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Last Updated     Feb 29 2020
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Straight Plans And
     Strange Bedfellows

Unexpected Amenities

     The day began with Mikah still under medical and psi-tolerance treatment in the Imperial Naval base medical section.  While she'd been shot in the chest three days before, Mikah was healing very quickly thanks to the intervention of a psionic healer.  Aboard the ship, Terin was asleep but planned to return to "The Dead Marines" to have his gauss rifle customized for him.  And while everyone else slept with no specific plans, Fesic was the first to wake up and he did so to a surprise.  Opening his eyes, Fesic noticed an arm draped over him.  For the second time in just more than two weeks, he unexpectedly found himself spooning with someone on the bed.  Only, this time, he was the small spoon.

Fesic's first thought was that he'd had gone off-ship the night before, but not to meet women.  That trip had been hunting illicit connections and they'd only met some people who planned to kill him if the ever met again.  He'd not gone drinking or looking for female companionship.  And, he certainly remembered going to bed alone after getting back to the ship.  So, whoever "belonged to" the arm had crawled into bed with him and that likely eliminated Aali because she was married.  With Mikah in the hospital, that left Jocelynn or some other woman who'd managed to get aboard the ship.  Of course, that didn't mean one of the others hadn't hired a woman and brought her aboard to prank him.  Deciding it was time to see just how playful his playmate was, Fesic reached out to gently stroke the arm and asked, in an inviting tone, "Zimzod?  Is that you?"

Jocelynn was in that netherworld region of not being quite awake or asleep and not really fully aware of things as she felt the sensation of Fesic's touch and half heard his question?  Not sure what was happening, Jocelynn tried to answer but mostly came out with a mumbled or grumbled "nahmmermah" half-muffled into Fesic's back.  While he was not completely wide eyed and full of adrenaline, what he heard was doing wonders for Fesic's comprehension and cognition as he stated reacting to the adrenaline pumping into his bloodstream.  Fesic could feel the woman with him was under the covers, and he could feel she was wearing some kind of clothing.  But he could also feel the very obvious curves of a female form pressing against his back as they spooned on the bed.

Being as careful as he could, Fesic "snuggled" the covers as he pulled himself slightly away from his "partner" enough that he felt he could lay back flat without bumping back into her.  He then let himself lay down when he did not feel her rolling down into the open space he'd opened between them.  Jocelynn had been slowly making her way along the road to cognizance herself, and propped her knee forward as Fesic moved, so she didn't fall forward on the bed behind him.  Moving as he had, Fesic could look up into Jocelynn's face and see who it was who'd joined him?  Almost nose to nose, Fesic could see Jocelynn had been in the process of waking up and said, "Ahhh, good morning." in a tone that showed a hint of both surprise and pleasure.  In a subdued tone, Jocelynn answered, "Good morning."

Jocelynn said "No" when Fesic asked, "Did you have problems with your stateroom?  Or Stateroom door or something?"   She then continued, "I just figured I owed you for all the times I got you beat up."  Trying to hide a more obvious smile or any other "tells" of his interests, Fesic asked, "So, what exactly is your intention then?"  Looking him in the eyes, Jocelynn said, "We're snuggling.  That's all." in a tone that was perhaps a bit more defensive than needed.  Nodding as best he could, Fesic answered, "Oh.  OK" and did his best to hide his disappointment.  Jocelynn continued, "You're my snuggle buddy." with a sleepy smile.

Smiling at that, Fesic opened his arms in invitation and said, "Well, then come a little closer." and Jocelynn let her body roll down onto him to hug him tighter.  As she did, Jocelynn sighed, "Ah, you're a big teddy bear."  Hearing that, Fesic decided that "something" could happen but he could also be patient and see what happened instead of being greedy and damaging things.  Still, it was early and Fesic said he was awake while Jocelynn only wanted to fade back to sleep.  When she said that, Fesic realized they'd be leaving his stateroom together later, and asked, "Don't you think this might give the wrong impression to the others?"  He was especially concerned about Rol's feelings.

Shrugging that off, Jocelynn answered him, "I don't care what they think.  You are my friend.  You did me a favor and I have gotten you...bodily hurt...more than once.  So, I just...  I don't know."  After a pause she asked if he wanted her to leave and he smiled and said, "No.  You want me." with a smile he hoped was charming.  When she asked, "What?" in a voice that was a mix of shocked and surprised, he answered, "You crawled into bed with me" as if that closed the book on her conviction.  After a brief moment of silence, Jocelynn argued back, "That doesn't mean I want you."  Fesic shrugged and said, "You could have baked me a cake or something."  Jocelynn just fixed him with a glare at that and asked, "Have you seen me cook??"

Shrugging that aside, Fesic said, "There are ways of being 'nice to a friend', but you chose to crawl into bed with me.  He did his best to make sure his tone was not judging, and was comfortable waiting for her to come to the same conclusion he had.  Not sure what to do, Jocelynn said, "Alright, well then...  I can go, I just..."  She stopped talking as she started getting out of the bed.  True enough to her convictions, Jocelynn wasn't concerned as she left Fesic's stateroom into the forward starboard quarter of the ship's lounge to walk aft to her stateroom.  Despite her convictions, the lounge was empty so no one was there to create a 'walk of shame'.

Back in her own stateroom, Jocelynn tried to slip back to sleep but only managed to lay there for half an hour before getting up.  In his stateroom, Fesic had decided he was awake and it was time to get his morning routine done and face the day.  Because of events, Fesic was the first out into the lounge and he started some caff cooking.  After that, Fesic sat on one of the couches enjoying the quiet and waited for the others to start waking up.  When Jocelynn joined him soon enough, Fesic pointed to the cushion next to him and invited, "Wanna snuggle?"  After considering it for long enough that Fesic snarked, "That's doing wonders for my ego." Jocelynn decided 'what the hell' and joined him on the couch.

More Than Just Breakfast

     After his alarm had gone off and he'd finished his morning routine, Rol stepped out of his stateroom to see the space lit and Jocelynn snuggling with Fesic on a couch.  When Rol asked, "Late night?" because they'd been gone after the stent work the night before, Fesic and Jocelynn looked up.  Despite her lack of real concern, Jocelynn was sorry she'd not put on the news or some vids so she could claim they'd just been sitting together.  She hoped it wouldn't hurt Rol's feelings.  As Jocelynn tried to form a complete answer, she could only ask Fesic, "When did we get home?  I don't even remember."  Fesic just told Rol, "No, we just sat down here a bit earlier this morning."

Nodding, with an "Ah ha." Rol stood there as Jocelynn's brain got in gear and she said, "We're just sitting." in a tone that suggested lethargy.  Rol nodded again, saying, "I can see." as Fesic smiled and continued, "But, as you can see, we're becoming good friends."  Giving Fesic a look for how Rol must feel, she looked up at Rol and told him, "It's not what you think."  Shrugging, Rol told her, "Hey.  You're a free marine.  I..."  Jocelynn answered, "I know, but..."  Skipping forward, Rol said, "Well, you look comfortable." and Jocelynn said, "He is right that we are becoming friends.  He did me a solid last night and we're just chilling."

