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Dropping A Rock!

Relaxing Or Rescuing

Wypoc System      While he and the others finished dinner, Rol prepared to go meet Colonel Ahizam for drinks with Jocelynn.  The others had no real plans for the evening, but wondered if the Montgomerys would respond to the call Terin had paid to have sent.  That "window" would be open for the next two hours, after which Wypoc control would stop monitoring the channel opened for them.  Sitting around the ship's "not so spacious" but very well appointed lounge was not very fun, but there was even less to do in the city.

Still, there were things to talk about.  Some wondered or joked about what would come of Rol and Jocelynn's meeting with the Colonel?  That led to little more than "grasping at rumors" about what was going on at the marine "research lab" and what Rol's "Date" with the Colonel might get them on that score?  In truth, those topics only really served to mask the real reason they'd come to Wypoc at all.  the question of where the Montgomerys were and how likely they were to be able to cut a deal with the family on Brian's books?

The books were potentially worth millions of credits, which the crew badly needed.  And not because they'd be rich, but because they were now ship owners without a voucher from someone to fix their ship when they next screwed up...or got screwed.  The mis-jump alone would have bankrupted them all if it had not been for the Imperial Navy stepping in to cover much of the repairs to the Upgrade.  That was because they'd "found" the remains of the carrier INS Regina's Storm, and made her recovery possible.

But if they'd not gotten lucky enough to find the carrier, they'd have to have taken loans out, or been forced to sell the yacht they'd barely survived in.  Then, they'd have been beached.  So, they needed a deal with the Montgomerys to fill their ship's safe with the cash they'd need if their ship was badly damaged again...because they had a regular history of having their ships badly damaged.  That also touched on Jocelynn's plans to take training the next day on the class of vehicle called a "Prospector" on Wypoc.

Wypoc Prospector What Jocelynn had assumed was an over-large open-terrain vehicle was, in fact, a monstrous mobile resource search and drilling rig.  Normally used for month-long operations out in the insidious and corrosive acid bath which was the world's atmosphere, the prospector could handle a number of tasks.  First, would be scanning the terrain nearby to find deposits of chemicals, either on the surface or within reach of an exploratory drill well.  The rig also hauled a follow on tanker platform letting prospectors store samples from deposits located.  That not only let them validate their claims but also let returning prospectors "get a taste" of the profits by selling their tanks of exotics for a 'quick pay' while they worked out a sale of their claims.

Another thing the prospector could handle, depending on any damage which might have affected the vehicle, was to act as a survival bubble for up to four months.  So, if a crew of prospectors ran into a particularly nasty hazard and ended up stuck out in the fields, they could hold out until help reached them...if help could actually find them.  That was something else the crew had not asked anyone about.  If it came to going out to look for the Montgomerys, as Jocelynn had planned, how easy or difficult would that be?  What options, gear or local experts would make that task easier?  Did anyone or anything like that even exist on Wypoc?

After eating, Rol changed into his somewhat informal black suit with the 'lighter than black' shirt.  Jocelynn changed into black pants, a black tank top and leather jacket.  After that, the two went out to wander into Spacer row and find the bar called the "Drive Shaft", because that was where the Colonel said to meet him.  Comedically, there was a bar named the Drive shaft in the startowns of most worlds which had any kind of startown.  While none were connected economically or otherwise, the name persisted.

They left as Terin and Mikah were settling down in the ship's lounge to watch vids, local news and wait to see if they got any response from their message to the Montgomerys.  Settling on the news, those in the lounge were surprised with the urgent tones of the news caster.  Listening in, they were quickly caught up with a story covering trouble with an expedition to hunt the Wypoc dragon.  At first, Mikah asked if it were the Baron, but was quickly told his expedition hadn't yet left the colony, and was still in the planning phase.

With nothing if note to do in the port, Fesic had started talking about going out for drinks.  Aiden joined Mikah and Terin watching the news.  Zimzod also sat with them as he got into gear maintenance.  Emkir and Aali had been experimenting their stateroom's environmental controls, to make it easier to for Emkir to be amorous with Aali while still recovering from his back injury.  This night, they decided to hang the retention nets, meant to keep things from flying around in the high-vee maneuvers and zero-g conditions of starship combat.  Then, they'd kill the gravity in the stateroom and play within the netting.

A scan through the entertainment channels available broke down into a number of generic types.  First, there were community notice and communications channels.  Next, were a number of "moral of the story" type dramas in which the "baddie" was generally someone who ignored safety rules, took short cuts or even committed sabotage for some gain.  Then, after the investigations had brought them to justice, the safety rule was hammered home to the viewers.  The city had also sent film crews to other less hellish systems to film the scenic views of those worlds.

After settling on the news again, those in the lounge were watching updates on the expedition gone wrong from the city's central operations when their comms started buzzing.  Mikah answered to find it was a port administrator.  After greeting Mikah, he asked if she and her crew had been watching any of the news programs and were aware of the expedition coverage?  When Mikah said they'd been watching, the port officer told her they were calling in volunteers but wondered if the crew of the Upgrade were interested in taking on a short term contract?  Mikah asked how "short term" and what the port had in mind, and was told they were hoping the crew would take their ship out to try and locate the hunters?

What wasn't explicitly said was that they'd obviously be expected to try and rescue the group if they could locate them.  That was because no one thought the crew would find them and then just turn their backs on the expedition.  When Mikah asked why the port wanted them, she was told the crew had a ship.  They could go out and apply sensors much more powerful than the locals had, to search for the hunters.  Mikah asked why they had to be "found", because they had called for help already.  Didn't that mean the port knew where they were?

The port work admitted they'd only gotten a relative idea where the hunters were when they called in, because they didn't use gear that gave an exact location.  When Mikah asked about the atmosphere's effects on their ship, the man dryly said, "Your ship won't melt immediately."  In the back of her mind, Mikah remembered what Aali had said after her investigation of the chemicals.  It would take constant exposure for two to three days for the atmosphere to "just" begin affecting the weakest points on the ship.  Those would be the seals, covers, cowlings and other non-ferro-ceramic materials.  So, it was a question of time and exposure.

Did Mikah want to take the ship out "now", to locate these hunters, if she also might have to take the ship out to look for the Montgomerys?  If they did have to take the ship out again, how much time could they spend exposing the ship over and again repeatedly?  Mikah also thought about the class Jocelynn was supposed to take to operate one of the local prospector vehicles.  Still, she'd seen the size of one of those, and wondered what would come from the class?  So, Mikah wasn't sure if that would change things at all.

Coming to a decision, Mikah looked around and saw Aiden and Terin there with her, but didn't see Emkir or Aali.  Hitting the all ship comms, Mikah ordered, "Emkir!  Meet us out in the ship's common!"  In their stateroom, Emkir and Aali were wrapped around each other both physically and in passion as the order came through, and Emkir began pushing as much harder as he could to finally climax.  After that, Aali helped him clean up as she did so herself, and get dressed before responding to Mikah.

In the ship's common, Mikah turned back to the port man and asked for the details of the contract he was offering?  When she led by telling the man they needed at least enough payment to mitigate any acid damage to the ship's hull, he told her the port could offer Cr 2,000.  Not having Aali there yet, to consider the elapsed-time damage, Mikah was thinking that over when Terin stepped in.  He asked if the port would provide facilities to clean the ship off completely as soon as they returned to the berth?  The man was happy enough to offer the gear and supplies for that to the crew.

Fesic asked if there was any kind of coating which could be applied, that would take time to be burned off and add a layer of protection to the hull?  He was told that anything they had locally would be burned away in the first micro-seconds of exposure, and would only cost more time and delay any rescue.  Mikah turned back to the port man and considered their offer.  She then asked, "Cr 2,000 for...twelve hours?"  The administrator said, "Sure.  But, if it takes that long they'll probably be dead."  At that, Mikah tried to scale back, saying, "OK.  Six hours then."  The port man cut her off, saying, "You offered the twelve hours and that's what we'll accept."

Not pleased at that loss, Mikah said, "As soon as we find them, we're off the clock though."  The administrator corrected, "No.  As soon as you return them to the port, you're off the clock."  He wasn't going to agree to just leave them there to die after finally finding the hunters.  If they were found alive, that was.  When Mikah protested and asked why there wouldn't be more resources out there to make the rescue, the man told her there would be resources.  But, if the ship found them, they'd be the furthest out and the only resources that could respond quickly enough to save anyone.

Mikah joked, "If we find a dragon, can we feed them to it?" and he warned them not to get themselves attacked or eaten by it.  The more Mikah joked, the more he warned her not taking the threat of a dragon seriously or knowing what you're doing regarding a dragon was a way to get everyone killed.  And the more he tried to warn them, the more comfortable he was with telling Mikah the port would happily recover and inherit their ship after she'd gotten her entire crew killed.

When Terin asked how well a dragon could stand up against ship's weapons like their lasers, he was told the weapons themselves were not the issue.  The issue was being able to tell where any dragon was, so they could aim their weapons.  That was because of the huge amount of interference caused by the chemical and mineral content of the atmosphere.  Still, if the crew could safely target a dragon, it would be killed in a single hit.  He also said that an average adult dragon was just larger than a twenty cubic foot space.

By this time, Aali and Emkir had arrived and been brought up to speed.  Aali said she wanted a supply of the acid cleaner and a spray wash for inside their cargo bay.  That way, they could spray down the bay, and everyone's armor, after any rescue, as they were closing the bay hatch and after closing the bay again.  This would reduce the chemicals caught in the closing hatch and clean away the acid remaining in the bay.  Interrupting, Emkir asked if they had any vehicles they could use to recover survivors?  Zimzod said, "We have the Probe, but that would melt faster than the ship.  He smiled as he added, "And the air-raft is open topped so you can go joy ride in that if you wanna die."

When Emkir asked how they could recover any survivors, Zimzod shrugged and said, "We land and pick them up." only to be sharply interrupted by Mikah.  She said, "No!  We hover and pick them up." because she wasn't interested in landing in the acid-melt and chemical mud.  That decided, Mikah ordered everyone to their stations as she told Terin to call the bay owner and tell him they were leaving for a local rescue and would be returning.  So, they didn't want the berth to be taken back by the Baron's ship.  He said he had no problem with that as they all remembered how little the man liked the Baron himself.

Mikah cut the call with the port and comm'd Rol, saying, "Hey, we're going around the block for a little bit, so hang tight.  We'll be back."  Not sure what had happened, Rol only wanted to make sure he and Jocelynn were not being planted as he asked, "You are coming back?" in a flat but serious tone.  Joking with Rol, Zimzod said, "Sure!  Long as Aiden doesn't crash the ship, we'll be back for you in a year or two."  It didn't help Rol or Jocelynn's state of mind that they could hear some laughter from the rest of the crew in the background, over the comms.

As they took stations, Mikah sat her post and told Aiden he was the command pilot until they got into the region where the call for help had come from.  Then, he'd hand over flight to Terin while he handled their sensors.  Emkir would man the computers, and filter all data from the sensors to try and clarify or boost anything the sensors might have seen.  One thing they were all certain of was that this was going to be a mess.  Emkir would also handle communications while Aali went to engineering.  Fesic was manning the ship's gunnery station with Zimzod's help, in the event they did need to try and shoot something.

