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Last Updated     July 14 2019
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Returning To The Black

Final Drinks And Plans

Inthe     In the suite relaxing, Mikah, Zimzod, Emkir, Rol and Aiden had to wonder.  Now that they knew how much Countess Athkazuk knew of their secrets, just who else did too?  Especially now that General Mattin was in a "talking mood".  Jocelynn, Fesic, Aali and Terin were out drinking with the "friends" Jocelynn had brought into their sphere.  And, if they could keep themselves out of trouble until the middle of the next day, they'd get the ship back from the shipyard.  Either way, they'd check out of the hotel the next morning and hire movers to secure their gear until the ship docked at the station.

Those who'd gone drinking had taken Mikah's advice and stayed close to the suite, though Jocelynn had also invited Jack to join them.  They'd gone to a bar inside the hotel property itself.  Three of them had been listening to Jocelynn, who said they needed a ship cat.  While they drank, Fesic wasn't drunk but was a bit more tipsy than the others when a pair of station security officers stepped up to their table.  Conducting a random "Check" of the bar, they demanded Idents at each table, one by one.  When they got Terin and Fesic's Idents, they focused on Fesic thanks to data from the tickets he'd gotten early in the morning on the day before.

Finding someone cited for careless driving within the last forty-eight hours of the charge, the officers wondered if alcohol might have played a role they could prove with additional investigation?  Hoping to get a bonus for turning up new charges, they started questioning Fesic about the incident.  When Fesic got glib and challenged their actions, one officer said, "You were involved in an accident yesterday and we now find you out drinking.  Possibly to excess.  Perhaps you'd like to go over the events of yesterday morning with us?"  The tone and words suggested Fesic might have been drunk when the accident had happened.  That meant they could get the credit for even more charges.  Fesic smiled and reminded the officers he'd been tested for drugs at the scene and been cleared so he didn't think they should continue.

Since Fesic was obviously tipsy, the other officer suggested he might want to come to their office for "further questioning".  With perhaps more heat than needed, but less drunk by far, Terin demanded, "Wait!  Wait! Wait.  The guy hit a garbage can and paid his fine.  I mean, what's the problem?  We're in walking distance of our room, we're not driving anywhere..."  Realizing the others at the table were less inebriated and could make a harassment case, the officers decided to back off.  While the four continued to drink, they slowed the pace and kept their wits afterward, just in case.

Grav Belt dataIn the suite, Emkir again thanked Mikah for finding the grav belt and asked about its capabilities.  Not having read more than the basic instructions until that point, she said she didn't know and suggested he pull up the settings on the wrist display.  That was a wirelessly connected readout that mainly gave the user data such as 'power remaining' or ground speed.  Checking that, Emkir found a "Help" file telling him it could give 300 Kg (661 Lbs) of thrust for 4 hours of normal use.  With a max speed of 300 kph(186 mph) kph in an atmo, its cruising speed was 225 kph (140 mph) and it had a 'Nape of Earth' speed of 40 kph(25 mph).  That meant the belt could carry four of Emkir at a strain.

Nodding, the others said the belt would be very helpful when they checked out of the suite the next day.  Rol asked how plans for that looked and Mikah said they'd need a service for a few reasons.  First, they had ended up bringing a significant amount of military-grade gear onto the station despite official requests not to.  And that meant the station would "prefer" a safe carrier move that gear to the public boarding spaces of the station and secure it there, while they waited for the ship to be docked at the port.

Mikah said they needed to start packing "now", if they hadn't already, and some of the crew would have to wait on-station while she, Aiden and some others went to recover the ship from the Scouts.  Those staying behind would be watching both their baggage and other deliveries which would stack up as orders were brought to the bay before the ship was docked.  When Rol asked, he was told their checkout time was 11am.  Since the Scouts wouldn't release the ship until noon, that meant those going to the shipyard to receive it would leave after checking out while the others watched their packed gear or saw to other personal tasks.

Emkir reminded Mikah he had a 10 am appointment with the chiropractor he'd been seeing for his back.  Mikah nodded when he said Aali would be with him because they both knew she wanted Aali to come to get the ship with her.  Mikah said he and Aali could meet them at the station's shuttle port, where they'd book transit to the scout base.  Having checked, Mikah knew there were hourly shuttles to the shipyard, so they could buy tickets instead of chartering their own flight.  Tickets would cost ship's funds Cr 40 each.  Following that, Mikah looked into licensed, bonded and insured transport firms before packing while the others packed too.  Eventually, some of the drinkers returned early and got around to packing themselves.

When Jocelynn finally decided it was time to give Jack a "proper" good bye, he made it clear he'd hoped they'd go somewhere with a proper bed.  That meant going to his place or taking him back to the suite.  Since they had to be out the next morning, Jocelynn decided to bring him to the suite again.  Still, she set her alarm for nine, because she'd planned to pack what little gear she had before showing Jack how much she enjoyed meeting him.  That was because most of it had been lost aboard the Regina's Storm.  And, while she had fun, they didn't play too late.

Off To The Port

     Rol had set his clock to wake him at 6am, to pack before breakfast, and Aiden and Aali woke at the same time naturally.  Annoyed, but without the time needed to grab more sleep, the two others got about their mornings as did Rol.  Aali also pulled the covers from Emkir and kicked the bed to wake him because he'd not been out drinking and had no reason to sleep more than she did.  So, Emkir also got about his morning.  Rol was surprised when the three showed up in the suite's common spaces while he was just starting to look for what to cook.

With the extra time, Emkir and Aali planned to pack what he'd not been able to the night before so their gear was ready to be pulled into the suite's living room.  There, it would be loaded onto the transporter's carts.  Rol had already packed almost everything and finished that work while he went through his morning routine.  At the same time, Aiden finished packing before stepping into the dining room for breakfast.  By 8am, Mikah and Zimzod had joined those in the dining room enjoying the hired chef's last cooked meal.  Those who'd woken at 6 had largely packed and had their gear ready to be picked up.

When Terin's alarm had gone off, he simply threw on a shipsuit and went out into the suite to eat before going back to clean up, re-dress and finish his last-minute packing.  Most were done eating and were either cleaning up, finishing packing or relaxing and waiting for "that time" when Fesic came out of his bedroom.  Shortly after, Jocelynn came out of her bedroom followed by Jack, whose presence surprised most of those in the suite.  Of course, they'd all met Jack, and he had to leave soon enough to change and then get to work.  But Jocelynn did invite him to have breakfast and he grabbed a quick plateful.

Soon enough, Emkir and Aali called a cab and left for his chiropractor.  They also knew, from the past two day's visits, the total cost with transport would cost them Cr 225.  The couple left their gear in the hands of the rest of the crew to have loaded for transport to the port's waiting spaces.  Mikah called a service to come in and move the team's gear, in pods, to a holding area in the port where someone staying at the station could watch them.  She then told the others she wanted Aali, Aiden and Zimzod to come with her to the scout shipyard.

Mikah told them she'd discussed things with Aali before she and Emkir went to the doctor.  The couple would get done with Emkir's treatment and meet the team at the shuttle departure gates.  While those who were to go and those who would stay behind prepared to leave the suite, Jocelynn pulled Mikah aside.  At first, Mikah recalled Jack and had heard about Jocelynn wanting a cat aboard.  So, she told Jocelynn Jack would not qualify as a 'ship's cat'.  Jocelynn laughed and suggested she could put a collar on him before getting serious and telling her that station security tried to question Fesic about the accident at the bar the night before.

Mikah waved that off because they were leaving the port in hours.  She also said they knew the chief of police down-well, which meant nothing when dealing with port security, but she wasn't concerned.  As the clock moved towards 11 am, Mikah had the transport firm arrive and get their gear out of the suite and was getting ready to go check out when the suite's chime sounded.  At the door, Mikah was met by a hotel concierge and a member of station security!  Mikah's concerns went away when she was told it was standard policy to confirm all legal issues had been resolved when a visitor's activities had been so active.

Inviting the team into the suite, Mikah worked with them as they crossed all the "T's" and dotted the "I's".  With that, their bills were paid and everyone grabbed their self-carry items, handed over the key cards and left the hotel.  As part of the service, the hotel had called cabs for them.  Everyone there was headed to the port's shuttle services spaces, where Mikah and her team would buy tickets on a boat to the shipyard and the others would wait until they returned with the Upgrade.  The cab rides cost Cr 40 considering the size of the group and the amount of self-carry.  At the shuttle port, tickets to the shipyard cost Cr 160 total.

Arriving in the active shipping districts of the port, Mikah, Zimzod and Aiden went to get their shuttle tickets and wait for Aali to join them.  Mikah also commed to the shipyard to tell them of their travel plans.  Despite Mikah's attitude, because one of the scouts had been less then pleasant with her, the Scouts pleased and surprised her once again when they said they'd send a ship to pick them up.  That meant Mikah didn't have to spend cash on the tickets.  Still, they'd have an hour to wait.

