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Last Updated     May 12 2019
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Finding A Path Home

     At 2:30 in the morning, Zimzod was still covered in blood and looking for a way to get back to the hotel without getting arrested.  Mikah and Rol wanted to help him clean up, and Mikah suggested they then split up afterward, to get back to the suite individually.  Fesic and Terin were about to be put in a station security vehicle, to be returned to their hotel.  Emkir was asleep, still recovering from his injuries in the brawling session.  Aali and Aiden were manning the comms at the suite, waiting for any calls if their help was needed.  Jocelynn had called in just before Zimzod's team had broken into a hab-unit seeking the missing crystal.  And it was two days before they'd get the ship back, on Wednesday, 261-1113.

If they could keep from getting arrested before that.

Aali and Aiden sat by, trying to make sense of what they were hearing over the comms while those at the motel and in the rental had called out updates to each other.  Without visuals and other direct input, they heard cries of "Someone's coming out!" or "Run him down!"  They worked to try and glue the chatter together in their imagination.  Especially the exchange between Fesic and Mikah, instructing the gunner to run someone down!  Things finally seemed to have calmed down for Terin and Fesic, who last said they were on a station companionway being stopped by a station security van!

Standing on the side of that companionway waiting to be loaded into a security van, Terin had to get some word out about what was happening.  He asked one of the officers if he could 'call his boss' to tell him the port-van was getting impounded?  When the officer nodded, Terin sparked up his comms and called for Zimzod and Mikah.  Standing on another companionway out of view of the motel, Mikah, Rol and Zimzod had other problems.  They were trying to figure out how to get Zimzod's blood-covered clothes out of view from the few passer's by.  Then, they could find a way to get under cover, get him cleaned up or get him back to the suite?  So, when Mikah answered her comms, she snapped, "What?"

Putting a bit of "sheepishness" into his voice, Terin opened, saying, "Hey boss?  We had a little accident with the port-van and station security are impounding it."  Mikah simply interrupted him and snarled, "You're fired!" though they both knew the comment was more emotional than anything else.  Fesic leaned in, at that point and demanded of Terin, "Are you sure you don't want to talk about what you did to me that caused the accident?"  Hearing parts of that on Terin's comms, Mikah snapped, "What happened?" as Terin tried to decide how to deal with this stupidity?

After a pause, Mikah asked, "What is he talking about?" in a confused tone.  Then, she asked, "What did you do?" in an angrier tone.  Mikah was sure that being fired would be the least of Terin's fears if he'd screwed up the whole operation with some kind of bone-headed play.  Trying to stay 'in the role', Terin tried to casually say, "We just had a little accident.  Hit a garbage can, nothing major.  But station security are taking the van from us."  Realizing he should get all the information he could, Terin then called over to the senior officer asking where the van would be impounded?

Shaking his head because he'd told the spacers what was being done, the officer reminded Terin the van wasn't being impounded.  It was being returned to the rental agency and the crew would not get it back.  He then reminded Terin that Fesic had confessed to careless driving and causing material damage on-station, along with a disregard to station safety directives.  Since they were only visitors, and could just return to their ship and leave port, it was the station's policy to stop spacers from causing even more damage before trying to simply leave the charges behind.  Of course, any ship that did pull that would get a nasty surprise if they returned to the station later.  But space was wide and a criminal ship need not come back to Inthe.

When Mikah interrupted Terin, telling the navigator to, "just pay the damned fine" Terin told her there was no fine "yet".  The officers had said Fesic would be ticketed and fined, but they'd only been told that would happen.  At the moment, they were waiting because they'd been told they'd be driven back to their hotel.  Letting Mikah deal with that, Zimzod dropped off the line and then called IRIS, asking if they could send up a pick-up car to help him out?  The agent who took the call said the situation was unfortunate but there was nothing they could do.  Having gotten the crystal, then having let it be stolen and then having gotten covered in blood while getting it back, IRIS wasn't going to risk exposure to help Zimzod fix mistakes he and his crew both started and were increasingly screwing up.

Overhearing the call, Mikah complained, "I told you not to call them."  After his call, Zimzod considered the situation and told Rol to hand over his duster and fedora.  If he couldn't get off the street or under cover, he could at least cover the blood up.  Moving as quickly as he could, Zimzod ripped his shirt off, using the top's clean back to wipe blood from his face as best he could.  That still left streaks of blood on his face as Zimzod quickly got into Rol's duster and put the fedora on before trying to clean up some more with the shirt.

Knowing anyone looking at him close up might notice "something odd", Zimzod knew he still had to get better cleaned off or get off the street!  Trying to lighten the mood despite the situation, Rol pointed at his duster and said, "You're paying for that."  Zimzod answered, "Whatever.  So long as I'm not getting incarcerated in it."  Still, Mikah snarked, "If the fashion police are out, you're done for.", which finally got a laugh from Zimzod.  After that, they considered the situation more calmly before Mikah sparked up her comms.

Calling Aali and Aiden, Mikah asked for directions to the closest night club from their location?  While checking, Aali reminded Mikah they were in a "less than well maintained" hab-module on the port.  So, there wouldn't be many or large clubs in the area.  Still, they were able to find a place that was 'a walk' from the intersection Mikah, Zimzod and Rol were on.  They started moving while Rol and Mikah did their best to block Zimzod from the view of drivers or passersby.  They also talked about how they'd get Zimzod past the bouncers and into the club to clean himself up?  They knew anyone there would get a close look at Zimzod, and might well see the blood streaks on his face.  And while they weren't station security, the word had to have been passed to watch for involved parties.

They finally decided Rol would go into the club while Zimzod and Mikah played "couple chatting on the walkway."  Then, Rol would get whatever wash cloths he could, and deliver them back to Zimzod.  Getting close to the club, they paused to try and make it "look natural."  Then Mikah and Zimzod moved into position as they pretended to wave good bye to Rol.  They kept Aali and Aiden updated while moving, and Aali suggested they hire a taxi from the hotel, to pick the three up and get them back.  Mikah and Zimzod thought that was a great idea, and they started asking who would stay in the suite and who'd go?

Aali told Aiden she wanted to stay and keep an eye on Emkir while he slept.  Not wanting to leave the suite, Aiden saw her reasoning trumped any objections he had.  Still, he suggested they could just call for an automated cab to do the job because that was 'safer for Aiden' rather than better for the mission.  But Aali reminded him there could be fine tuning needed if the three others had to move, or hide.  And that meant someone had to be "in" the cab, automated or not, to dial in the pick up.  Agreeing, Aiden called down to the desk and asked saying he'd be right down.  In the cab, Aiden told the computer the intersection Aali had come up with and sat back for the ride.

From the cab, Aiden also monitored the team's comms and told the computer he'd update his destination on the way.  He also said he'd eventually be returning to the hotel after picking up his friends.  While Aiden rode, Rol moved up to the door and got a serious looking over from the club's bouncers.  Giving as good as he was getting, Rol noticed at least one of the bouncers had an earbud in his right ear.  So, he was on comms with "someone".  Likely the club management.  That meant they had to worry about any news station security might have shared with local businesses about possible violent criminals fleeing a shooting?  And getting past the bouncers took long enough to suggest the bouncers were looking for "something".

Still, they let Rol into the club and he started to scout the place as he considered his plans.  While speed was important, Rol also knew he couldn't just rush into the bathroom, grab wet washcloths and rush back out without raising flags.  He also knew he couldn't obviously be carrying wads of wet cleaning supplies without being noticed either.  He also knew he had nothing to carry wet washcloths or paper cleaning supplies in.  He didn't even have his duster to put wet wads of cleaning supplies in the pockets.

Rol first decided to circulate and check out the club to make his "in and out" plans less obvious.  After he'd spent what he felt was enough time blending in, Rol moved to one of the bathrooms.  There, he saw they were supplied with paper sanitary supplies, given the negative health affects of hot air blowers.  Further improvising his plan there and then, Rol took a wad of dry sheets and separated it into two wads, to stuff in each of his pockets.  Then, he grabbed a wad and wet it generously to hold in his hands.

Rol planned to act as if he were still cleaning his hands with the wet wad while trying not to let any of the water drip off as he moved to the exit.  Outside the club, Mikah had been keeping a watch out for things while Zimzod kept his head and face down.  Mikah could see station security teams had started expanding the containment zone, blocking off sections of the station for their investigation.  She watched while they slowly moved closer to the club, block by block, in the distance.  Concerned about that, Mikah decided to spark up the local map on a nearby assistance computer panel and call Aiden to redirect him.

Getting her call, Aiden updated the cab's AI to change destinations and confirmed with Mikah that she and the guys would walk from the club to where he'd pulled the cab over.  Shortly after that, Rol came out of the club, appearing to be washing his hands with a clump of wet paper towels.  He also got a look from the door security that said, 'I hope you liked it because, by the looks of you, you're not coming back'.  Moving back over to Mikah and Zimzod, Rol looked up and down the companionway for observers and useful alleys.  What he saw were periodically placed alcoves along the facades.  Nodding his chin towards the nearest, he moved to that alcove to avoid any attention they could.

Out of view of most on the companionway, Rol handed over the clumps of paper towels and Zimzod used the wet clump to soak one of the dry clumps so he had enough to scrub his face and hands.  He then worked with both the wet and dry clumps to clean off more of his exposed skin while Mikah and Rol pointed out stains. Mikah enjoyed her chances to snark, "You missed a spot".  After spending time cleaning himself off the best he could, Zimzod looked for anywhere to toss the trash that wouldn't be noticed.  Not seeing anything, Zimzod shrugged and stuffed the paper towels into the duster's pockets until he could find somewhere safe to dump them.

Zimzod was just stuffing the wads into pockets when someone else came into the alcove from the direction of the club!  Caught by surprise and turning or looking up, they could see it was one of the bouncers from the club's door!  Scanning them as he looked back, the bouncer quietly asked, "Whose holding?"  Right off, all three of them realized the man thought there was a drug deal going down in the alcove.  Caught without an answer, Mikah and Zimzod just looked back until Rol asked, "Do we want to deal this guy in?" in a quiet but serious tone.

Zimzod fixed the bouncer with a glare and said, "Ain't none of that going on here buddy." which wasn't clear if Zimzod was denying they were dealing or he was somehow refusing to share?  At the same time, Rol saw that bouncer was the one who'd had the ear bud, so he was on comms with the club's staff.  Rol worried he might call security and report them because Zimzod had decided to be an asshole.  Raising his hands, the bouncer said, "OK.  My bad." in an apologetic tone, and backed off to leave them.  A distance down the concourse, Aiden's taxi pulled over and the AI offered him the option to get out and pay for his ride or provide further instructions.  Aiden told the cab to stand by because he was waiting for someone.  He was warned that would add additional charges and accepted that.

In position, Aiden got on his comms and told the others he was at the pickup point while the bouncer disappeared back around the alcove's corner.  Hearing his report, Mikah told him to hold tight and they'd be along.  Mikah did tell him he should move if any station security teams seemed at all interested in him.  Zimzod said it might be better if Aiden got closer while they also moved towards him.  Nodding, Mikah checked the security cordon again and saw it wasn't that close.  Still, it hadn't moved in some time, so she was worried it could expand toward them at any second.  She was concerned about that, but otherwise told Aiden to stay put.  They'd still come to him.

Getting moving, the three walked as fast as they could without standing out.  It took some minutes for them to make their way to a spot where they could both see the cab and realize it was Aiden's.  At nearly the same time, a station security car did a run up that section of companionway, though they couldn't tell if the run was a normal patrol or due to the shootings?  Keeping their heads down, the four kept things casual and hoped for no new problems to pop up.  And while they did their best to ignore it, the security car passed them by and kept going.  Finally, they reached Aiden and got into the cab.

In the cab, they told the AI to turn them back to the hotel and were told by the AI that the total for the trip would be Cr 75.  Mikah paid that from ship's funds.  Having gotten moving, Mikah called Aali to tell her they were on the way back to the hotel.  Not having heard from Fesic and Terin, Mikah decided to call them too.  After they'd called Zimzod and Mikah, Terin and Fesic had to wait a bit while the officers processed them and the scene.  They eventually cited Fesic, as the driver of record, not to mention the fact he'd been the one to 'confess', with three violation codes.  They were told they could enter those into the station's system at their hotel to deal with.

Because of the delays in processing and other needs, the station security car they were in was almost to the hotel by the time Mikah called.  When Terin answered, Mikah asked where they were and he said he and Fesic were almost back at the hotel.  Mikah asked if they'd been told what the fine was yet?  Terin said Fesic had been given three tickets, but they had to check on the station's system for the details first.  Accepting that, she told Terin they could just pay the fines when they checked them and let them go.  Mikah then told Zimzod to call the van rental agency and tell them the van had been in an accident and was being returned to them by station security.

When Zimzod called, he got what he thought was an operator, and spent time with her getting his point across.  "She" finally updated the vehicle's status and then asked him to fill out an accident report on the tablet in the van's "document compartment".  It took Zimzod a second to realize this had been a "real sounding" conversant system, and get a sentient being on the line.  After Zimzod got that call squared away and agreed that the company could bill them for any damage to the port-van he was finally able to end the call.  That happened while Terin and Fesic were delivered to the hotel and got back to Aali and the suite.

When Terin started to tell Aali what had happened to them and answer her questions, Fesic logged into a station terminal and punched in the codes from his violations.  The first was a moving violation for careless driving, which appeared to be a "catch all" code for significantly bad driving of any kind.  It rose above the individual charges which would be given out for specific minor issues.  The next was a moving violation for damage to static equipment or property, and the third was for disregarding the station's safety regulations.  All together, the cost of the tickets came to Cr 2,500, which was more than Fesic had in his accounts so he couldn't pay them.