Aiden left his stateroom just then, walking into the awkward pause that followed her comments.  Realizing what he was stepping into only as he noticed the tension in the compartment, Aiden just planted his face in his hand and groaned for the stupidity of his shipmates.  He also wished he could give them a can of lemon-scented air freshener but that long-gone can had been handed off to others months before he'd died and been cloned.  Snapping the scene, Rol put his hands together and offered, "So.  Special breakfast for two?" which evoked certain memories for Fesic of what Rol had done to Munarshu one morning back on Regina.

When Fesic reacted to that, Rol raised his hands and said, "Don't worry.  I'm very OK with everything." in the voice a councilor might use with agitated subjects.  At that, Aiden grunted, "Morning." and Rol turned to him casually saying, "Morning.  You coming in to get some of this?" as he indicated where the caff had been started.  Misinterpreting Rol's comments, Jocelynn half rose from the couch demanding, "What?!  Excuse me??" angrily.  After a visible wince, Aiden sternly said, "I hope you're talking about breakfast." in a tone that threatened actual violence if Rol tried to get Aiden mixed up in one of the ship's stupidity polygons.

When Rol only answered by asking, "What do you think?" Jocelynn demanded of Rol, "What do you think?" and Aiden snarled, "You won't like what I think."  Pointing at the food station, Aiden said, "Breakfast is fine, thank you."  Zimzod stepped out of his stateroom in time to hear that last bit of the exchange, but could sense the charged feel of the compartment.  Before Zimzod could act or react, Aiden fixed Rol with a look and said, "And make the caff double strong, thank you.  While not cuddling anymore, Zimzod could see how closely Jocelynn and Fesic were and couldn't miss the stance of Rol's posture just outside the door of his stateroom.

Looking things and people over, Zimzod figured it was time to teach his crew how to just push through their personal issues and started by asking, "What's for breakfast, twig-boy?"  That got some laughs because Rol was very thin for his height, despite having been whip-chord strong before age started having its say.  Fixing a mask on his face, Rol told Zimzod, "Um.  Something hot, I think." and Zimzod nodded saying, "OK.  Good."  At that exchange, Jocelynn asked Fesic if they should go to the table and Fesic nodded as they both started moving to chairs in the dining area of the lounge.

Moving to the table, Jocelynn remembered Fesic's comments from earlier that morning and stopped to turn and ask Rol, "Oh.  By the way.  Can you make him a cake?" as she pointed to Fesic.  Caught by surprise, Rol stopped moving and turned to Jocelynn asking, "You want me to make...  You want me...  You want a cake?  What kind of cake?"  Hearing that, Aiden snarked, "Big enough for her to jump out of."  Fesic smiled and said, "Yeah.  Yellow with chocolate frosting." and Zimzod followed that up saying, "A banana-dildo cake."  That got everyone in the compartment laughing despite the tension.

When Jocelynn joked, "Terin might get jealous", Terin half-growled, "I think I can reign in my emotions on the subject."  With Rol still looking askance at Jocelynn, she pointed at Fesic and said, "He said I could bake him a cake, but I can't so I thought I'd ask if you could."  Jocelynn followed that up with a nervous laugh as she realized just how bad that sounded once she actually said it out loud.  In a matter of fact tone, Rol asked, "You want me to bake a cake for you?"  Jocelynn was caught up short and said, "Well" before trying to walk her own comments back by saying, "Well, for all of us."  Cocking his head to the side, Rol asked, "Are you sure?" and Jocelynn said, "Yeah."  Then continued, "Why?  Are you gonna do something to it?"

Sadly for Jocelynn, she wasn't aware what Rol had done to Munarshu when he'd bugged the marine to cook a breakfast.  Without an expression on his face, and in a mild voice, Rol asked, "Why would I do anything to that cake?"  After another pause of silence, Rol turned toward the food prep station and said, "OK, I'd better get started whipping up this cake."  Suddenly experiencing a mix of emotions from 'feeling sorry she'd asked Rol for something' to 'worry Rol might put something in the cake in reaction', Jocelynn said, "It's alright.  You don't have to if you don't want to."  To her surprise, Rol turned and said "Oh no!  I want to!" with a flat tone but a lot of enthusiasm.  That alone was not comforting to Jocelynn.

Hearing the conversation, Fesic said, "I have my doubts about this cake." in a tone that suggested he very much remembered what happened to Munarshu.  Rol turned to face him and asked, "Have I ever let you down?"  Fesic very quickly answered, "No!" but then continued, "But you're making me scared."  At the same time, Jocelynn asked, "Am I about to get him hurt again?" in a tone that mixed a hint of shame and self-disappointment.  Off to the side, Aiden muttered to himself, "So, how many peppered eggs go into the water?"  With that, Rol turned his back on the others and started grabbing ingredients to cook both breakfast and a cake with.  Still, the others would keep an eye on his concocting as they went about their business until the cooking was done.

With that, Zimzod moved over to Fesic and Jocelynn and asked, "So, what's the deal guys?"  Fesic shrugged and said, "Eh, we've just been spending a whole lot of time together so, we're obviously friendlier."  Assuming the 'spending time together' meant things intimate, Zimzod scrunched up his face and asked Jocelynn, "After Rol bought you a dress?" in a suggestive tone.  Jocelynn snapped, "We're not...  It's not like that!" in an angry tone that said Zimzod was assuming too much.  Shaking his head, Zimzod followed that up with, "You hussy!" and Jocelynn reacted without seeing the smile creeping onto Zimzod's face that said he was pulling their legs.

Frustrated with his assumptions, Jocelynn swore and called Zimzod a pervert, which he admitted saying, "Well, Yeah.  There is that." with an even larger smile on his face.  Still stuck in her own self-defense, Jocelynn explained, "No.  Fesic was kind enough to offer to help me with something.  With my...idiotic...hunting for black market contacts, and I..."  Interrupting her, Zimzod said, "OK.  So, Fesic volunteered to get beat up for you." and Jocelynn nodded, saying, "Yeah" in a disappointed tone.  When Zimzod said, "He kinda does that anyway", Jocelynn said, "Well, this was the third time and I felt bad.  But, he's been nice to me and a good friend, and that's all." Zimzod just smiled and said, "OK.  Is that what they're calling it these days?"