Some Drinks, Chat And Hints

     As they'd seen the night before, this port was nothing to write the Emperor about, except perhaps to request demolition using orbital nukes.  They were not even very sure if they'd ask for evacuation of the population first?  But Rol had been invited to meet with Colonel Ahizam at a bar called "The Drive Shaft", where he'd been assured the table and seats would be well scrubbed and clean.  They'd been just leaving the port proper for Spacer's Row when they'd gotten the call from Mikah.

Arriving at the Bar, Rol and Jocelynn saw the Colonel standing with a female Marine officer and waiting on their arrival.  He was six foot, so shorter than Rol but taller than Jocelynn.  He had fair skin and the sort of grey eyes which they were both certain could freeze over and harden if you displeased him.  Both he and the female officer, a First Lieutenant, were brunettes and she stood just shorter than Jocelynn.  Her hair was cut in a bob, just above her uniform collar in the back, and her eyes were a deep emerald green, seeming to be back-lit with the glow of an active intellect.

As Jocelynn and Rol approached, both officers snapped to attention and presented Rol with a pair of the sharpest salutes he could receive.  And, despite being dressed in civilian clothing, Rol came to attention himself and returned the salute before relaxing.  Jocelynn could tell, from the look on the female officer's face, that there was certainly a high level of admiration in her eyes as she regarded Rol.  If that was just because of "his history and the Starburst" wasn't something Jocelynn could tell while trying to read the woman in that brief moment.

After the salutes, Colonel Ahizam introduced Lieutenant Pengeh as his administrative assistant and Rol introduced Jocelynn.  Past the introductions, they sat at the Colonel's invitation and the bar's waitress stepped up to take their drink orders and offer any food the bar had on menu.  In the initial chatter, both Rol and Jocelynn could tell the Lieutenant was one of those who held Starburst awardees, if not Rol specifically, with more than a bit of hero worship.  Still, it didn't seem personal to them.  Both officers were very pleased to meet with Rol.

After the small talk was done, Rol realized they wanted to ask him all those questions he'd answered hundreds of times before about his experiences and personal observations during his exploits.  Jocelynn also found herself in the spotlight because news of the fate of the Regina's Storm had filtered into the system and her name was becoming known too.  So she fielded questions about her experiences after being rescued and learning of the events that happened aboard the strike carrier while she was in the low berth.

There were comedic moments, like when the Colonel asked about Rol's turn to cooking as a hobby?  Rol did say it relaxed him and he enjoyed having "a lot of test subjects" with a smile that only had a little glint of evil.  Rol even regaled them with a dramatic re-telling of 'Munarshu's special breakfast'.  While there were a lot of laughs, Rol also kept an eye on the vid screens in the bar, looking for updates on the on-going rescue.

Finally, he was a bit less discreet than he hoped to have been and saw the Colonel had caught his glances.  When he was asked what was happening, Rol explained that the ship had signed on for a rescue mission and left port.  So, he was not sure for how long he and Jocelynn were without a home.  Nodding, the Colonel admitted that a rescue was a noble effort but said the port was always trying to call out the Marines to help in saving prospecting crews too.  He felt, and it seemed the Lieutenant agreed, that the local population needed to learn to stand up on their own.

Colonel Ahizam made it clear he felt the locals could not only grow the colony but improve both their tech and economy by working to become more self-reliant.  When Rol asked if they had a lot of "turn over" locally, the officers told him they couldn't answer for the civilians but it was always "according to orders" with the Corps.  Ignoring the chance to ask the Colonel for advice on searching for those missing out on the planet, Rol mostly listened and agreed as the Colonel vented about his belief the Imperial Marine Corp should simply leave Wypoc for more important duties.

Having the soul of a glory hound himself, Rol could understand exactly where the Colonel's feelings were coming from.  The Colonel did admit he understood the need for the mission his Marines were working but he had other interests when it came to postings.  Rol admitted to having the same feelings when he'd been in the service, but doubted the Corps would listen to him any more than they had Rol himself.  Over the evening, Rol and Jocelynn did manage to get in some questions of their own.

Poking as carefully as they could, the two asked what they felt were safe but probing questions about the lab the marines garrisoned.  While the officers were well buttoned up, the Colonel did mention that his opposite number at the lab was a member of the Imperial Academy of Science.  That impressed both Rol and Jocelynn, perhaps a bit more than it should have.  While the Academy was a significant Imperial scientific organization, they had many members and scattered those members across charted space in support of scientific research.  The Colonel hammered that in, comparing the IAS with the Imperial Ministry of Justice.

While IMJ was incredibly powerful at its highest levels, there were many judges, attorneys and investigators posted throughout Imperial space and not nearly every posting was of Empire-shaking importance.  And it was the same for the IAS.  Of course, that only raised another set of questions.  Why would the IAS have posted someone on Wypoc and what was so important or interesting about that rock?  Jocelynn was still thinking that either there was a huge secret project going on or this "member of the Academy" had managed to piss off the wrong person and get himself buried out on Wypoc.

Still, the person the Colonel was working with was the lab's administrator so he wasn't exactly "low level".  And it also meant the lab and the research were likely being paid for by the IAS too.  Jocelynn and Rol quietly added that to the rumors they'd heard that the lab was not working on hazardous environment suits despite what had been publicly released.  And that only screamed even louder in their minds as they sat trying not to give up the game by showing off what they could already guess at.

Still, Jocelynn did fish some more, trying the off-hand comment, "This seems a rather way out of the way place for such an important operation."  The Colonel shrugged and said, "Well, you take your opportunities where you can find them, and this planet is one hell-hole of an opportunity."  Jocelynn had to agree with him there.  With that, Jocelynn shot Rol a look which said she'd tried but the Colonel's answers were just so easy that they had to have been well planned and rehearsed.  So, she was done fishing.

Following that, Rol and Jocelynn enjoyed the rest of their evening with the two officers and even checked in with the city admins, to see about their ship.  but the Upgrade was still out in the field and there was no information on when they'd return?  That meant Rol and Jocelynn soon realized they needed a place to sleep for the night.  When Rol mentioned that, the Colonel said he could help and both Rol and Jocelynn had a sudden hope he would offer them beds in the lab's barracks.

A "Practice" Rescue

     While everyone aboard the Upgrade manned their stations, the port made it "very clear" the berth the ship had been in was not up for grabs.  That went as far as posting an armed man in the space to prevent anyone attempting to simply move in and "squat".  Especially since word on Baron Kanudushush said he was still in the city organizing his expedition.  Many were certain he and his people were watching events as they played out, gathering even more information to help them succeed where the expedition they were rescuing had apparently failed.

As they drove the ship out into the night, Fesic considered his guns and decided they might suffer just that little bit less if they were not facing directly into the on-coming storm.  Even if it was almost no effect at all, Fesic decided to turn the guns, knowing he could turn them back and engage if he could get anything at all on the scans to shoot at.  And that was the worst of it, because there was nothing he could see on the weapons station scanners.  At his post, Aiden was doing his best to get anything on his screen but his best only looked like the results of an explosion in a craft store's 'oil paints' section.  Only, the colors were moving!

The first hours out of the city were very difficult, with Terin relying on sat-feed from orbit to get them where they wanted to be, based on the port's information.  With Emkir working hard filtering the data from the sensors, there were moments when Aiden could point to a faint line on his screen saying, "That.  That's the planet's surface.  We don't want to fly below that."  On the ship's comms, Aali reacted to that, grimly joking, "Litho-breaking is something I'd recommend against."  From time to time, those in the ship could reflect ironically how Rol and Jocelynn were probably relaxing, being wined and dined by Imperial officers while they were out attempting to carry out a heroically suicidal rescue.

By midnight, the ship had not only reached the region from which the call for help had come, but also gotten tantalizingly brief hints that there were still survivors from both the ship's sensors and comms.  But they'd still gotten no firm bearing or data to use to sweep and rescue anyone.  At times, Aiden had gotten a bearing Terin could use to get them closer to the survivors but he couldn't get any truly solid data.  From time to time, Aiden thought he saw energy lines on the scan suggesting someone was using comms out there.  But not got through and Fesic suggested sending messages saying, "We know you are broadcasting but we're not receiving."

After 3am on Monday, the 280th, Aiden was finally able to get a hard bearing and distance on the survivors based on their electronic calls for help even if he could not make sense of the actual radio broadcasts.  Zimzod muttered, "I hate Mondays!" as Aiden guided Terin in and Emkir worked even harder to filter the data from the sensors.  The closer they got, the more they all hoped to get real data from any survivors.  It was twenty minutes more before they arrived in the zone Aiden had bullseyed and began the "hard search" for the survivors.  And, just in case, for any Wypoc dragons nearby.

Finally getting one word in five out of whoever was broadcasting from among the survivors, they felt voice was very calm and steady.  Definitely a professional and not likely one of the tourists.  Sadly, one word in five was not enough to get anything "real" out of the broadcast other than "someone was still alive".  Even more annoyingly, one of the few unbroken phrases they did get was, "...many dead..." which told the little or nothing more.

When Emkir suggested they send a status report to the city, Zimzod laughed and said, "Fuck them!  They can't do anything."  When they argued the point briefly, Zimzod said, "Don't worry about it unless we hear a dragon burp.  Because that means they've fed and are done."  Finally, just short of 4 am, Emkir was able to get a track on the worst of the localized interference and filter it out.  That allowed for full two-way communications and gave them exact bearings to the survivors!

The man on the comms was one of the few surviving hirelings supporting the expedition.  No matter what his original role in the expedition, he was now the de facto leader of the survivors and doing a fairly good job if it from what Emkir could tell on the comms.  Originally, the hunters left with three specially protected grav vehicles with one devoted to gear and the others for the people.  They eventually set up an encampment, geared up and went out to hunt a dragon they thought they'd gotten tracking on.

Left behind, the camp had a security team, the non-hunters and a few who were not ready to gear up and go out hunting just yet.  That was the state when a dragon attacked the camp!  When that happened, one of the non-hunters in the group had been out filming conditions to bring home and show off.  She panicked as the dragon attacked the security team and got early kills, and fled into the expedition's equipment vehicle looking for weapons.  And while no amount of forensics will ever tell just what she did, whatever it was set off an explosion which both killed her and destroyed everything that had been stored in the vehicle.  Even worse, the explosion took out two more of the camp's security force and broke their defensive data network.

From that point, it was an "escape as you can" operation while the remaining security team members got the remaining tourists into the two grav-cars and moving in the direction of the hunting party.  In the confusion, one of the people chosen to drive a grav-car was not as skilled as he claimed to be when his only desire was the get out of there alive!  Unfortunately, he drove his grav-car into a ravine and crashed it, resulting in his own death and the eventual death of all those aboard because they weren't wearing vacc suits.

The last remaining grav-car did make contact with the hunters before it became immobile thanks to damage during the panicked flight.  So, now they were using it as a hold out and the dragon had also found them.  So, they were desperate.  Hearing that, Fesic spun the guns around and fired them up in case he got any targets he could use them against.  Despite the lack of sensors, the word from the survivors was that they had been located by a dragon, but it had not attacked since finding them and striking.  So, they didn't know where it was either.  They just knew it was "close", which didn't help those on the ship.

Mikah ordered them in as close as they could get while blasting the area with sensors to look for any signs of dragons.  The "defensive circle", if it could be called that, was now easy to identify.  The survivors were begging for rescue because their vacc suits were beginning to fail, after hours in and out of the one lone vehicle they had been using for defense against the atmosphere.  The problem was, they couldn't both stay inside the vehicle and defend their position....so, all but the most useless of them had become acid coated over the hours.  And, they were all terrified of the next dragon attack.