Fesic figured he could wait until Mikah and Zimzod got back to the hotel before bringing up the ticket costs.  Talking to Aali, Terin had told her he had gotten the data crystal they'd gone hunting for.  When Aali had started asking questions, Terin started to give her a basic verbal sketch of events, avoiding his attempt to convince the security officer he'd distracted Fesic with his "sexual interests".  Fesic wasn't having that and interrupted Terin to give Aali "all" the details.  Accepting that Fesic was going to spill the beans, Terin shrugged and said, "Well, I tried to come up with something that sounded good.  We couldn't tell them we ran some guy over and stole back the crystal.  That wouldn't have gone over good."

Turning to Terin in a mocking tone, Fesic demanded, "And that was the first thing to come to mind?  Huh?"  Again, Terin shrugged and said, "Pretty much.  I was at a blank."  Thinking about everything she'd been told, Aali joked, "Jocelynn will be so relieved."  Grimly, Aali then asked how likely it was they thought station security would check the port-van and find any of the evidence they'd left behind?  Glumly, Terin told her, "I think there's probably a better chance of them checking than not.  Which is a serious problem we've got, unless we can get in and clean the port-van somehow."  The comment showed how he Still hadn't gotten to understand Security were not impounding the vehicle.  Terin and Aali then talked about their options, based on his assumptions, until the others got back to the suite.

Comic Debriefings

     The others got back after a cab ride that was anti-climactic, and Zimzod went straight to his bedroom to undress, shower and clean himself up.  He was so blood-covered that he'd had to use Rol's duster as a drop cloth to undress on and keep any blood from getting onto the suite's carpet or furniture.  When Zimzod eventually asked Rol about them, he was told to just burn the duster and fedora.  Aali agreed that sending any of the blood coated items out to be cleaned would raise questions.  The good part was that the system's tech was low enough security wouldn't automatically DNA test it to match to other cases.  Not that doing that wouldn't eventually be done if they couldn't get a confession to match the blood to a crime.

The first questions Mikah had were about the tickets and fines Fesic had racked up?  She was told the fines totaled out at Cr 2,500 and Fesic didn't have that much in his accounts.  Terin also took that moment to point out that they wouldn't get the port-van back from Station Security.  They were returning it directly to the rental firm.  Mikah blew that off, saying they already called the rental company and said they'd pay for the damages with her tone making it clear there was nothing they could do about the rental now.  Terin tried to push his concerns of someone finding any remaining blood or gore on the van and Mikah pointedly told him there was nothing they could do about it so it was moot.

Rol asked, just to confirm, if they got the crystal and then asked if they still planned to turn it over to IRIS?  Mikah angrily said, "I'm not calling IRIS.  I'm done with them.  I want nothing to do with them."  When Aali asked what they'd do with the crystal, Mikah said, "Leave it for Zimzod.  I told him not to call them in the first place."  When Terin suggested they not bother with IRIS anymore because they were no longer involved, Mikah said they were involved.

Mikah pointed out that IRIS was involved ever since Zimzod first called them, and they couldn't just get rid of the crystal now without dealing with them somehow.  When Terin yet again suggested they give it to the Marquis' office, Aali firmly reminded him they couldn't.  And that they had already discussed that idea to exhaustion the day before.  When Mikah suggested they could just mail the crystal to IRIS, Aali pointed out that they didn't have any mailing address for them.  Mikah tartly told Aali they could just mail it with the words "To IRIS" on the package and she was sure it would get to them somehow.

When Terin suggested they keep it and not tell anyone, Mikah angrily snapped, "We can't!  They already know it exists." as she shook her head and wondered when Terin would learn to think, if ever?  Their options were to call IRIS and say the crystal was destroyed, or that the crystal was lost and beyond their tracking.  Or they could say, 'We got it back and you can come and get it.'  When Aali said, "We can also say we got it back and are planning to drop it out an air-lock once we get to orbit." Mikah liked that.  She imagined telling them to get into vacc suits and go fishing for it there.

In the pause that led to, Aiden asked if they'd checked to make sure the crystal they got was actually the right crystal?  Mikah said that was Zimzod's problem but Aali reminded her they'd all seen the crystal's contents and any of them could do that.  So, Terin put the crystal into the reader mounted in one of the suite's terminals and sparked up one of the many files to see the same sort of data they'd seen when Zimzod had shown it off almost two weeks before.  That confirmed it was the right crystal after all.

Rol suggested they could bet there had been no copies made of the crystal and Mikah said "Not really".  She argued that while Rol pushed the idea that the crystal itself was so dangerous to have that those who'd stolen it would have destroyed it right after making another copy.  Rol's arrogance ignored the fact that they may have been so certain they wouldn't be found that they saw no reason to worry about being caught with the crystal in the first place.  So, Rol's own intellectual arrogance ignored the same potential for the arrogance of those who'd had the crystal stolen to begin with.

Eventually, they set that discussion aside for when Zimzod got out of the shower and Mikah agreed to have the ship pay the Fesic's fines.  They spent a few minutes on that while Mikah connected to the ship's accounts, then connected to the station's legal site and made the payment for the tickets.  Things were settling down and Zimzod had cleaned up, changed and was just joining the others when Mikah asked Fesic, "So, how did you get caught by security?"  Shrugging, Terin said, "They were driving past us and they saw the front-end damage." in a tone that said 'there was nothing we could do'.

Nodding, Mikah asked, "And how did you get out of that one?"  Terin said, "Well, I'd had time to clean it off.  We stopped at a late-night shop and I bought some cleaner and towels and had time to clean the blood off the front of the van."  Following that up, Mikah asked Terin what excuse they had told security about the damage and Fesic broke in, describing to them all in glorious detail how Terin had tried to derail any investigation.  When he was done, Terin shrugged like he'd done when talking to Aali earlier, and said it was the only thing he could think of at the moment.

Mikah's voice showed how surprised she was as she said, "Wow.  Really?"  Terin repeated, "I couldn't come up with anything better at the time."  Fesic was laughing and mocked that Terin couldn't come up with anything better while ignoring his own mental lapses during the same timeframe.  Or, that he'd not come up with any ideas of his own.  Zimzod fixed Terin with a look and said, "You know what?  That was actually pretty sharp thinking because people actually tend to get uncomfortable around faggots."  Rol fixed Zimzod with a look and asked, "Do you actually think this crew would say anything?" and Aali told Zimzod, "It's common practice." with a disapproving frown.

Moving them on from that, Mikah told Zimzod that Terin had the data crystal and it was his problem what they did with it.  Taking it from Terin, Zimzod put the crystal into the hotel room's safe before doing anything else.  When he said he was going to call IRIS to come get the crystal, Mikah said she was going out for a drink, with an obviously annoyed tone.  That made it clear she didn't want to be there when any agent arrived.  She invited the others to come with her and Rol said he needed a drink too.  Aali said she was going to bed and Fesic and Aiden said they were too.  Aiden set his alarm for 9am even though it was already nearly 4:30 am and he'd be tired the next day.

Rol followed Mikah, and she went to a café inside the hotel itself.  While they didn't want to walk or ride far enough to go to an Astroburgers, Mikah did notice the place offered a meal called a "Stellar Burger" on the menu.  That gave her a smile for the irony in this 'higher end' part of the station.  Planning on having a sort of breakfast, Mikah also knew she was going to have mimosas.  Possibly lots and lots of mimosas.  That meant light food and lots of booze before going back to the suite and to sleep.  It ended up costing them Cr 25 each because Mikah didn't really drink that much, but mostly for their drinks.

In the suite, after Mikah and Rol left, it was less than half an hour before the door chime rang.  Answering it, Zimzod found his good friend the female IRIS agent.  Zimzod wasn't surprised to find her standing in the hall, with her hand extended waiting for Zimzod to give her the crystal without a word spoken.  The look of expectation in her eyes told Zimzod she didn't expect to have to speak with him at all this time.  Telling her, "One second", Zimzod went back into the suite and got the crystal from the safe before returning to the door.  "This time", she was polite enough to wait in the hallway.

Before Zimzod handed the crystal to her, he said, "Something about this that's interesting...  I believe the people who took it were military."  Leaning back on her heels, the woman asked, "What makes you say that?" in a neutral tone that revealed nothing of her own thoughts.  Zimzod said, "Because of their hand to hand skills and their readiness.  So, I think it was an inside job.  And, I think I wasn't supposed to find the crystal in the thrift shop.  It was meant for someone else."

Nodding, the agent said "Thank you" before they were interrupted by Terin who had come up behind Zimzod.  Terin said, "In retrieving the crystal, we damaged the van and it has some blood on it, and it's gonna be some rather interesting problems for us because I'm pretty sure they're gonna check the van that they impounded."  Nodding at Terin, the agent said, "That's unfortunate." in a non-committal voice.  Nodding and not taking the hint at all, Terin asked, "Yeah.  Is there any way we can get in there to clean it up?" and was flatly told "No."

In a surprising burst of conversationalism, the agent looked at her cron and then back at Terin saying, "At this point, Station security have probably returned it to the rental agency and they're doing whatever they do with it.  That is likely to clean the vehicle up and assess the damage to get an idea when they can get it back on the road to start making money from it again?  So, no one's going to get in to that vehicle until that's completed and done."  Terin accepted that and left as Zimzod also told the agent about the survivors of the shootout at the motel, and suggested IRIS look into that?  Zimzod also mentioned that the locals might find a body in the dumpster in the back of the motel.  The agent again shrugged and said, "That's unfortunate."

The message no one in the crew had picked up on was...  Outside of Zimzod's actions in buying and holding onto the crystal, his lack of security allowed it to be stolen.  After that error, he and others in the crew seemed to expect that IRIS, an extremely secretive organization, might leap at the chance they might be exposed just to help them clean up the mess they'd made.  And each time the team made even more errors in judgement, or acted without thought, they seemed to expect someone else to happily rush in to try and clean up issues everyone knew would be investigated.  And no one in the crew seemed to realize that IRIS wasn't going to take any actions that would risk their exposure.  At the same time, IRIS was fairly comfortable that any claims their actions were related to IRIS if they were arrested would be laughed at.

When the agent nodded and left, it was fairly obvious her actions, and those of IRIS, could have been explained by an ancient phrase whose source was lost to history.  'As always, should you or any of your I.M. Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."  After the agent left, Zimzod and Terin went to their beds while Rol and Mikah had been eating and drinking.  When they got back to the suite, everything was shutdown and all the bedroom doors had been closed.  So, it looked like everyone else was asleep.  Nodding to Mikah, Rol said, "Sounds like a good idea to me" as he crossed to his bedroom and Mikah agreed.  He said, "See you tomorrow" and she reminded him it would be later 'today'.  Mikah did make sure the suite's doors were locked before she went to bed though.

But Wait!  There's more!

     Despite having been out for a night of pleasure, not to mention a well established alibi, Jocelynn set the alarm clock in her room with Jack to 8:30 am.  She had planned to have breakfast with Jack before they went their separate ways and she came back to the suite.  Still, despite having showered and cleaned up, she'd be wearing the same clothes she'd worn the night before and wasn't looking forward to the 'walk of shame' when the crew saw that.  And she had no doubt that someone would notice it.  And, thanks to her 'nearly nude' appearance while in deep space, she was sure she'd not live this performance down either.

Jocelynn's plans also "suffered" a setback when it turned out Jack wanted a 'morning treat' before they showered and went to breakfast.  He admitted he did have to go to work, but could come in late from time to time.  So they didn't have to rush.  After they were finally done and had showered, the couple went to breakfast, which meant Jocelynn wasn't going to get back to the suite early.  Not knowing how things had played out the night before, Jocelynn was more worried about her walk of shame than anything else.  Still, Jack even ordered them room service for breakfast and Jocelynn admitted to herself she'd not get back to the suite before 10:30 or 11am.

At 9am, Aiden's alarm went off and he woke to begin his morning routine.  This was despite still being tired after less than half a night's sleep.  By the time he got out into the suite's public spaces, the chef had been and gone, and food was sitting out to be eaten.  He started to serve himself just as Mikah was woken, in her bedroom, by her comms.  Annoyed, Mikah grabbed her comms and activated it as she demanded, "What?" in a flat tone.  When the caller said he was the manager of the vehicle rental agency, Mikah woke Zimzod up, handed him the comms and acerbically said, "Here.  It's for you."

Taking the comms from Mikah and finding out who he was talking to, Zimzod asked, "What's up?" in a sleepy voice.  The man started to explain that they'd gotten the port-van back from station security and...  Zimzod interrupted him, simply asking how much the bill was for the damage?  He was told it would cost Cr 7,000 and Zimzod said, "Alright.  I'll wire it."  Put off a bit by Zimzod's blunt attitude, especially when his crew had damaged their port-van, the man stiffly thanked Zimzod and told him the crew wouldn't be allowed to rent another vehicle on-station again.  Then, the call ended.