Stepping into the conversation, Fesic told Zimzod, "They're calling 'friendship' a good friendship."  Zimzod was pleased that he seemed to be able to pull both their legs with the same taunts.  When Zimzod asked, "Really?" in a doubtful tone, Fesic firmly said, "Yeah" and Jocelynn moved over to hug and snuggle up to Zimzod.  As she did, Jocelynn innocently said, "See?  It's like this." and was rewarded by Zimzod reaching up to grope one of her breasts.  With that, Zimzod said, "Nice snuggling" with an evil smile while Jocelynn smacked him in the back of the head before backing off to go back and sit on the couch again.

When Zimzod joked, "ooh baby!  Now, I'm excited!" Jocelynn only answered, "Yeah, Mikah would kill me so, No."  Zimzod disagreed, "I don't know.  Mikah might kill me" suggesting he would be her target instead.  Jocelynn countered, "Yeah, but you'd enjoy that I think."  Aiden interrupted, asking, "What's with this 'Might'?"  Changing direction, Jocelynn said, "I seem to be getting a reputation as the ship's whore and I don't think I need to make it any worse."  When Fesic challenged, "You said you didn't care about your reputation." Jocelynn answered, "I said I didn't...  Well, I said I didn't care about what they thought of you and me being friends."

Interrupting, Zimzod said, "Well, it was like the beginning of me and Mikah's relationship.  She shot me in the chest.  That was, uh, a cupid's mother-fuckin' arrow dude!"  The others laughed as Zimzod enthusiastically continued, "I got perdy excited about that!  I'm actually getting wood thinking back on that."  Turning towards his stateroom, Zimzod left them saying, "I'll be in my bunk." and the others started laughing despite the bizarreness of it all.  When, for some reason, Fesic joked, "I'll be right in" Zimzod turned back long enough to say, "I don't think you're gonna want any part of this." as the others laughed at Fesic's joke.  Getting even more laughs, Fesic answered, "I'm the big spoon."

Jocelynn stopped Zimzod, cutting off Fesic's jokes, before Zimzod disappeared into his stateroom to ask if they could visit Mikah in the hospital?  With everyone listening in, Zimzod told them he was going to call, but the hospital wouldn't let him see her the day before.  Everyone in the lounge agreed they should all try to visit her that day.  With a wink and a leer, Zimzod said, "You might all have to wait out in the hallway for a little bit." and Terin snarked, "Like, a week."  Jocelynn got laughs when she joked, "I'll ask if they have any first aid classes going on?"  While Zimzod admitted she might benefit from one of those, he also told her he enjoyed watching her perform first aid the way she had.  As others laughed, Jocelynn said, "That was only because you weren't involved."

News And Entertainment

     With Zimzod in his stateroom after the snuggling and jokes, Fesic decided to just hang out in the lounge.  Jocelynn wanted to watch some military history vids, and decided to spark up a terminal and look for what content she could find in a system that was just a stepping stone.  Where content would be more limited because of the reduced demand from the local population.  Still, she did find programs of interest to watch.  Jocelynn let Aiden claim the lounge's main screen to watch the morning news.  Much of that was still chatter and speculation about the recent discovery of the Quasar Viper.  A new "factor" to the discussion was the possible fallout caused by political affiliations before the Arch Duke's elevation.

As most in the lounge discounted the predictions, concerns, rants and claims made by some commenters, one media figure came near the end of his comments when he suggested local authorities might want to call in Lady Mikah and her crew to question, since they were in-system.  He justified his claim by saying certain rumors about the Viper directly involved them.  When his accusation was questioned, the commenter, claimed there had been a number of rumors involving Lady Mikah and the Dawnstar Horizon which had never been taken seriously or investigated.  Watching this exchange, Aiden felt a knot in his stomach as the vid-chatter moved on.

Still, Aiden made certain to catch all the data he could on the commenter, his best recollection of the accusations made, the program name and broadcast channel as well as the time frame of the comment.  Having that information, Aiden turned to talk to Zimzod, who was in the lounge relaxing.  When Zimzod heard what Aiden had to say, he congratulated Aiden and told him they were just rumors which would be debunked over time.  Zimzod wasn't concerned, which surprised Aiden given how rumors were being used to attack them on Regina, just two parsecs away.  Since Zimzod didn't seem concerned about the event, Aiden decided to keep the information he collected until he could tell Mikah about it.

Not long after that conversation, Zimzod called the hospital to ask if he could visit Mikah?  When he was again told Mikah was not able to have visitors, Jocelynn suggested they arm up and "bust in" to see her.  During the jokes that came with that, someone said not to forget the breaching charges.  Someone else reminded anyone who got too caught up in the idea that Mikah was in a naval hospital "on" an Imperial Naval base.  When Zimzod admitted this was probably a bad idea, Jocelynn asked, "Since when do we have good ideas?" with a laugh.  Terin decided it was time to pile on the dead horse by telling Jocelynn, "Probably one of your worst."

Fesic was more concerned that the continued stone-walling might mean Mikah's wound was really bad.  He did remind the others that she'd been shot in the chest and that kind of wound could be really bad.  Zimzod nodded at the comments but made it clear he was sure Mikah should be able to be visited.  Accepting Zimzod's attitude, Fesic decided to go to the park and take a walk.  When he invited the others to come along, Jocelynn said she planned to do some research.  While in port over a green world, Jocelynn had come up with the idea to see if she could start a hydroponics project aboard?  Jocelynn knew she couldn't make any plans until she talked to Aali.  And she also wanted to do more research on having a stent implanted.

Eventually, Rol served breakfast and then went back to continuing to bake the cake.  Rol had also handed off a mug of caff to Aiden saying, "Here's your triple-expresso" and got laughs from the others.  They ate as they watched the news continue:

    Rhylanor (A434934-F  2  Green  Hi Cap  910  M2 V6)                      Date: 272-1113
    Discussion has been increasing in political circles regarding the
    suit brought in the Senate Court protecting Baron Anirladi Kishike's
    claim to the fief of the Heroni system.  Word has been reaching
    Rhylanor that the Baron's supporters have been increasingly filing
    suit in a number of lesser and regional courts in support of the
    main claim in-system.  Talk of those discoveries led to even more
    broad conversations and exploration of what legal options the Baron,
    or his LSP affiliations and supporters, had?

    The ultimate agreement was that those who held any fief served at
    the pleasure of their liege.  There were also firm agreements that
    a long-serving family holding a fief often held many alliances and
    agreements along with a wealth of knowledge on how to support and
    manage the fief.  So, all agreed that such changed could create a
    lot of confusion or undo a long-standing balance of interests.
    So, while the Arch Duke clearly had the right and power to act,
    all hoped he'd been very well advised before he'd taken the action
    he did.

The conversation not only covered the legal options and possible fallout, but also speculated on the illegal or even offensive actions that some might take in order to "pressure" the government and aristocracy into maintaining the status quo.  There were even unsupported suggestions the Baron and his supporters could even be involved in, or behind, the various phantom attacks being made across the sector.  In addition to the lack of support offered for those last suggestions, they were also greeted with an air of ignorance.