Looking at the circle, they saw the ship was too large to bring down close to the circle without risking crushing part of it if the wind forced them down.  Seeing what they could, Mikah said she would head to the cargo bay in her combat armor and expected Zimzod to come along in his battledress.  While gearing up, Zimzod grabbed his gauss rifle and told Mikah, "You grab the people, I'll shoot any animals."  Mikah nodded at that because the sensors in his battledress would hopefully make him more deadly as their security-overwatch asset.  Taking positions, Zimzod stood ready until they opened the cargo bay.  As his sensors met the chaotic energy of the environment outside, Zimzod roared, "DAMN!  What an acid trip, man!"  That got a laugh out of everyone present or on comms as Emkir began broadcasting their closing range to the survivors.

Mikah told Emkir to warn them they were not taking cargo and everyone should drop everything and get aboard.  Peering out into the storm, Mikah and the others could see the survivors running towards the cargo bay with some of them dragging others.  Preparing to receive the survivors, they saw two people dragging a survivor between them as one of that person's arms came off!  The one person still clinging to an attached arm seemed, in shock, to keep holding on and trying to drag the body.  Seeing that, Mikah shouted, "Drop him!"  Despite her order, that survivor stopped and turned to try and raise the body while the others continued to run for the ship.  It didn't take long for that last lingering survivor to drop to the ground, and Mikah realized they were not coming, whoever they were.

Mikah ordered the bay door closed and Zimzod slung his weapon to grab the anti-acid wash and start spraying down the bay and everyone in it.  They finally counted four survivors out of the original party of twenty.  Mikah kept it to herself, but was disgusted with the horrifying useless loss of life.  As Zimzod sprayed it down, the bay hatch closed and Mikah ordered them to burn the thrusters hard to get them back to the port.  The four survivors were down on their hands and knees recovering from their sprint as Mikah and the others noticed how threadbare their suits appeared.  It wouldn't have been much longer before there were no survivors.

When one or two of the survivors started to recover and looked up, Mikah snapped, "So?  Was it worth it?" in a tone of personal offense.  On the bridge, Terin and Aiden turned off the general comms as Terin handed off flight to Aiden and the pilot burned for altitude before turning back to the port.  The hope was that the higher they went, the less dense the atmosphere would be and the less damage would be done.  At the same time, Emkir was telling the port they were in-bound with survivors.  He further updated that identities of the survivors were pending.  Done with that, he hit the comms for the cargo bay and asked for someone to get him names to give the port.

Over the two hours it took to get back to the port, the crew had settled things down and learned they had two "tourists" and two workers from the hired agency.  The workers were low level employees mostly hired to be gear holders and movers.  They'd been brought by the hunting team to carry equipment and managed to survive because they'd been carrying the spare weapons and ammo when they got word the fleeing survivors were coming to meet them.

That meant they not only had the spare, higher-powered specialty weapons but also carried the ammunition pouches too.  Then, all hell broke loose and they were fleeing without most of the hunters.  As people started dropping, Alakhu Shana took charge of the team and led them into more defensible terrain.  At the same time, Dala Khar, a personal care worker, took the lead to keep all the survivors together.  As the two surviving tourists sang their praises, Mikah asked, "Wanna join our crew?" and Zimzod laughed.

The tourists were also people from the "low end" of the expedition.  One was Ms. Agimari Gushdugar, the daughter of the man who'd set up the entire trip.  She'd only been along on the trip because she'd been forced to.  And, she'd only learned her father had died from the terrified reports of others.  Then, she'd been forced to drop "the remains" of her aunt to leave her uncle holding her aunt's remaining arm.  The shock was coming, but hadn't hit her hard yet.  Shasim Gangili was the wife of the other hunter.  Both the daughter and friend were there because they'd been told they had to hold the cameras and document the excitement of the hunt.

When things came apart, they were quickly shuffled with the other "non-combat" survivors as the hunters tried to get them home.  Sadly, the fleeing vehicle from the camp led the dragon right to the hunters, who were in no way prepared for the reality of an angry, hungry and enraged dragon.  Lucky for the survivors, the hunters made a great rear-guard as Alakhu Shana took charge and led the others to more survivable terrain and Dala Khar joined a few others who would not survive in laying down a murderous trail of exit fire!  It was even ironically possible they had managed to kill the dragon following them as they fled.  But, they'd heard nothing more from the hunters.

Hearing that they had been filming, Mikah asked if they captured any of the events as she also unsuccessfully tried to keep the excitement out of her voice.  Shasim handed over her camera and said she got most of the events as the shooting started and the began to flee.  Mikah connected the camera's memory to the ship's computer and then sparked up the video.  Fast forwarding through all the early events, they were soon treated to a full video capture of a huge and winged creature which appeared to have morphed out of its appearance as a huge bolder in the background!  Mikah instantly paused the video so they could all get a the full view of a Wypoc Dragon.

That surprise was excused because of the really bad visibility, even for the camera.  After satisfying their personal curiosity, they continued the viewing as the dragon reared up and struck!  As one of the hunters raised his weapon, the dragon's mouth came down capturing him from the head to the waist and biting hard enough to send a spray of blood accelerated by "vacc suit-popping" air pressure.  Then, as the dragon raised its head and began to chew on and shake the one hunter, everyone else in the frame began to panic, including the other hunter!

It was other staff from the expedition company that suddenly sprouted weapons and started shooting.  It was while those firing concentrated on the dragon and the other hunters panicked that the other dragon struck!  Mikah piped the video throughout the ship, some of the crew wondered how much the video would be worth and were assured video like that was very common on Wypoc.  Despite that, Terin suggested to Emkir that he save the video on the ship's computer for the moment.  While Emkir did that, Mikah and Zimzod switched to "medical mode" and started treating the survivors.

Mikah administered system sedatives to reduce the chances of shock.  As she did, Zimzod set up enhanced monitoring for the survivors and started getting the survivors out of the remains of their vacc suits.  With the "immediate" treatment over, Mikah pulled out her hand scanner and started doing a more detailed work up of each of the survivors while Aali dispatched two androids to the cargo bay to do a more detailed cleaning of the space to help fight against acid creep.  She also planned to have a detailed re-cleaning done on the cargo bay seals after they were back in the bay and hosed down.

As they treated the survivors, Shasim Gangili was very thankful and Mikah was perhaps a bit too greedy and lacking in graciousness as she asked, "Really?  How much?"  Zimzod snarked that they had to have been really rich to set up the hunting expedition.  That turned out to be wrong, because the families had not been wealthy at all.  The daughter told them it had been a life-long desire of her father's to hunt the Wypoc Dragon and he had spent his life savings, to be able to afford the trip.  He'd even used a chunk of the insurance payment when his wife had died to fund the trip.

And while Shasim Gangili's husband had been "the other hunter" along, he had been asked to pay very little of the trip's cost and could afford to pay little more than that.  She was just glad they both had insurance because they'd need it after this disaster.  The two did agree that they'd give the crew a Cr 5,000 reward once the insurance was settled.  While Mikah was pleased with that, she also held her reaction in reserve as it would take some time to settle the insurance and for that payment to be communicated to them aboard the ship.

Once they were out of their vacc suits, Mikah was able to confirm that the four survivors had only suffered abrasions and the sort of issues they'd gotten thanks to falls and being stuck in a vacc suit for much longer than normal.  The most efficient treatment Mikah could give them were spray-on skin regeneratives and stem-cell enhancers.  Beyond that, the four suffered from the effect of exhaustion and some early malnutrition because they'd been on the run for a number of days.  Lucky for them, the vehicle they'd been in kept their suits from being destroyed days before.

When he heard that, Terin was surprised it took the survivors that long to get a message to the city.  That was a very stark example of what the city officials had been telling them about trying to communicate with the Montgomerys.  A message the crew had been repeatedly ignoring while expecting their attempts to communicate to magically solve everything.  It also said something to their possible plans to go out looking for the Montgomerys.  Both about their chances of finding the family prospector and their chances of getting rescued if they screwed up and crashed any prospector they rented.

An Affair In The Cards

     Having come from a family in the "top" of the lower classes, Jocelynn's outlook and manners had not been much polished as a grunt and commando in the marines.  Still, she had learned how to be persuasive and how to wheel, deal and play the game.  So, when she thought there might have been a hope the Colonel would offer them space in the lab's barracks, Jocelynn asked if they had space at the labs for her and Rol to bed down for the night?  Considering his resources for the moment, the Colonel told them they couldn't go out to the lab but he could still help them.

Rol and Jocelynn wondered, for the moment, if the Marine Corps had a deal with one of the hotels or even motels?  The Colonel admitted the lab had both secure and unsecure facilities, but also said it would not be proper to bring non-assigned personnel there, not to mention civilians.  Then, he continued to say the Corps also had offices maintained in the city itself.  So, if the ship did not return before the evening was done, he could arrange for them to be provided for there.

They both thanked him, though each of them secretly mourned the lost opportunity.  And once the evening was done, they made their way to the Marine offices in-city.  The facility turned out to be a small but working office of Marine personnel who handle the connections between the working marines and the offices of the Imperial governor, legate and other planetary authorities as well as interactions between the marines and the Imperial Navy.  They also supported on-world recruiting too, in more of a "filtering who we want" mode rather than hoping to make quotas.

That meant there was a full time marine component and housing for those staffers in the city.  The housing supported both bachelor and married housing for both enlisted and officer ranks.  Not a great surprise, they were able to find Rol his own private room while Jocelynn would be housed in the same standard co-ed environment the marines used Corps-wide.  The bed they found her was in a room that turned out to have three other women in it already.

While Rol dealt with introductions and the usual reactions to his status, Jocelynn looked for the common lounges available to the other marines, introduced herself and started talking up the idea of a late-night poker game.  At first, she didn't drop the note that she was connected to "Sir Rol" at all, and didn't even warn him until he reached out to ask her about it.  When she confirmed she was setting up the game and already had some interest, Rol told her, "I like your initiative!" and then joked, "What's my cut?"  She just laughed at him and told him it would be what he won if he played.  When she then asked if he was in, Rol said he was.  Jocelynn figured this would be a hell of a surprise for the players.

Because everyone but Rol was a working marine or near-broke ship crew, Jocelynn had set the buy in at Cr 50.  And, the game suffered from a number of "late buy ins" and sudden audience when it got out that Sir Rol was playing!  Still, the comments were kept polite as time proved again that Rol was not really a poker player.  After a few hours, and early into the morning of the next day, the game ended with Rol losing not only his initial buy in but another Cr 20 of chips.  Jocelynn lost Cr 40 of her buy in but no more.  But the time soon got late enough, or early enough, that everyone had to hit the rack and be prepared for their work later that morning.

As things broke up, the cash losses were not the only thing that Jocelynn and Rol crapped out on.  Thanks to the always present 'barracks brewers' that had been part of the military experience ever since brewing gear had become cheap, there was jungle juice to pass around.  Along with that, Jocelynn had hoped to find some loose lips and carefully ask a number of leading questions about the lab.  But it turned out none of these people were involved in that operation at all, so there was no information to be had at all, even with Rol asking some of the questions once he caught on to what Jocelynn was doing.

On top of that failure, there was an ironic turn of events as "What planet did you come from?" and "What did you do during the war?" led to Jocelynn's history with the ill-fated Regina's Storm becoming a major topic of conversation.  It dominated the conversation so much that that topic even stopped them from trying to dig into the lab for some time.  And, it distracted some of the players to the point that Rol and Jocelynn's losses could be reduced a bit too.