Those waiting for the ship to dock with the port ended up in a large "waiting room" compartment where many were burning time.  Everyone in the crew were given widgets to add to their Idents, which let them track the pods with their gear as the transport company held them in secure areas.  The port also updated them on deliveries which had started arriving, for gear and supplies they'd ordered that couldn't be delivered to them on station.  That was always due to the military nature or size of the items ordered.  While they'd have quite some time to wait, they chose to hang out by the growing pile of their gear and arriving orders.  They also realized they'd have to rent some carts to move the stuff once the Upgrade docked.

In the time where Mikah's team waited with the others, Fesic again asked where they would be going so he could start looking for cargo to carry?  Mikah sighed, because they had yet to decide that.  When the crew had last discussed their route, they'd seen that every system they could visit would be expensive to refuel in.  Wypoc prime was a hell-world where any water(or the hydrogen cracked from it) would have been cooked out of the acids and toxins of the world's insidious atmosphere.  So, fuel there would cost huge amounts.

While the Rech system was a green world where fuel "should be cheap", the world required ships and flight crews to be cyclone-rated before they could land.  That meant they couldn't land there and that would force fuel prices up.  Both systems had gas giants and Terin had made a study of those.  He'd learned that one of the Wypoc system's gas giants was just within a week's flight from the mainworld in normal space.  So, they could emerge near the gas giant, spend two days scooping and purifying fuel and then spend the next six days cruising to the mainworld.

Terin said that would save the crew from spending a week in the Rech system and having to top off their jump tanks in the Dinomn system after leaving Wypoc.  Terin did tell the crew they'd still have to "top up" their power plant fuel while on Wypoc.  After they scooped fuel, they'd spend six days getting to Wypoc in addition to any days they spent with the ship powered up on-world.  They'd have to spend another week in jump, so they'd have less than two weeks of fuel remaining to run life support and the ship's systems until they reached Dinomn.  And they had to go there before jumping to the Ghandi system if they wanted to get to the Sonthert system.

So, if something went wrong, or they were forced to detour, they'd be low on fuel for their power plant.  Between them, they did the math and figured out they'd probably have to buy nine tons of fuel for their power plant on Wypoc.  While that would cost them a lot more than nine tons of fuel anywhere else, it was a lot less than the seventeen and a half tons to completely refuel the power plant, not to mention the nearly 195 tons of a complete refuel.  With that decided, they had to talk about "what" to look for?

Mikah told everyone, again, they were only going to Wypoc to find Brian's surviving family.  As far as they knew, they'd learned his family had returned to Wypoc while on Lanth, and had to find out what happened after that?  It would be good if anything the Countess had done managed to find information on where they were.  That meant they'd have to choose an option once they arrived in the Wypoc system.  If the "help" Athkazuk offered came up with any information, they expected they'd get what answers had been found.

Still, the Countess had only sent word ahead.  There were no "active investigators".  And if there were no answers from that advanced team, they'd have to decide if it was worth landing and searching themselves.  Or, they could just write off Brian's books and the money they represented.  And, if the word from Athkazuk's people was that Brian's family were not on-world, they'd have to decide if they wanted to land and see where they might have gone or again, write off the books and money.

Getting back to the cargo, Terin suggested they look for a load on Inthe which would sell well on either Wypoc or the next world they'd visit.  Because they intended to continue on to the Sonthert system, the next jump would have to be to the Dinomn system.  From there, they'd have to travel to the Ghandi system before then jumping to Sonthert.  Because Dinomn was also an agricultural world, "basic" foodstuffs from Inthe wouldn't trade well.  The crew could also bet there were megafreighters crossing back and forth between Dinomn and Wypoc, because the latter system would desperately need to import food, water and air.  So, they had to find something that would be special on Dinomn.

The good news was that any world had its novelties, and many worlds had specialized luxuries.  That meant the right cargo of luxury or novelty foods would certainly sell well on Wypoc or even in the Ghandi system, and might be well received on Dinomn.  So, Fesic was told he should look for any cargoes of luxury foodstuffs, and was initially given two days to see what he could buy?  They'd take it on as speculative cargo, meaning they'd buy it and try to sell it for a profit instead of simply looking for cargo to transport for Cr 1,000 per ton, per jump.  Happy, Fesic, who'd gotten his certification from the port, started digging.

Countdown To Delivery

     At the chiropractor, Emkir enjoyed the care which had certainly been helping.  While the doctor still wanted him to keep using the grav belt for the next four days to a week at least, the pain was responding.  The damage to his coccyx and sacrum was slowly resolving and the doctor told him to have Lady Mikah do regular checkups and provide follow up treatment as needed.  Still, he guessed Emkir would get better in under a month's time.  Thanking the doctor, the couple paid their bills and called Mikah, to find out where to meet them before calling a cab to join up with the others.

When Aali first got Mikah on the comms to find out where they were, Mikah had sung a taunting little verse of "We're not gonna tell you".  Aali just laughed as she asked, "Do you want to try to fly a newly repaired starship off without an engineer?" in a tone that put paid to the prank.  When the couple finally met up with the others, Mikah led her team off to meet the scout shuttle while the rest of the crew were left to their own devices for what would be almost five hours.

Settling in to decide what they would do with their free time, Emkir started working with the others who were left on the station.  They decided to both re-organize the goods they had and start a checklist tracking the deliveries they expected.  That way, they could confirm what had been delivered and check up on things that were not yet handed over.  A number of deliveries of a military nature, or supplies like the food ordered for the ship, or the emergency rations, were held either in secure storage or even delivered to the ship at the shipyard too.  So, there were things they couldn't confirm until the others returned with the Upgrade.

Beyond that, they thought it was time to grab more rest and stay in a group, not risking getting in trouble just before they got the ship back.  In his free time, Rol went over his gear and belongings, setting up "fast response kits" to use in the case of attack or anything else.  Going over the numbers, Rol was surprised to see just how much ammunition he'd amassed over the years traveling with this crew.  Rol then decided he'd set up a sell order, to dump ammo to InstellArms, and then confirm the numbers once he was back aboard the ship.  If the numbers were correct, he'd sell off the ammo after their planned shaking out cruise.

If his actual count was correct, Rol planned to sell the following:
    Snub Rifle:
       160 rounds Ball
       160 rounds HE
       80 rounds HEAP
       200 rounds Tranq

    Snub Pistol:
       166 rounds Ball
       180 rounds HE
       216 rounds HEAP
       80 rounds Tranq

Terin found a place close to where they waited, to grab chow and drinks while waiting for the ship to be brought back.  Each of those waiting spent Cr 15 on food and drinks over the hours.  He did that while Jocelynn argued with herself about calling Countess Athkazuk.  She felt there had been something in the Countess' words which had a hidden meaning.  That gnawing uncertainty haunted her.  Finally, Jocelynn decided to see if she could reach the Countess at the work contact she'd given.

Turning her back on the others, Jocelynn sparked up her comms and checked the contact data she'd gotten from that first meeting in the Order House.  After she keyed in the code, Jocelynn was rewarded when Athkazuk answered, apparently in some kind of office.  Answering the line, Countess Athkazuk appeared surprised to see Jocelynn calling her, but quickly schooled her face as she said hello.  She also said she thought Jocelynn and the crew would be a bit busy at the moment.  The suggestion was that everyone knew they were getting the yacht back, and the crew would be settling in aboard.

Jocelynn said they were waiting for the initial recovery team to go to the shipyard and return to the port with the ship after the final inspection and sign off.  When that brought them past the pleasantries, Jocelynn took a breath and said, "I just wanted to check in with you, Your Excellency.  It seems that...  I can't get out of my head that our two meetings were not coincidental."  Athkazuk only nodded at that, because she had told them that specifically when they met in the Order House two days before.  That had been when the Countess had asked permission to come to dinner at the suite.

After another pause, Jocelynn asked, "Before we leave the system, is there something you need from us?  Or, were trying to get across to us?"  Her tone was one of uncertainty because she really wasn't sure what it was she wanted to ask?  Or what information she thought the Countess had and wasn't telling the crew?  Jocelynn couldn't read the Countess' expression as the vargr woman answered, "No.  Obviously, we'll be interested in reviewing any entertainment media you send our way."  Jocelynn was willing to guess the Countess' expression as she finished speaking was a smile, which wasn't always the most comfortable thing for a Human to look at, thanks to all those predator's teeth.

It also took a bit of thought for Jocelynn to translate "entertainment media" to "news created by her crew's screw ups."  She'd been too busy trying to figure out what hidden meanings or communications might have been lost in the things the Countess had already told them.  The worst part of it was that she didn't even have any idea what direction to hunt in, or to ask about?  As the conversation continued, Jocelynn had no guidance and it seemed Athkazuk had realized that fact.  Eventually, Jocelynn gave up the attempt when she realized the Countess was just too cagey.  So, eventually she thanked the Countess for taking the call and broke contact.

Yet Another Deal

     Arriving at the shipyard after an hour's travel, Mikah and the others had to wait until the shuttle was settled in a berth and the paperwork dealt with.  From there, a waiting scout loaded them into a work skiff and flew them to one of the shipyard project control rooms.  This one had viewing portals showing out on the Upgrade in her "last in-place" work cradle.  That held the yacht fast to the structure of one of the shipyard's work arms, inside which were built corridors, work and support systems and parts supply caches.  Workers moved through the shipyard's work arms to and from the many projects being handled at the facility.