      FLASH --- FLASH --- FLASH --- FLASH --- FLASH --- FLASH --- FLASH
    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  703  Im  F7 V M8 D M6 V)     Date: 288-1113
Current Borders of the Federation    The office of Vice Admiral Derkur Shummun
    have announced receipt of an official
    diplomatic packet from the Arden system.  In
    an announcement published on Arden, the
    Pequan system has agreed to join the
    formerly two-system Federation of Arden.
    This news was, of course, quite a surprise given the reaction of "President
    for Life" James Preston of Pequan when his world was delegated to Arden without
    consultation by both the Imperium and Consulate.  While blindsided by that
    news, an additional notice attached to the agreement was of further concern.  It
    stated that the Pequan system had been posted as temporarily "off limits"
    to both Zhodani and Imperial traffic.  It further stated that all Imperial
    and Zhodani trading vessels had been ordered to leave Pequanese ports and
    some had been hired, at the expense of the Federation, to transport
    various diplomatic teams from that system.

Shifting to topics in-system, the key news item covered negotiations between the orbital and dirt-side governments over rights.  The crew could breath a bit easier because they'd dodged the "Leeta Leyba" bullet and were not being sought after having been talked into attacking those talks.  As time rolled around to 8am, the alarm Emkir and Aali set went off and Terin woke.  At the time, the others in the lounge had eaten or were doing that.  After he'd eaten, Aiden chose to pull up a reader and relax while he read.  Zimzod asked if Rol and Aiden wanted to do a join stent practice?  Rol said he would after he was done cooking the cake.

When Zimzod tried to push Rol into the stent work, Rol answered, "When my girl says she wants a cake, she's getting a cake."  Quietly, that comment made Jocelynn that much more concerned about how Rol viewed their relationship?  Giving up on Rol, Zimzod decided to spend the morning doing gear maintenance.  So, when Terin, Aali and Emkir came out of their various staterooms for breakfast, they saw some of the crew missing and some at their various tasks.  Aiden was reading, Jocelynn was working at a terminal, Zimzod was doing gear maintenance and Rol was apparently still cooking even though breakfast was served.  With Mikah in the hospital, Fesic was the only one missing.

Moving over to Rol before grabbing food, Terin asked, "What're you making Rol?"  Turning to Terin, Rol said, "It's a special project.  It's a cake.  It's gonna be a real great cake too."  Tern wondered why Rol's voice had an intense quality to it.  Deciding to humor Rol as he looked down on the cake nearing its final stages, Terin said, "It's a marvelous cake."  Nodding, Rol continued in his "intense" monolog as he said, "Jocelynn asked me to make a cake for someone."  When Terin asked, "Really? despite the level of 'Creepy' coming off Rol, the cook continued, "Yeah.  So, I've gotta make sure this is a really good cake."  Holding up a spatula with some left over batter on it as an offer, Rol asked, "Would you like a taste?"  When Terin asked who Jocelynn wanted the cake for, Rol said it was for Fesic.

After a pause to try and piece the situation together, Terin figured he'd sniff at the spatula and it smelled like batter.  Swiping the spatula with a finger, it tasted like batter too.  Nodding to Rol, Terin said it could be sweeter and Rol said it would be, once it had icing on.  Rol also said the cake would be served soon and promised to let Terin know when.  Terin went to grab breakfast and eat while Emkir and Aali decided to grab chow and watch the screen after the "floor show".  After watching Rol and Terin while cringing, Jocelynn told Aali she wanted to chat about something when the engineer had the time.  Nodding to Emkir, Aali considered this was shaping up to be an interesting morning and wondered to herself it that was "good - interesting" or not?

Jocelynn had made it clear what she was interested in wasn't important, and Aali should eat and relax first.  So, once she was ready and Emkir went back into his translation work, Aali asked Jocelynn what was up, the marine explained her interest in setting up a small hydroponics installation somewhere on the ship?  As she brought the subject up, it triggered Aali's memory of when Terin had asked about turning his stateroom into a hydroponics compartment so he could grow enough product to sell and make money.  Since then, Aali had considered the idea from time to time and even considered the morphology of staterooms on the new ship.

Sadly, there were still a number of issues with "stateroom-based" installations.  The chief being the need for grow lights to operate when the plants needed light without care for when the resident of the stateroom needed light or dark.  The second issue was that, regardless of running water or "misting", there would be a much higher humidity along with possibly higher than normal temperatures that would be present.  From possible mold or illness triggers to simple long-term discomfort, such an idea would not be possible for a stateroom "in use".  Overhearing what Jocelynn said, Terin got involved with the conversation but could really add nothing but support for the idea.

That drove ideas of hydroponics into the cargo bay.  And, for that, they would not only have to re-work the ship's fluid management and electrical systems but would have to protect the "growing space" from being voided when the cargo bay was.  And, the cargo bay would have to be voided under some circumstances, and exposed to "alternative environments" on many worlds.  That meant they'd have to put up bulkheads inside the cargo bay to make the space pressure-safe.  And those costs would be in addition to the loss of cargo space both for the grow-space and the bulk-heading.  Hearing this from where he was finishing the cake, Rol asked why they didn't consider the spare stateroom?

At first, that seemed the perfect answer to Jocelynn and she even got a bit excited that a perfect solution had been found.  And, just as quickly, it was shot down.  They were reminded that stateroom represented Cr 10,000 in income, because they could rent it for high passage.  So, Zimzod said they would not be turning the space into a mini-garden unless they could counter the loss of income some other way.  They were also reminded that, while the crew were well enough off, the ship was still desperately under-funded if a major repair was needed.

Considering that, Jocelynn asked about a much smaller scale installation in her stateroom, like a terrarium-scale.  Aali said that was possible depending on what services they'd need to re-route inside the stateroom walls?  That meant Jocelynn had to decide what she wanted and then they'd consider the impact it would have in ripping open the walls, ceiling and flooring of her stateroom?  Eventually, Fesic finally got back to the ship before lunch and Rol was ready to serve the cake.  And, it was obviously a cake!  The cylindrical layer cake was covered in a strawberry icing which Rol announced was "extra-sweet".  And strawberry icing meant the cake was bright pink.

To not much great fanfare, Rol turned over the pink cake to Jocelynn, so she could give it to Fesic.  Not certain how the full crew would view her very publicly giving the cake Rol spent so much time baking to Fesic, Jocelynn called out, "Hey everybody.  Look at this great cake Rol made for us!"  Still, enough of those in the lounge knew what was going on for one reason or another, and the attempt fell somewhat flat.  She then set it down on the dining table in the compartment before stepping over to Fesic and whispering that she'd asked Rol to make it for him specifically.  Looking up, Fesic first said, "Thanks Jocelynn." and then turned to Rol saying, "Thanks Rol."