Another outcome of the time spent gaming came from the comments about housing shared between Rol and Jocelynn.  After settling in to play, Each talked to the about the rooms they got and Rol could tell Jocelynn was being gracious but wasn't happy about the bunk beds.  After other comments made during the game, Rol decided to quietly ask her if she wanted to join him instead?  And, when he quietly asked her after the game, Jocelynn accepted.  Still, before slipping into bed to enjoy each other, Rol called city control to have them call him once the ship returned.

Learning To Be Disappointed

     While the ship had turned back towards the port by 6am that morning, they wouldn't actually settle in port and be done with port and medical services until nearly 9am.  It was nearly that time when Rol and Jocelynn woke up too, because city administration hadn't felt the need to call Sir Rol until the crew were done with their processing and ready to be released.  Because they'd not gotten any calls, Jocelynn decided to pin Rol down and have her way with him a bit more before they got up and got their day going.

Sure enough, the couple found themselves experiencing an "Emkir and Aali" moment as Rol's comms started to alert in the middle of their "passion".  Rol managed to mute the husky tenor of his voice as he answered and was told the crew had returned after rescuing some survivors, and they would soon be released back to their ship after all the checkups and other needed procedures.  Finishing each other off a bit quicker and more mechanically than before, the couple then cleaned up, got dressed and said their good byes before heading back to the ship.

By the time they got back to the bay, the wash-team were done doing a detail scrub down of the ship and paying specific attention to the seals that had been exposed during the rescue.  Mikah and the crew were also checked out, and had only been suffering from the exhaustion of a nearly 24-hour day.  Mikah and Zimzod had spent the entire remaining parts of the flight with the survivors as they treated and managed their patients.  The ship was quickly paid the agreed on Cr 2,000 by the port as they also received many thanks for their assistance, even if the effort was "for pay".  Then, the crew were allowed to return to their ship and sleep.

Getting back, they met up with Jocelynn and Rol who were fresh and ready despite the late night gaming and intimate activities.  As the rest of the crew settled in, Jocelynn suddenly remembered she'd signed up for a class that day on driving the Prospector, and was supposed to have been there at 8:30am!  Realizing this was entirely on her, Jocelynn expected to have to deal with an annoyed staff when she called into deal with setting another appointment.  And, she also had no idea of the information the rest of the crew had, which might affect her level of interest in trying to drive one of the vehicles.

Before doing anything else, Jocelynn wanted to confirm with Mikah what she should do?  After that, she could call to re-set the class appointment and the crew had queued up a video they said showed off a Wypoc dragon attack!  She certainly wanted to see that!!  Catching Mikah before she hit her rack, Jocelynn asked what Mikah thought about the idea of taking out a Prospector and Mikah was so out of it she just answered, "I'm so tired I don't think anything right now."  With that, Mikah left Jocelynn and went to bed.

After that, Jocelynn did call the office to apologize and re-set her appointment with hopes she could set it for some time within the next two days.  But, when Jocelynn started explaining about the rescue and everything else, the woman on the comms got confused and thought Jocelynn had been part of the rescue herself.  Once Jocelynn assured her she was fresh and ready for anything, the woman offered to set up a special class just for her, which would start in two hours.  The woman asked Jocelynn if she'd be interested in that and Jocelynn enthusiastically said she was.  When she told Rol, who'd be the only member of the crew still awake, that she was going he asked if he could tag along and she said that was OK.

After changing into casual clothing, the two wandered off to find the public transit walkway that would bring them where they needed to be for Jocelynn's class.  When they arrived, there was a bit more brief confusion when they saw Rol, because they only expected Jocelynn.  Still, they had been watching coverage of the rescue ever since learning about it, and that coverage was "Very light" on the names of the ship's crew involved.  Because of that, they asked if Rol also wanted to take the class, and set up a simulator for him too after he said he did.  So, Jocelynn was paired with her instructor while Ro had to wait a bit for the to set things up.

The classes cost a Cr 50 fee, which both paid.  Between then and 5pm, the two were trained up and put through their paces on the basics and required safety and emergency procedures required to rent and operate a prospector.  This was filled with constant reminders the city really did recommend those considering driving a prospector take a number of missions into the field to gain experience before driving out on their own.

To say the vehicle was a beast was a massive understatement, even for Jocelynn, who'd been trained on driving tracked armored fighting vehicles.  Thanks to the size and complexity of the controls, in addition to their unfamiliarity, they both started out moving very slowly.  By the time they'd both gotten comfortable enough to get up to speeds considered "normal", the instructors started throwing system failures and emergency situations at them, because that too was part of the class.

On top of everything else, the simulators did their best to throw realistic sensor data at them.  That was also tweaked by the instructors for increased realism.  That, alone, gave both Rol and Jocelynn an appreciation for the strengths, weaknesses and limits of the Prospector-class vehicle's sensors.  Especially when they considered the reason for their "mission" was to find another prospector which "might not want" to be found.  In the end, both Rol and Jocelynn came out of the training with a healthy understanding that this vehicle did not have the capabilities Jocelynn had thought it might, and was not the class of vehicle that would help them find the Montgomerys.

With that time having been wasted, Jocelynn wondered what their next step might be?  On the way back to the ship, Jocelynn said they should check the Montgomery's last residence again, just to see if anything had changed?  When Rol shrugged, figuring they had the time, they made the detour.  Still, the place was as empty and locked up as it had been the first time she visited when they got there.  There was not even a sign anyone had visited the entry hatch to check up on it, like a friendly neighbor.  This time, they both shrugged as they headed back to the ship, figuring they'd get there at 6:30 pm.

What's Next, Or Not

     Emkir was one of the earliest of the crew to wake and he did so to the sense of pain from his back.  The pain was more like a twinge than it had been in past weeks, showing he was healing but wasn't quite "there" yet.  Emkir knew he could strap into the gravbelt, to make things easier or muscle through and take more breaks.  But, when it came down to if Emkir wanted to push the healing or not, Mikah had pointed out there was no reason to push, and Emkir had accepted that.  Still, recent events had shown how quickly there could be a "Reason to push" and they may find Emkir unable to perform just as Jocelynn couldn't use her battledress during the rescue the night before...  It was easy to become complacent.  Once done cleaning himself up, Emkir moved out into the ship's lounge to make caff and watch news until any of the others woke up.

At the same time as Emkir, Mikah woke up next to Zimzod and was "not" in the mood to wake him up and deal with what might happen next.  Moving into the fresher, she just cleaned up, threw on a shipsuit and went out into the lounge.  Around the same time, Aiden had woken in his stateroom and cleaned up before heading into the lounge in search of any food that would fill the "time of day appropriate" meal role.  Thanks to the coincidence of waking up when they did, Emkir and Aiden ran into each other as they got to the lounge, and were in the process of both making caff and food for themselves when Mikah arrived at just about a quarter after six.

Seeing them hard at work, Mikah cooed, "Cool!" with a smile on her face.  She continued, "Thanks guys, for making dinner for the crew."  She giggled a bit when her comment caught them both flat footed and they stood there like grazers caught in flood lights.  Aiden was the first to recover, saying, "If you'll all eat my food I'll cook you some."  Still, Mikah knew that couldn't be 'too bad', because Aiden had been a scout and had been forced to cook for his crew and self more than enough to know the basics.  He didn't have to like it but he wasn't as talented or skilled as Rol, so there wasn't much he could do to get even.

The next to wake up were Terin and Zimzod, who found himself alone in the bed.  Terin did a quick clean before getting dressed and heading out to see what meal he'd have.  Figuring he'd clean up after eating, Zimzod only threw on a robe and arrived in the lounge before Terin had made his appearance.  Looking around the lounge, Zimzod asked where the food was?  When he was told he'd have to make something for himself, he demanded, "Where the fuck is Rol?  Don't we pay him to do this shit?"  That, even though Rol didn't get paid, per se.  Like everyone else, he just got a share of any profits.

Looking up at Zimzod, Mikah said, "He's not here right now.  We left him out in the desert."  When Zimzod gave her a confused look, Mikah asked, "Don't you remember?" in a tone that insisted he was at fault.  But Zimzod had not forgotten the last days and only wondered out loud if Rol had managed to get a date with the Colonel or had a new marine boy-friend?  When Mikah continued to play, taunting, "You took him out there personally...", Zimzod just waved her comments off and went into the pantry to see what he could defile?

In the "deciding what I want" stage, Zimzod started pulling out containers, boxes and other containers to decide what he wanted to eat?  As he made his choices, Zimzod made sure to leave everything where he'd put it so Rol would eventually earn his keep and know he'd been punished for not being at his duty station when required.  Finally deciding on what ingredients to use, Zimzod liberally splashed and sprinkled ingredients across the surfaces he worked near before moving his "creation" into the unit's cooker.  While that was processing, he made some caff and sat to wait for breakfast to be ready.

Finally, the cooker was done and Zimzod moved back over to top off his mug of caff and grab his plate.  Setting his plate and mug down, Zimzod sat and lifted his legs up to put his feet on the table while he relaxed and began eating.  Finally ready to face the day, Zimzod stuffed a forkful of food into his mouth and munched as he asked, "So, what are we doing now?"  Of course, Aiden continued trying to be a master of the truly stupid side comment as he said, "Trying very hard not to look."  As he said that, Aiden also put his hand up as a blinder to block any possible sight of Zimzod in his repose.

Setting his plate of food down and starting to rise, Zimzod said, "Hold on!  Hold on!  Let me rub myself up against your eyeballs." as he stood and started to move toward Aiden.  Aiden turned his back on the XO as he said, "I'd prefer you clean up the skid mark you're leaving on that seat." in an off-handed tone.  Laughing, Zimzod said, "Yeah, and I prefer you get your girly toothbrush and clean up after me.  Bitch!"  As he was known to do, Zimzod finished up that line with a huge smile on his face that said, 'Keep it comin' cause you're never gonna win'.

Hoping this might be the first time he ever got a winning line off, Aiden answered, "Hey, I only get one pair off lemony fresh."  Ignoring the fact that no one had any idea what the hell that even meant, Zimzod didn't miss a beat as he asked, "And, does your boyfriend know that?"  Turning towards Zimzod and thinking he might actually get to score a point, Aiden spread his arms out as he faced Zimzod and exclaimed, "I haven't told you yet!" in an exasperated tone.  Half the room laughed because the line "was" funny and the other half were stunned because Aiden had actually made a joke!  And, it was actually funny!!  Still, Zimzod simply pounded him down by telling Aiden he couldn't handle a man of 'this size' as he pointed to his crotch and got even more laughs.

Having finished her chow, Mikah looked to see if they'd gotten any answer from the Montgomerys, but they hadn't.  Without many options that didn't include going out in the soup to find them, Mikah called the port and had them send another message to see if they could get an answer from the family?  The port offices were only too happy to charge Mikah another Cr 50 to send a message that would likely go unanswered, but they also put an observer on that section of the comms board for the next two hours.

While Mikah made her call, Emkir realized they'd need Aali to get up and start checking out the ship soon enough.  And, since he wanted to be sure she had enough time to have food and do what she needed without being rushed, he decided to step into their stateroom and wake her up.  While he did that, Rol and Jocelynn got back to the ship from their classes learning how to destroy the giant "Prospector" class vehicles.  They were greeted and decided to sit and tell the others about the class and what they'd learned.  Chief of those was that they were "Not" going to be renting a prospector to go looking for the family.  While there were many minor reasons like the difficulty and hazards they'd face, the real reasons were the costs, which were so much higher for off-worlders.