Along the way, they were handed visitors credentials and briefed on what they could and could not do on the military facility.  Settled there, the four had to wait a good fifteen minutes before the yard foreman and some engineers came to join them.  They arrived and the foreman said, "So!  Guess what we got?" with a large smile on his face.  Mikah happily pointed and said, "You have our ship!" and he nodded and repeated, "We've got your ship."  His tone said he expected them to like what they were about to see.  After Mikah said, "Awesome." the foreman also said, "And, we've gotten a couple of packages."  That momentarily confused Mikah until she realized this must have been some of the stuff forwarded to the shipyard for them.

The foreman confirmed that when he added, "Apparently, two of those are presents from our Scout Leader", which referred to the ration bars they'd been promised.  After telling Mikah the packages had already been stowed in their cargo bay, he asked if she wanted to take a tour of the repaired ship and Mikah emphatically said, "Yeah!"  With that, he led the way to the air-lock access to the ship and began a compartment by compartment tour.  Mikah followed him with the others behind her led by Aali.  The scout engineers followed behind them all.

In each compartment, there were explanations of the repairs or replacements done there and some demonstrations or brief walk throughs.  While the system wasn't active, they were shown the fully military-spec sensor systems and walked through the test mode.  After that set of demonstrations, the foreman was joined by an officer who made sure Mikah was happy with the outcome from their deal.  After a pause, he said there was a new wave of technology being rolled out by the Imperial Navy to support a new strategic doctrine.  Pulling up a hand computer, he activated a holographic projector which displayed some sort of Box-Sat.

When Mikah asked what it was, the officer said they were a new series of half-d Ton drones which were being deployed to Imperial Naval vessels over five hundred thousand d-tons in size.  He admitted that someone on the scout base had managed to liberate a few, to sell for Cr 100 thousand each.  When she asked what they do, the officer explained that the drones connect to a ship's sensor networks.  In space, they would either extend or enhance a ship's sensor capabilities.  Further out from a ship, each drone will push out the sensor envelope of the ship it is connected to in that direction.  If a drone is closer in to a target, the ship to which its systems are tied will be able to recover more details about that target thanks to the closer range.

Those with flight skills knew the drone wasn't an "automatic solution" and they'd still have to launch it and take the time for it to "get to" any designated target.  But, once in place, the drone could enhance their ability to strike at targets or defend themselves.  When Mikah was asked if she was "interested in a couple of these", Mikah decided she wanted one of them.  Aali gave up a few reasons why they might want two of them, but Mikah held firm and cut a deal for one of the units.  The officer was happy to help her transfer the funds and the deal was closed with him telling her a ship would deliver the drone to their cargo bay in the next fifteen minutes.

While working through the paperwork, Mikah noticed the documents accompanying the deal were mostly Imperial Naval documents.  Still, she got through the paperwork and shifted the funds.  After that was done, they made their way down to the ship's cargo bay to check on the pods they'd left behind when they'd surrendered the ship to the yards to be repaired.  That was largely just a checklist, because the pods had all been sealed and secured.  So, they only had to confirm the pods were all there and hadn't been opened.

That done and the drone delivered, they were ready to secure the yacht and burn their way back to the port to rent a berth and pick up the others.  Mikah called to the port and let the crew know they and the ship were on their way.  Hearing that, Terin joked that they now had to set things up for Rol to do a solo micro-jump alone on the ship to test the jump drives.  The others laughed as the comms were cut, and Aali and Aiden went through their boards and flight checks.  During the flight, Mikah set up a flight control board and Zimzod set up his weapons console.

Checking the weapons status, Zimzod could see the sand casters were active and working but the ship had no sand cannisters to fire.  After considering the storage racks they had installed, the ship could load as many as nine canisters in the turret itself, and another ten in the loader racks which took up two tons of their cargo bay.  And the scouts offered to sell them canisters at Cr 1,000 each.  After checking what they could store in the loader, Zimzod decided to spend Cr 20,000 to get twenty canisters.  That would fill all the slots in their system and even give them one spare.

After the deal was made the scouts said it would take some time to get the canisters delivered to the Upgrade so Mikah and the others had to wait some more.  Accepting that, Mikah comm'd Fesic and told him they'd lost cargo space and could only carry 39 tons.  When Fesic asked how many other changes they might make in the cargo capacity, with a somewhat testy tone, Mikah just told him, "Suck it" and cut the connection.  That done, the four spent time organizing what they could and setting up stations while they waited.  Finally, the canisters were loaded into the ship's system and Aiden was given permission to break the seal and burn for the civilian port.

Raising A Toast

     Closing in on the civilian port, Aiden was piloting as Mikah called the port to request an external connection.  That would mean they'd 'nose in' close to the station and mooring lines would connect the ship to the station and hold it in place.  That done, a cargo sleeve would be extended to let them move cargo in and out.  Another docking collar would then be extended from a small walkway running parallel to the main station passage.  That collar would connect to the ship's air-lock so crew and passengers could enter and leave the ship.

Mikah eventually told the port they only needed the connection for a day but accepted "day by day" status and paid Cr 700 in advance for the first day.  After the funds were transferred, Mikah was given the docking assignment and updated Aiden.  He then guided the ship around the outside of the station until they could pick up the infrared signal of their receiving arm.  Watching his sensors and approach while Mikah managed the ship's trim and kept an eye out for other traffic, they connected with the docking arm which pulled the ship into place for the mooring cables to be connected.  After the ship was firmly moored, the station extended docking passages to both the ship's primary air-lock and cargo lock.

Mikah updated Aiden and then also called the others left aboard the station where to go so they could board the yacht.  They got moving when Fesic got a call from the port to confirm the cargo and deliveries for them which had been held in storage were being moved to the ship's cargo bay.  Fesic also had to make some calls to move things and start looking for some carts to move the pile of gear they had created there in the port.  Terin snagged a pair of carts for Cr 5 each and rolled them over so everyone could help pile the luggage on.  Once they got moving, it only took half an hour for everything to come together at the berth.

The cargo bay passage opened as a boarding floor section extended to the ship.  Ironically, gravity "ended" at the point where the berth door opened and was "restored" once someone or thing passed over the first of the ship's deck plates.  So, the crew could take up positions on either side and just toss pods, cases, luggage and boxes across the gap.  Everything that was tossed was eventually stacked near the cargo pod holding the parts of the weapons lockers Zimzod had bought in Regina.

During those hours, the food concession van arrived and deployed a chain of robots to load the food orders into the ship's auto-serv and galley.  By 9:30 pm, they'd finished loading everything including the larger pods, they got done moving personal luggage and boxes to each crew member's staterooms.  Zimzod said he looked forward to setting up the lockers during their shakedown cruise, but he was also reminded he'd be taking part in testing the weapons and fire accuracy drills.

After the gear was sorted and before people started ripping baggage open and got into more hours of setting up, Mikah decided work was done for the night.  Mikah also reminded Rol he was the cook again, and Rol tried to make a cheesy joke that just died on the deck, just barely confusing a person or two.  Part of Rol's work had been done as he stood by with a checklist and make sure everything that had been ordered was delivered.  The delivery man also helped out by driving the robots to load the ration bars where they wanted them to be stored.

Remembering their conversations, Rol knew the crew had talked about spreading the bars around the ship.  That way, heavy damage to one part of the ship wouldn't "just happen" to take out all their emergency supplies.  So, he had the robots divide the bars into four equal parts.  One set each were moved to the galley, ship's locker and the spare stateroom they had.  The last quarter of the bars would be kept in their cases in the cargo bay.  While the others were agreeing with that idea, Fesic joked they could space the bars now, and not have to worry about losing them all in the future.  People snarked or groaned at his dry humor.

Mikah just smiled back at him and said, "Or!  We could space you first." with a very satisfied look on her face.  Fesic smiled back at Mikah and just as happily said, "Well, then I won't have to worry about it."  His tone suggested he'd find a way to enjoy whatever happened.  The crew talked about their plans into the evening, after the work was done.  They expected to leave port early the next day and then drive into open space above the elliptic to put the ship through its paces and do some gunnery practice.

While they did that, Fesic would be burning the comms trying to see if he could find a cargo.  They'd also decided to advertise for passengers, though no one could figure out why anyone would want to go to Wypoc?  After moving all his gear into his new stateroom, Rol took the time to spark up the comms and connect with InstellArms.  He connected to a sales rep and told them he was selling off some bulk snub pistol and rifle ammunition and hoped he could set up a quick sale.  The rep said he just needed the amounts and types of ammunition to begin the process and would need to have someone inspect the goods once the estimate was sent.

Rol, who wasn't too concerned about how much they'd pay, agreed to that and said his ship would be back in port in a few days after a shakedown cruise.  Thanking the agent, Rol sent the file and cut that line while the others relaxed or did some light unpacking and organizing.  Mikah also announced that she'd be waking the entire crew up at 7am the next day so they could get to work bright and early.  Mikah then made it clear Rol was an exception, and he'd be woken at 6am, so he could have breakfast ready for everyone when they woke up.