Done with his morning routine, Aiden had eaten and then gone to the hotel's gym to do a workout.  He would follow that up with the pool and a swim.  Still, earlier when he was finishing his breakfast, Mikah and Zimzod came out of their bedroom.  They sat down and turned on the news as they started to eat.  Aiden was gone when Rol came out next, to sit and eat.  Most of the news stories had been items with which they were familiar, and were not updated thanks to the delays of interstellar communications.  Still, there were new stories to watch:

    Natoko (B582211-8  N  Lo Ni  801  Im  M2 VI M6 D)               Date: 224-1113
    Unfortunate news was received today from the Imperial Naval base in the Natoko system(Aramis Subsector)
    of an incident involving the Heavy cruiser INS Ganamka Chak and a Tukera merchant ship.  Natoko is a
    largely undeveloped system and the main world is owned and governed by Tukera Lines.  Tukera uses the
    system's starport to overhaul its fleet.  The merchanter, identified as the Tukera Long Liner "Equus",
    had reportedly been arriving in-system for annual maintenance.  It is reported the incident occurred
    when the liner began its emergence in close proximity to the INS Ganamka Chak.

    In keeping with standing orders given the instability of vargr states in the Gvurrdon Sector close
    to Imperial border, the cruiser was on patrol with weapons hot and orders to respond promptly to any
    attempts to enter Imperial border systems to raid.  Lieutenant Commander Kuanshamum, Spokesbeing for
    System Senior Admiral Pilagru, stated the regrettable incident appeared to have been caused due to a
    lack of transponder and other standard data broadcasts from the liner.  Mistaking that entry for a
    potential raider, the INS Ganamka Chak opened fire on the liner, destroying it and killing all hands

    Imperial Navy officers moved quickly to lock down the system and collect information on all sensor
    arrays which might have data bearing on the event.  While teams from both the Imperial Navy and Tukera
    technical services are examining all available data, to investigate this issue, Admiral Pilagru has
    made a statement of his extreme regret over the loss of life.  As the investigation gets underway,
    Tukera has released a basic brief on the ship's Captain, Uushkam Oforoa, and his crew.  Tukera honored
    the skeleton crew which had operated the Equus for more than three years as a team.  Such a continuously
    integrated group of professional spacers is rare in times so dynamic as these.

    Retinae (E8C69AA-9  Hi Fl RsD  910  Cs  M9 V)                            Date: 195-1113
    The Admiralty announced today the arrival of the 1,553rd Special Operations Imperial Navy Squadron
    in system today.  Since annexation of the system, an official condition of the armistice ending
    the Fifth Frontier War, authorities in the sector scrambled to assemble additional defensive forces
    to augment Retinae's system defense forces.  This action supplements those measures under consideration
    by the Sector Senate.  Those include the construction of increased system defense stations and
    increases in the local planetary navy.

    Commodore Kasgelka, commander of the Squadron, also carried with him orders present, from Grand
    Duchess Delphine and Grand Admiral Lashamki.  In the ceremony welcoming the squadron and her
    personnel, those orders were read, and created a new naval command station and appointed Admiral
    Akunku to the rank of Fleet Admiral.  Fleet Admiral Akunku is noted for command of the system's
    defense forces during the Fifth Frontier War.  Fleet Admiral Akunku will remain the senior Imperial
    Navy officer commanding the new Imperial Naval station in-system.

    Mora(A99AC7-F  2  Hi In Cp  112  Im  M5 V)                            Date: 210-1113
    Some three months after the official recall order was sent, the muster of the Deneb Core Fleet is
    a grand, massive and humbling sight where the formations are formed up in the outer Mora system.
    The thousands of logistical, technical and combat warships in formation are truly inspiring.  Despite
    this, the massive build up of military personnel have swamped the system and the local resources while
    fleet command awaits the expected order to return home to the Deneb sector.  While some reductions have
    been made where whole squadrons of ships have been reassigned, all the crew and combat personnel who
    have not accepted reassignment will return to the Deneb sector.

    Formations of ships reassigned have been crewed with naval and marine personnel from the Spinward
    Marches as they deploy to various assignments within the sector.  As with all military planning, all
    new assignments are classified until reviewed by higher authority.  Despite security, a new squadron
    has been ordered to reinforce other dispatched squadrons already set to arrive in the Retinae system,
    which is within three parsecs of the major Zhodani military facilities in the Querion system.
    Despite the success of Imperial forces in defending that forward system during the last war, vigilance
    is important if the Zhodani have not learned the Imperium is serious about peace.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F  2  Hi Cp   810  Im  M2 VI)                            Date: 245-1113
    With the announcement, just over three months ago, of a contract with the Naasirka Corporation, early
    elements of the construction fleet have left for the Denuli system.  With speculation still swirling
    over the activity, experts suggest Imperial personnel may have identified a new sentient race in that
    system.  Quoting famed explorer Lord Sir Kaenkder, it would make the most sense given the activities
    being carried out there.

    Opposing opinions point out the location of the system in District 268.  Two parsecs riftward of the
    Flammarion system(Sword Worlds) and three trailing of the Iderati system(Five Sisters), this would
    place another Imperial Scout base in the sphere forming around the Enos system, a Sword World Confederation
    system.  These are along with bases in the Bowman, Walston, and Caladbolg systems.  Many analysts
    point to just that military chain of systems both in regard to Enos, because of the world's Isolation
    from the rest of the Confederation as well as increasing the Imperial presence in District 268.

    Many interstellar commenters point out that every increase in Imperial forces in that nominally
    independent subsector of space can do nothing but help to reduce instability in the region.  This
    is key when viewing conflicts from simmering actions between Trexalon and its neighbors, to the hot
    war in the Singer system.  While detractors have expressed concern this will increase both tensions
    in the region and the possibility of Imperial forces being drawn into local conflicts, Spokesbeings
   for the Imperial Navy have stated this concern is over blown.

While they watched the news, Fesic had woken, done his morning routine and come out to eat and join Mikah, Zimzod and Rol.  It was while the four of them sat that Jocelynn arrived back at the suite, hoping there would have been a lot fewer people awake to see her return.  And while they all saw her wearing the same "party outfit" she'd worn when she'd left the suite the night before, they could also tell she'd recently showered and was "wide" awake.  Another thing they noticed was that Jocelynn's outfit was "rumpled".

With a trick of surprise in her voice, Jocelynn said, "Hi....guys."  Turning more fully towards Jocelynn, Mikah said, "Hi.  Where you been?" in a tone which said, 'We know what you did last night!'  Caught in the limelight, Jocelynn wanted to answer, but was caught with a mangled "Uh" in her throat that prompted a grinning Mikah to coyly and invitingly say, "Don't lie."  Fesic shook his head, saying, "And I thought we had a late night!"  Shrugging, Jocelynn tried to advance, "Just...  Out partying with the...  Girl from HR and her friends."  Looking at the cron on the wall, Mikah pushed back, "This late?  Really?"

Jocelynn just shrugged and said, "Well.  You know."  Trying to change the conversation, Jocelynn said, "The good news is I might have a lead on a new cargo sealer."  While the ladies talked, Rol and Zimzod both realized not only that Jocelynn had showered but that she appeared "freshly" showered.  Jocelynn's hopes to have changed the conversation died when Zimzod pointed at Rol and said, "He wants to know if he could smell your underwear?"  Jocelynn first made a face and said, "Eww!" before saying, "He could if I were wearing any." while changing her expression to a smirk.

That got laughs from everyone in the room and Jocelynn just shook her head and sighed in mock despair.  Looking her up and down again, Rol asked, "It was a great night out, huh?" and Jocelynn said, "Yeah, it was."  Gamely trying again, she continued, "And the good news is I may have gotten us a lead on a cargo sealer."  Zimzod grunted, "Alright" and Rol said, "Nice."  Mikah laughed and said the only person who'd get excited over that would be Fesic, and Fesic answered, "Great" in an unenthusiastic voice.

Rol asked Jocelynn if she was hungry and she admitted she'd eaten.  He then asked, "You've had breakfast then?" and when she said she had, he said, "Wow."  Big spender."  Catching that, Jocelynn said, "Oh.  I didn't buy it."  With a new light in his eyes, Rol said, "Do tell?" and Zimzod leered and joked, "He wasn't talking about you."  Looking at Rol after a sigh of frustration, "Do tell?  What do you want to know?" and Rol eagerly asked, "Was the food good?" in a tone that invited her to give details.  Growling as if to say, 'Here.  Now take it and shut up', she said, "Yes.  It was very good."

Still smirking, Zimzod asked, "Got into a protein bar, aye?"  Shaking her head, Jocelynn just said, "Yes.  Yes.  Get your jokes in now."  and Mikah answered, "Yes, we will!" in a happy voice and with a smile on her face.  Then, Mikah changed her tone to coy again and added, "But, you know, you're not the only one who got some action last night."  As Jocelynn tried to ask, "Yeah, what happened?" thinking about the operation, Mikah smiled evilly and said, "Terin and Fesic had a thing last night."  And, the way Mikah had emphasized the word "Thing" could only suggest the "thing" had been intimate!  That stopped Jocelynn as she asked, "What?!" in shocked surprise.

Mikah and Zimzod tripped over their responses of "Oh yeah" and more as Jocelynn sputtered out at Fesic, "Are you guys a thing now??" without any hope of hiding any surprise in her voice.  When she asked for details, Rol said, "They really have to tell the story themselves." and Fesic said, "You're gonna have to wait for Terin to tell you the story so I can butt in."  That got even more laughs thanks to the pun they were not quite sure was "unintended".  More confused, Jocelynn just said, "Oh.  OK." while Mikah joked, "Is that what happened? to play on Fesic's pun and suggest it had all been Fesic's fault.

Pushing the conversation in the direction of her curiosity, Jocelynn asked, "So, what did happen last night?"  Either misreading the comment or not willing to let the conversation shift, Rol said, "Well, you're going to have to wait until he comes out of the closet" as Rol pointed at Terin's bedroom and got lots more laughs.  Realizing she was talking about getting the crystal back, Mikah said, "The mission was..." She then stopped to rethink her words before continuing, "It was, I guess, a success." in a voice that lacked any real enthusiasm.  Not sure what the hell that meant, Jocelynn almost demanded, "You guess?"  With more concern in her voice, she asked, "Did you get the stuff back?"

When Zimzod said "Yeah." Jocelynn shrugged and said, "Then, it's a success."  Rol agreed, "Yep, as far as we know." and Jocelynn asked, "Did you kill anyone?"  She was still confused over the apparent non-committal tones in their voices and the semi-certain answers they gave.  Immediately and comedically, Mikah asked, "Define killing?" as Zimzod muttered, "I wasn't there."  Jocelynn jutted out her right hip as she set her shoulders, fixed them with a glare that said 'am I going to get any real answers' and said, "Ceasing to exist."  Hearing that, Zimzod said, "Well, I guess, no then."  And making matters worse, Mikah said, "Well, no.  They still exist.  I mean, their bodies are there."

Zimzod turned to Mikah and said, "Yeah.  Yeah.  I guess that's true.  I mean, we didn't vaporize them." and Mikah agreed, Jocelynn held her hands up in surrender and said, "OK.  I think the less I know, the better."  Jocelynn told the others, "I'm going to change my clothes." and Rol sniped, "We'll invite you to the party next time."  Almost defensively, Jocelynn told him, "Hey.  I did my part."  With that, she left the others, going into her bedroom to change into more casual clothes.

Scanning through the news stories, Zimzod said he didn't see any news on the shootings and deaths they'd been involved with on the station channels.  Mikah suggested no one cared because the crimes had been "in the bad section of the station".  It was also suggested crime in that part of the station was more frequent, so it wasn't really news.  That was argued because "any" fire-arms based crimes would be a big deal on the station normally.  It was also suggested that events were so new, and had happened so early that morning that there were no, or few, witnesses.  Or that security had not released any statements about those events.

Later on, after Jocelynn had changed and come out of her bedroom, she pointed at Fesic and demanded, "By the way.  Why is it, when he goes and sleeps with some chick in a tube, no one says anything.  I come home and I get the third degree!"  Before anyone else could answer her, Zimzod looked up from where he was relaxing and sitting and said, "Because we honestly thought he was gay." as he also pointed at Fesic.  As Zimzod said that, Jocelynn actually remembered all the crap Zimzod had given Fesic over that night.  Reconsidering, Jocelynn said, "That may still be true, depending on how this story comes out.  Or, maybe he's bi now?"

Eventually, Aiden got back to the suite after his workout and swim.  He changed and joined the others in relaxing and casual group harassment of Jocelynn until Terin came out of his bedroom to find all eyes turned towards him.  Looking around, he said, "Good morning everyone" in a tone laden with both welcome and invitation to fill him in on whatever mystery had made him the center of attention?  He was even more surprised when Jocelynn slapped the chair next to her and very invitingly said, "Terin!  Terin!  Terin!  Come sit here next to me." in her best 'Hey Girlfriend' tone.  Others in the room busted out laughing at both her invitation and the expression on his face.

Cutting into the laughter, Fesic threw some 'male on male' romance into his voice and patted the seat next to him and said, "No Terin.  Come sit with me."  Fesic also elongated the last word, "Me" to make the request sound like a needy appeal, getting even more laughs.  Mikah tried to quiet them all down so they could see where Terin chose to sit, as if it were one of those ancient animal-behavior ceremonies that people used to base predictions on.  That got even more laughs while Terin tried to sort out what the hell was going on?

Ignoring them all, Terin sat next to Jocelynn and then tried to ignore her while grabbing from the food platters to assemble himself some breakfast.  Still, Jocelynn said, "I want to hear this story, but only You can tell it!"  When Terin asked, "Only I can tell it?" in a confused tone, Jocelynn continued, "Of what happened last night between you and Fesic?"  Terin's shoulders slumped not only as understanding burst on him, but as he added to that the undercurrent of Jocelynn's excited tone.  Sighing, Terin said, "OK, so..." and everyone leaned in with Jocelynn excitedly saying, "Here we go!"