After the cake was set on the table, Terin stepped up first to cut himself a slice.  Not only did he cut himself a slice, but he took the honors of cutting the cake into many slices so the others could serve themselves.  Also being the first to taste the cake after it was served, Terin said it was good but perhaps a bit too sweet for his tastes now that it was frosted.  As Terin snarked, "I think you over-did it on the icing a teeny bit." Rol shrugged and said, "There's always a critic."  Terin snarked back, asking, "Well, you wouldn't want me to lie to you would you?" and Rol admitted he didn't want that.  Jocelynn said she thought the cake was awesome.

When Zimzod was the only member of the crew aboard who didn't step up to get himself some cake, he said, "I'm doing gear maintenance and I do not want to get frosting on my gear.  He placed a professional emphasis on the words "Do Not" to make it clear he would not risk making a mess of any of his gear.  Immediately, the entire group turned on Zimzod, encouraging him to secure his gear and have a slice.  Rol even got laughs hitting him with the line, "It is soft, it is sweet, it is moist and it is pink.  When have you ever refused anything like that?"  Rol then pushed more, saying, "Come on.  Man up!  It's cake".  Giving in, Zimzod said, "Alright, I'll have a piece of damned cake." as he started securing his gear.  Zimzod was at least satisfied Rol had eaten a slice himself.  After the cake was served, Rol served lunch.

Waking Up And Getting Real

     Earlier that morning, the team had woken Mikah to receive her treatment.  Despite having been shot only a few days back, Mikah felt much better and they even got her up and walked her around the floor.  While she still felt "some" pain, it was minor and she endured it as they worked with her.  Mikah also repeatedly told them not to tell her crew how well she was doing, because a part of her was actually beginning to enjoy the "vacation".  More privately, Mikah had to admit the level of healing she'd reached was nothing more than miraculous in such a short time.  And she knew that was thanks to the psychic "boost".  After that, she was surprised again when they let her chose to fade back off to sleep instead of being expected to move on to the rest of her day.

Still, before she faded off, Mikah made sure her laser pistol was still sitting within easy reach, so the team were being good to their word.  A few hours later, Mikah woke again.  This time, on her own and not having to cooperate with some treatment action or other.  She felt much more relaxed and rested as she stretched, opened her eyes and saw she wasn't alone.  The man waiting in her room was a member of the team that had been working with Mikah, and he'd been working on a datapad until she woke up.  When she appeared ready, he asked how she felt, and if she'd be up to continuing her training after brunch?  When she said she did, the man let her order a meal and left her to eat and finish up before the team returned to her room.

From there, they returned to a day of reviewing the actions of both the Imperial military services and government where they were supported by Imperial psionic agents.  And not just Imperial services, but also Imperial servants.  They soon started reviewing some event histories, obviously from Regina, which involved Mikah and her crew.  Mikah knew they would have had to have shipped those records to Dinomn in with the rest, so "someone" would have had to have planned for the need to provide files specifically related to her crew.  She could only guess that the "assassin" she'd met the day before had been pressed into service, searching through all the records sent to identify specific work done to support Mikah and her crew.

And, Mikah guessed this was a specific reaction to the claim she'd made that she and her crew had been left hanging in the breeze when they needed help.  It was explained to Mikah that the need to keep these operations secret, even from Imperial agencies, was one of many reasons why she and the crew hadn't been made aware of their hidden support.  Mikah was also told that a significant number of assets had been gathered on Regina because of events and actions on-world.  So, they said, Mikah couldn't expect such levels of support everywhere they went, and there were much too few of those assets on most worlds.  Too often, too few to react even where needed.

That was one reason Mikah was undergoing the tolerance training they were providing her.  While Leeta Leyba was certainly a Zhodani asset, Mikah could well have been expected to shoot and kill other Imperial assets coming to help her openly.  The tolerance they hoped to help her understand and accept would protect those assets who might now be able to more openly come forward to help her in the future.  If, as she suggested, Sir Zimzod was also trained in this way, then there were more members of her crew they could open up to while offering help.

In a specific sequence, a member of Mikah's crew had "flattened a pedestrian" with a rental vehicle in another system.  It turned out, which Mikah had been entirely unaware of, that Imperial psions made sure the authorities mis-filed all the reports from the incident.  And they made sure the event was forgotten by those officers involved.  Both surprised and still a bit resentful of the way in which the contacts were handled at the time, Mikah had to admit she was seeing the reason behind the "training".  Still, she was also getting a bit tired of spending her days doing "slow-motion" forensic data reviews.  She wondered how much more of that they had planned for her?  When she asked, Mikah was told they'd tackle that question later in the day.

While wrapping up near the end of the day, the captain told Mikah they were going to give her a chance to relax and have some recreation that evening.  She was told that would be restricted to the base, and she would only have contact with the team working with her, but she could relax and get away from the tolerance work.  And, even get out of the medical environment.  Of course, there was a down side.  She was told they'd be waking her up early the next day and she would undergo "Testing" to determine her psionic potential.  That said, they asked her what she would like to do that evening after her dinner?

Taking a few minutes to joke that she wasn't up to bowling and think about it, Mikah said she'd be up for a vid and asked what was playing?  Since the system was the same as in the civilian sector, they could pretty much pull up any vid still available for viewing on the open market.  And, for a premium, they could call up less popular or recent vids from broadcast libraries.  The options allowed them to do anything from a small screening area in her room, if she preferred, to larger spaces with more people or even setting up a viewing venue at a restaurant to have dinner and a vid.  When she heard that, Mikah liked the restaurant idea best.  And considering her need to recover from blood loss and take in more protein to heal, Mikah wanted a huge steak with all the fixin's!

That evening, the team and some other naval techs set up a space in an on-base restaurant where Mikah and the team were setup with a large screen and all the trappings of a dining theater.  One of the best 'perks' of the outing was that Mikah was able to walk wherever required with little pain.  Settled in, they enjoyed a comedy of Mikah's choice while she got to enjoy a steak and sides cooked to her preferences.  After the vid ended, they made their way back to her hospital room where Mikah was reminded to get a good night's sleep.  She was even offered sedatives to help her if she felt that would be needed, but she turned them down.

After Lunch Pastimes

     After lunch, Emkir and Aali decided to "finally" take that romantic mid-day walk in the park they'd been talking about since having arrived in system.  After cleaning up the cooking space, Rol invited Jocelynn to go for a walk too.  Having already made plans in her head, Jocelynn told him she'd decided to go shopping after lunch.  Saying that visiting some of the station's shopping concourses was the same as walking, Rol shrugged and said he'd go with her if that was OK?  Jocelynn said it was and they left the ship.  When Aiden said they should do some group stent-work after lunch, he was reminded they'd been doing a regular "full-group" stent practice for an hour each night.  So it was suggested he wait for that.

