark with, Terin called for someone to get the rental moving because he might not catch the guy.

Hearing that, Fesic started running up into the motel, crossing through it as the most direct route to get to the rental.  Ironically, Rol saw him shoot through the building as he made his best speed to the motel's lobby intent on getting to the rental first if he had been the closest.  He wasn't, and by the time he was out in the causeway, Fesic had already gotten the vehicle moving and taken off after Terin.  Mikah and Zimzod ignored the lift and took the stairs, though Zimzod dumped the revolver down a garbage chute, and Zimzod wondered what he'd do about his blood-covered clothes while getting back to their hotel and suite?

Charging down the center of the concourse at his best speed, Terin knew it was a race he'd lose if he couldn't keep close enough to see where the man ahead of him might duck into a door or alley?  And the man was still opening up the distance between them.  In the rental, Fesic had called to see if the others would be there soon and Mikah just said, "Go!"  So, Fesic left Rol in the dust as he came out of the motel.  Pulling out, Fesic protested, "What am I going to do with this?  Run him over?" and Mikah kept herself from shouting in frustration as she said, "Yes!"

With the speed maxed out, Fesic asked Mikah, "We don't want this guy alive?" and Mikah said, "Not really."  With his entire attention on his own performance and the guy he was chasing, Terin had no cycles to spend listening to the chatter on the comms.  He knew he wasn't fading yet, but the sprint he'd started with had been a shock to his distance runner's discipline.  Because of that, Terin had no idea Fesic was burning up the concourse behind him with the rental.  It wasn't until Fesic hit the horn and screamed into the comms that Terin realized what was happening and got off to the side of the concourse.

Pulling alongside Terin, Fesic slowed up enough to let the navigator jump in before stepping back on the power to max the speed out.  Not really concerned with where the pursuit was, the fleeing man was burning all his cycles just running flat out and concentrating on that dot called 'escape' which was on the dropping horizon of the station's curve.  That meant he too had no clue as Fesic drove the rental right up behind him.  And he didn't have a blaring horn and shouts over his comms to warn him before the bumper of the vehicle met his pumping ass.  The vehicle's closing speed was just more than twice the speed the running man was making on his own.

He barely had time to pitch forward before he was knocked under, then flattened by both the front and rear driver-side wheels like a speed bump.  Fesic was the only one prepared for the impact because Terin was still recovering from his flat out run, and trying to keep his body from cramping up on him.  Still, Terin felt the hit and said, "Nope, we're not taking this guy alive."  Jamming on the breaks, so they could inspect and search the remains, Fesic and Terin realized they'd have to be quick because they heard the sirens of on-coming security forces in the distance.

At the motel, Mikah announced over the comms that they were splitting off and Fesic and Terin needed to find what they could and then, "get the hell out."  Fesic was the first to inspect what was left of the man they'd been chasing.  Limping slightly, Terin joined him shortly after.  The body had been torn where some part or parts of the vehicle had caught at and torn flesh away.  What was left had been flattened, crushed and had some parts "burst open".  Some of them twice.  So the body was a mess.  Scooping him up and throwing him into the back of the vehicle was Not an option because they didn't have spatulas.

Sucking it up again, Fesic and Terin started searching what they could identify of the man's clothing.  The man actually moaned as they searched, and they both realized he was somehow still alive!  The sounds he made were a clear sign he wouldn't be able to make any coherent sound before he died, but his moans and groans were piteous as the two searched his rags.  Finally, Terin found a lump in the rags and dug into the fabric to find a data crystal!  Announcing he had the crystal, Fesic asked the others if they wanted the men to try and recover the body?  Zimzod said, "Fuck the body, we don't need him no more."

Pulling away from the crash scene, both Fesic and Terin knew there would be impact damage on the front of the vehicle, possibly including blood and bits of human meat caught in the damaged metal.  And, they knew they were driving that straight towards the on-coming wave of security.  Fesic kept his speed down to the lowest level of "not obvious" he could while Terin urged him to find a parking garage.  Sadly, all vehicles on station had specific parking designations and locations needing additional parking had designated lots, so there were no generic garages scattered around the station.

Under the circumstances, Fesic decided to get off the concourse onto a side passage and park, doing so just before a wave of security vehicles passed them.  Terin told Fesic to wait ten seconds and then pull off to get away slowly.  Fesic agreed and counted down the seconds before he got them moving.  His hope was to find a part of the station section that was more secluded than that section was likely to become as security moved in.  This despite being entirely unfamiliar with the area he was in.