Terin ignored that and said, "So, as you know, we were trying to get this crystal back." and Jocelynn said, "Right."  Terin went on, "Well, the guy went out the front door and I'm chasin' him down the concourse.  So, I'm chasing the guy and he's starting to pull away from me a little bit.  The guy was a hell of a runner.  So, I'm out, full out running and I hear a horn behind me, and I look behind me and I see Fesic coming.  So, I moved over and Fesic pulled along next to me so I could get into the van.  Then, he guns it and runs this fucking guy over.  And I mean, like, klunk-klunck kah-klunk-klunk."

Some were amused at Terin's sound effects and hand movements as he got into telling the tale.  Aiden only asked Terin, "Jealous much?" as if anyone would be idiotic enough to compare Fesic running someone over with any erotic attention at all.  Zimzod then told Fesic, "You should have put your hand out the window and clothes-lined his ass."  Fesic said he'd wanted to do that to Terin but the navigator had been on the wrong side of the van.  That got lots of laughs from everyone except Terin.

Continuing the story, Terin said, "So, we get out of the van and run over to the guy and he's a mess.  He's still alive, but he's a fuckin' mess.  Interrupting, Jocelynn asked, "You left him alive?  That's probably not a good thing."  Terin waved that off with his right hand as he said, "He wasn't going to live long."  Terin then qualified that saying, "Well, I doubt he was gonna live long." as Jocelynn said, "Oh.  OK."  Continuing, Terin said, "But, like I said, there was already sirens in the background, Security was coming, I searched the guy's pockets and found the crystal."

"So, we get in the van.  And the whole friggin' front of the van, and the bottom of it, is covered in blood and gore.  So, we jump in the van and we take off, and make a couple of turns down some side streets and stuff.  And we find a convenience store and I go in and get some shit to clean it up with.  And I could get, at least, the front cleaned up so you couldn't see any blood on it but I didn't have either the time or the materials to clean the bottom."

"And right then, security pulled up to us and sees the broken light-bar.  And he says, 'Well, What happened?'  And Fesic goes, 'Well, we hit a garbage can.'  And the officer said, 'No.  Really.  What happened?'  And we said, 'Really.  We hit a garbage can.'  And the officer said, 'Tell us what really happened?'  And, me and Fesic look at each other and we have nothing.  So, I go, 'Well, I kind of distracted him'."  As he spoke, Terin changed the tone and speech of the last sentence to have been said in a very effeminate manner.  Terin finished, "And Fesic said that was how I distracted him."

Nodding, Mikah said, "And you did a good job too!" and gave him a thumbs up.  Nodding, Jocelynn said, "Actually Terin, that is fucking brilliant."  Breaking the moment of silent approval that followed that, Zimzod asked, "So, Fesic.  Did you get a chance to finish?" with a huge smile on his face.  After a sudden pause, everyone in the room burst out laughing at Zimzod's comment.  When the laughs started dying down, Zimzod called out "Road Head!" and got more laughs.

Jocelynn came back saying, "That's pretty smart." but Terin cut her off saying, "Security really didn't give a fuck.  They said careless driving and threw a bunch of tickets on him, they impounded the van and we just have to hope they don't notice there was blood on it and shit, or we're all fucked."  Zimzod spoke up then, saying, "Obviously, they didn't.  Because they called me up and gave me the repair order and they never talked about any gore on it."  The others let out surprised cries as Zimzod said, "That part cost me Cr 7,000 on that one, but...  As long as that little issue went away."

Terin was about to answer Zimzod but Mikah cut him off, saying, "And, as long as Terin and Fesic had a good time." in a tone of satiric completeness.  A number of the others agreed and Terin tried to turn things on Jocelynn saying, "I think Jocelynn had a much better time."  She protested, saying, "No.  No.  No.  Don't try to turn this on me!"  Pushing him further off her, Jocelynn continued in a more conversational tone, "Well, Terin, I'm impressed with your quick thinking."  Looking at her, Terin said, "Well, thank you." before turning to the others and mildly growling, "At least someone is."

Zimzod protested, saying, "I gave you a 'great job' and a thumbs up on that." in mock anger.  Still shaking her head a bit, Jocelynn said, "I'm impressed you guys got out of it actually." and Terin said it was pure luck.  Fesic said, "Terrance does a great job." with a smirk on his face and Terin said, "That I do." while he ignored the snipe and some of the others laughed.  With an approving tone in his voice, Rol said, "I think we've got a new team here."  After that, the jokes wound down to chatter about the parts each of them had played in events and how everything had worked out.

While some were happy they hadn't screwed up their ability to visit the port, Zimzod reminded them they still had lots of time to screw things up before they left.  After that, Fesic logged into the port's administration sites to see what was needed for him to register to handle trade and cargo agreements for their ship in the port?  What he found was that the port charged a Cr 500 registration fee that had to be submitted with the completion of an on-line registration form.  The port estimate was that it usually took twenty-four hours for credentials to be approved.

The documents also made it clear Megacorporations and other recognized in-system trading firms could make their deals without certifying with the port, because those firms paid for special circumstances.  This was a quiet nod to members of those corporations who were registering.  Private deals could also be made without certification, but the parties still had to update the port about cargo transfers.  Of course, Fesic knew that only mattered in the port's sphere of control and observation.  Outside that, parties in space could do as they pleased so long as the system navy or an odd Imperial patrol didn't happen by.

Not having the cash for the registration himself, Fesic went to Mikah and Zimzod to explain the situation and ask for ship's funds.  Fesic also reminded them that they'd have the ship back in a couple of days so they should get the paperwork done now instead of being delayed because they waited.  Fesic also asked what system they were planning to go to next, so he could start looking for cargoes to book?  Overhearing, Rol asked if they'd ever designated Fesic as the ship's steward, which would be the person caring for passengers.  Mikah said, "No.  Poof, you're the steward." as she waved a finger.

Fesic said he thought the cargo position was the Supernumery, which it was.  Jocelynn said, "I thought he was the cabin boy?" and got lots of laughs as Mikah waved it away with a hand and said, "Whatever."  Rol added to the laughs pointing out Terin was the cabin boy and Mikah had to admit he was right thanks to Terin's indentured status.  After considering giving him a hard time about the Cr 500, Mikah approved the payment so Fesic could go ahead and apply for the certification.  After she approved the cash, Mikah realized she'd made Fesic happy and announced comedically that she couldn't have that!

Zimzod smiled evilly and said, "That's OK.  We could actually kick that stool out from under him later." and Mikah agreed they could.  Rol joined in, joking, "We know one person who can make him happy." and Jocelynn said, "I think it's nice" just before Terin, shaking his head, said "The gift that keeps on giving." in a long-suffering tone.  That just got people laughing even more.  When that died down a bit, Mikah asked, "Are you guys gonna share a cabin from now on?" and everyone laughed even more. 

When Mikah said they could carry more passengers that way, Fesic said, "We can shove Terin out the air-lock too, and get the same thing." with a smile.  Everyone except Terin laughed.  With Fesic working on his on-line form and the chatter about the night before done, Aiden went to do some hours of stent work.  Rol picked up his long unattended communications training while Mikah changed into a bikini and went to the hotel pool.  Seeing Mikah in the bikini, Zimzod went to watch Mikah swim.

Terin also settled in to do stent work while Jocelynn went into her bedroom to take a nap.  The morning started burning away until forty minutes before lunch.  Just before the chef and his team arrived, Aali and Emkir made their appearance out of the bedroom.  While Emkir wasn't moving any better, he said he was feeling a bit better and he and Aali planned to go to a chiropractor as Mikah had prescribed.  Having gotten back from her swim, Mikah noticed Aali helping Emkir set up a padded spot to sit on and realized they hadn't ordered him a sitting pad, inflatable or no.

When she started talking about that, Aali mentioned a number of options, but said some, like grav belts, were a good bit too expensive for the system.  Mikah said she wasn't so sure, because the ship could use one for anyone who needed it in the future if the ship bought it.  "And", she said as she pointed at Rol, "we can let him use it to keep him from falling out of air-rafts in the future too."  That got laughs from the others, and confused Jocelynn.  Delaying getting changed after coming back from swimming, Mikah decided to go online and see what her options were?

On the low end, Mikah found an inflatable "seat insert".  That would be put on a regular seat, and had compartments and micro-pumps.  They adjusted the air pressure in each compartment to allow the injured to sit comfortably.  Beyond inflatable solutions, there were gel-filled solutions and grav solutions.  Checking the high-end solutions, Mikah saw that grav belts which started to be produced at Tech level 12 were Very expensive here in the Inthe system because local tech was level 9.  That meant any advanced tech had to be imported, so it was only available at a high rate of exchange.

Not very happy with the prices she was seeing, Mikah checked and saw there was a network connection to the Order House.  Mikah checked that because they sometimes had specialty goods at better than "street" prices.  When she did, Mikah found a sales forum there where one Knight could offer items to other members of the Order.  Checking that site, Mikah was surprised to find a Baronette Sir Mayar Eyarsa had arrived in port the day before, and had just listed items he was "cleaning out" of his yacht.  And one of the items he'd listed was a used grav belt, priced for only Cr 15,000!  Seeing those imported and for sale "New" were selling locally for Cr 60,000 to 80,000, this was a deal and she contacted the Baronette as soon as she saw it.

It was hard to say if Mikah was more surprised to get directly through to the Baronette's Concierge without having to fight for a connection or if the concierge was more surprised to be taking a connection to face a brunette in a bikini top with still-wet but drying hair?  Not letting the man catch his balance, Mikah summoned all of her official persona and addressed the man, introducing herself down her nose and using all her titles.  That got the man's full attention as Mikah asked if the Baronette's grav belt was still on offer?  Told it was, Mikah said she had a staff member who'd been injured and she required it be delivered to her suite because her yacht would not be released from the shipyards until the next day.  If, that was, it was in good working order?

From that point on, Mikah asked questions about the belt and why it was being sold?  She was even given an on-vid demonstration when the Concierge had another of the yacht's crewmen get into the belt and move around in it to Mikah's orders.  She learned quickly from the answers of the Concierge that the device, in proper working order, was being "dumped" because the Baronette preferred his grav bike.  So, Mikah made the purchase and the Concierge promised the belt would be delivered in under an hour.  Mikah transferred the cash from the ship's account and then told Emkir and Aali about it after cutting the connection.

The two thanked her and said they had planned to get Emkir to a chiropractor after lunch, since they'd woken up so close to having lunch.  Mikah nodded and gave Emkir an examination with her hand scanner, to keep track of his progress.  As they talked about the belt, Mikah again mentioned that Rol could use it after Emkir was healed, to keep him from falling out of things.  Zimzod joked they could put Rol in it and punch him to see if he'd spin cartwheels, and got laughs.

Fesic jumped on his own apparent 'theme of the day' and said they could space him for free in a couple of days and others laughed.  Then, Rol suggested they get the belt a remote control.  Zimzod added, "And a shock collar.  And a gimp mask!"  Hearing that, Jocelynn said, "Eww!" and moved away from the laughing XO.  Terin commented on people getting carried away and Zimzod apologized though it was obvious he really didn't care.  When Terin tried to heap on the pile with his own comments, Aali interrupted him saying, "They know what you like to do in port cars.  Don't worry."

People laughed hard at that and then Zimzod pointed at Terin and said, "We're just trying to help you be you, buddy!" with a huge and evil smile on his face.  That was said as people started settling down for lunch and, after the chef and his people left, they went through all the stories from the night before again to bring Emkir and Aali up to speed.  In place of the name IRIS, Zimzod said "our friends" to not spill the beans to Jocelynn, who'd decided long ago there were some things she was too low on the pay scale to know.  She was also used to it, having been in the Marine Corps.

After lunch, everyone except Emkir and Aali were deciding what to do?  They decided to wait until the grav belt arrived and then hire a taxi to the chiropractor.  Mikah put her examination and treatment notes on a tablet for them to take with them so the doctor would have what she'd compiled on Emkir's injury.  She didn't give Emkir any pain meds because she didn't want to interfere with what the chiropractor might do to help Emkir.  Fesic was thinking about taking a nap when Terin suggested they go to a bar.  Not the brightest thing to do when sleepy, as Zach and Munarshu had both proved in their time.  Fesic shot the idea down, saying it was more of a night time thing to do.  Fesic then decided to grab some sleep.

Aiden had stepped to a terminal to check on the auction he'd set for his high passage and saw it was currently sitting at Cr 7,500.  He considered that before deciding to leave it for the next day.  After lunch, he logged into the port net and went shopping for ammo.  Eventually, he ordered a 50 round box of HEAP ammo for his snub pistol, costing Cr 500.  For his LAG, he bought a 50 round box of discarding sabot ammo for Cr 900, a second box of 50 rounds of flechette ammo for another Cr 900 and a final box of 100 HEAP rounds for Cr 1,000.  With a delivery fee, it was a total of Cr 3,350 and the ammo would be delivered to the Upgrade for him once she was out of the work bay, due to the very military nature of the ammo.

Of course, with 460 rounds of varied LAG rounds, 420 rounds of Snub pistol ammo, 100 rounds Auto-pistol ammo, 300 rounds ACR ammo and 80 rounds of gauss rifle ammo, he was running out of space to put things in his stateroom!  Added to that, it was a joke that he had more personal ammo than some small nations on Porozlo.  Especially with his unwillingness to actually go out and use it in the field.  After his shopping, Aiden sat back to read and entertain himself.  Jocelynn decided to sit and relax in the suite and watch vids.  Rol also shopped, at first, buying locks for the four carry cases for his four fire arms.  That cost him Cr 100 total with the delivery charge.  Those would be delivered to the suite.