In their stateroom, Emkir had amorous ideas of how to get Aali's evening started, but she knew it was time to get up and get moving.  At the same time, Rol started to realize everyone he could see had eaten.  Deciding he should get up to make a meal for himself an Jocelynn, Rol moved into the pantry and saw the disaster Zimzod had left for him.  Raising his hands and plaintively asking, "What happened", those in the lounge started laughing as Emkir realized what was going on and called out, "Zimzod" as an answer to Rol's question.  Looking at Zimzod, Rol was about to say "something" when he was cut off.

Sitting comfortably and smiling, Zimzod called out, "Earn your pay!  Bitch!" and finished up with a huge smile on his face.  To that, Rol could only immediately answer, "Bite me."  Waving that off, Zimzod dismissively told Rol, "You're not cooked enough."  To punctuate that, he even held up the plate he'd made such a mess preparing with the last of his dinner on it.  Leaning in a bit, Rol challenged, "Come on over and find out." and everyone else in the compartment ooohh'd in appreciation of the challenge.  Because he was too lazy to get up at the moment and accept the offer, Zimzod answered that with a huge smile as he said, "You just provin' you love me."

Grasping at straws as his wit started fading, Rol only answered with, "At least I've had a shower today."  He then tried to make a quick exit as he started to turn, saying, "I'm gonna go clean up the mess."  Not letting that be the last word, Zimzod told him, "OK.  Come over here and get on your knees."  Suddenly the others in the compartment found themselves snapping their heads back and forth while oohing and aahhing at each escalation of the exchange.  When Rol told Zimzod he'd have to raise the chair higher, Zimzod taunted, "Can't you scoop it off the floor?"  Lost for a real answer, Rol only answered, "Not from down there, I can't."  Everyone know that the remark had been meant to be cutting but had failed.

Zimzod only shrugged and said Rol must be scared off by guys who are actually well endowed.  Rol tried to make a comeback, saying, "Haven't seen one yet." which he didn't seem to realize included the man in his mirror too...  Still, the line got lots of laughs.  Shaking his head in sadness, Zimzod said, "It's sad how some people have to resort to lies because they're so jealous."  Rol also shook his head and claimed, "I can keep going like this, but I have clothes on."  Before he could completely turn away, Zimzod just stood up and said, "And I can prove it!" while spreading his robe open towards Rol.  Rol stood there shaking his head as Zimzod crowed, "Take it all in, bitch!" in a victory howl.  As a last swipe, Rol just pointed at Zimzod's crotch and said, "See?" in a matter of fact tone as he turned away.

While Rol moved in to clean up after Zimzod and cook for himself and Jocelynn, Jocelynn was asking Mikah what she wanted to do now that the prospectors were not the answer?  Terin was asking how long Mikah wanted to wait for something to happen and Fesic had joined the gang and asked Rol for something to eat.  Aiden's gripes were based on how much it had cost them just getting there, and Zimzod reminded them they still had to top off their fuel and recycle their atmospherics and consumables.  And, that was gonna be expensive on Wypoc.  Mikah said she was concerned they'd never find the family if they didn't turn on their transponder.  And no one wanted to ask if that also might not make it through the atmosphere to reach them?

Zimzod stepped in and pointed out it would be a lot easier to find something as large as a prospector when compared to a small group of idiots in one wrecked grav-truck.  When Jocelynn asked if they'd even know where to look, she was reminded the family had filed a prospecting plan.  But, no one was sure if they'd meant to follow that plan or if it were a red herring?  When Rol suggested they think about leaving "now" and coming back later, Zimzod cut him off to say he didn't want to come back to Wypoc.  With everyone's attention, he reminded them all about how they'd twisted their flight plans just to get there this time.  And how much it cost them?

A good number of the crew also didn't want to come back later.  When Mikah asked when they could come back, given their future plans, if they did leave now, Zimzod again said they were not coming back to that rock if they did leave now.  When Rol started ticking off options including leaving a message for the family and handling the issue through months, if not years, of correspondence, that only ticked Zimzod off.  Wanting to take some measure of events in their own hands, he suggested they could always try to do a spiral search at altitude and see if they saw anything before they left a message and left the system.

Reacting to that, Jocelynn asked if the ship's sensors could find them from orbit and was told they'd have to be in the atmosphere.  Terin suggested they could cut down the risk to the ship by just following the family's filed prospecting plan to see if they actually went that way or not?  He said they could increase the odds by spiraling out from there too.  When he was challenged that the plan could have been a red herring, Terin admitted that but asked how far out they could have gotten in the prospector to begin with?  Then asking how much ground would they have to search to cover that whole area?

When that line of questions brought things down to actual data they could figure out, Terin asked if they could find out from the port when the family had left?  He was reminded they'd already been told that when they arrived and started asking after the family.  With that, Terin said they could draw a circle on the map and reduce the amount of area they'd have to search to a limited known.  As the others agreed, Jocelynn even cheered, "Good Idea, Terin!" as they got to work.

Soon enough, they had the circle drawn with some gracious help from the port that only Terin was petty enough to grouse about.  But the port chose not to charge them for the work thanks to their participation in the rescue the night before.  With the area as a known, they now needed Emkir to program into the computer the best search coverage patterns and the area, to have it spit out a "best search grid" and minimum search time for the terrain in question.  And that would take the computer twelve hours by itself while it took Emkir twenty minutes to do the programming.

That decided, Aali went to start her work evaluating and measuring issues with the ship while Emkir went to work on the computer.  The others wanted to go out and do some drinking.  When Jocelynn said she wasn't sure, Mikah said that she should be the one who wanted to drink the most, after the night before.  That confused Jocelynn until she realized Mikah was joking because Jocelynn had told her she'd spent the night with Rol again.  Agreeing to go out with the others, Jocelynn made it a point to tell Aiden he was coming in an authoritative tone.  Aiden simply answered, "Yes, dear."

Unwanted Attention

     Without Emkir and Aali, the rest of the crew made their way out to spacer's row and eventually settled into a bar called "Stars End".  The place was not the best maintained but appeared to be largely filled with locals.  The crowd looked to be investing in their drinks, singing really bad karaoke, playing vid games and just vegging out.  On the bar's vid screens, the news was all about the recent rescue, which showed just how little the crowd cared because no one connected those events with the crew just coming into the bar.  Events and commentary on how badly the one expedition had ended up were contrasted with rumors from company of the now-forming expedition.

When Terin suggested they stay in port long enough to rescue the Baron, Mikah made it clear they would not.  Not even if the Baron needed rescue in the next few hours!  The next thing they knew, most of those at the table were cheering for the fictional dragons to eat the Baron and his people with Mikah cheering, "Go, Dragon!  Go!"  Even that barely got a rise out of drinkers at the other tables.  Rol did say they could give the Baron the coordinates for where they knew there were two dragons.  Mikah stopped him with an evil look in her eyes and said, "No!  We can tell him where One dragon is!"  Rol was about to correct her when he realized what her intentions were.

Some of the others in the bar were again looking up at them as the table's chant became a chorus of "One dragon!" along with many evil giggles.  Things eventually settled down as they relaxed and nursed their drinks and discussed their options.  Eventually, they were all interrupted as a person swept into the bar with his back ram-rod straight and his shoulders broad in his flashy clothing and accompanied by three assistants.  Stopping with his entourage just inside the bar's entrance, the man visually scanned the tables of drinkers.

Quickly, he spotted their table and pointed to the crew before happily declaring to all, "There are the people I want to talk to!"  As pretty much everyone in the bar watched, the smiling and expensively dressed man waded through the tables scattered over the bar's floor toward the crew.  At the same time, Mikah was the first to recognize the sound of the man's voice, with Aiden not far behind her.  In for a CrImp, in for a Crown, Mikah called to him, "Come here.  We have coordinates for you.  We know where there is a dragon."

Hearing that, the Baron declared, "That is exactly what I was hoping for, My Lady!" as he approached them.  Not caring what was spewing from the man's mouth, Mikah was in 'full advertising mode' as she continued, "We all know there is a dragon there!" and the Baron answered in time, "Thank you My Lady!  I am, so happy to meet you My Lady."  On top of that circus, Terin started to shout, "And it will only cost you Cr 10,000 to get the coordinates!"  When the Baron finally arrived at their table, he then knelt and proceeded to step through the entire Courtly process of formally introducing himself to Mikah.

One thing Mikah noted as this happened was that the Baron used the form of a supplicant coming into the presence of a more senior noble-person while seeking favor from that person.  So the Baron was coming groveling to her as a Lady of the Court, despite the unfortunate exchange of words between his crew and her's.  Mikah quickly connected the dots mentally that he was playing on the seniority of Courts, since she was a Lady of "The Domain" Court and he a member of either the Sector or even Subsector Court.  So the Baron could have been offering a political nod or playing a game of perceptions.

Once Mikah graciously offered the Baron the right to sit at her table, he had only two favors to ask.  He first wanted to get the coordinate data on where the Upgrade rescued the survivors.  The Baron also hoped to get from them any video taken or recovered from the survivors of the events before and during the rescue.  When Mikah smiled and simply asked, "How much?" the Baron immediately and still graciously threw out the figure, Cr 10,000.  Mikah play acted at considering the offer before saying, "Fifteen and we have a deal." in a firm tone of voice.  The Baron simply offered his hand as he decisively said, "Done".  With the deal made, the Baron immediately told one of his assistants to send the money to "Her Ladyship's accounts" before then calling for a toast!

The Baron then demanded of the bar owner that he pour Mikah and her people a drink of the bar's finest!  That demand almost impressed Mikah's people except that they didn't have high expectations of any public bar on the planet and doubted most of the private ones too.  They were all surprised when the bar tender rushed over without a bottle in hand and dissembled, "Your pardon your Excellency.  Our finest?"  Few in the crew, or even in the bar noted a sparkle of avarice in the man's eyes while it appeared the Baron simply thought the man to be too dull witted to understand simple instructions on the first try.

After the Baron confirmed his latest command, the bar owner brightened up as he responded, "Absolutely!" and made a hand gesture to where others of his staffers had readied bottles to be uncorked.  Very fancy looking bottles.  With labels suggesting a vintage not normally imported or even available to import locally.  All doubt was removed as the man called out, "Get the stuff from Zila!" and the bar tenders started popping corks.  Now it was the turn of the bar owner to turn on the Baron with a huge smile on his face as he explained.

Some time back, there had been a ship landing to drop off some cargo on-world when it crashed.  The rather large shipment of wine from Zila to another system was mostly destroyed, with only a small number of the cases surviving.  With insurance making the ship owners, wineries and customers whole, there was little interest in coming to acid-soaked Wypoc to try and track down the handful of cases and the local government thought it only fair to divide the largess among the port's bars.  Because the man had "safeguarded" the case for just the correct occasion, he was certain his was the last case of the vintage on-world and perhaps the last in existence!

With Mikah and each of her crew getting a glass as well as the Baron himself, that came to eight glasses which was two bottles.  And the bar owner was within his rights to quote the bottles at Cr 10,000 each!  Despite the excellent acting skills of the experienced politician, Mikah thought she could detect small hints of green leeching through the Baron's composure as he accepted his glass and raised a toast to Lady Mikah, her crew and good fortune!  Mikah and the others were certainly ready to toast their good fortune with a smile.  Mikah thanked the Baron after his gracious toast, saying it had been quite some time since, "I was treated to my station."