After cleaning her graze wound on the move and having Zimzod spray on some "skin-heal" false skin, Mikah started thinking she, Rol and Zimzod should spit up.  Zimzod still had no idea what he'd do about his blood covered clothes?  When Mikah considered that and looked around, they realized they were in a "slum" section of the station.  Knowing they had to do something for Zimzod before they split up, Mikah started looking for any homeless.

Moving along, Terin finally told Fesic to stop the rental so he could get out and check the damage on the vehicle's nose.  What he saw was a crumpled section on the driver's side of the nose, where metal, fiberglass and the headlight and blinker sections of the light bar had been crumpled or crushed.  As expected, those jagged edges had bitten into and ripped clear chunks of the man's body and those remained caught in the damage.  Getting back into the rental, Terin told Fesic they had to find someplace to buy towels and cleaner to get rid of the blood and gore.  Reporting that over comms too, Mikah advised them to first clean the blood off, then intentionally hit a building or something else with the same section of the rental.

Next, she told them they should call station security and report the accident.  That way, she hoped, the damage would be explained and there wouldn't be any further investigation.  While time was not on their side, it still took them some time to find an open shop that sold what they needed.  Having pulled into an alley, they cleaned the front and side of the rental as best they could, but knew they had to get moving.  And it never crossed their mind to look under the vehicle for blood and evidence splattered or stuck there.

Then, as they went looking for an easy target to hit "just right", they were passed by a security patrol.  Moving on, they hoped to get out of view by turning onto another concourse, but they saw another security patrol coming in the distance.  This car slowed down as it passed and had barely passed them before it's light-bar lit up and the driver started making a u-turn.  Both Fesic and Terin knew they were being pulled off the road.

The officers both stepped out of their car and came up along the rental.  The first officer came to the driver's window asking, "Well.  What have we got here?" as the other man moved forward to examine the damage.  Fesic started to get out of the car and was ordered to stay where he was for the time being.  Figuring half a lie was good enough where they couldn't go with the full out lie, Fesic did his best to sound sheepish as he said he'd gotten lost and hit some containers on the side of a passage while driving.

With a smile and a friendly voice to hide his skepticism, the officer asked Fesic, "Would you like to give that another try?"  It was obvious the man didn't believe Fesic's first lie.  Terin leaned further into the officer's view at that and admitted, "I distracted him officer" in an apologetic tone.  Still not buying, because he'd been lied to first, the officer asked, "And exactly how did you distract him?"  Speaking over each other, Terin started to say something, wink and make suggestive gestures, as Fesic said, "He didn't mean to, officer."

Actually getting the point as Terin suggested something sexual was involved from his non-verbal actions and cues, the officer asked, "Are you telling me there was money involved?"  Not knowing if that was legal on this station, Terin acted as if he were personally insulted, and declared, "No money was involved!  We're crew mates."  As he said the last, Terin even sidled up a bit closer to Fesic, making direct physical contact side to side.  Nodding, the officer said he was writing the incident up.

The officer took their Idents and started to scan the vehicle's legal tags and enter data to his tablet as he said Fesic was being cited for careless driving and a confession of damage to property.  The other officer came around to Terin's side of the vehicle and asked Terin to step out and move over to the side of the concourse.  Eventually, Fesic was told to do the same, and they were told the vehicle would be towed.  This was because they were spacers, and had admitted to having operated the vehicle carelessly  And admitted to damaging unspecified property.  So, under the legal codes of the station, their right to operate a vehicle on-station was revoked until they went through remediation.

When they reported this to the rest of the team, Zimzod worried about blood and remains under the vehicle but it was far too late for that observation.  Terin and Fesic had their Idents returned to them and were told they'd be given a ride back to their hotel.  It was recommended they stay there until it was time for them to return to their ship, and leave the station.  And, to keep their thrusters clean until that happened.

Things played out and the crew left a dead body in the dumpster behind the motel and one in the entry hall of the room they'd attacked.  Add to that the revolver down the garbage chute.  They'd also left the man Zimzod had kicked and the woman he'd punched out.  While his head injuries might or might not be recoverable, the woman would certainly recover.  Other evidence they'd left behind included the room rental in Zimzod's name at the motel, the possible blood and "meat" evidence on the bottom of the rental and Fesic and Terin's data on the police report taking the rental into custody.  If security tracked the rental's travel paths back, they could also link the crew to the death of the hotel worker in his apartment.

Earlier That Evening

     Committing to the role she'd set herself while letting Jack drive himself into her body, Jocelynn asked Jack, in a gasping voice, "So.  You work for a shipping firm.  Can you get a line on a cargo sealer for me?"  Much of her concern came from worrys about smuggling her battledress from system to system.  Jocelynn knew sealing it in a 'pass-thru' cargo pod was the best way to do that in a lot of systems.  But not "all" systems.  Still not having climaxed during the sex, Jack was more engaged with his own pleasure and only said, "Later."  Jocelynn smiled and continued to grind onto him.  Working to please him even as she'd asked the question, taking any sting from her request.