After shopping, Rol went out to the hotel's gym to do some calisthenics.  Aiden set aside his reader and said he'd go to the gym too, to do weights and get a workout.  When he got back, he planned to do some stent work and hoped Aali would be back from the chiropractor with Emkir to do stent work.  Mikah decided to spend the afternoon relaxing in the suite, sharing the space with Aiden.  That was until Zimzod looked at her and asked, "Wanna make like Fesic and Terin?"  After she, and those around her finished laughing, they talked about the grav controls their bedroom had and decided to spend the afternoon "experimenting".  Slipping into the bedroom, Zimzod said, "I'll be Fesic" and Terin joked that meant Mikah would have to get a strap on.

Not long after lunch, the grav belt was delivered and Emkir put it on, instantly feeling better for not having weight on his hips and tailbone.  They then called a cab, because Aali had researched chiropractors in their bedroom while Emkir slept that morning.  The cab ride cost Cr 25, and the chiropractor's visit another Cr 200.  While they were out, Rol and Terin got back from the gym.  Mikah and Zimzod were also in the living room having satisfied their desires and gravity experimentation.

Looking around, Rol suggested they call up and watch a movie and asked who was interested?  Not really up for doing anything else, the others agreed and Jocelynn even volunteered to make popcorn.  When they talked about what kind of movie, Rol suggested a comedy and it was asked if they hadn't had a comedy the night before?  Jocelynn said that had been more like a comedy of errors.  Someone joked about looking for "Dork In Cheek: The Adventures of Terin and Fesic" and got more laughs.

Emkir and Aali got back near the end of the movie, and they could see Emkir was certainly feeling much better.  The chiropractor had given him an inflatable doughnut for use when Emkir couldn't use the grav belt, or it was inappropriate.  Emkir also scheduled another appointment for Wednesday morning, expecting he could get that in before they got the ship back.  From there, he hoped the autodoc on the ship would help after they got moving.  The crew relaxed until after they'd had dinner, and then Rol suggested a bar hop.

Terin said he'd join Rol but Mikah suggested they stay close, saying they should go to a bar in the hotel.  She also said she'd join in.  Zimzod first said he preferred to stay in the suite and rest, but decided to join in when Mikah said she would.  But, he made sure to say he wouldn't drink to get drunk.  Mikah seconded that.  Jocelynn joined in but Emkir and Aali said they'd stay in, because he had been given drugs so he shouldn't drink alcohol.  Eventually, everyone else was going except Aiden and Zimzod called him a pussy.

Catching that, Jocelynn complained in a friendly way, "You never go with us.  Come on!"  Zimzod shot out, "I don't think he likes us." and, when Aiden argued that wasn't the case Zimzod continued, "Sure it is."  Putting mock emotion in his voice, Zimzod started, "I'm feeling..."  Mikah finished in a flat tone, saying, "He's feeling hurt" before Zimzod finished the thought himself with even more mock emotion.  When Jocelynn asked Aiden, "You don't wanna make Zimzod cry do you?" Aiden enthusiastically told her "YES!"

Not giving up, Jocelynn asked, "Come on.  Come out with us." and Aiden visibly considered it while Rol added, "It could be your last day on Inthe."  Jocelynn turned to Rol and ribbed him about the sights on "this lovely and exotic starport." in a satiric tone.  Mikah encouraged, "You might even meet a vargr chick.  You never know."  Despite the laughs, Mikah was reminded vargr "friends" had been Inger's thing, not Aiden's."  When Aiden let loose with one of his trademark groans of "Great", Zimzod answered, "Hey!  I'm not judging anybody man.  You're down with the exotic?  Go for it.  It's your bag and your space flu!"

Bowing to the pressure, Aiden said, "Fine.  But I'm drinking non-alcoholic drinks."  Jocelynn told him, "No you're not.  You're coming.  Come on."  When Aiden insisted he'd drink no alcohol, Jocelynn said, "At least you're going.  That's the important thing."  As things got moving, Jocelynn asked if she could call Jack and invite him?  She was told she could but got enough looks she qualified that by saying, "I might as well introduce you to...  Where I was last night." with the last part in a somewhat sheepish tone.

No one was planning to drink that much, so they all got to meet Jack when he arrived.  They learned that the company he worked for, Argaar Lahkhiaad, sold container shipping space and contracted shipping cargo to large freighters, both interstellar and in-system.  When they heard that, Jocelynn happily announced, "Fesic!  Have at it."  She then reconsidered how that sounded to the rest of the crew, given the events of the night before.  Then, Jocelynn stuttered through trying to make it clear she only thought Fesic would like to talk to Jack about cargo.  The rest of the crew laughed harder while Jack wondered what he'd missed?

Fesic got even more laughs when he stepped up to Jack and offered his hand as a lady would and said, "Well, hello." very much in the manner of a diva.  After another few rounds of jokes Jocelynn made it clear that Fesic was their cargo crewmember and they could have a lot to talk about.  She did add, "If you want to go that way, you can but you might piss him off."  She pointed to Terin as she said that.  Fesic was interested in seeing what Jack or his company could do for cargo, and Jack did make polite conversation while it was clear he was only really there because Jocelynn was.

He didn't clam up and simply wait for a chance to lure Jocelynn off either, though.  He hung out and talked with whoever wanted to chat.  Not wanting to get into details about why they needed a cargo sealer, Fesic asked about his access to sales of them and was told Jocelynn must have misunderstood.  Jack explained that his department was a support and service department when something went wrong for a shipper and their plans or paid-for contract.  So, the cargo was usually already sealed when it was delivered.

Nodding, Fesic hit Jack with his 'straightest face' when he asked, "Do you do disposal of bodies?"  Jocelynn's face hit her palm as she quietly cursed and more loudly said, "He's just kidding" while swinging a kick at Fesic under the table.  Still, as Jack had looked at him and snapped, "What?" the strained quality of Jocelynn's voice and her thready forced laughter made it clear she wasn't comfortable with or happy about Fesic's comment.

Because Jocelynn lashed out at Fesic with very little self-control, the gunner had no reason to reign in his reaction as he yelled, "Ow!" when kicked.  And the kick was certainly gonna leave a bruise.  Terin muttered, "Aim higher" with a smirk at both Jocelynn and Fesic.  As things calmed down, Fesic admitted, "That was a joke." and also admitted it was in poor taste.  Jocelynn did push the idea that they were looking for contacts to help them get cargo to carry.  And while Jack's firm mostly dealt with shipping in the thousands or millions of tons, there were broken shipments and other small-shift jobs.

Still, Jocelynn was disappointed at that, but even the nearly fifty tons the Update could haul "might" be useful for some things.  Of course, that would suffer for any sand cannisters they loaded in, or if they had an x-mail safe installed like they'd had aboard the Hotel California.  Aiden also said they weren't sure if they were leaving the system in two days, or taking the repaired ship out for a shakedown cruise and testing?  Zimzod said he was really in favor of taking the ship out for a test spin or two before leaving and Mikah agreed.

Stuck on cargo and the cargo sealer, because she wanted to keep her battledress, Jocelynn was a grunt and not really interested in technical issues or supplies past food.  That meant she didn't take part in the side conversations about sand cannisters and other items.  Jocelynn was also brought up on how the crew had gotten the sealer they had and learned a bit about Inger's SPA connections.  What Jocelynn didn't learn was why the rest of the crew seemed to think the SPA hated them, or at least were holding something seriously against them?

During the evening, as they all relaxed and talked, Terin was not nearly as quiet about "finding female companionship" as he thought.  Noticing first, Zimzod suggested he might get lucky if he found a woman who wanted to turn him straight.  Jocelynn came up with the idea of calling Idbarga, to see if she wanted to join them?  When the others said to go for it, she found Idbarga very eager to join them thanks to her interest in celebrities.  Especially when Jocelynn said she'd be introducing her to "the crew".  Idbarga was so excited about meeting "all of them" that she even asked if she could bring some of her friends?  Jocelynn said "Sure.  There are enough guys in this crew." and the call ended.

It didn't take as long as they thought it might after the call ended before Idbarga showed up with two other women.  The girls with Idbarga were a blonde dressed for a party and a somewhat elegantly dressed brunette.  Idbarga was dressed for a party, though her outfit was more on the slutty side of things.  Zimzod watched from where he sat with Mikah and Rol.  Fesic and Terin moved up to be introduced.  Aiden also sat watching from beneath the shadow of his own fear of anything at all going wrong.  Unknown to Rol, Idbarga had done her homework and moved up to attach herself to him as the most famous of Mikah's "crewmen".

News of his elevation still hadn't faded completely in this stretch of space.  And with the crew's arrival in system, those old bits of news had resurfaced in addition to his having been awarded the Starburst.  Between that and the tidbits about Lady Mikah and her crew, Rol was the choicest of morsels she could choose from the whole set.  That didn't bother Rol, despite the fact he had no idea of the full extent of her plans.  But when she suggested they go someplace private fairly quickly, he was the first to bring someone home to his bedroom in the suite.

Terin ended up with the brunette, a girl named Kadika, and Fesic ended up with the blonde named Irlada.  Eventually, they all decided to bring their "dates" back to the suite and laughed about freaking out Aali and Emkir.  Jocelynn laughed and called out for Aiden to lock his bedroom door if he wanted to get any sleep that night.  Realizing they'd been abandoned as each of the new couples left one by one, Mikah, Zimzod and Aiden went back to the suite together.

In the end, Terin, Rol and Fesic spent about Cr 35 on drinks while Jack bought Jocelynn's drinks after her initial Cr 10.  Aiden spent Cr 20 on his shirley temples.  As they walked back, Jocelynn did ask Aiden, "See?  Didn't you have fun?" and Aiden told her, "It was quite fascinating."  Nodding, Jocelynn said, "Baby steps, I guess." and Zimzod said, "Maybe, he's the one who's gay?"  Turning to Zimzod, Jocelynn said, "Maybe you should try it out?"  Because Mikah had Zimzod and Aali had her broken Emkir, the only person in the suite who spent the night alone was Aiden as the night passed to morning.

A Surprise Encounter

     Jocelynn was the first in the suite to wake, next to her short-term play toy.  Realizing it was a good bit earlier than she'd wanted to wake up, Jocelynn went to the bathroom and got back into bed to try and get more sleep.  Lucky for her, she was sleepy enough that she was able to fade off for, if only for a bit.  A short time later, in their bedrooms, Terin woke up on his own while Rol had the "assistance of his date" to wake up.  As Rol and Idbarga got busy, Terin went to the bathroom before coming back to invite Kadika to have "shower sex" with him.  Following the shower, Terin pulled Kadika back into the bed for more sex.

It seemed to Jocelynn she had only just drifted off back to sleep when she was woken up by her boy-toy's exploring hands and insistent desires.  Submitting because she was too tired to teach Jack a lesson for waking her up, the two joined the other couples who were awake in "not leaving their bedrooms any time soon".  That meant that when Emkir and Aali came into the suite's common spaces, the chef had been, the food was sitting out getting cold and the space was devoid of others.  Using the new hover belt to good measure, Emkir drifted past the various bedroom doors to hear moaning, groaning and other sounds of pleasure while waxing poetic about his injuries preventing him from taking Aali back to bed, to please her in his usual manly fashion.

Aali sat while Emkir drifted and they ate, relaxed and waited for the others.  Finally, the rest of the crew started waking up and the only surprise was that Fesic found Irlada had left!  Coming more aware of his surroundings, Fesic wondered if she'd woken up earlier and gone into the suite's living room?  But, after he threw a shipsuit on and checked, he learned from Emkir and Aali that she wasn't there, so she must have left.  Shrugging, Fesic muttered, "I don't look that pretty in the cold light of day." and returned to his bedroom.  Cleaning his bedroom and himself, Fesic found his shirt from the night before was gone!  Checking further, Fesic realized Irlada had been a souvenir hunter.  Shrugging again, Fesic started his morning routine.

People soon came out of their bedrooms to a joyous welcome from Emkir and Aali, who joked they thought they'd been abandoned.  When Zimzod and Mikah were the first to make an appearance, Zimzod asked them why they thought they'd been abandoned?  Lying, Emkir smiled and said, "Because no one else has come out of their bedrooms yet."  Hearing that, Zimzod smiled broadly as he took a seat at the table and said, "Oh goody!  Let the session begin."  He obviously had some comedic harassment in mind.  Fesic made his appearance next, and had to own up to the fact Irlada had stolen his shirt and left.

Mikah asked him where his date was and Zimzod asked what happened?  When Fesic said she'd left earlier that morning, Zimzod smiled and asked, "What happened?  Did she see your face?" and laughed.  Fesic started to say, "Apparently, she'd heard some members of the crew like to give razzings to..." Zimzod interrupted him and said, "They're not razzing.  They're sessions." with a grin on his face.  Nodding, Fesic said in a prim tone, "Yes.  She heard about our sessions and left early to escape them."  Zimzod shrugged and said, "Her loss."

When Fesic told them about the stolen shirt, Zimzod admitted he'd had a date do that with his K-bar.  Soon, they were sitting and chatting while Fesic also ate, and they waited for the others.  When the couples started coming out of their bedrooms, Terin tried to be gallant and asked Kadika if she'd join them for breakfast?  While she said she would, Idbarga said she had to hurry so she could get to work, even if it was just down in the hotel offices.