Following that, Sir Terin toasted the largess of the Baron, but notably did not say he was wishing good luck for the Baron.  Still, the Baron heartily accepted that toast as most at the table finished off their glasses.  Mikah mourned the fact the Baron was not tied to a refill as Jocelynn was discovering the quality of wines from Zila for the first time in her life.  Not quite finished with her glass, Mikah decided to screw last dregs into the Baron as she raised her glass and announced to all in the bar, "To the Arch Duke!"  Everyone in the bar raised a glass and answered that before there was a last toast to the Emperor.  A toast everyone answered with glasses empty or not.

Once the drinks were done, the Baron gave Mikah the data needed to send him the video and other data he had paid for and Mikah was happy to call back to the ship and have Emkir send over the bits and bytes.  Despite the chorus of "one dragon", Zimzod did remind Mikah that the Baron would certainly watch the video he'd paid for and see there had been two dragons.  She shrugged that off because there wasn't anything she could do about that.  And, with the drinks done and business taken care of, the Baron swept out of the bar with his lackeys and the crew relaxed for more drinking.

And while they disagreed if the Baron was a Court coronet, an active nobleman or, in Mikah's opinion, a "poofdah", Jocelynn's observation was dead on as she commented, "Well, he's certainly fancy."  What was obvious was that he likely managed every moment he could, trying to manipulate opinions and reactions.  So, the real questions were, "had they been managed" and, despite the financial damage, "what did he get from the performance in the bar?"

After another few hours relaxing with only a mildly raised amount of notoriety, and curiosity to deal with, they decided to head back to the ship.  Settling up their bills, Aiden, Rol, Jocelynn and Fesic had spent Cr 30 each on drinks, Terin and Zimzod spent Cr 40 and Mikah spent Cr 20.  After settling their bills, the group went back to the ship, figuring they didn't have to get up until the computer was done with its report on the search pattern.  So, Emkir set the computer in his and Aali's stateroom to alert them when the ship's computer finished its work.  Rol set his alarm for 6am, to be up and cook.

While returning to the ship, Mikah and the others asked about the current damage to the ship's hull, seals and other soft surfaces due to the rescue mission.  Aali explained that any damage would currently be micro-pitting where the acid attacked both silicon and carbon bonding on those surfaces.  For now, it could be reversed by resurfacing the hull as part of their annual overhaul, which should be done in eleven months.  When Mikah asked, she was told any more damage would be cumulative and have to be watched on the most vulnerable surfaces first.

Aali guessed the charge for resurfacing would be something like Cr 50,000 and take up to a week's time at a port that could do that.  Considering their intended itinerary, Aali said that would likely not be done at the Dinomn port, because it did not provide that kind of service.  But they could get the work done in the Ghandi and D'Ganzio systems, and could also get it done in the Lanth system if they diverted their travel path.  Back from the bar, the crew slowly settled into their bunks with Rol setting an alarm for the next day.

Going Out In The Storm

     Rol woke when his alarm went off, cleaned up and prepared for his day before heading out to cook breakfast for the crew.  For a second morning in a row, Mikah chose to not wake Zimzod as she cleaned up and got moving on her day.  As she did that, Aiden and Fesic had also woken and done their morning routines.  By the time they got out of their staterooms, Rol had cooked and laid out breakfast for the crew and was eating with the local news running on the vid.

Not long after the three sat down to eat, the computer in Emkir and Aali's stateroom went into alarm because the ship's computer had finished the search pattern report.  Getting out of bed, Aali stretched while Emkir moved over the console to get a quick 'first glance' at the data.  Based on a circle covering the territory a Prospector could cover in the time estimated before they started their hunt, the area of search was actually a distorted circle.  The Target area extended out in those directions they did "not" begin searching in, because the vehicle could have moved further in that direction in the extra time.

Based on the best strategy, the computer broke down how the search could be carried out and delivered time estimates based on the intensity of the search.  The report said that a full and intensive search of the entire estimated area of coverage could take them as much as a month.  Other options the computer plotted were less intensive or detailed but faster with the fastest scan of the entire area being done in three days.  Considering Aali's estimate of possible damage after two days exposure, Emkir was still concerned but not ready to set off the alarms and panic.

After the quick scan, Emkir sent a note to the rest of the crew that the computer had finished the report and they should all check it out.  He then joined Aali in going about their day as she devoted some thought cycles to accessing the morning engineering reports through her stent.  In the lounge, Mikah was eating when the computer pinged a notice they'd gotten a message.  Annoyed the port couldn't wait until business hours at the least, Mikah checked the message to see it came from Emkir!  Reading further, she called up a copy of the report on a local display.

Looking first for the "least time" exposure, Mikah saw that was still three days and rejected it, based on Aali's reports of potential hull damage.  Sitting back, Mikah was starting to consider hiring a lawyer to deliver a message to the Montgomerys before leaving the system without meeting them.  Hearing her say that, Aiden joked, "Do we want a reputable lawyer or an irreputable one?" and almost got hit by Mikah.  Acting on her words, Mikah called the city offices and asked about being directed to a lawyer.  After she got a list and made her choice, Mikah was told they could meet with her in a few hours.  Saying "Good!  The sooner, the better.", she broke the connection and relaxed.

Aiden moved from food into physical therapy while the others started waking up too.  After eating, Emkir too did his physical therapy.  Fesic took another of his long walks, heading out to the closest of the city's parks.  Terin grabbed the data from the computer on the search patterns and started to make assessments on not only the whole area, but breakdowns too.  He was most interested in a much smaller search zone which would cover the region the family had said they were going to in their prospecting plan.

Terin wondered if he could cut down the time required for a search by limiting the area they'd cover and modifying the altitude, hoping to get a better look at the spots they overflew.  Remembering the plan could well have been a red herring, Terin thought it was their best choice to do "something" to resolve the books issue before just leaving.  After spending some time working on his ideas, Terin realized he should bring Aiden into the plan, because of his superior understanding of sensor performance.

After reviewing Terin's numbers "very" carefully, Aiden did say they should have a hope of finding something if there was something out there to find?  Still, Aiden was more in favor of not finding anything so they could make that flight their farewell to Wypoc's acid-drenched shores.  With Aiden's seal of disapproval, Terin decided to take his data to sell to Mikah.  And after getting done with that, Mikah agreed they could call the lawyer and delay that meeting to try, at least.  But she put a firm limit of four hours on the run, no matter how promising anything looked out there.  If they didn't find anything, they'd leave it in the hands of a lawyer and leave Wypoc.

While this had been going on, Rol had spent some time investigating data on how well their various armor and vacc suits could stand up against Wypoc's Atmosphere?  The answer was that the better and better maintained vacc suits would survive up to eight hours while the combat armor would go a bit further and Zimzod's battledress not much longer.  Like the ship, though, the real weakness they faced were the seals and other connectors.  Still, even their basic vacc suits should survive a quick "in and out" operation.  He did that while Aali worked in the engineering spaces.  The others relaxed.

Putting the word out, a call was made to tell Fesic to get back to the ship while they called the lawyers and the guy who was renting them the berth.  The last call was made to make sure the Baron didn't try to slip into the berth while they were out but they were quickly reminded the man had a better chance of surviving the atmosphere of Wypoc while dancing nude in a storm than getting his ship back under the roof of their host.  That done, they worked to take care of the rest of their needs, including plotting and filing a flight plan before securing the ship, manning their stations and leaving port.

With Aiden at the sensors and Terin and Emkir flying, Rol manned the comms.  Zimzod was in his battledress, just in case, and Mikah was in her combat armor but neither of them were buttoned up yet.  Aali was in engineering while Fesic manned the weapons station.  Jocelynn was in a vacc suit, though not buttoned up, because she could always rush out for a quick recovery mission.  She also had a weapon in an easy to reach location, "just in case".

The initial flight out along the path of travel the family plotted felt, to the crew, like it took longer than it actually did.  Still, it was a good thing for Aiden, because he could use surface features to help him fine tune the sensors and lock in some hit response types,  Following the "flight out", Terin and Emkir started the spiral, with Emkir feeding attitude data from the computer to Terin.  Into the "meat" of the maneuver, that led to hours of tedious observation and activities which ended when they got a hit on the sensors.  And it was a "big" hit.

A blurry sensor image Mikah had Emkir share out an image of Aiden's screen as Aiden worked to fine tune the blurry image he was seeing.  What really called to him were two items.  First, the sensors told him the "hit" was not of the same material as the surface it was sitting on.  Second, the "hit" read as a huge amount of metal in a more pure concentration than would be natural on Wypoc.  So, they were either rich, having discovered a metals deposit, or they'd found some machine made and brought out from the city by the inhabitants.  Or, they'd found a bygone wreck left to rot in the acid.

The more Aiden worked the sensors, the more "regular" some of the lines and angles became, until he could point to flat surfaces, even if they were at an angle, and ninety degree angles which far too rarely happened in nature.  Feeding the coordinates to the flight team, they started bringing the ship around in a slow loop circling the hit.  Certain they were on to something, especially as Aiden improved his readings, and Mikah had it broadcast to all the ship's displays so everyone could see it.

Despite their growing confidence, Rol couldn't get any answer to his hails when he tried to call any vehicles in the close vicinity.  Aiden had confirmed that the hit, whatever it was, was not moving as he worked to retune the sensors.  Finally, Mikah ordered Terin to get them closer so they could get a better look.  The closer they got, the better the sensor readout looked.  Finally, Aiden was ready to put a name to the hit, and he called it a wrecked prospector!  Now, the only questions were, how long had it been there and were there any survivors?  And most importantly, were the crew living or dead members of the Montgomery family?

A wrecked prospector The bad news was that the vehicle was partly canted down on its right side, appearing to be in a ravine and much of its superstructure appeared bent or even broken off and thrown to the right side.  The broken terrain did not appear to be the sort of area even so large a vehicle would be safe crossing.  Despite the improving visual identification, Rol couldn't draw any response from it no matter how he worked the comms.  Seeing the, now obviously wrecked, vehicle nearly lying on its right side, Mikah commented, "Well.  If they're all dead, we get the books.  Right?"  The others laughed at the gallows humor.

When Zimzod muttered, "Yeah, but we don't know if they're dead", Mikah joked, "We could make sure they're dead."  In case she was even half serious, Mikah was reminded the locals came out to recover and recycle everything they could.  And, it would take years, even in the acid bath, for all evidence of a starship weapon strike to fade away.  So, the locals would certainly know what happened and be able to get word of that off-world.  So, they'd likely not last long enough to get the cash before word got to Rhylanor about their actions.

More Favors Earned For Later

     When the best they could do was say 'it looked fairly intact', despite the downed cranes and derrick, and Aiden was able to report minimal energy readings from the vehicle, Mikah ordered Terin and Emkir to hover them just over the wreck, with the cargo hatch over the grav-vehicle landing pad.  Mikah then announced, "We're gonna go out the cargo bay, me and Zimzod, and we're gonna see if anyone is in there?  Aiden nodded as he said, "Bringing her in", which was ironic because he wasn't flying the ship.