Before the evening ended, Rol had made a basic dinner and Terin made sure to visit the bridge and set up his stations in the ship's computer.  That meant Emkir had to spend some time setting up access groups and permissions in the computer.  To his delight, Emkir realized the "very modern" seats that had been installed at all stations were able to modify themselves to support him even with his injuries.  So, while he wasn't exactly comfortable, he was able to sit at the computer core with less pain or need to adjust his position.

Finally, Mikah called everyone into the lounge and said they should have a toast to their new ship.  They gathered as she considered what bottle to open for the toast, and Emkir decided to pull out a bottle of Cr 50 whiskey.  When Zimzod asked if they had any of the bourbon left, Mikah said they did but they didn't want to crack the rock gut for a toast.  Emkir said he'd pulled out the whiskey in honor of Jocelynn.  She thanked him for that, but sheepishly admitted she wouldn't challenge him to a drinking contest again.  Glasses were shared out and the bottle was emptied as it was poured.

Raising his glass, Emkir called out, "To our new ship!  To our Captain!  To our cargo!  To Jocelynn, our latest acquisition!  To many more acquisitions!"  Terin joked, "To not crashing the ship!"  Emkir then led a chorus of, "To no more misjumps!"  Fesic countered that, saying, "I notice that our navigator came up with that toast" and got laughs.  Terin defended himself, saying, "I'm just the navigator.  I'm not the pilot." but was dogged by the misjump toast, which Emkir had led.

After the drinks, Rol went to grab sleep while Fesic spent some more time on the port-trading network, looking for cargos.  The rest of the crew either relaxed or spent more time organizing their gear in their new staterooms.  Jocelynn managed to mount her shadowbox of decorations on one wall in her stateroom.  Eventually, all the members of the crew found their way to bed and sleep.

System Tests And Job Offers

     Rol's alarm woke him at 6 am thanks to Mikah having gone into the ship's computer and "setting it for him".  After going through his morning routine, Rol moved out into the ship's lounge to cook breakfast.  His work was speeded by the experience of cooking the light dinner the night before, and he better knew where to turn for things he'd known the place of aboard the Hotel California.  Finally, he was beginning to plate food on serving platters when the others started coming out of their staterooms because Mikah had set the ship's general alarms for 7 am.

Sitting down to eat, the biggest question was where they would take the ship during the shakedown?  They wanted to be outside the traffic lanes, which meant getting out of the elliptic.  All Imperial systems were covered by an arrival and departure system which designated quadrants above and below the orbital plane of each world.  But those zones didn't rise or fall too far outside the elliptic.  So, burning well above or below the plane would get them far enough into "free space" that they could even test fire their weapons.  Something Mikah made it very clear they'd notify the port and military about before they did it.

Next, they talked about just how hard they would push the ship and Mikah said they needed to push everything hard.  It would be much better to break things where they could take it back and make a claim on the warrantee then in some distant system where the fertilizer was hitting the arboreal oscillator.  When Zimzod asked about any chance they could get target practice against some military practice targets, he was told that would not happen because they weren't military ships.

Checking the system schematics, he saw there were two asteroid belts in the system and talked about going out there to shoot at rocks.  Having been from a system with a lot of asteroid belts and belters, Fesic suggested they'd have to be real careful if they did that.  He said they could start shooting at a rock only to have it shoot right back at them because some belter had a mining operation going there.  In the end, Mikah decided they'd drive the ship well above the elliptic and told Aiden to compile a flight plan and test agenda to file with the civilian and military authorities.  That would make sure everyone was warned.

That decided, Aiden was asked if they wanted to try out the new drone, because he was their sensors expert.  Unfortunately, he'd never even seen that system, nor had he had the chance to read any of the documentation.  That meant Aiden wasn't really interested in rushing into playing with something they could take their time with and better understand.  When Fesic muttered that it was odd that the Scouts happened to have an Imperial Navy system to sell, Mikah corrected him, saying, "Never Question" in the tone of a wiser elder.

Regardless where it came to them from, Aiden decided he'd spend some time in jump reading the drone's manual and other documentation.  If there was space enough in the cargo bay, he might even play with it a bit in the enclosed space.  With everyone else at their stations or working in their ship sections, Rol and Jocelynn had no stations.  They spent the twelve hours of exercises familiarizing themselves with every space on the ship they could get to.  They worked to check and squeeze into every space they could, learning the ship in case of intruders.

In their individual explorations, Jocelynn spent a good chunk of time in the engineering spaces while keeping out of the way of Aali and the androids.  Rol did some personal investigation of the ship's upper deck.  While in engineering, Aali reminded Jocelynn about the weapon grav shoe she'd bought and the spare parts they had, waiting for a 'droid to be available to do the parts swap.  When Jocelynn nodded that she remembered, Aali said they'd have to decide when to do that once the shakedown was done.

Finally, after twelve hours of work, it was time to put the systems on automatic and kick back to see how their computer performed?  Sitting down, each of the different departments reported their results from flight down.  Aali was pleased at the ship's performance so far, and Aiden was happy with both the power and responsiveness.  Fesic and Zimzod had test fired every system except live firing the sand casters.  That would have cost them money to do, so they only cycled through the process until the simulated firing order.  Everyone else was pleased with their outcomes too.

Emkir was very happy to have found that the computer cabling and network elements were fiber-optic, so they were hardened against radiation blasts.  When he told the others he'd found their system was "fully hardened", Fesic asked, "What?  Emkir has a hard-on for the computer?!" in a somewhat disturbed tone.  Terin muttered, "Be sure to clean the ports out once you're done in there." and got more laughs than Fesic had.  Emkir also said he'd found that computer had been installed when the ship had been built, so it was not an uncomfortable upgrade.

Along with the expected jokes came a huge wave when Emkir said he planned to spend the coming weeks getting "very well acquainted with" the computer.  Suddenly, heads swung to Aali as people made jokes about Emkir bringing the computer to bed at night.  Aali weathered comments like Terin asking if they had to glue a dildo to the computer or Zimzod asking if Emkir would be "inserting hose A into slot B?"  That suddenly ended when a comms came in on the ship's general channel.

Mikah answered the call to find herself talking to Scout Leader Udagis.  After his greetings, Udagis said he hoped all their ship's systems were working as expected?  Mikah happily told him everything seemed to be working perfectly, and reminded him they'd continue the shakedown until the next day too.  Nodding, Udagis said, "That is wonderful.  When are you planning to leave the system?"  Mikah was, to say the least, surprised by his abrupt change of direction and had to wonder what they'd done to have system authorities wanting them to leave?

Mikah said they'd return to the station after the shakedown the next day and load on more gear while also trying to get a cargo.  Pausing after that, she estimated three or four days.  Nodding, Udagis said, "The last time I spoke to members of your crew, they weren't exactly sure where you were going and could only give me vague ideas.  Have you decided where you're going?"  Now it was Mikah who nodded as she firmly said, "Yes.  We're going to Wypoc."

Udagis didn't react much but from what Mikah could tell, he didn't look especially pleased with that.  In the pause, she could almost see gears turning in his head before he suddenly asked, "Is it possible you could go in the other direction?"  Taken by surprise, Mikah could only think to ask "Why?" as she tried to think her way through his request.  Before he answered, Udagis asked, "Well, have you been watching the news?".  Mikah said, "No", hoping to draw more information from him.

Nodding, Udagis continued, "OK.  If you had been watching, you might have picked up on news of the instability of the Commonality of Kedzudh, a Vargr ally of the Imperium.  One problem the Imperium has is that we have a number of officers and civilians who are forward-deployed in the region.  Because of that, there are a large number of resources we'd like to reach out to, to communicate with or possibly extract."  When Mikah nodded for him to continue, Udagis said, "Given your ship and the makeup of your crew, we were wondering if you might like to accept an open-ended contract with the Imperial Scout service?"

Interested in hearing the man out, Mikah put the comms on a speaker so the entire crew could hear what the Scouts were asking and offering.  Now that he was on speaker, Udagis backtracked to remind the crew that the Commonality of Kedzudh had apparently become destabilized.  As far as any Imperial sources knew, several of the solar systems of the Commonality had broken away from the nation.  That also suggested the Commonality's navy was fragmenting too.  Reports also suggested two independent systems riftward of the Commonality had also destabilized.

Making things more difficult, the independent systems were between the Imperial border and the Commonality.  Those systems were the ones most usually used by Imperial ships crossing to the Commonality from the Imperial bases in the Marz system(Deneb Sector/Pretoria subsector).  So, the main route used for information was broken and it was most likely that forces gone rogue from the Commonality had occupied the independent systems.  That made getting any accurate information difficult, not to mention communicating with any Imperial officers or agents.

The only other routes into Commonality space, or former-Commonality space, led from the Regina or Aramis subsectors of the Spinward Marches through what Imperial military forces largely considered "Vargr corsair space".  It was a band of space several parsecs wide containing eight vargr worlds.  The populations of those worlds were a mix of refugees, scratch-dirt colonies, temporary settlements and corsair or pirate bases.  One of the eight systems was even a Red Zone, though the Imperial Navy could only enforce that by impounding ships coming from that system.