Accepting that, Aiden said he should do a bit more of a work out, to help "deal with" the slice of cake he'd eaten.  Of course, he followed that up by more of his preferred occupation: sitting around getting fat and doing nearly nothing.  In this instance, watching vids all afternoon instead of reading.  And certainly not doing anything else so he could keep sitting, doing nothing.  Terin had seen Zimzod doing gear maintenance that morning and realized he'd been blowing off his gear for too long.  So he decided to spend the entire afternoon holding a GI party for his equipment.

After Zimzod finished lunch, he considered getting in some gunnery practice and wondered what kind of training or practice software was installed on the ship?  He spent the first part of his afternoon logged into the ship's computer to see what he could find?  What he learned was that the former owners were nobility, so they had not been too concerned with the defense of the ship because it was the concern of someone they'd pay to deal with.  As a result, the gunnery training suite had come free with the original system and software, and was lack luster at best.  Thinking about upgrading, Zimzod did remember they'd gone to the War House on Regina, a year or more before, and perhaps benefitted from an illicit relationship with the Regina navy to buy a software suite.

But, they weren't on Regina now so he'd have to wait til they got somewhere more advanced.  Still, Zimzod decided to spend the rest of the afternoon looking to see if he could find a connection through which he "might" find a way to buy an upgrade.  While Zimzod had been searching for the installed software, Fesic had decided to write his parents an xmail.  In that, he said he'd come into some cash and wanted to send them some of it to help them out.  When he connected to the XMail system, the xmail itself cost Cr 15 to send.  Attaching the money order cost Cr 50 to send Cr 20,000.  After that, Fesic checked on his sale items and found nothing had been nibbled on.

Done with that, Fesic looked around the compartment and saw that Aiden was the only person sitting around doing nothing.  Moving over to Aiden, Fesic asked, "Hey.  Do you wanna do something?"  The discouraging look that first crossed Aiden's face moved off as Aiden decided to actually think about not sitting there growing fat.  Seeing the change of expression, Fesic added, "Come on.  We could go out or something."  Catching a breeze of inspiration, Aiden asked Fesic, "Wanna go blow stuff up?" in a tone that suggested he might actually do it if Fesic said yes.  Fesic started to answer very enthusiastically, "Yes I do!!"  Toning it down, Fesic continued, "Unfortunately, I don't think we can...do that."

Resetting his words to actually match what he'd been thinking, Aiden asked, "Do you wanna punch holes in paper targets?" as he clarified he'd been thinking of target practice even if he'd first described using explosives.  After some chat to consider things outside the box Aiden seemed determined to keep himself mentally locked in, they came up with the idea to visit the system's official war museum because it was on-station.  Having found something that might stir Aiden's mono-thematic interest, they paid Cr 5 each for transit and another Cr 5 for entry into the museum.  Once there, they spent the afternoon enjoying the displays and artifacts until returning to the ship before dinner.

While they visited the museum, Fesic noticed what was actually the most important piece in their collection.  Appearing to be just another weapon captured in either of the wars which passed through the system, Fesic saw one of the captured officer's swords was "very stylish".  Paying even more attention to the blade and scabbard, Fesic noticed the information on the card discussing the weapon said it was from Sacnoth!  A Sword World's system.  The very ornate nature of the weapon's design suggested to Fesic that it would have belonged to a person who valued using such things as symbols of power or wealth, but that is not what Fesic had been taught was the Zhodani way.

Imperial education taught that the Zhodani were a culture of mental controls where such possessions were used as signs of the decadent nature of The Imperium.  Because of that, Fesic looked at the blade and felt certain it wouldn't have been carried by any Zhodani officer and certainly not any Zhodani soldier or sailor.  Still, there had never been any Sword Worlds forces in the region of the Dinomn system except as invited visiting forces during times of peace.  The card describing the blade said it had been among the weapons captured during the system's liberation near the end of the Fifth Frontier War.  But, there was no information on who it had been taken from?

Pointing the weapon out to Aiden, Fesic said, "Hey, I'll cover while you grab the sword." with a smirk on his face.  Not within arm’s reach but also not "behind glass", Aiden was certain all the weapons on display were covered by some level of security systems which were not visible.  So, Aiden wasn't about to try and rob the museum for a sword!  If it were an interesting or rare mechanical pistol, he'd have considered it but not a sword.  Aiden made that clear to Fesic, asking, "Why?  If it doesn't go BANG, I don't care."  Fesic only shook his head and said, "You're so lame, Aiden." in a despairing tone that argued with the humorous smile on his face. Fesic continued, "I'm trying to make your life more exciting." in a rising tone of encouragement.

When Aiden countered, "If that's true then let's steal something from one of the handgun cases!"  Confusing Aiden, Fesic answered him saying, "That's what they'd expect from you!" and Aiden asked, "They do?" as he had to wonder what Fesic knew about the museum's preparations that he didn't?  After a moment of silence, Aiden doubled down saying, "No!  I don't steal swords, I steal guns!"  Not missing a beat, Fesic said, "OK.  I'll cover you while you go steal a gun."  Shaking his head, Aiden offered to buy Fesic a reproduction of a gun, which would have surprised most of the crew because it suggested Aiden trusted Fesic with it even if it was a reproduction.

Turning back to the sword and the mystery it represented, Fesic decided to take a picture of it before moving on.  For his part, Aiden was less impressed with the museum collection.  In both the Third and Fifth Frontier Wars, Zhodani forces had blown their way into and through the Dinomn system with assault forces armed with the most advanced weapons they could supply.  Some of those forces, reinforced by some follow-on forces, were delegated to hold the system.  And all of those forces were supplied with zero-g and space-capable weapon systems.  So, the weapons left behind represented more advanced technology than Aiden collected.  Still, it was a good survey lesson in the tools of warfare used by a frequent enemy.

Off To Shop

     On one of the shopping concourses near their part of the station, Rol was with Jocelynn as she went shopping for a terrarium.  Thanks to the system being a bio-diverse one, there were shops that sold what she was looking for including pets and pet supplies.  When she saw one shop included feline pets, Jocelynn mourned that Mikah had said they couldn't have a ship cat.  Still, Jocelynn suddenly decided she wanted to check out the pet store first, before continuing her hunt for a terrarium.  As they closed on the store entrance, Rol learned Jocelynn was actually a fan of snake and scorpion-like creatures as pets!  But not spiders.  That difference separating scorpions and spiders confused Rol, but no more than her overall interests.

Touring the store, the two found it was actually geared to spacers, who sometimes spent months in the black.  Realizing the woman was the shopper, and getting a hand on Jocelynn's interests, a sales person tried his best to sell her on the pets on offer.  But Jocelynn realized she'd have to buy and keep herself stocked up on "food" for her pets.  Answering that, he did his best to advertise that frozen rodents could be bought in advance for snakes.  Sadly, Jocelynn was sure her crew would like live "food" escaping only a little less than having to root through the dead animals for frozen foods.  That was the final stake in the idea of having a live pet aboard the ship.