As Mikah secured her station and she and Zimzod prepared to button up, Rol asked if they wanted him and Jocelynn to come along?  Jocelynn was ready to go, though she'd been looking at the sensor readouts and joking, "We could have done that.  Me and Rol are trained to wreck these things." as she poked fun at the day of training they'd been through.  Mikah considered that Jocelynn was in a regular vacc suit and told Rol to button up and come along.  Jocelynn could stay back as security, with a weapon just inside the hatch to the cargo bay.  Just in case.

Deck plans for the Prospector's upper deck From what Rol and Jocelynn had learned, the upper-most level had a forecastle and aft gear-house with broken fittings on the tween-decks.  Within the aft structure were a scrub room, machine spaces, a "clean room"(IE: keeping the atmo out) and the storage and lift up and down from the landing pad.  The forward structure contained gear and work rooms as well as a secured common for the topside workers.  Each of the compartments were easily able to be sealed against the outside elements, or from each other if there was a breach that compromised some part of the vehicle.

There was a bit of a chat as Mikah and Zimzod questioned Rol on the interior design of the upper deck.  Eventually, Mikah said they should make for the forward structure because that would be where the workers might gather, and it even had an emergency shower in the space.  That suggested it would be a command and rescue control point too, perhaps with some emergency and medical supplies.  It was a good enough theory to go on, and, as the ship dropped down close enough, the three moved out to the now open cargo bay hatch and prepared to jump down.

They planned for Rol to "go first", along with Zimzod, because he knew the lay of the land.  Zimzod had jets on his armor and could stabilize both himself and Rol once they were down.  Zimzod also suggested they grab some of the cables from the ship's locker and use them to tie off lines and for the drop down.  Mikah agreed to that and they had someone bring back the cables, handing them off so the three didn't track acid through the ship.  After tying off the cables and dropping them down, Rol and Zimzod made their descents.

While Rol stuck the landing, Zimzod slid a bit perhaps because he expected not to slide.  The angle of the deck beneath them was surprisingly close to thirty degrees even though it hadn't seemed that bad from above.  Conveniently, there was a metal rail staircase down from the landing pad to the upper deck that ended right next to the starboard-side entrance to the forecastle.  Grabbing it firmly, Zimzod tried the hatch and found it secured.  Rol looked for any signs of a power pad next to the hatch but saw none.  This was low-tech solid metal security that would better survive the acid.  The hatch was secured by a "spin-wheel" hatch lock.

Shrugging, Zimzod spun the wheel easily and then undogged the hatch and opened it to the space beyond.  The space beyond was the expected workspace, with gear storage and cleaning stations.  Thanks to the angle at which the prospector was leaning, many unsecured items had fallen down against the right wall.  Despite that, the gear had been clean and seemed to have been stowed correctly before the wreck event threw it off of, or out of, storage spaces or containers.  Mikah joined the two men as they scanned the open compartment.

To their right, the three saw another hatch leading to the space Rol had learned was a crew common for upper deck workers.  They all looked at each other because they knew anyone inside that space who was not in a haz-E suit would die if they carelessly opened the hatch.  Considering options, Rol looked for anything made of metal which he could pick up and handle easily.  He had the idea of banging on the bulkheads to see if he got a response?  Looking around, Rol found a piece of gear to use while they all stepped completely into the compartment and Mikah secured the hatch behind them.

They reported their progress and actions as Rol began to bang on the right side bulkhead and Terin asked if they could see any sign of a decontamination station there?  Sadly, as the three looked around, they neither got a response from Rol's banging nor did they see any emergency showers or decontamination fittings.  They did see vacuFans which could be activated and which, it seemed, would suck the contaminated atmosphere of the compartment out and evacuate it to the outside.  They had no idea if it would refill the compartment with clean air?

Shrugging and figuring, 'In for a CrImp, in for Crown', Rol activated the fans and they waited as the space seemed to depressurize before repressurizing.  That question was answered just before another as they started hearing noises from beneath them!  Stopping to listen, they realized there was someone banging on the ceiling of the compartment below them.  Someone was alive!  Broadening his comms broadcast to see if he could hit some local comms channels, Rol tried to reach out and see if anyone answered now they were on the ground.

Thanks to the lack of distance and removal of so many sources of interference, Rol almost immediately got back an answer from a woman who identified herself as "Kylejay Montgomery"!  While she sounded calm enough, there was concern and even a bit of hope to be heard in the tone of her voice as she asked who they were and if they were from the port?  Rol started to tell her, "We're an independent ship..." and she interrupted him with some exhaustion starting to tell in her voice.  She bluntly asked him if they were able to provide a rescue?  Again, with just a hint of emotion in her voice that could have been desperation this time.

Snapping into "efficiency mode" rather than wasting her time with shit she didn't need to know, Rol answered, "Yes, we can provide rescue.  How many do you have?"  the woman said they had seven at first, then corrected herself that they had six with a hint of loss now coming out of her voice to play.  Rol asked if they had environment suits and she snapped that no one went into the wilds without suits.  Deciding they had not come up to the top deck for a reason, Rol asked, "Do you need assistance to get to the upper deck?" and the woman said "Yes!" as if she'd been starving and he'd offered her a meal.

After a pause, she continued, "We're stuck on this deck." in a defeated tone.  Mikah simply looked at Zimzod and Rol and said, "Breaching charge." in an almost sing-song tone of voice.  Then, she joked, "We'll use Fesic's."  Interrupting Mikah, Zimzod said, "Screw that!" as he grabbed the wheel, undogged the hatch and opened it.  He then turned to the others an said, "Let's find out where the problem is before we waste resources."  Mikah and Rol nodded in agreement as they followed him into the next compartment.  That was the crew common space and did have a decontam station and a space to relax or treat the injured.

Looking the space over, the oddest thing they noticed were a small pile of children's toys.  Realizing they might have to deal with herding children who might be unresponsive, uncooperative or even in terror, the three started talking with those back on the ship, considering options.  When ideas started floating, Mikah was adamant the ship should not land.  Period.  Still, they recognized the "rescue" could turn into a real shit-show if they started losing kids.

In that compartment, there was a hatch which opened down to the next level below and trying that showed it was frozen fast.  It didn't take long for Zimzod to use his suit's sensors and figure out the deck had warped.  Because of that, the hatch ring had been warped too, and the hatch was frozen in place.  Thanks to the enhanced strength provided by the battledress, Zimzod pulled and twisted and grunted until he could actually feel the ring move a bit.  Sadly, that was all he got and couldn't free the ring to where he could undog the hatch.

So they'd have to use a breaching charge if they could find no other exit.  Only, no one was up for staying there any longer than they had to, and Mikah gave the order to have a breaching charge brought to them.  As she did that, Rol started to tell Kylejay and the others who'd joined on her comms channel what they had planned and how to prepare.  To their credit, Rol didn't hear any panic or signs of negative reactions. Getting her orders, Jocelynn moved up to the bridge and grabbed one of the charges to bring down to the cargo bay.

From there, she used a carabiner to secure the charge to her shoulder and slung it over her back as she made a hand over hand descent down the lines to the landing pad.  There, she quickly made her way into the gear shop the other three had entered first.  Cycling the fans, Jocelynn was soon enough in a clean atmosphere and made her way into the inner compartment.  As Zimzod took the charge from her, Mikah guided Jocelynn into the emergency shower and pulled on the cord there, hoping it would work.  They were all gratified as the shower started to work and they were able to quickly get the acid and chemical wash off Jocelynn's vacc suit.

After washing off Jocelynn's suit, Mikah decided it would be good to wash off all the other suits just to keep the acid from continuing to comfortably munch on their armor.  Along with that, it took the four ten minutes to get everything set up so they had the charge set correctly and could move back to the first compartment before setting it off.  There were last second comms checks with the family below, who had all organized and were buffering themselves in the galley.  When it was all ready, Rol held up the detonator and said, "Let's hope not to break any eggs" as a reference to the family huddling in the kitchen.

They all waited more than a few beats after the blast, to let things settle and for any hot embers to fade.  With his battledress, Zimzod was the first back into the central compartment and his first concern was that the blast had compromised the outer shell of the prospector.  But that had not happened, and the compartment was secure from the outside atmosphere.  He then reached down and started using his armored gloves and armor-enhanced strength to rip away the debris of the hatch.  It was quickly obvious he'd be able to clear enough space for the family to squeeze through.

The one caution was that they could not squeeze through while wearing their vacc suits, which were bulky low-tech work suits not well suited to randomly wandering in vacuum or other hazardous environments.  They were meant to be used to get in and out of dangerous environments only when you had to, in order to get work done and get back into the safety of a vehicle or sealed environment.  That meant more time passing gear through the hole before lifting each of the family members up off the ladder leading to the hatch from the deck below.  Then, each of the family members had to gear up again before they were ready to make the crossing to the ship.

When they were all accounted for, they had found Brian's sister and brother along with the sister's wife and three children of varying ages.  In the brief bits of conversation, it was reported that Brian's father had died in the initial accident when the prospector crashed and the youngest child, a daughter named Ceana Ward-Montgomery, had died of injuries she'd suffered in the accident.  The three surviving children were surprisingly alert, responsive and able when they were expected to respond to requests or act.  To help others or on their own behalf.

Despite their abilities and hardy willingness to act for their own safety, it still took nearly forty minutes to get them all moved to the Upgrade and to activate the prospector's beacon for recovery.  But once that was done, they were able to burn for altitude, which meant less acid density, and then for the port.  As Aiden took the flight board and Terin navigated, Rol comm'd the port to update them on events and ask for medical and cleaning teams to be available when they arrived.  That news heated up the comms channels as the local and Imperial authorities began responding to the crew's second rescue in as many days!

When Mikah turned to Brian's brother and took him to task for not having gone of world on the Dinomn contract, he said he had delayed departure because they were fairly certain they knew the coordinates of a really valuable chemical score.  As he muttered about the collapse of a ridge they'd been travelling along, which had apparently caused the wreck, Brian's sister suddenly and excitedly asked, "Can your ship's sensors detect chemicals?"  Mikah verbally smacked her down, saying, "No!  Don't even think about it!"  When she persisted, "It's worth a lot of money", Mikah answered, "We'll talk about money once we get you back and settled in at the port."

Mikah then pressed on, "We came here looking for you, and you're lucky we did.  But we have some news for you, and we need to cut a deal."  That confused both the brother and sister as Kylejay's wife kept to the side, quietly managing the kids and wondering just what was going on?  Realizing they had no idea who she and her crew were, Mikah introduced herself and those in the cargo bay with them and explained they'd been crewmates of Brian's when he had died.

That bomb sat them down and shut them up once it had exploded.  Somewhere in the shock and surprise, they did realize everyone around them had to be some of the Knights Brian had been travelling with.  When Mikah started again, saying, "And we saved your asses." Brian's brother Perry said the port would have come looking for them soon enough.  Mikah denied that, but was assured they knew how things worked on-world better than she did, and pointed out they'd been right on their filed prospecting plan.  So, once the port started looking in a month's time, they'd have been found.

When Mikah pointed out how uncomfortable a wait that would have been, both he and Kylejay had to agree with that.  After a silence, the family started asking questions about the ship and Mikah and the others realized most of the family had never been aboard a ship before, spaceship or starship.  Getting past that, there were more formal introductions, where they met Kylejay's wife Isabel, and the kids.  Two of those were Kylejay and Isabel's son and older daughter.  The other boy was Perry's son.  There was mention, again, about nine year old Ceana, who had died of her injuries, and had been Kylejay and Isabel's younger daughter.