They were told they'd have to make their way through a very dangerous swath of independent Vargr space to reach an interstellar nation which was apparently tearing itself apart.  Even worse, the reactions would shift based on what flag they entered each system under.  If they chose to be an Imperial Merchant, any anti-Imperial factions might well open fire on sight.  Same for choosing to fly under false Imperial Diplomatic colors.  And if they went in as an unaffiliated merchant, they could be seen as easy meat for the pirates, or for a "newly minted" naval force commander trying to steal supplies and additional ships for their newly won fleet.  Hearing this, Zimzod enthusiastically said, "That sounds like fun!" 

The others recognized the mission would be very risky and the Lead Scout wasn't going to even try to deny that.  When Zimzod asked about what they'd get paid, he was told that would depend on what they achieved?  Payment started at "The crew's jump costs plus Cr 10,000 per crew per month."  They would get a payment of Cr 5,000 for each confirmed contact with an Imperial resource who chose not to return to the Imperium with them.  They'd get a payment of Cr 100,000 for each Imperial agent or officer they managed to extract and bring home.  There would also be bonuses depending on how difficult any of those extractions were.

If the crew took the job, the Scouts would also send word with all their other ships and agents going into that space that the Upgrade was under contract to the IISS.  Those forces would then give a hand when they could, but that would only be when that was possible.  The Scouts in the crew realized that meant no help would be coming if the Upgrade was under fire and desperately calling for help while ships in the area read the odds and didn't think they could win.  So, there could be situations where they'd be written off instead of helped.

When Emkir suggested they could travel as unaffiliated merchants and act like "Upper Class Twits of the Year", that was shot down fast.  Any unaffiliated merchant would automatically be a target just by arriving there.  So, any merchant captain choosing to fly there had to be very smart or backed up by a warship, like Oberlindes Lines were.  Going in acting like "upper class twits" would almost guarantee they were attacked because they were seen as either 'too stupid to defend themselves' or behaving in such an aristocratic way that they had to have valuable goods aboard which could be looted.  Still, Aiden admitted that sort of behavior was right up their alley, which comment helped no one or achieved any good.

It was also pointed out they couldn't go in covertly because they couldn't pretend to be vargr.  Mikah joked that they could claim to have suffered from a plague of "Human Pattern Baldness Syndrome" while Aali suggested they claim the disease was called "Monkey-itis".  When Jocelynn mentioned Countess Athkazuk, and suggested she could be of help as a Vargr, Rol said that wouldn't work.  He pointed out that while Athkazuk was a Vargr, she was just another Imperial citizen who had no known relationships or authority in vargr space.

Thinking about the distance, and how long it would take to travel there and back at Cr 10k each month, Jocelynn asked if getting to that part of space would take them through the Regina system?  She was told there would be several ways to get there from Inthe.  The first would lead almost directly coreward, through systems along the trailing edge of the Regina subsector which included the Keng system - Rol's homeworld.  From what he'd told them, no one was excited to go there.  The route could also cross through the Heya system, where Rol earned the Starburst for Extreme Heroism in 1111.  After crossing the Imperial border, they would then have to play tick tack toe passing through a number of non-aligned and likely very dangerous star clusters where vargr corsairs might well have bases of varying strengths.

The second route left Inthe for a string of worlds that would lead them across the Aramis abyss and reach the Aramanx cluster.  From there, they'd travel coreward along the Towers trace until they got to the Imperial border at the Jesedipere system, where Rol was still accused of war crimes and wanted!  That raised the question if Rol would be able to leave the system again after they arrived there?  And, would the Scouts pay for any time spent delayed there?  And, after crossing the border, they'd again have to make the same passages through systems that were likely very dangerous for a lone vessel of any type.

From what they'd heard so far, this sounded to Aali like it was the sort of thing they did, and she said so.  The others started to agree, and Zimzod and Rol said they were in favor of taking the mission too.  Jocelynn played that up, saying that would give the people on Wypoc time to look for Brian's family while they were spending what would likely be six months to a year outside the Imperium all together.  No one pointed out that was a mis-statement of what might happen on Wypoc.  Yes, the Countess had sent word asking if the family were there.  But there was no organized effort to search for them.  Intelligence assets in-system would just check the census and communications data.  When that was mentioned, Zimzod said he didn't care because Brian wasn't going to get any more dead.

Getting back to the job in question, Zimzod asked the Lead Scout if Imperial bases would provide free fuel for the ship?  Udagis reminded Zimzod they would be leaving the Imperium, so there would be no one to get the fuel from.  He did remind Zimzod that their fuel costs would be compensated for when they got back.  Udagis did promise, as he'd said earlier, that he'd send word with any other missions that the Upgrade was due any assistance that could be provided.  But he hammered on the fact that they'd be leaving the Imperium into an unstable stretch of space where no one could guess what they'd face?

Some Vargr worlds would be on a 'war footing' and ready to repel anything because it might be a corsair or other hazard.  Other worlds would actually be pirate and corsair bases.  And he told them he was certain they'd end up facing combat in more than one situation.  Udagis also added that there was no way anyone could tell them what they'd encounter after they crossed the border?  At that, Rol asked how deep into vargr space they would need to go?  Flashing a map on the screen, Udagis told them they'd possibly need to travel through the whole of the Commonality.  That meant they'd be six to ten parsecs beyond the Imperial border.

When Mikah asked about locations and how the crew would find or identify any agents or officers, Udagis told her the crew would be expected to be very obvious when they arrived in each location.  That way, any agents or officers would be able to signal them with code phrases the scouts would give the ship.  When Mikah asked if more people would have those codes, Udagis said the only people who would have the phrase books would be those running rescue missions.  Each agent or officer would only have one to three of them.  Unless, Udagis admitted, someone was captured and gave them up.  Hearing that, Rol joked, "Like us."

When Udagis came back around to asking if they wanted to take the job, Mikah asked if they could get a loaner ship to fly during the mission?  The Lead Scout said "No" and reminded her the crew were only being offered the job because they had a ship that could handle the distances.  Even the Hotel California wouldn't have qualified.  Nodding, Mikah asked, "If, when we get back, the ship is damaged..."  She was cut off as Jocelynn asked, "free repairs?"  Udagis simply said, "No."  In a surprised tone, both Mikah and Emkir asked, "No??" and Mikah added, "You're not going to repair the ship when we get back?"  Her question was more confused than angry.

Udagis explained to them that they were being offered a contract, but it would be up to them to keep their ship intact or deal with any repairs that were required.  He also reminded them he'd said the IISS couldn't even guarantee they'd come back from the mission at all?  So, there were no repairs or replacements offered or accounted for in the contract.  Seeing this could cost not only millions or tens of millions of credits, but even risk losing the ship entirely, Mikah looked at Udagis and said, "No!"  Udagis guessed, and felt correctly, when he asked, "You're not going to take the job?"  For the first time in the conversation, Udagis looked disappointed.

When the crew realized there was nothing protecting their ship and there were no offers of repairs, that changed almost every opinion.  Rol still thought it sounded like a good idea, but everyone else was more concerned about losing what was for them, a brand-new ship.  And Mikah was against going tens of millions of credits in debt if they did manage to get back and had to take out massive loans to make repairs.  Disappointed but firm, Udagis said he and the Scout Service could not offer any mitigation on repair costs.

The crew were in agreement they didn't want to take the ship into a shooting gallery if they were not promised repairs.  So, they declined the offer.  After that, Udagis thanked them for hearing him out and the comms ended.  At that point, Jocelynn shrugged and said, "To Wypoc, it is then."  Following that, the crew settled in and relaxed until Zimzod decided it was time to grab Mikah and christen one of their two staterooms.  Emkir thought that would have been an excellent idea, but his back was still not healed enough for him and Aali to do much.  Following the couples, the rest of the crew eventually made their way into their staterooms for the night.

Security And Criminality

     Just like the day before, this morning began at 6am when the alarm set by Mikah went off to wake Rol early.  His alarm was followed by the other alarms at 7am as the crew prepared for another day spent testing the ship's systems.  Emkir brought a tablet with system statistics and diagnostic results to read while eating breakfast.  When Rol asked how the computer was performing, Emkir said he was very pleased.

Rol then asked if Emkir thought they could start connecting devices to the system and Emkir asked what he had in mind?  Rol said he had ten micro-cameras he wanted to install to provide the crew internal surveillance in case they had to deal with intruders.  Emkir said they could, and joined him in setting them up in the time he had spare while not pushing his boards.  They eventually set up the following surveillance positions:

On the upper deck they placed cameras:
    1) Outside the Medbay, facing toward the IRIS Valve to the Lounge
    2) Outside Mikah's stateroom, turned 45 degrees, toward the computer room
    3) Outside the Computer Room, facing toward the starboard side of the ship
    4) Low Berth Compartment, Above the entry hatch, facing in towards the compartment
    5) Bridge, In the far starboard right-angle corner, covering the entry hatch and Bridge stations

On the lower deck they placed cameras:
    1) In the intersection of three passages, covering the passage going aft to engineering
    2) Also in the intersection, covering the corridor heading forward to the cargo bay
    3) In the cargo bay, above the IRIS valve and covering the cargo hatch
    4) In the air-lock, above the inner hatch and facing the outer hatch
    5) Cutter Bay, Above the entry hatch, facing toward the launch door

One of the reasons Rol specifically needed Emkir was to configure the cameras on the computer side of the system.  He also needed Emkir to program the input feeds so they could be broadcast to any screen aboard the ship.  That way, any of the crew could call up a feed from any, or any number of cameras on to a full or split screen.  Emkir could also partition memory so he could set up an on-server storage space and then set up space on their SSD array to keep the data against the need to help in possible future investigations.