Looking at Idbarga, Jocelynn could see the woman was happy and gave her a wink.  Idbarga turned a glance at Jack before giving Jocelynn a smile back.  Catching the actions, Jack started to laugh quietly and the others joined in.  When Jocelynn asked, "Is there something I don't know?" she was reminded she and the crew were just a drop in the bucket that was their entire lives.  So there was a lot she didn't know.  Pointing at Rol, Zimzod asked Idbarga, "So, tell me.  When he finally ejaculated, did he blow out dust?"

Taken completely by surprise, Idbarga had no idea how to answer that so she shot Zimzod a look like he was weird and looked to Jocelynn saying, "You have the weirdest crewmate."  Nodding, Jocelynn said, "I do.  Yes." as if she were admitting she knew how to operate a firearm.  Terin threw in, "But, we have a lot of fun." and Idbarga grabbed a quick 'plate to go' before she had to get moving.  Quickly after that, Jack told Jocelynn he had to go too.  Disappointed, she said good bye to the two of them and told Idbarga they'd likely see each other later.

So Kadika was the only one who could stay for breakfast and Terin asked her if she wanted to go out to a museum while he was still on the station?  She said she did, so long as he was willing to go with her to her place so she could change?  When Terin said he was up for that and she asked what kind of museum he had in mind?  Terin told her it was all up to her.  He went further, to tell her, "Today is your day."  Hearing that, Zimzod cracked, "Wow dude!  You are grateful!"

Fesic joked, "Barbie doll museum it is!" and Terin ignored them while thinking to himself, 'That's Ok.  At east I know my girl is gonna be back tonight for more sex while yours is off in the wind.'  Meanwhile, Kadika came up with the "Museum of Vehicle Design and Manufacture".  It had largely holographic display examples of the vehicles built and in use on Inthe.  Chatting a bit more about it, they learned there were ground car racing circuits on-world and she was a big fan.  And it sounded very interesting to Terin, so he was up for it too.

Terin had spent very little time in a ground car over his life, including the adventure in the port-van on-station.  So, he was excited to see if they had simulators and other "actual experience" rides even though the place was described as largely holographic.  So, after they had breakfast, Terin and his lady friend left for the day with him expecting that she'd be back in his bed later that evening.  With their playthings gone, Jocelynn looked at Fesic and asked, "Want to do something?" and Fesic said, "Sure."

Neither of them knew what they wanted to do, but it was their last day before they got the ship back and wanted to do "something".  Jocelynn wanted to visit the holographic Zoological Exhibition she'd learned about with Rol the other night, but neither she nor Fesic were members of the Chivalry Order the others were.  And that had been presented by the Order House, for its members and their guests.  When she said that, Rol agreed to bring them as guests so they could get in.  That decided, those three got ready to head off and enjoy their day.

While he ate, Aiden checked on his auction and saw the High Passage was still sitting at a top bid of Cr 7,500.  Freezing the auction, Aiden sent a message to the high bidder offering to sell at that price and was not waiting long before the buyer agreed.  By that time, Jocelynn, Fesic and Rol were getting ready to go and she said Aiden could come with them if he wanted.  After considering it, Aiden agreed to join in and got ready to go with them.  Seeing this was becoming a crew field trip, Mikah and Zimzod decided to go too, though Zimzod figured he'd spend time at the Order House meeting and chatting with members.

Terin enjoyed his day, which included paying for the cab to Kadika's place and then to the museum as well as lunch and the entry fees.  That eventually led to dinner.  Near the end of the meal, they got a call from Jocelynn saying she, Aali and Fesic were going for drinks and wanted to know if they wanted to come?  When he asked Kadika, she disappointed him because she worked the night shift and had to go home to prepare for that after dinner.  Hearing that, Terin first asked how long she had before she needed to be at work?

When she said two hours, he suggested they leave for her place now and have some fun before she had to get ready?  She said no, and told him she had to do more than just get changed and needed to prepare for work.  Saying, "I'm only in port for one more night.  Can't you just blow it off?" and even Jocelynn, who heard him over the comms, made fun of him.  So, while Terin could catch up to them, adding taxi rides to drop her off and get back to the suite, he wasn't getting laid tonight.  His day ran him Cr 200 and left him home alone at the end of the day.

Those who went to the Order House enjoyed the displays, which let them schedule visits to feeding times for the extreme carnivores so they could joke about feeding people to the animals.  They did get to see a very interesting display on the "Wypoc Dragon", a very nasty life form which seemed to have evolved to flourish in that world's insidious environment.  What little interstellar income the world made beyond the chemicals mined was from hunters who came to "bag" a dragon.  And very often, they ended up remembered by their survivors.  At the same time, Zimzod relaxed and wandered the common rooms meeting other members and their guests.  Despite the many encounters, he didn't run into any contacts he considered interesting.  Still, he did file away the contacts just in case.

Deciding to have lunch at the Order House, eventually cost each of them Cr 40 with no one ordering any special coffee-based drinks or other "hard to find" treats.  They'd also window shopped in the outlets between there and the zoo, but didn't find anything of note.  It was impressive how broad a selection of rare or hard to find items were provided, not to mention higher tech goods and fine items.  It was as they sat waiting for their meal orders to be served when an elaborately dressed, if the gown was garishly colored, Vargr female moved quickly and directly up to Aiden.  A vargr female that Jocelynn and Rol suddenly recognized when they noticed the woman moving.  Mikah remembered her joke about him finding a vargr chick but had not meant it literally.

New Angles For Old Viewpoints

     All Aiden saw, at first, were the fur, the colors, the teeth and the coronet on her head!  Taking a firm straight stance in front of the pilot, and before anyone else could speak, she said, "You're Sir Aiden Radetsky.  Aren't you?" in a voice which was both calm and firm, despite the unspoken demand everyone subconsciously heard.  the words also sounded...odd...coming from a vargr mouth.  Again, before anyone could react, Jocelynn happily said, "Your Excellency!  What a surprise!"  "That" was when Aiden realized the circlet on the vargr's head did actually denote County rank and he wasn't having a stroke.

Still, the fact she had locked eyes with him was disconcerting at best as she said, "I read all about your elevation.  It's surprising to meet you in this system."  Mikah bit her tongue to stop herself when she suddenly realized she wanted to ask, "Why are you so short?"  Afraid to do anything at all, Aiden managed to say, "Thank you your Excellency.  How may I be of service?" which had nothing to do with her comment to him.  Lucky for Aiden, she was adept at dealing with stupefied citizens who's brains couldn't process simple conversation.  And, surprised at that level of formality from someone who'd gained fame as a Scout, the Countess said, "Nothing.  I'm just curious how your crew spent the night last night?"

When she said that, most of the crew felt their spines snap upright and rigid!  Not sure how he could possibly answer, Aiden managed to go for generalisms as he said, "Well, we have a very diverse crew with very diverse interests.  The Countess smiled because that answer spoke better for him than his first.  Knowing her smile was nothing new for most of the crew she also knew it was not at all a "settling sight" to most humans.  Then Countess Athkazuk said, "Some of my friends understand that, perhaps, you all had the same interest the other night."  And, with that, she finally scanned the entire group as some did better than others at controlling their expressions.

When Mikah asked, "Do you mean last night?" the Countess said she'd not been specific with the hint of her smile remaining on her muzzle.  Remembering what the Countess did for work, Jocelynn tried to quietly murmur, "Does she know what happened?"  And despite her very acute canine hearing, the Countess' ears didn't flick in her direction.  So, she either missed the remark or had remarkable self-control.  What bothered Rol and Jocelynn more was that the Countess worked and lived downwell.  So, why was she back up here in orbit again so soon?"

Being as general as possible herself, Mikah said, "What did we do?  "I don't know, it was so long ago." in an almost dreamy tone of voice.  Then, with a tone she wanted to sound both distracted and minimizing, Mikah said, "Stuff." and waved her hand as if the details were even more unimportant.  Still, the Countess' smile deepened as she then said, "Stuff must be exciting." and the vargr's eyes suggested she was enjoying some game only she was aware of.  Nodding and giving no more, Mikah admitted, "It can be."  Jocelynn figured 'all in' and asked, "What are you getting at, your Excellency?" in a less than hopeful tone.

Countess Athkazuk answered, "Oh, nothing at all" as if she'd come to talk with them on a whim.  Just interested in the people who visit the system."  Despite that, her eyes were lit with a fire that was, for now, secret.  When Jocelynn slowly asked, "Have you heard things?" in a tone that suggested she didn't want to know the answer, Countess Athkazuk waved a hand and answered, "Oh.  We hear things all the time." and it was her turn to sound dismissive.  But then, she continued, "You'd be amazed what we hear." and the tone this time was almost taunting as she stressed the word "amazed".

Standing there, Zimzod wasn't going to say Anything, because they weren't being arrested, so he wasn't going to walk the verbal plank and give the Countess whatever she was looking for.  And Mikah was pleased letting things sit as they were because the Countess seemed happy the way things stood too.  So Mikah did say, "We do stuff" and Zimzod casually asked, "How's it going with you Countess?"  Shrugging, Athkazuk said, "I'm just up here for a, shopping tour.  Mikah suddenly reacted, "Oh!  Shopping!" and Jocelynn added, "Yes!  We like shopping."

Jocelynn asked if she'd bought anything good and the Countess said she was looking for a new speeder.  On a world where "high tech" computer-assisted composite electric ground cars were the height of wealth, a speeder would be an interstellar stamp of luxury.  That surprised Mikah and Jocelynn while Zimzod first mistook it for a racing ground car.  Mikah quickly explained it was an anti-grav passenger car and Zimzod recognized his error.  They didn't have cars of any kind where he was raised.  They asked the Countess if she had her eyes on a specific model and she said, "I'm checking out my options.  Checking out performance information." with an air of mystery in her voice.

She continued to rattle off, "Everything from speed and control to anti-collision."  Jocelynn asked, "Would you like some help?" and the Countess started to say, "No, actually", before turning to look at Fesic.  Then, she finished, "The information on anti-collision especially, is very interesting."  The bell rang in Jocelynn's head as she told herself, 'Shit!  She knows!'  Lights also went on in Mikah and Aiden's heads as Mikah decided to roll the dice and said, "That was Terin's fault.  He distracted Fesic."

Going there, Mikah thought she was ready for what might come next, but wasn't prepared for it when the Countess answered, "Well, that is what the station security report said about the port-van."  That wasn't said as a question, and it came with a truly wolfish grin showing off a great many teeth.  The light in the Countess' eyes was even brighter as she enjoyed the wave of realization that shot through Mikah's team.  Jocelynn just looked at her and said, "So, you do know."  Giving Jocelynn the most innocent look a vargr could, the Countess asked, "Know what?"

Even more bizarre, Fesic waved his hand with his arm straight out in front of him and, in the most effeminate voice he could, said, "Boys will be boys."  Despite the situation, everyone burst out in laughter at that, and the laughing didn't die down for a bit.  When it did, Jocelynn asked, "Can we get you a drink, your Excellency?  Or...  Have you had lunch?  Would you like to join us?"  Nodding back at Jocelynn, she said she'd already eaten.  When Jocelynn asked if she'd like a drink, the Countess accepted and took a chair at their table.

Once Athkazuk sat down, Mikah remembered Jocelynn had said she worked for the Marquis and Imperial Intelligence, and asked, "So, how is the Marquis?  We spoke with him when we arrived."  Athkazuk casually said, "He's doing well.  He's...entertained with your entries in our daily reports."  Not too happy about that, Jocelynn softly said, "Oh.  I'm sure he is."  More thoughtfully, at first, Mikah said, "Well.  You know.  We're happy to...entertain."  The Countess snarked, "That's always valuable." and they had to wonder if it was for the laughs or for the information value of their activities?

When her drink arrived, the Countess sipped at it and asked if she could drop by their suite later that night?  Surprised yet again, Mikah and Zimzod both said "Sure" at the same time while Jocelynn said, "We'd be honored."  Recovering quickly, Mikah asked, "Can we have a special dinner for you?" and Jocelynn jumped on that saying, "Yeah, that would be fun!"  Still, Athkazuk waved that off asking for nothing special and Mikah asked, "Are you sure?"  She finished her drink and repeated that they didn't have to do anything before going on to chat with them about the station before she thanked them and moved on.

After that was done, they paid their bills and Mikah said they'd better go clean up the suite.  She also made it very clear "They" would clean up the suite and not call in a cleaning crew.  And they especially wanted to have a care for the scents in the suite, because the vargr had very acute senses of smell.  On the way back to the suite, Mikah called the service for their hired chef and let them know the crew had a special guest for dinner and wanted something nice that allowed for vargr tastes.

Getting back to the suite, they found Emkir had felt so much better thanks to the chiropractor the day before that he went back for another visit and was feeling even better now.  Still, the doctor saw the grav-belt and told Emkir not to sit or put weight on his lower back if he could avoid it for the coming weeks.  Giving him an examination herself, Mikah agreed that would last another week, but he was healing well.  Walking was another thing that was "out" for now.  Of course, that didn't stop Mikah from poking him hard where it would hurt and asking if it hurt, to remind him he'd been injured because of his own stupidity.

Dinner And Dropped Bombs

     After an afternoon GI party, the place looked pretty good when the chef arrived and they all sat down to relax.  Soon, while the chef cooked, the Countess arrived with her husband, Count Goksraoe Sondugzouz.  They came with two human "co-workers", and each of the four had what looked like some very advanced hand computers.  While the colors the vargr couple wore could best be described as 'garishly bizarre', thanks to how vargr eyes saw color, the humans were dressed in charcoal black.