Surprising Jocelynn, Jack took some time to "finish", even after he climaxed, and was more interested with asking Jocelynn if she'd go to a hotel with him for the rest of the evening?  While he might have been a jerk sending her a cock-shot, Jocelynn liked the little things he did do.  Like offering to take her to a hotel instead of a motel or...a tube.  Nodding and adjusting her clothes so she could clean up as much as possible, Jocelynn agreed, but said she had to contact her team before they left.

Stepping out of the stall to clean up, and activating her comms, Jocelynn could see other women in the room, who were annoyed at Jack's presence.  Jocelynn had to fight back a laugh while trying to connect to Mikah and check in.  That while also moving to a wash basin to clean up.  Mikah answered the call after she and the others had arrived at the hab-block the hotel worker lived in and while they were casing it.  So, Zimzod had been checking the address against the data from the hotel's records when Mikah answered Jocelynn's call.

Getting a connection, Jocelynn said, "Hey, it's me.  Sorry I turned off my comms but I didn't want you to hear me peeing."  Because Jocelynn had signed off quite some time before, Mikah didn't believe her all, and half-grunted, "Uh-huh.  Shur." in a disbelieving tone.  Jocelynn tried to ignore that, asking "Is everything OK?"  Mikah pushed back, "That was a long pee.  Am I gonna have to give you a renal exam when you get back?"  Trying a different tack, Jocelynn asked, "Do you really want me to say it turned into a poop?" and Mikah snarked back, "Just don't say it was just a pee."

After that was settled, Jocelynn said things were going well where she was, and she'd not come up with any new information on her end.  Jocelynn said Idbarga had been a member of the hotel's cleaning staff, but that led to nothing of value because she wasn't part of that team anymore.  She did tell Mikah that any member of the hotel staff found stealing from guests was not only fired, but black balled from hospitality jobs in-system after.  That also changed nothing for Zimzod and his team.  Jocelynn also promised to leave her comms on, in case she was needed, and they cut the line to get on with their evenings.

Jocelynn and Jack then finished cleaning up and he hired a taxi to take them to a hotel that was different, and less expensive, than the one the crew were staying in.  Along the way, Jocelynn asked him to stop for condoms, and Jack had no problem with that.  Despite modern methods of birth control, STD's were still a possible issue so condoms were still available in societies from tech level four and common from tech level five.  Being as much the gentleman as he could after his earlier actions, Jack covered all expenses until they settled into their room.

After getting Jack back in bed, there were chances as the evening continued for Jocelynn to bring up the cargo sealer again.  Choosing better moments to "slip it into pillow talk" while resting from more "active" moments, Jocelynn did her best to convince Jack it was something he could help her with.  And, how grateful she'd be if he did help?  Jack said he could try, but reminded her his team were a "help desk", working to solve issues with customers who'd contracted cargo space aboard ships.  So, any cargo they dealt with had been sealed before it got to the ports to be loaded or unloaded.  So, his team didn't deal with cargo sealers.

She realized Jack also had to be wondering if that might have been why she'd gone to bed with him in the first place?  He knew that the transient nature of spacers lives meant their moral codes were more open, sometimes much more open, than planetsiders.  Jocelynn did her best to make sure to show him that wasn't the case, and spent some time soothing his dented male ego.  She also promised him that she'd keep looking him up anytime their ship was in port.  Still, Jocelynn also told him their ship was coming out of repairs on Wednesday.  After that, she wasn't sure how much time they'd have before she shipped out with the Knights?

While playing, Jocelynn also teased him about the crotch shot he'd sent her earlier, but said she found him charming and hoped they'd be able to spend more time together before she shipped out.  She also suggested her crew might stay in-system a few days or more, for shakedown runs and other systems testing.  So that could mean they might be in-system longer than the next couple of days.  After that, she told him she saw no reason they couldn't hook up when the ship visited again.

Finishing With A Split

     So, by oh-dark hundred that morning, Zimzod was still bloody and looking for answers that would get him home while Mikah and Rol tried to help him.  Jocelynn had checked in and was OK whereever she was, Emkir was sleeping off his recovery from the night before.  Aali and Aiden had manned the comms back at the suite waiting for a call to help.  And, they would get the ship back from the yard in two days, on Wednesday, 261-1113, if they were not mostly in custody by then?

Next: New Fights And Old Friends