When Terin, over the comms, suggested going back to recover the bodies, none of the Wypocies had any idea why that would be a good idea?  In fact, it was simple politeness which kept Perry from saying just how stupid an idea that was.  Still, they were all happy to offer an alternative set of coordinates if they wanted to turn the ship around.  Again, Mikah snapped, "NO!" and made it clear they were not going out to prospect while the ship's hull was being attacked by the acids.  Despite that, there were quiet comments about how valuable the claim would be and that it was guaranteed money.

Mikah and Zimzod evaluated and treated the survivors medically while Mikah ordered Rol to prepare meals for them, assuming they had been limited to emergency rations.  She was surprised when they were hungry enough but told Mikah they'd been able to eat more or less normally after the accident.  They had just had to get used to their world being "canted" on one side but everything worked.

Once back at the port, the official medical and other services moved in and took over care of the family while also providing support services to the crew.  On top of providing quick response rescues twice, on-world, the crew also delivered high value information on where resources were available for recovery and recycling.  In the case of the Prospector, there was even hope the vehicle could be recovered, repaired and returned to service.  Ironically, as this rescue brought back into the news cycle the rescue of the failed hunting expedition, local news had also covered the departure of Baron Kanudushush's expedition into the outback.

Not to be outdone if he could help it, the Baron had actually made an appearance before cameras, vowing to hunt down the dragons which had attacked the earlier group and bring them down.  While he would not call the action "justice", he said he felt the port would benefit by his people "neutralizing" a pair of dragons which so obviously appeared to intentionally prey on humans.  Commentary by local zoological experts played that down, saying no testing yet had proven the dragons had an intelligence level which supported the ability to form "intent".  To an expert, they assured the public that the dragons were only responding to need, when something that qualified as a likely meal showed up in their hunting territory.

Aiden joked that they already had the coordinates the Baron's party were headed for, so they could easily be ready to go "rescue" them when they called for help.  Zimzod smiled as he told the others they should plan their launch off world so they could pass over that area and open fire as they passed over the Baron's vehicles.  That got a lot of laughs as people joked about 'aiming at the dragons and saying oops'.  Even Fesic joked, "I could use some target practice."  Still, the rest of the day played out with treatments, meetings and recovery.

Cutting The Deal

     This morning started like the last, with Rol getting up early and cooking breakfast.  Once the crew were awake and into their day, Fesic was interested in finding a cargo while the others had to consider their plans.  Mikah was happy when, early on, she was contacted by the Montgomerys, who wanted to meet with her and learn more about why the Upgrade had come looking for them?  Mikah invited them to meet aboard the ship, and sat them down once they were there to explain everything.

Based on what she remembered about the things she'd been told by University officials, Mikah admitted she was guessing when it came to the value of the books.  But, she suggested they were so valuable that even a small share would mean a huge amount of cash.  And she made it clear she wanted to split it between two parties, with the family and crew as one each.  That dumped the idea of counting up everyone and evaluating each person's "rights" to the books.  Mikah did make it clear the family "technically" owned the books, but also made it clear the crew had already done a lot of work to establish and raise the value of the collection.

In the end, Perry and Kylejay admitted they were clueless.  They had no idea Brian had even "had" the books and were surprised given the number of times he'd written them asking for money during his career, when he said things had not been going great.  Looking back on the cash sent to him by his parents and siblings, they had to wonder where the books had even come from, and if he'd been cheating them to build his collection?  Bringing things back to the 'here and now', Mikah made it clear how much work and expense the crew had gone to in order to find the family.  And that they'd even rescued the family, who Mikah maintained would all have died without that.

When Perry Montgomery joked, "We've been right here", Mikah joked back that she and the crew could put them back out in the storm.  And not in their prospector, but closer to the dragons the hunters had been killed by.  Getting more serious, Mikah told them the crew had called a lawyer locally, and could meet with them soon.  And the crew wanted to officially split the profits from the books with the family.  Mikah then followed that up by saying, it'll get you off this rock." in a serious tone.  Looking back at Mikah, Perry asked, "Fifty, Fifty?" and Mikah nodded as she agreed, "Fifty, Fifty."  And, just like that, a rock which had hung from the tail of her ships for nearly a full year was cut loose and lost to space.

Still, silver linings usually come from clouds and sometimes from meteor showers.  As she was relaxing and crossing a major milestone off her "Shoot it" list, Perry cautiously mentioned that the family had some pressing debts "right now" and wondered if the crew could help with that?  Mikah sighed, though she was sure there was gonna be a huge cost for the prospector they'd just wrecked, not to mention the loss of all the money they'd poured into the failed prospecting run.  Annoyed as she was that he was asking her to let him put them on the hook, Mikah was just glad the two didn't start itemizing their issues to play more on her sympathies.

Looking at them both as she took a minute to ready herself, Mikah asked, "How much?"  Now it was Perry's turn to lean back though he was not relaxing as he said, "Easily Cr 150,000."  As he said it, Mikah could see in his face he was nowhere near happy admitting that, but she could see he was also a man who was well able to do what had to be done, and she could respect that.  Still, Mikah had braced herself for a truly large number given the millions of credits a Prospector had to cost, and she found herself truly underwhelmed by what Perry thought was a large number.

Leaning in, Mikah answered, "OK.  I'll tell you what."  How about we split the money from the books 75, 25 if we're going to pay off your debts?"  Pausing, and with a glance at his sister, Perry asked Mikah, "Can you pay off our debts...now?" in a doubtful tone.  Mikah wasn't certain if he doubted the amount or the timing, but she told him she could and he brightened up.  He then put out his hand and said, "OK" as Kylejay also smiled and seemed to relax.  That decided, Mikah shook Perry's hand and said, "OK.  I'll call the lawyer and once they say we're all good, I'll pay off your debts.

Despite the fact Mikah had just used her leverage to unbalance the deal heavily in her crew's favor, Perry and Kylejay were happy.  This was because the security they had put up for the prospector rental was now gone, and the bills were still due.  On top of that, there were going to be fines.  And the family were, thanks to the wreck, functionally unemployed and homeless, because they had stopped paying rent on their 'short term' when they went into the field.  So, they didn't care how much "future" they lost because they were now promised they'd actually live long enough to "get" to that future.

Mikah also softened up, at that point, and offered to help the family get off Wypoc "now".  She offered them a ride to the Dinomn system, which was their next stop, if they wanted.  At first, Mikah expected them to jump at the idea but Perry explained to her that they knew the system, and how to "play the game" here on Wypoc.  So, while it was a hell world, it would be easier to be unemployed and homeless here than on some new system where they knew nothing and couldn't even guess if they could find work they knew?  Besides, if the books sold for what Mikah thought they might, they'd get off Wypoc soon enough.

That was especially true because Dinomn was no theme park either.  A drier world with a lot of desert surface, the atmosphere was both "low oxygen" and tainted by a toxin which was often fatal to outsiders.  So, that did represent an improvement over the acid bath of Wypoc but not by much when compared with other systems.  The two and a half million population on Dinomn were ruled by a council and they were a low enough population that their world did not "make much", so they were as dependent on paying off-world prices for things like food as on Wypoc.

On top of that bad news, the only reason the world wasn't even more than a tech level 3 primitive rock was the Imperial Scout base, completed just years before the war.  So, all the modern or tech jobs were obviously tied to the Scout base.  So, there were all sorts of strings and limits that they wouldn't face on Wypoc, where they were known too.  The one joke was that Perry might well take them up on the offer because he still had to leave Wypoc on that contract to Dinomn.  When they looked at it that way, Mikah could understand how they felt.

After everything was agreed to, Mikah called the lawyers and they told her she could bring her parties right over to get things done.  That would cost them Cr 50, which Mikah was happy to front.  Leaving, Mikah brought Emkir as their administrative specialist.  Perry and Kylejay both went with Mikah, leaving Isabel to watch the kids.  Mikah also gave Isabel Cr 300 to get the kids toys and stuff to keep them occupied and entertained while they were out.

At the lawyers, the deal was straight up and simple, an agreement between parties with no differences of opinion and no daylight between positions.  With the principle amount to be divided as an unknown, derived from an auction less the fees attached, the pay outs would be expressed in ratios and the contract was easy to write.  The firm would add in the standard codicils for deals and communications over interstellar distances and limited to current technologic support.  After reviewing that, they would sign it and they would be done.  In the end, the legal bill came out as Cr 75 instead of Cr 50.

Done with the lawyer, who was ready to complete the contract and send it to the port directly, Mikah said they should go to a bar, and offered to buy the family drinks.  The trip to the bar wasn't far for them or for the rest of the team, and family as they gathered to celebrate.  Shortly after they arrived and ordered the first round, Mikah got a ping from the port that her message was queued.  That meant it was ready to be broadcast to the next IISS courier to transit the system carrying x-mail.  So, the contract was now officially "published", and bore the official timestamp from Wypoc port.

The party was officially on as Mikah raised a first toast to the deal while some of the crew of the ship marveled that the family had brought their kids to a bar.  And, that the bar staff and authorities didn't care because that was "local normal".  The next toast was to getting off the rock, which didn't echo as well with the other local drinkers in the bar.  One question that rose from the other drinkers was if the crew was planning to hang out and see what happened to the Baron's hunting party?  Mikah didn't have to think at all as she simply answered, "No."  On top of everything else, the crew were celebrating getting paid Cr 1322 each.

Mikah did joke about a 'forced rescue' and other 'actions' they could take to affect the expedition he'd paid so much to mount.  Rol joked about luring as many dragons as they could down on the Baron's encampments while Aiden suggested orbital strikes.  Mikah laughed and said, "Well, then we'd know what happened."  Zimzod said it could be fun to make it so he needed to be rescued because practical jokes can be fun.  After that, the jokes continued for a while before settling down into more drinking before the evening ended.  By that time, Mikah had made her payment and Perry's credit was good enough to get the family new housing.  Which was something else to drink to.

At the end of the session, the bill was settled and the family went back to the ship with the crew to get what little they had before checking out their new digs.  Mikah also made sure they got anything left over from Brian, like his combat armor.  At the ship, Rol cooked the crew lunch as the others chatted about the Montgomerys.  While they celebrated, the family had gotten right back to looking for jobs.  Not surprised to see the family start trying to get going again, they were surprised to see the adults were not just looking for jobs for the adults.  They were also looking for work for the kids because that was the way on Wypoc.  On top of that, the parents did buy some schooling courses for the kids too.

Sitting to eat, the crew discussed that they had to top off the nine tons of standard fuel they'd burned off crossing the system from the gas giant.  They also had to recycle all their consumables, including the ship's atmo and fluids.  Those were two things that would be very expensive because of the environment on Wypoc and the availability of water and oxygen.  When Emkir cheered, again, that they could tick one quest off their list, Zimzod said, "We can tock that damned tick!"  On top of that, there was a wave of happy reactions to the fact they hadn't been involved in anyone's deaths or been arrested for anything.

When Mikah began making the calls, she was surprised the nine tons of fuel only cost them Cr 20,000.  Recycling the consumables cost them Cr 50,000.  Fesic also started talking up getting them some cargo, and asked for some time to do that.  When Mikah asked him how long he wanted, Fesic said he'd start with two days and see what he'd found.  Mikah agreed, but didn't want to stay long so she told him to work on getting that done sooner than later.  Fesic said he'd do his best.  They'd also have to push or cancel their publicly listed sales ads.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:

     Everyone is in the ship's lounge on Wypoc planning final activities on-world

Next: Pranks, Passage and Potential