During his work, throughout the day, Fesic dipped into his search for cargo between working the gunnery systems.  The first decision had been to buy a speculative load of cargo instead of simply hauling freight. Hauling would limit them to KCr 35 instead of any greater profit they might earn speculating.  Knowing what Wypoc imported, Fesic still had to worry about what they contracted on a regular basis and bought in bulk?  He could be certain that Wypoc brought in bulk food as well as water-ice and consumable gasses brought in by massive liquid gas tankers.  Fesic had to work that out because they couldn't compete selling stuff they brought in in bulk.

Because of that, Fesic had looked into those things that couldn't be brought in in mega-lots.  He looked for the relative luxuries which he was certain would still be able to be brought in and sold for a profit.  "Relative", because things which would be seen as luxuries in the Wypoc system might not be anything special in other systems, or even considered trash in some.  Another issue Fesic had to watch was how much they spent on whatever cargo they picked up?  Wypoc was not a wealthy system and they'd not be able to afford cargos which were too expensive.  Another concern was the stability of any cargo over time.  If it remained stable for longer periods, they could hold onto the cargo if Wypoc couldn't afford it, to sell in another port.

During the day, as they chatted about the cargo, Terin asked about advertising for low berth passengers?  Mikah just answered him, "Nobody wants to go to Wypoc" in a knowing tone.  That suggested she didn't even want to bother.  Raising his hands to either side of his head, Terin said, "You never know.  It never hurts to look" in a tone which wasn't exactly not exasperated...  Into this, Rol recommended they look for any lots of gourmet chocolate because it would sell out.  When that was challenged, Mikah was willing to bet they could sell out a cargo of high-end chocolates.

Looking up the system's population to support her position, Mikah saw the permanent population of the Wypoc system was above three hundred thousand.  In many settled systems, that would be a moderate city.  Still, the low population was low enough to push down prices for a large enough cargo of some luxuries.  Others would sell well if the people there could afford it?  Terin also chipped into the conversation, suggesting Fesic start looking for entertainment goods, but Mikah shot that down.  She said they had limited time to look for cargos, and would look for what they were sure the people of Wypoc would want to spend their little extra cash on.

While they planned and worked, Jocelynn also asked for any better ideas on smuggling her battledress from port to port until they could find a way to make it legal?  And "making it legal" relied on highly placed friends, forged paperwork or finding a way to officially buy it (which would cost millions of Credits if they could find a way to do it).  So, that wasn't happening any time soon.  Still, they would be flying to Wypoc soon, and at that port and each port after, they'd face customs and other inspections.

While the members of the crew had many fantasy ideas, or suggestions which would only work in very bad fiction, the truth was they'd have to rely on their best efforts, luck and the intensity of each search conducted.  If they went back to the Lanth system, they could be certain every space and surface would be exhaustively covered.  Currently, their plans were to go from Inthe to Wypoc before continuing on through the Dinomn and Ghandi systems before reaching the Sonthert system.  That promised three inspections of varying levels, with the odds of any search in Wypoc being low.  Still, no one could come up with any really good ideas.  Even Aali.

Eventually, Mikah said their best bet was to break it down to its smallest parts and mix it in with the android parts they had in engineering.  That way, they could hope any parts seen would be mistaken for android parts and skipped over by any scanning teams.  Zimzod was still in favor of opening a sand canister and hiding it in sand, but that was before he saw how small a sand canister was.  Getting around any scanning team, he suggested they have that canister in the "ready to fire" position, so a team that wanted to scan it would need to unload the whole weapon.  That led to jokes about accidentally firing Jocelynn's battledress at someone.

Outside of smuggling and working their stations as they pushed the ship, they also eventually turned back to the port.  Contacting the port on the way, Mikah signed the ship up for another external docking berth and paid the Cr 700 cost.  After tying up to the station, as the port offered services, Mikah decided to replace the meals they'd eaten which added up to 9 high end meals and 72 average.  That cost the ship Cr 660.  She did that while Fesic connected up to the port's trade network to continue his cargo search.

Crash Test Dummy

     After they were docked and secure, and people were connecting to the station to buy things, Rol connected to InstellArms about the ammunition he wanted to sell.  Taking the list he'd created, the agent told Rol they could pay Cr 4,500 for the lot.  While that wasn't nearly what they'd charge him for the same ammunition, Rol just wanted to clear space in his new stateroom as he organized his gear.  So, Rol agreed and they gave him an estimate of when they'd arrive to confirm the lot, pay for it and remove it from the ship.

Terin called Kadika, to see if she was available, but her roommate said she was working.  When he asked, the woman didn't know about Kadika's shift that night, so Terin let it go and cut the line.  When they were cleared for commerce, Emkir called his chiropractor to see if the doctor had night hours?  Getting the doctor's service, they said they could give Emkir the contact data for other providers or a hospital if it was an emergency?  Or, he could set an appointment for the next day.  Thanking the operator, Emkir cut the line and turned to Mikah.

When he asked if he should push for treatment, she suggested he could be their crash test dummy.  Not sure what Mikah meant, he looked at her with a confused expression until Mikah reminded him this ship had an autodoc system.  Still not sure where she was going with that, he looked askance at her until she said he could be the first person aboard to try it.  Because any autodoc unit was fairly expensive, a number of the crew had never seen or heard of one before.  So, Mikah had to explain it to them.  As she did, Aiden offered to shoot Emkir to see how good the unit was, and Zimzod was all for that!

Figuring it was easier than finding a new doctor, and because Mikah seemed OK with it, Emkir agreed to try it out.  That started a run to the ship's med-bay as everyone wanted to see how this worked?  Eventually, since he had to undress to be treated, everyone but Mikah and Aali had to wait outside as Mikah led Emkir into the surgery, which was a separate room from the medical office. 

After Emkir had been settled into the unit, Mikah ran through the settings and activated the unit, which then entered 'Diagnostic mode'.  She stayed by the console while it went through its process and finally came up with a diagnosis.  Because of her settings, the unit stopped, waiting for Mikah to OK the results before starting treatment.  Mikah was impressed with the results.  Not only was the diagnosis correct, the autodoc also gave her sets of very-high definition images regarding both the healing injury and the treatment plan the device had selected to offer.

Checking the treatment options, Mikah saw there were four recommendations:
    Significant surgery, to entirely rebuild the damaged structures.
    Moderate Surgery, to enhance recovery by rebuilding limited portions of the damaged structure
    Minor Surgery, to add recovery intensifiers, protein booster injections and other medical enhancers
    Bypass procedures: (Three Sub-options)
         Cutting the nerve to deaden it until a regrowth regimen was possible
         Chemical deadening of the nerve until a regrowth regimen was possible
         Temporary medical deadening of the nerve with variable time effectiveness
         Short-term medical deadening of the nerve with variable time effectiveness
The continuing options were less and less effective or acceptable, and all the surgical options would take more time than they had in port with their current plans.  Mikah recommended the option of minor surgery to put medical enhancers in place as the best course of treatment given the time they had.  After speaking with Emkir and Aali, Mikah selected that treatment and the unit got to work.  It anesthetized Emkir right off as it signaled Aali and Mikah the procedure would take four hours.

Because that meant Emkir wouldn't be done until the middle of the night, Aali decided to set an alarm in their stateroom and take a nap.  Mikah agreed, and both ladies went to grab some sleep.  Both set their alarms to wake them fifteen minutes before the procedure was expected to finish.  Aali also set a comms unit in the surgery and set it to play in her stateroom in case Emkir woke early.  Because others were also going to sleep, Mikah set the ship wide alarms for 7am, and 6am for Rol.

The night passed to morning and very early that morning Mikah and Aali's alarms went off.  Briefly waking up Zimzod, Mikah asked him if he wanted to come see what was coming out of the oven in the med-bay?  Zimzod said, "Sure" but was also disappointed he didn't have a plastic dildo to stick on Emkir's forehead as he was waking up.  That was good enough, though, because Aali wouldn't have appreciated it.  The couple came out of their stateroom to meet Aali and move back to the med-bay.

In the surgery, Mikah checked the readings as the autodoc began reviving Emkir.  Mikah had told Aali Zimzod was there to assist her, though that really fooled no one and it was obvious he was there looking for a laugh.  In truth, Zimzod was also interested in how well the autodoc worked, because it would be their only serious medical support if Mikah were injured and he'd have to put her into the machine if she were badly wounded or sick.

Emkir began to wake as the autodoc started producing its final reports on the procedure.  Mikah found the data included MRI and other imaging data from both before and after treatment.  These supported bio-chemical testing and other readouts.  A warning was given, for the medical technician to give the patient, that no actual healing had occurred during the treatment because that had not been what Mikah selected.  Despite the anesthesia and lack of pain, the damage was still present and the patient should continue to use any safety appliances they had been using before the procedure.