Seeing Jocelynn come to her disappointed realization, Rol joked that they could get Fesic down on all fours for her if she wanted.  Not expecting that from him, Jocelynn did break out laughing and, as she giggled, did admit Aali and Emkir had said they had a collar and leash.  Nodding, Rol even went so far as to suggest they could make Fesic the ship's mascot.  That meant the couple were laughing hysterically as they left the pet store to continue shopping.

The good news, for both Jocelynn and Rol, was that the nature of the system meant that most of the stores were geared towards those living in space regardless if they were stationer or ship crew.  Even the travelers who passed through the system had to largely orient their in-transit purchases to either shipboard or souvenirs stored in cargo until they got to their destinations.  So, the stores up and down the concourse were geared towards shoppers just like them and Jocelynn only needed to find one that catered to her interests.  Scanning the local shops, they could see everything from hydroponics supply to shipboard and virtual gaming to sex shops and toys.  There were even "open interactions" clubs where clothing and "more intimate activities" were optional in communal spaces with more private compartments available for a price.

Terrariums were one specialty of specialized shipboard "greening" venues, which sold everything from chlorophyll-based paints and other plant bio-tech to static displays and even interior design.  Such stores could even create shipboard gardens so long as the ship had the spare space and the crew the cash.  When Jocelynn went into one of those and started asking questions, they also asked about her interests.  Soon, they were recommending a smaller installation which Jocelynn could buy and work with her ship's engineering division to install.  The unit they showcased to her would, so they said, survive everything short of a direct weapons hit on the stateroom.

After they talked about the unit itself, they started asking about the environment she could create inside it.  They said she could make it a humid, tropical environment or an arid one, or anywhere in between.  The capacity of the unit she was interested in would allow for three or four very small plants.  They did tell her the most stable terrariums were arid environments with succulents planted into them.  Especially since some of those had life spans of over one hundred years.  Jocelynn liked that idea because it let her keep the unit sealed and not force her to open it and mess with it too much.

In the end, the unit with a handful of generic plants matching the environment would cost her Cr 15,000.  When Jocelynn nearly balked a bit at the price, she was reminded how resilient and survivable the unit would be once in place.  Stepping in to be gallant, Rol offered to help with the cost and even offered to pay half, but Jocelynn now had cash to spend, even if she wasn't rich like the rest of the crew.  And she was determined not to go into debt again.  The next step was to actually pick out the plants she wanted.  At the purchase price, Jocelynn had a decent selection of succulents, but they had a number of very special options at an additional cost.

The most interesting variety for Jocelynn were the genetically engineered miniature flowing cacti, and Jocelynn was thrilled at the video-display they showed her.  After letting her moon over the image for a bit, Jocelynn was told she could have three of them in her terrarium.  Each planted so that they would flower 'one at a time', in a sequence over the year.  That would cost her an additional Cr 5,000.  Hearing that, Jocelynn realized that Really taken with the cacti was not the same as really willing to pay Cr 20,000!  Still, she didn't give up on them all together, and bought one of the miniatures along with some generic succulents for Cr 17,000 total.

Following the design part, Jocelynn selected three more succulents from a video slide show of plants all guaranteed not to out-grow the size of the terrarium she'd selected.  They then explained how things would work with the components of the structure, the settings and the growables.  Everything would be delivered to the ship with the growables in small bio-cases.  Those would keep the plants healthy until the system was set up and ready to be planted.  Everything came with complete technical details and video instructions for installation and planting for the best outcome.  With the selections made, Jocelynn signed the papers and paid for her order before being told the purchase would be delivered the next day.

Giddy from spending more than she ever would have as an active-duty marine, Jocelynn turned to Rol as they left the shop and said, "I totally want to buy Aali a sex toy now!"  That was intended as both bribe and apology for buying the terrarium without Aali's final sign off.  Rol laughed and said, "Now, you're thinking like a marine!"  Going into a sex goods shop along the concourse, Rol mentioned that he thought Emkir liked being strapped down to chairs.  Browsing their way through the shop, they told a staffer they were buying for a friend and got a nod that said the staffer totally did not believe them but would play along if it helped reduce their embarrassment.

Rol followed Jocelynn around as she enthusiastically looked through all the shop had to offer.  At first, Jocelynn thought about getting Aali a set of nipple clamps and Rol asked if she wanted a set that were stent-controlled?  When Jocelynn didn't get that attempt at a joke, Rol backed off and let Jocelynn plan.  Soon, she changed her mind and decided to get Aali a set of fur-covered hand-cuffs.  After working with the shop worker, she found she could have them covered in faux pink fur "for the comfort of the wearer" for a total of Cr 5.

When Jocelynn started imitating a common porn-background tune under her breath, the staffer asked if she wanted to have handcuffs that had in-built audio players that could store music files?  Jocelynn was surprised when asked, and asked back, "Do they come with sound systems?"  To her surprised delight, the staffer then pulled out a demonstration set of black fur-covered steel cuffs that had a jack input and showed her how they were built into the form and could be accessed within the fur covering.  When Jocelynn said she wanted that included in the pink cuffs, the price came to Cr 10.

After leaving the sex shop, Rol told Jocelynn he wanted to go to a 'games and toys' shop they could see along the concourse.  Geared for both the local and interstellar markets, this shop had various classes of games.  Categories included games that were virtual or alternate/holographic reality, physical component (like board games) and player-driven (like role playing games).  In addition, physical component games like card games could be bought as computer-moderated virtual games for play aboard ships with more limited storage space.  So, all they had to do was check the video catalogs or with the staff for the game concept and see what the store had to sell?

As they checked out what was on offer, Rol suggested they buy a few hundred credits of new games to bring back to the ship since the Upgrade's game suite was more limited than the suite they'd had and lost aboard Hotel California's.  They eventually bought a selection of games including some "physical component" board and card games, some "computer-moderated/player-driven", some "holographic augmented reality" and some computer-driven adventures and challenges.  When they cashed out, Rol covered the Cr 200 bill, after which they wandered the concourse checking out other stores.

Strolling along the concourse, the two came on a shop named "Wonders of the Natural World".  They appeared to have nick knacks and bric-a-brac made from the stone, wood and/or other natural products green worlds had in abundance.  The alure to spacers was that green worlds were not common themselves, so even such mindless "items of decor" sold well to crew members who had such small spaces to themselves when aboard their home ship.  As they cruised the aisles of the shop, Jocelynn noticed a small abstract stone sculpture on one of the shelves.  Grabbing that, Jocelynn kept browsing until she found some "mineral-light fixtures" displayed.  Checking those out, she noticed they "burned off" very slowly, suffusing the space they were in with scents and with minerals which were often claimed to be healing or beneficial to the other's health.