With everyone seated, dinner was enjoyed and the conversation was inconsequential.  But after dinner, when drinks were served, the Countess said, "So.  We were curious what was on that data crystal?"  For the second time that day, the wave of shock the crew felt wasn't pleasant at all.  Zimzod was the first to recover, giving a muted "Hmm" before asking, "Data crystal?"  Countess Athkazuk answered directly, saying, "Yes.  The data crystal." in a tone which made it clear she had no doubts about what she was saying.  Still, her expression was polite.

Giving in, if only that much, Zimzod asked, "How did you know about the data crystal?"  Before anyone else could, Mikah chided him, "They're Imperial Intelligence." in a tone which said he should have known that.  She continued, "Don't try to hide anything.  They literally know."  When Zimzod delayed a bit more, Mikah snapped, "Just tell them." and Zimzod agreed.  He then said, "OK, what was on the crystal was information I believe to be information somebody was trying to smuggle off the base, that I intercepted.  And then it was stolen."

Nodding, the Countess asked, "Did you know what the information was about?  Did you look at it at all?"  Instead of telling her he'd shown it to the crew, Zimzod admitted, "I glimpsed it."  After a pause where she seemed to be considering how to respond, the Countess told him, "Well, the Marquis is aware of multiple Imperial operations going on on-world, not all of which he's privy to.  And he's always interested in learning more about what the Imperium is doing when they haven't filled him in on an operation?  Especially because operations that go sideways end up spilling into our laps."

The expressions on the faces of the Countess and others showed they'd had enough personal experience with that.  When Zimzod nodded and said, "Alright." the Countess asked, "So, is there something you can help us with?"  The comment made it clear she thought Zimzod was holding back information from her.  Considering what to say, Zimzod said, "What I looked at didn't look like it came from this planet, but..."  Athkazuk interrupted him to ask what it did look like?  Taking part of the leap, Zimzod admitted, "It looked like a vague Ancient site."

When she asked, "Vague?" Zimzod said, "Yeah, there really wasn't much about it.  It was just something that, it looked like something someone was trying to smuggle out.  So, it might not have even come from this quadrant."  Glancing at her husband and the humans with her, she turned back to Zimzod and said, "Well, it might interest you to know that there is an Imperial reserve which is restricted even as far as orbital over-flights.  That means even look-down satellites are not allowed."

Continuing, the Countess described the "reserve" as "Hundreds of square kilometers and the Marquis' office were not really sure what's going on there?  So, are you absolutely sure that appeared to not come from the Inthe system?"  Shaking his head, Zimzod stuck to his story saying, "Like I told you.  I've got no idea where it came from.  It just looked like someone was trying to covertly shoot it."  Nodding, she asked, "And who did you give this off to?"  Knowing IRIS was secret, even from other Imperial Intelligence organizations, Zimzod said, "We gave it off to proper authorities."

When Athkazuk gently pushed, "Who are?"  Zimzod refused to go further, saying, "I'm not at liberty to discuss that."  All of the crew members were very surprised that the Countess accepted that without pushing at all.  Not comfortable with the silence as the Countess considered her next questions, Zimzod continued, "But trust me.  It's in the right hands."  The four visitors also accepted that because Athkazuk didn't push on that issue further.

The Countess then said, "Do us a favor.  If ever something like this comes up again in the future, maybe drop a note to us."  and Zimzod nodded.  Mikah came out with, "I'd rather work for you." and Jocelynn said, "I agree."  Suddenly embarrassed because she had no idea who "any other intelligence organization" might be, she continued, "Not that I really know anything about it."  Looking at Mikah, the Count asked, "And you would rather work for us because...?"  That left a pause for Mikah, or anyone else in the crew, to fill as all eyes turned on her.

Realizing there wasn't much she could say, Mikah shrugged and answered, "Because."  In the pause which followed that, Rol stage whispered, "They throw better parties." and Zimzod joked, "Go with that one." as he pointed to Rol.  Turning to the Count and Countess, Zimzod said, "You guys are more fun." which they accepted because they knew Zimzod had no real idea how it felt to be part of their organization much less their Imperial service.  But, the Count said they'd take that under advisement.  Zimzod nodded and said, "You guys have a sense of humor." The agents heard the rest of the unspoken line from memory of their training, "...when orders permit."

Taking back the focus, the Countess asked, "So, where are you bound next?" which was an answer more than half the crew were interested in.  Zimzod started to say, "We don't know yet." but Mikah stepped on that.  She said, "Well, we're headed towards Wypoc..." and stopped when the Countess made what Mikah thought was a really disgusted expression with her face.  We're trying to get...  One of our former crew members passed away.  We're trying to get his property back and we need their permission in order to sell it to the University of Rhylanor.  That didn't exactly make sense but the Countess decided to go with it.

When the Countess asked, "What kind of property is this?" Mikah answered, "Ancient books." before she realized what that sounded like.  She quickly corrected herself, saying, "Old books.  Really old books."  Nodding, the Countess asked, "How ancient are we talking?" and Mikah said, "Thousands of years."  Nodding again and now more impressed, Athkazuk listened as Mikah continued, "So, that's the only reason we're going to Wypoc and we're not even sure his family are in that system.  So it might be a wild goose chase anyway."  Zimzod threw in, "Or if they're even still alive?" and Mikah nodded.

The Countess nodded and said it was unfortunate interplanetary communications was what it was, so they had to go there and ask rather than paying to send a message.  Mikah then told her, "Duke a'Plena of Vilis had some of his staff try to help us find them.  And, of course, with our travels being messed up thanks to the misjump..."  Looking to the ceiling, she then sharply said, "Thank you Terin."

Before she could continue, Countess Athkazuk shrugged and said, "Well, the Scout base is regularly sending ships to the local systems, on communications and other missions.  We can always send a request to Wypoc, in advance of your arrival.  Perhaps it will get there early enough to do some good?  And, perhaps, we can have someone in-system look to see if they're there?"  Zimzod said, "That would be awesome." and Mikah added, "That would be very helpful.  Thank you!" 

Nodding, Countess Athkazuk answered, them both, "No problem.  Maybe you can do us a favor someday?"  After Mikah said, "I'm sure we could." Zimzod asked, "Are you sure you want us to?"  That got some laughs from the crew.  With another vulpine smile, the Countess told Zimzod, "Sometimes, we need someone to make a mess somewhere, to hide a mess somewhere else."  Mikah, Aiden and Jocelynn all assured Athkazuk they were good at making messes in their own various words.

The Countess only nodded and said, "We've noticed." which got even more laughs.  Mikah then said, "At your service." before Zimzod added, "It's time to get chaotic sometimes."  Fixing Zimzod with a look, Athkazuk asked, "Chaotic?  Is that what you call it?" in an ironic tone.  Mikah and Zimzod both agreed, and said "Yeah".  Changing the subject to one they were more comfortable with, Mikah asked, "How did the situation with the gangs end up after we left?"  While Countess Athkazuk turned to her, Jocelynn realized this was something she was not aware of and her ears perked up.

Looking down first, before meeting Mikah's eyes, Athkazuk said, "Oh, with a lot of arrests and then gang infighting and killings followed by the rise of new leaders or whole new gangs.  But, at least, it cut back on the activity."  Shaking his head, Zimzod said, "Always somebody to fill the void." and Mikah agreed, "That's right."  The Countess continued, "There were a number of unexplained and presumably unavoidable deaths, but digging into those too much could..."  After a pause, Athkazuk's eyes lit up and she said, "There is a member of the media you might want to meet.  She's rather elderly and just got out of prison." in a tone that suggested she'd just remembered an interesting fact.

Confused, when Mikah admitted she had no idea what the Countess was talking about, Athkazuk reminded Mikah of the reporter who'd broken into the harbor the last time they'd visited Inthe.  As she spoke, Mikah, Zimzod, Aiden and Rol remembered the older woman and how her son was shot in their parkbay after they'd gotten back to the ship after the attack on the vargr shootout.  Apparently, she'd been sentenced to a year in prison, with her short sentence a consideration of the loss of her son.  Mikah asked Athkazuk what the deal had been with the reporter and the vargr could only guess she had wanted to be famous and saw Mikah's crew as her ticket.  Athkazuk did warn Mikah that she had a very small following, and still targeted the crew and their apparent allies with her vitriol.

There was another pause before the Countess asked, "So, do you have any plans for once you get your ship back?"  Mikah told her, "Well, we're gonna take it out for a spin.  Make sure everything is where it's supposed to be and working properly.  And then we're going to see what kind of cargo we can carry?  Rol followed that up with, "Make some money and stay alive." and Mikah agreed with that.  Nodding, the Countess said, "Too bad you're not heading back to Regina."  When Zimzod asked, "Why?  What's going on there?" she shrugged and said, "We could always load you up with some of the administraria that has to be shipped to the subsector capital.

Speaking ironically, Fesic said, "Yeah.  They love us there." and Zimzod added, "They love us even more when we're not there."  More jokes were made like, "The only place that likes us more is Rhylanor." and Mikah admitted that they were not likely to be welcome on Regina until the Duchess' people dealt with the rumor mill.  Nodding, Athkazuk said, "I can understand that given the number of subsector alerts that are out."  When Mikah quickly asked, "What?" in a concerned tone, Athkazuk smiled because she knew this was information Mikah's team hadn't learned about yet.

The Countess said, "Apparently, all subsector intelligence stations have been notified to be on the watch for certain ship registry types and registration tail numbers which could be related to certain worlds that are, ah, nominally allied with the Natoko world government in Rhylanor subsector.  Trying to think as she spoke, Mikah asked, "So...  I would assume that the Stepozhevaci have been fingered as the people who caused all the trouble in Regina?"  The Countess said, "They're seriously suspected, and we're, in fact, holding one of their Council members here on world."

Old Home Week Continues

     Mikah said "Ooh!" as if someone had just given her a pretty gem to look at.  Rol shook his head, and said, "Oh dear.  Such a pity."  There was a pause before Mikah added, "Yeah.  They're not nice people."  Reaching into her sabretache, the Countess drew out a tablet and unlocked it before making some selections and sliding it across the table to Mikah.  Looking at the image on the display, Mikah realized she not only recognized the man but realized he wasn't a Stepozhevaci.  Smiling, Mikah happily said, "This guy is not from Stepozhevac.  He's the Natokan guy.  He's from Natoko, he's not a Stepozhevaci."

Mikah's smile increased when she realized the Countess didn't know what she was talking about?  Athkazuk asked, "Excuse me?" in a concerned tone.  Mikah explained that they had been introduced to "Mister" Mattin as a contractor for the Stepozhevaci when he offered them a job, and Ms. Vik had used her SPA contacts to identify him as General Mattin.  He was a global political leader from the Rhylanori world of Natoko.  He'd just looked very differently when they'd worked with him from anything Ms. Vik had seen while growing up on that world or she would have recognized him sooner.

Stopping, the Countess considered what Mikah had said and then looked at her companions before saying, "Well.  It appears we'll be taking a trip downwell."  Her tone made it clear her words were not a request.  When Mikah asked, "Who?" the Countess said, "You, me, Sir Zimzod, Sir Aiden and Sir Emkir."  Hearing the list, Mikah realized that was everyone who had been aboard the Dawnstar Horizon during that operation.  The Countess then said, "We're all going to see the Marquis' people."  Smiling, Mikah said she was good with that.

While they were speaking, the two humans who'd come with the Count and Countess had suddenly gotten very busy and now told the others a port-car would arrive at the hotel for them and they'd be taken to a nearby air-lock where an orbital transport would be waiting.  The air-lock turned out to be an emergency lock, but they weren't concerned because they'd been told the controls were being overridden for this operation.  Aboard the transport, they did a high-vector dive into the atmosphere to land at the Marquis's personal downport.

"At the same time", the Countess said, "this Mr. Matlin you seem to be able to identify is going to be brought to a meeting room in the facility where he's held near there.  And that's where you will all be reintroduced to each other.  And he will realize his game is up and his cover blown."  No one chose to correct the Countess on Mattin's name as they went with her.  When Aiden suggested they should make sure Mattin didn't have a suicide implant, the Countess smiled and told him, "Oh, believe me.  We've checked."  Her tone and expression suggested she had "really enjoyed" it when they'd checked too.  Mikah asked if they could watch the vid of that and was told she couldn't.  Asking if they could check again while she watched, she was told that wouldn't happen.

When Zimzod asked, "Was it a...deep crevice search?" he was told, "It was deeper than you'd ever hope to know."  Aiden joked, "The General was a hand puppet." while others joked Munarshu would have loved that treatment.  Finally, the team leaving the suite boarded their shuttle and the others relaxed as Jocelynn joked, "Cool!  The ship is ours now!" and got laughs.  On their own, the question for the four still in the suite was what to do next?  They talked as they finished dinner and Jocelynn was all for 'going out'.  Fesic also suggested they could check in with Terin despite being reminded he was out with Kadika.  Fesic brushed that aside, making "some people" wonder if he really was jealous about it?  When he finally pushed enough that they could ask if Terin and Kadika might want to join them, they agreed to call.

Terin had gotten the call before Kadika had dropped her bombshell on him, so he thought things were going just fine without his crew.  Jocelynn was the one to make the call and, after he answered, she told him the others had to go downwell to a meeting.  Before she could ask if he and Kadika wanted to join them, Terin stopped her and asked, "A meeting with who?"  Jocelynn shut that down saying, "That's not important right now."  When Terin pushed, Jocelynn said, "It was that vargr Countess Rol and I met and her husband.  It's something to do with the Marquis."