Inside the autodoc, Emkir had lain down without knowing what to expect.  Autodoc units were fairly high tech and expensive, so they were rare to encounter, and not available in most systems.  He remembered getting in and lying down, but nothing else.  Coming to, he realized he must have dozed off because he heard a soft chiming sound as he opened his eyes, and had a sense time had passed.  The chiming first sounded distant, but Emkir soon realized it wasn't far off but echoing in the small space he lay in.  Then, he remembered where he was and turned his head to see if he could look up and out of the autodoc?

The next thing Emkir realized was that his lower back wasn't in pain!  Since the brawling, Emkir had been in varying levels of pain which had never gone below a five on a one to ten scale, and had sometimes gone to eleven or twelve.  For the first time in almost a week, he was sure he could sit, stand up and walk without any pain at all!  Of course, before he could try any of that, the unit had to be opened up to give him the space he'd need.  Still, he couldn't help thinking the autodoc was fucking magic!

When the clamshell top of the unit opened, Zimzod made a face, as if he was looking down on something horrifying and cried out, "Oh my god!!"  Ignoring that, Emkir was looking for Aali as Mikah leaned in.  When Emkir asked, "Hi.  Am I OK?" Mikah said, "Warning.  You are not healed.  The pain you are not feeling is temporary."  Nodding, Emkir said, "Ah.  But it's worth it.  It doesn't hurt anymore."  And as he said that, the passion in his voice spoke volumes.  Mikah reinforced that the lack of pain was only temporary and there was only a slight improvement.  She also told him he'd have to continue taking all the care he had been, and keep using the grav belt.

When Emkir happily said it was worth it to be free of the pain, Zimzod joked, "For that, we could have just given you vargr juice." and they all laughed.  Mikah did say, "At least, we know the autodoc works."  Emkir only, and very formally, said, "I'm very happy to have provided a service to the ship."  After that, Emkir dressed and got back in the grav belt for the short trip to his and Aali's stateroom.  The four all went back to sleep after that, until the alarms woke them the following morning.

Making Deals And Money

     The next morning started much similar to the last two, as alarms went off and people woke.  Picking up his notes from the night before, Fesic jumped on the various shipping deals he'd been working on over the last days.  Mikah was told the port expected the Upgrade to depart or pay for another day if they planned to stay.  Mikah decided to let Fesic chase a cargo and paid the Cr 700 for another day.  Hearing that, Terin delayed collecting data so he would have the most up to date info for his jump plot.

Fesic was looking for luxury food and had found someone offering to sell high end foodstuffs at Cr 4,000 per ton.  He'd been watching this seller for some time and they only started actually selling that morning, offering the cargo in five-ton lots.  With the space available in their cargo bay, Fesic posted that the Upgrade was willing to take six lots, which would be thirty tons.  Fesic got a quick reply and an offer to cut the price down to eighty five percent of the ask if the ship was ready to pay.  Not asking why the seller was ready to move so fast, Fesic checked the cost and asked Mikah for permission to use ship's funds.

The numbers came to Cr 3,400 per ton or KCr 102 with all the fees and other items.  Signing the deal, Fesic logged into the ship's funds and sent the cash to the seller, who promised to have the cargo on their deck the next day.  Because of that, Mikah saw they'd need another day in port and paid the station.  With that, Terin asked if they wanted to advertise for passengers again?  Mikah really didn't believe they'd get any passengers but was willing to advertise and see what happened?  So, after posting to the port's boards, the crew went back to their work.

A day later, the advertising brought them four low passage tickets, which really surprised Mikah.  She was also surprised when one of the passengers asked if he could ship an extra ton of personal gear aboard the ship, in the cargo bay?  He said up front that he was willing to pay extra for the service.  Concerned at that, Mikah told him she'd want to know what was in the cargo first, and he said he'd allow it to be completely scanned or even opened.  Mikah accepted that.  With that settled, Mikah told the passenger it would cost Cr 4,000 for him to ship his pod as "special carriage".

As Captain of the ship, Mikah told the passengers there would be a low berth lottery, and that the winnings would go to the ship if the winner died.  All the passengers accepted that, though some without as much grace as the others.  They all entered their Cr 10 each in the low berth lottery, and Mikah secured those funds in the ship's safe.  Sule Butsos bet on one survivor, Aagigim Shindar and Dirlar Liigamshar bet on three and Gingin Nakan bet all four would survive in a wave of optimism.

Since the sellers said they'd deliver the cargo the next morning, Mikah estimated they'd be squared away by mid-afternoon.  Because of that, she figured they could order Cr 40 in pizza for lunch and tell the passengers to arrive at the ship by 10 am for boarding.  It would take her until noon to prep and suspend the passengers and have everything squared away for departure.  After that, Mikah went back to her own preparations for the rest of the day.

Boarding And Other Excitement

     The morning began at six for Rol, and seven for the others, as they got up and got ready to receive both their cargo and passengers.  After eating, Terin started connecting to the port to get the newest updates on data from the local and Wypoc systems for his navigational plot.  Checking out the ship after eating, Jocelynn stepped into the bridge and decided to look over the ship's locker.  When she did, she saw that the gear there had been randomly pulled out of the pods and secured with no order at all.  She wondered if anyone had thought about the stuff in there at all?

Reporting to Mikah on the bridge, Jocelynn asked about the locker and Mikah just shrugged it off.  When Mikah didn't seem concerned about the gear, Jocelynn asked permission to organize it in her spare time.  Mikah said she could if she wanted, though her tone said she had no clue why anyone would want to?  When it seemed Jocelynn really wanted to do the work, Mikah said she could do it when they were in jump space.  Zimzod mentioned that he needed to get a gang of crew good with hand tools to set up the lockers he'd bought.  That was something else that was planned for jump space.

Mikah also wanted to get the ship name plates recovered from the Hotel California mounted in the new bridge.  Of course, that was a simple thing since she only had to get some microfoil from Aali.  That would self-weld the plates to the bulkhead wall.  That meant the job was a simple "measure-cut-weld" job.  For the rest of the morning, the crew did work preparing their stations, checking systems and supplies and getting ready for the passengers and departure.

By ten, the cargo was delivered and the passengers had started showing up.  When Sule Butsos arrived with his cargo, Mikah scanned it and even had him open what he could.  The one-ton pod had nothing in it that she could see was dangerous.  The goods were all personal items, clothing and possessions and Mikah almost demanded, "What are you, moving there?"  Her tone was incredulous.  Butsos calmly answered, "No.  I'm going back home."  When Mikah asked why he was going back, Butsos told her he had to.  He told her he'd been sent to the Inthe system on a contract and had to honor the return clause.  If he didn't, his family back on Wypoc would have to pay his debts and penalties.  Plus, his expenses in the Inthe system wouldn't be paid any longer.

Getting past that, Mikah had to work with Zimzod's help to put each of their meat popsicles into four of the low berths.  While she did have some issues getting one of the passengers to settle in, the work was eventually done and their small lots of baggage were settled with Butsos' pod stored in the cargo bay.  Finally buttoned up, Mikah made the call to the port as Terin finished up the work on his jump plot and stored it in the ship's flight computer.

With the port's compliments, the ship broke dock and slipped into a departure course towards the system's spinward-rimward exit jump quadrant.  A few hours after that, the ship reached Terin's computed jump point and had dropped her speed to null before Aiden hit the button.  Watching as the sensors went wild, the jump systems poured energy to their lanthanum grid and the ship did a controlled tumble into jump space.  There was another ten minutes in the bridge as the crew validated their readings and confirmed they were secure in jump space.

Now in Jump, Mikah planned to check on each of the low berth passengers once a day even though that wasn't needed.  She also planned to help Aali where the help was needed.  Zimzod told Rol, Jocelynn and Fesic they were on his team to build out the lockers.  After they were done, people could move a good amount of their ammo, weapons and armor out of their staterooms.  Jocelynn's chief concern was hiding the parts of her battledress well enough that she hoped it would not be detected.  After that, she would work on both building the lockers and organizing the ship's locker.

It wasn't missed that Jocelynn's battledress had to be broken down and hidden during system entry, in case of customs patrols.  But that was also the exact time pirate or other hostile vessels might choose to attack them.  So, the very minute they might need her in armor was the exact moment she couldn't safely be in armor if they all didn't want to get arrested for smuggling.  During her first evening aboard, Jocelynn had mounted the shadowbox displaying her decorations on her stateroom wall.

Zimzod planned on stalking Mikah when he wasn't involved in ship's work, stentwork or gear maintenance.  The lockers Zimzod bought could store up to three long arms, not including power packs, six more handguns and four or so cases of ammunition.  They would not store combat armor or battledress.  In addition to her work in engineering, Aali had to supervise the installation of Zimzod and Jocelynn's battledress docking stations, so those suits could be properly charged.

Aiden planned to team up with Terin and work on figuring out the drone the scouts sold them, so they could try it out once they hit free space again.  Other than that, he planned on stentwork, physical training and reading or vids.  Securing from his station at the ship's weapons after they entered jump space, Fesic did a check of the cargo deck to make sure everything had stayed locked down and secure.  Outside his official responsibilities, Fesic also wanted to create a crew-only betting pool for how many of the passengers survived.

Fesic said each person who wanted to bet would put in Cr 10, and give their guess how many survivors there would be.  Then, when the passengers were wakened, the crew who guessed right would split the pot.  Jocelynn told Fesic he was terrible, and Zimzod said, in a very formal voice, "Bettin on people's mortality.  That is just fuckin' morbid, man."  Of course, when he was asked, Zimzod was absolutely in.  When it was done, everyone but Jocelynn was in, because she didn't have the spare money to throw away if she lost.  In the end, the pot was Cr 80 and Fesic bet two passengers would revive.  Aiden, Emkir, Mikah and Rol bet three would survive.  Aali, Terin and Zimzod bet all four would survive.

On top of what else she had planned, Jocelynn planned to start doing regular workouts each day.  Terin planned to do more stentwork and see what he could do about getting back into his computer studies.  Sadly, the computer studies were going to be difficult because he was lying to himself when he thought even Emkir could come up with a proper training class on the fly.  When he brought that idea up to Emkir, the one thing the Admiral knew he had to do was protect the ship from any mistakes Terin might make while logged into the ship's computer.

Emkir told Terin not to do anything until he could set up a secure sandbox for Terin to work in.  With that decided, Emkir asked the others if they also wanted him to set up sandboxes in computer memory for them too?  Terin also did stentwork and physical workouts.  On top of helping with the weapons lockers in the cargo bay, Rol announced he'd be doing maintenance on everyone's vacc suits during the jump.  He also planned to do stentwork, communications self-training and working out.  Rol also asked if there was any weapons work people wanted him to do?

When Emkir asked who wanted a sandbox, in addition to Terin, he was told Mikah, Fesic and Aali wanted sandboxes for their work.  The work to support that was a simple thing and Emkir had that done after the first full day in jump.  He'd spent much of the initial day in jump observing and managing the computer's operations and resource usage.  Emkir also spent some time investigating the ship's entertainment library.  He also uploaded the scans of Brian's books, so he could get back to investigating those too.  Adding to the things others had come up with, Fesic decided he and Zimzod had to get more familiar with the ship's weapons.  Finding a very basic gunnery test program in the ship's computer, he told Zimzod they'd carry out regular training during the jump.

Wandering through the entertainment suite, Emkir found the simulation game he'd enjoyed of ancient biplane combat.  Deciding to have some fun, Emkir spent some of his free time identifying how he could tie in the game to holographic projectors on this new higher tech ship.  What he found was that a great many things were tied into the holoprojectors throughout the ship.  As a result, Aiden found himself working on configuring screens on the bridge when he was suddenly attacked by miniature diving biplanes.  Emkir had found they were called "Sopwith camels" for some reason.  On the bridge, Aiden's head was attacked by waves of machinegun firing holographic biplanes and a hail of bullets as they swept through his head then disappeared.

From the same game, Mikah found herself attacked while in the shower.  This time, the flimsy looking aircraft were three-winged, from a file called "Fokker Dr 1".  Again, the reasons for the name had been lost to history, but Emkir enjoyed waiting to hear people talking about the strange events when they came out into the ship's common spaces.  Of course, he was the primary suspect, being the crew's chief computer tech, but he wasn't the only one, so there were some laughs early on.  Eventually, he had to confess to his antics and the others were relieved that he couldn't actually see them through the game interfaces.  Especially Mikah, who had been in the shower.  He could only order their movements while a wire-line plotted their locations on a ship schematic.

Medically, it took several more days and one more session in the autodoc for Emkir to be OK'd to hang up the grav belt and start walking on his own.  Along with that, things were beginning to return to normal, if not more careful or gentle.  The return of some more normal activities helped Emkir relax about his recovery.  Despite the pleasure of returning to more normal things, the pain factor skyrocketed when he did.  So, he did get back into moving on his own and also accepted a physical therapy regimen from Mikah which hurt even more.  And that only made another session in the autodoc that much more of a pleasure.  Something he could become addicted to if he wasn't careful.

Mikah did have a special exercise she really wanted to have Emkir do.  It involved him standing facing a wall at a distance of three quarters of an arm's length.  He would be expected to stand with his feet spread at the width of his shoulders.  She would then have him raise his arms in front of himself and lean forward to catch himself against the wall.  Then...
She'd stand behind him and hit him in the back with a large stick or club repeatedly, hoping he'd learn not get himself injured like that again.

For Aali, stent practice had changed to "stent teaching" as she helped the others of the crew with their studies.  Especially since she had pulled so far out in front of the others.  Her own learning had now become folded into her use of the stent to communicate with the ship's computers and systems.  And, with the androids in engineering.  A major advantage she had as she advanced was the ability to "mind read" and even "mind write" documents, which not only worked much faster(though not nearly at the speed of thought) but also significantly improved her "first time through" comprehension.

While her data recovery and transmission had sped up considerably, she would still need to do the mental work in thinking through or working that data to draw conclusions or choose actions or responses.  Still, Aali was now able to negotiate networks to reach active controls, and was now dealing with the difficulty of separating her thought stream to multitask and carry out instructions with those controls.  While a strand of her mind was needed to open and manage network connections and datapaths, another strand needed to identify, consider and manage each control she was trying to understand and then manipulate.  The more complex the data path to access, the less easy it was for Aali to even see a control. Still, Aali was now having a good deal of success with any controls that were easy to reach.

That let her launch scripts on upper level control panels which then activated other scripts to carry out fairly complex tasks.  Because of the sandbox Emkir had created for her, Aali was able to create variable-based scripts that carried out different sets of instructions based on the variable she attached to it.  And, after testing, she'd be able to add those to her engineering command panel.  Still, her skills in computer programming were so basic that she relied a lot on Emkir's help to get her programs where she wanted them to be.  And Rol, Aiden, Terin and Zimzod were only starting to "see" controls in their mind as they still dealt with complex networking.

One of the real benefits of Aali's increasing skill was her ability to contact and interact with the androids.  That meant she could almost always concentrate, from anywhere aboard the ship, and establish a telepresence in the ship's engineering space.  Or from anywhere else, she could order one or more androids to move within the ship's engineering space.  Or, anywhere else she could order an android to move within the ship.  Especially in any lower tech systems.  Anyone watching her when she did would easily see a glazed look come over her face as she concentrated.  The paranoid might even accuse her of having accessed psionic powers...  Aali knew she'd have to be careful about that.

A few days into the jump, Aiden and Terin came to Aali with an issue.  They'd been studying the manuals and documentation that came with the sensor drone and kept coming on boiler plate warnings that this device and documentation were restricted to certain classes of Imperial Naval vessels.  Large Imperial Naval vessels, and Only Imperial Naval vessels.  Aali suggested they bring Mikah and Zimzod into the conversation.  When Zimzod asked if the scouts hadn't included some kind of permit for the drone when they sold it, the others looked at him in surprise.

These were the same scouts they had bribed into getting them an upgrade to a full military sensor suite.  So, corruption had already been established.  No one should have been surprised the drone they'd sold the crew might have had a questionable pedigree.  And no one should be surprised if they ever learned the cash they'd paid for the drone had ended up in some scout's bank accounts instead of in official funds for the sale of properly demilitarized materials.

Terin's first idea was to take what looked very much like a box with sensor nodes and thrusters all over its surface and make it look like a waspish multi-armed engineering android.  Or, even more ridiculously, like a dome and cylinder R2 type of android.  The idea was laughable, suggesting they could break out soldering guns and spare parts they didn't have to "dress up" the half-ton box to look like a much smaller android.  Hearing his ludicrous proposal, Aali professionally swallowed her desire to laugh Terin out of the compartment and said she'd consider it.

Also during the jump, Aali invited Jocelynn to stand by as they had an android do the repair work on the weapon grav-shoe the marine had bought.  This would figure out if her KCr 3 buy was a good one or a boondoggle.  The micro-electronics work needed was so delicate, Aali had wanted to have one of their androids do the work after they got the ship and 'droids back from the shipyard working on the Upgrade.  During the jump, they'd finally had the time to do that.  The procedure only took a few minutes after Aali recovered the parts they'd bought.  When the testing began, the shoe powered up and worked as expected.

Boarding And Other Excitement

     That added to their problems and concerns, the crew continued going about their work and kept considering their plans until the week in jump space ended and they manned their positions.  Jocelynn had done her best to "hide" her battledress by discoloring the outer armor and leaving it half-covered by the dead shell of the one android that had been "killed" in the misjump.  Sadly, that android had a thin "stalk-like" main chassis.  So, it "hid" nothing and she realized they were relying more on luck than anything else.

Aiden, Emkir and Terin worked feverishly when they emerged from jump into normal space, and finally announced to the others that they'd come very close to the actual plot point Terin had aimed for.  Not as close as Terin had wanted, but more than close enough to please everyone else.  Plotting out the nearby bodies, Aiden saw they were a day's flight out from the orbit of the nearest gas giant, a small gas giant with a handful of moons.  The crew now needed to set their course and head in to scoop fuel and refine it before turning their ship towards the system's main world.  And, it was a day before Terin's birthday.

Next: Deals And Leads