Changing the subject, Jocelynn asked, "So, Fesic, Rol, Aali and I are going to go out for a drink.  Do you and Kadika care to come and join us?"  Sadly for Terin, when he asked Kadika, he found out he wasn't "gettin' any" that night because she had to work.  When Jocelynn heard him try to talk Kadika into blowing off work, she laughed and said, "Look at him, trying to get her fired!"  Terin finally gave up trying to get her into bed and told Jocelynn Kadika had to work so he'd join them when he could.

Jocelynn said they'd call Terin once they found a place to drink so he knew where they were.  After talking to Terin, Jocelynn decided to call Idbarga and see if she could bring Irlada, even though that woman had stolen Fesic's shirt.  Idbarga said she'd meet them and also said she'd call Irlada, but Jocelynn could see in her expression that she knew "something", and doubted the blonde would join them.  Jocelynn also called Jack, who was happy to come drinking, so they were building up quite the party. 

An Unexpected Turn

     The shuttle carrying the Countess' team and Mikah's landed and were picked up by an official grav car.  During the run, Athkazuk told Mikah and the others they would be brought to the facility where Mattin was being held, but brought into an observation room first.  From there, they would be able to see the "Councilor" through a false wall which was a holographically hidden observation window.  They would first observe him and confirm the man was who they said, then interact with him if needed.

When they arrived, the crew could see that Mr. Mattin had just been brought into the next room over, and been allowed to settle into a chair.  It took almost no time for Mikah and some of the others to be absolutely certain the man was Mattin.  Emkir stepped up and checked the "window" which was protected by repulsor fields that made the air just outside of the "glass" feel like the wall next to it.  He was told that those in the adjoining room would see and feel a holographically projected wall instead of the window if they examined that wall section.

Of course, the title "General" was important because the government of Natoko/Rhylanor was organized along military lines, with every citizen holding a rank from birth.  So, Mattin being a General meant he was very high up in the world's government if not one of their rulers.  The crew watched as his interviewers sat down and reminded him they had asked about his identity and the validity of his credentials.  They'd also asked about the world he came from and what role he played there?  Through all that, Mattin listened politely and agreed with their description of his questioning.

Looking at the tablet he held, the lead interviewer said, "You continue to claim you are a technician from the Rhylanor system.  You further claim you were part of a technical support team hired by the Polatir Development Corporation."  Mikah's team were told Polatir Development was an on-world corporation working to advance tech use in on-world applications.  It was also one of the few stand-out cross border corporations to be based in the Kingdom of Osoku.

When they asked Mattin if their description of his claims were correct, Mattin agreed they were.  As Mikah and the crew watched with smiles on their faces, General Mattin looked very satisfied with himself and his situation.  And that was the reason Mikah's smile was so wide, not to mention the others.  After letting a short pause pass, the interviewer leaned forward as he said, "Well, we found some of your old co-workers, so you might like to...adjust your statement slightly."  With that, one of the interviewers waved at the false wall.

That was the signal to drop the hologram so Mattin could see who was watching and listening to his interview.  Bound to his seat, Mattin couldn't rise when he saw Mikah and the others, but his face first went white before recovering to a very angry glare.  Following the reveal, Mikah and the rest of her team were led into the interview room and Mikah happily called out, "Hello General!"  Her tone, while happy, also included a healthy share of 'Ha! Got ya!' in it.  Or, perhaps, 'Here's payback.'  If looks were lasers, the crew had no doubt they'd all have been severed and burnt body parts scattered across the room.

Aiden just shook his head and said, "And, you would have gotten away with it too.  If it hadn't been for us meddling kids."  Following Mikah and the team in, the Countess was also smiling her most wolfish smile possible while looking forward to the bonus intelligence she and her people expected to get.  Little did she and her team know what was about to happen...  After everyone settled into the room, most standing with the few seats present, the Countess, said, "Now that we've set our cards on the table, General, would you like to tell us your side of the story?  Or would you like them to tell us your side of the story?  Schooling his face into a smile, Mattin said, "They can't tell you my side of the story because they don't want to talk about the Quasar Viper."

The temperature in the room seemed to drop to absolute zero and Zimzod casually asked, "Quasar what?" in an affected confused tone and Mikah asked "The what?  Never heard of it."  Of course, their faked reactions didn't ring true because the Viper was one of the most famous ships in the Marches.  After a pause, Zimzod dug an even deeper hole, asking, "Isn't that some ancient ship that disappeared?"  Mikah actually gave a laugh and slapped Zimzod on the arm, saying, "You're the Ancients guy."  Annoyingly for Mikah, Mattin's smile got even more broad as he asked, "Do you think we're stupid enough that we don't keep records?"

With that, he sat back as if he was the one in charge of proceedings.  Zimzod shrugged, saying, "Records can be falsified, because you're sitting here in front of us."  Starting to recover from their surprise, the Countess and her people were starting to ask what was going on because they had no idea what had happened all of a sudden?  Mattin calmly turned back to the Countess and said, "I'm willing to turn Throne's evidence in the matter of the actual discovery of the real Quasar Viper and the role these people played in that.

Turning to the Countess, Mikah said, "He really just wants to tear down the Imperium by starting a war so the Natokans can rise up and take over."  Into the silence that followed Mikah's comments, the Countess turned to all the locals and said, "Can we have the room please?"  With the observation room window still clear, the local agents and staff filed out of the interview room and closed all the doors to the space as they left.  Not taking chances, the Countess secured the door and then even activated the room's white noise generators and other "special features".  And turned off the room's recording systems.

Smiling as she turned back to the General, Athkazuk said, "There are very few things that mothers and fathers use to scare their kids into being good.  One of the reasons I worked to become a member of Imperial Intelligence was because of a faerie tale I'd often heard.  A tale called the Imperial Regency Intelligence Service."  Staring at the General, she continued, "That's something that I'm sure you believe is just a ghost story."  Getting the Countess' attention, Mikah asked, "Can you remove him from the room for a moment?"  Nodding to Mikah, she said, Not quite yet."  Turning back again to smile at the General, she continued, "I'm with the Imperial Ministry of Intelligence, and Inthe is my turf.

Sometimes I encounter people who work for other intelligence agencies while they're playing on my turf.  Sometimes it bothers me and sometimes it doesn't.  In this particular instance, these people whom you seem to be interested in taking down have been used by IRIS in some manner, and that helped them fall into my hobby.  I enjoy researching intelligence legends and stories.  There's a particular story about these people and the Quasar Viper, and IRIS.  And I'd always believed the whispers I'd heard had been real and not imagined.  So, I thank you, General, for confirming its reality."  When she said that, Mikah and her team truly had no idea what would happen next?  Or, how bad things would get?

The bad news I have for you, however, is that it's not going to help you, General.  So, again, General, would you like to change your story?"  Hearing that, they waited as it appeared the General intended to become a mute.  That turn of events didn't make any of Mikah's crew feel much better.  Since the Countess had said the Viper data wouldn't help the General, it looked like she wanted to keep this nuke from detonating.  But that didn't mean they wouldn't be forced to eat a grenade salad in the privacy of the intelligence facility for their role in things.  Now that Imperial Intelligence knew who Mattin was, they didn't need the crew to hold him until they could legally confirm it.

Turning to look at Mikah, the Countess asked, "Do you still need to speak to me in private?"  When Mikah just said, "No." the Countess answered, "Not a problem, My Lady."  Mikah said, "But, now you know the answer to your question earlier." and Athkazuk assured her, "I'd guessed."  Turning back to the General, the Countess said, "So, this is going to go one of two ways for you.  Either you're going to tell us what we want to know now, or at least very soon, on your own volition or you're going to tell us what we want to know now regardless of your desires very soon."

Continuing, the Countess said, "And, just because it entertains me, I may even let them help."  She said that while pointing to Mikah and smiling.  Hearing what was said, Mikah gave a short sudden and almost violently happy "YES!" and fist pumped the air.  Surprisingly, even Aiden was pleased at that.  Aiden never liked anything.  Mikah held up an image of Rol and told the Countess, "He's our professional interrogator and war criminal." with a laugh.

She admitted Rol was just an amateur, but said he'd likely love to see her professionals at work.  Athkazuk said, "Well, Sir Rol, if it comes to that I am sure you will be allowed to take notes."  Rol just nodded back and said, "I'd love to.  Thank you."  Mikah also offered her medical skills to help keeping the prisoner both alive and conscious.  Through all this, the General was still doing his best imitation of a mute so the Countess said, "OK."  as she rose and stepped over to the door.  Unsecuring it, she gave orders to have Mattin returned to his cell.

The Countess then told Mikah, "I will have you returned to the highport and let you know if we have need of you.  Thank you for your help."  Zimzod answered, "OK" and Mikah said, "You're very welcome."  She then added, "It always helps to help the Imperium."  Suddenly turning to Zimzod, the Countess asked, "Anything more on that crystal?"  Hearing that, and seeing Zimzod stuck in 'stealth mode, Mikah pushed, "Tell her!"  When Zimzod was still skittish, Mikah said, "Well then, I'm gonna tell her."  Starting with, "We think it's on Inthe", Mikah continued to describe what they'd all seen when Zimzod played the crystal contents for them.

The Countess first thanked Mikah.  She then admitted the Marquis' team "thought" that was what was going on but had never been able to get enough evidence or information to draw a conclusion.  It had also been an annoying pattern that any time an investigation of the reservation got hot, some other event would come up that demanded all hands or interrupt all operations.  That blocked or drained resources and stopped the investigation.  That move was obvious to everyone there.  Then, while the other issue was dealt with, the window to investigate the reservation would close and they'd be shut out again.

In admitting that, the Countess also told them that none of the "accidental meetings" she'd had with their crew had really been accidents, except the first with Rol and Jocelynn.  She explained that, in her attempts to crack her suspected IRIS theories on-world, she was fairly sure she'd ID'd several resources.  Then, one of them suddenly started visiting the crew's suite.  With the rumors surrounding Lady Mikah's crew, Countess Athkazuk decided to roll the dice and see what happened?  And, that had led to several confirmations on some of her high-value theories.  Not that confirming anything would be good for the crew if that got out to the wrong people...

Perhaps catching on to that, Mikah asked, "Just please don't tell IRIS we told you.  I don't want to be hauled in by them and scanned again.  I am Done with that!"  If they thought seeing a vargr smile was interesting, it was nothing to the sudden giggle the Countess gave off.  At least, that was their best guess what the sound was.  Countess Athkazuk admitted the organizations were not exactly in a note sharing relationship since this was the first time she'd ever heard of anyone admitting IRIS was real.

Zimzod then asked, "Another question.  Those weren't your people we ran afoul of the other day were they?"  Shaking her head, Athkazuk said, "No.  We don't have the data on that because it was a local law enforcement action, but they weren't ours."  When Zimzod asked if they could let the crew know what happened with that, he was told, "If we ever find out."  She reminded Zimzod, and Mikah who had joined in, that law enforcement is not a single organization.  There were many pieces in the law enforcement puzzle and those actions were taken by the SPA Port Station Security team.

The Marquis' office was simply notified of the event as a matter of courtesy but not told much, because it wasn't their jurisdiction.  The Countess also reminded them the crew had no legal standing in the Imperium outside those rights granted them by the government.  So, she pointed out, they weren't likely to be able to find out any inside information about cases like that.  The Countess then surprised Mikah by saying, "I can tell you whatever you suffered at the hands of IRIS was not their fault."  When Mikah looked askance at her, the Countess continued.

"You made a huge mess of things from what we could see, and from what we understand.  And we completely understand why they stood back with their hands off and let you deal with the mess that you made.  Additionally, I can only say that, despite my warm feelings for you, thanks to the help you've provided us, if you'd presented my agency with the same problems we'd have hung you out to dry just as fast if not faster."  Shrugging, Mikah complained, "Well then, you shouldn't hire people who are not spies to do spy work."

The Countess then pointed out, "But, they didn't hire you.  Did they?"  Defensively, Mikah answered, "Well, they sorta did." which was a lame answer to everyone else even if she couldn't see that herself.  Sticking with the facts, the Countess said, "Not in this instance." and Mikah had to admit, "Not in this instance, no.  But in previous instances, yes."  The Countess then challenged, "And, did they say that employment was on-going?"  Mikah ignored past history and said, "No.  We assume it because they keep bothering us."  The Countess pointed out that that assumption was the crew's fault.

When Mikah tried to shrug that off, the Countess said, "If you spill soup, don't assume that someone will take off their top to help you clean it up.  Especially if they run as dark as IRIS does."  Zimzod just leered at the various girlish figures in the room and said, "That would be a sight to see." with a smirk on his face.  Changing direction suddenly again, Mikah asked, "Do you use telepaths?"  The Countess simply replied, "That, My Lady, is a delicate question." and Zimzod became a bit uncomfortable at the turn of questions.

To Zimzod's relief, the Countess offered to get them back to the highport then, and Mikah and he agreed.  The lift back to the port station happened as quickly and efficiently as their ride downwell.  When the four got back to the suite, they found it empty.  Seeing that, Mikah suddenly joked, "Oh!  See?  IRIS Came and took everyone else!"  That got them all laughing.  They went on making more jokes about the others being held prisoner, and their luck at not being home, while they settled in for what was left of the evening.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

     In the suite relaxing: Mikah, Zimzod, Emkir and Aiden
     Out for drinks with friends: Jocelynn, Fesic, Aali, Rol and Terin
     The ship will be returned to the crew TOMORROW

Next: Returning To The Black