Checking through the stock, Jocelynn looked specifically for a lamp that gave off a lavender or lavender-like scent.  What she found was a scent that wasn't as strong as she'd hoped and not "exactly" the scent she wanted, but it was good enough.  Picking that up to buy too, she checked with Rol who had noticed some "high end" over-priced "Artsy" recipe books, mostly by celebrities.  As Jocelynn planned to spend Cr 40 on her purchases, he asked about going to check out a Lit-File shop to see what book files they had?  When Jocelynn said she was up for that, she finished paying for her stuff and they moved on.

Moving on to look for a Lit-File shop, they found an actual book store instead!  With many worlds not having access to wood or wood-pulp products, most "books" were sold in data or other formats.  Like Rol had seen in Jae Tellona, where they "printed" books on sheets made from a mica product.  But the Dinomn system was a green world with easy access to tree lumber.  With a population small enough to service and a tech level that allowed "lumber pulp to paper" automation and digitized printing systems allowed for small on-world publishing firms to put out paper-based books for local use and export.

In the shop, they both saw the shop held books at a variety of general sales prices and offered digitized packets of those books at a premium cost.  This was because they knew that paper printed books were something of a novelty, or even a rarity, in much of the trading universe for which a premium would be paid.  At the same time, most spacers had space and weight limits on what, or how much, they could bring with them aboard their ships.  The crew of the Upgrade were mostly only dimly aware of the limits they'd had on personal gear in their past lives.  Jocelynn was likely the only person aboard who seriously remembered being limited to a few kilos of personal affects because Terin and Fesic had spent more time getting used to reduced limits.

As he checked through the books, Rol had two interests in them.  First, he wanted to have a handful of recipe books for himself.  He also knew the ship had facilities he could use to scan the books to data files.  But he also knew that "Actual paper books" could be a novelty in some systems they might visit, and enough of a novelty to sell for a "better than I paid" price in some systems.  So, Rol planned to mine the books for interesting recipes and keep them for future sale or trading.  Obviously, they would not have the cache that the copy of the "Code of Ledriasda" they had.  But that was just because of that book's obvious age.

Reviewing the books on offer, Rol ended up buying three books for Cr 130.  After that Rol asked for a recommendation on where to go to get ingredients for some of the recipes and was asked what ingredients he wanted?  Or, what recipes he was interested in trying?  With those questions, Rol realized that just having bought the books didn't mean he was prepared to create a shopping list.  Nodding, Rol realized he needed to go back to the ship and sit for a while reviewing the books before he decided what to buy, to try any recipes.  Because of that, and also because Jocelynn wasn't looking for anything else, they returned to the ship.

Deep Studies Or Deep Cover

     Eventually, everyone who'd left the ship except Mikah was back aboard for dinner.  When she got back, Jocelynn was carrying a bag for Aali and a voucher for the terrarium components to be delivered.  It would be interesting seeing how Aali reacted to the need to break into the walls, and possibly floor or ceiling, of her stateroom for the installation work.  When she approached Aali, she did so 'voucher first', holding the 'gift' in reserve as an apology.  Reading the data over, Aali started evaluating what work needed to be done and what effect it would have on the ship's systems?

Aali was happy to see that the unit had an "intake system" which would pull air from Jocelynn's stateroom and draw the humidity from that to maintain the arid environment inside the terrarium.  That meant there was very little, besides re-routing some power lines, that Aali would have to do.  Still, the straight mechanical work on the stateroom's wall and furniture(where the device would "sit") would likely force Jocelynn to live in another stateroom for the duration.  When that was mentioned, Fesic joked, "I'm sure you can crawl into somebody's bed." and everyone there laughed.  The other key issue Aali faced was connecting the unit structurally so that it wouldn't break free and become a missile if the ship suffered maneuvering failures or inertia mitigation failure.

After that was done, Jocelynn held out the bag with the cuffs and sheepishly said, "And, here's a gift for helping me out."  Noticing the shop name on the bag, Aali asked, "OK...  Do I wanna know?" in a leery voice.  Emkir was more than a bit interested in what was in the bag when he noticed that brand too.  Out of the bag, Aali drew a small box in which the label and picture advertised pink-fur covered steel handcuffs with an in-build music file player able to be connected to a computer port.  Seeing that, Aali joked, "Oh wow!  Dinner and a show!" and the others laughed.  Aali then looked at Jocelynn and said, "Thank you" in a voice that was just a bit tentative.

Emkir suggested they could enjoy the cuffs later that evening in their stateroom and someone made the joked they'd be able to download a file of screaming torture victims just to weird out the others.  Outside of that, Jocelynn and Rol were back in time for him to cook dinner for the crew as the others returned and everyone settled in.  When dinner was done, the crew relaxed a bit before they moved into their code and signals class.  After that was done, those with stents moved into the group stent training.  Not having a stent, Emkir decided to check out some of the new computer games Rol had bought until Aali was done while Fesic and Jocelynn "went out" for the evening.

At first, Jocelynn was uncertain what she would do, then Fesic suggested they go back to the dive bars.  Since they'd found the drug dealer and had really mixed results at anything else, Jocelynn wasn't sure why she should keep trying in this port?  But she said "sure" and got changed to go out to the bars.  Especially when Fesic reminded her the horny belter might still be celebrating and might be drunk or high enough to let something slip this time.  Fesic kept his kit similar to what he'd been wearing and she put on black leggings and a long top for a "punk-like" look.  This time, she also decided not to bring her shotgun.

As they were leaving, Jocelynn considered asking Emkir along, and he was interested in going.  But, as he got to Aali and let her know what was up, she put her foot down and said "No".  She also reminded him he was still on light duty and that meant not getting into fights.  And, it especially meant not getting beat up like Fesic.  That meant there was just the two of them and their main mission that night was to hunt down that belter if they could.  Past that, they hoped to pick up whatever they could while they went looking.  The method was to hit bars and listen for information or rumors.

Finding a first bar, they sat and nursed drinks until the two overheard one spacer complaining that things were building up in the Regina system.  He said it was becoming a powder keg, and he was telling the others with him they did "not" want to go there.  Both Jocelynn and Fesic were curious about what they'd overheard of the claims.  Getting up from their seats, they wandered closer to the booth and Fesic greeted them, admitting he'd over heard what they were saying.  At that, Jocelynn said they'd also been on Regina not too long ago.  Fesic agreed with her, and then asked what they'd heard in a curious but friendly tone.

Looking the two up and down, the man, who had been speaking, asked how long ago they'd been in the Regina system?  Having to admit it wasn't exactly recent, Fesic told the man they'd been in Regina four months before.  To himself, he considered it might have been better to claim they were going to Regina instead.  Nodding, the man moved past the time gap and asked what ship they were with?  Fesic said they were crew aboard the Sparrow Hawk.  Taking that, the man asked, "What do you haul?" and Fesic answered, "Right now, we have a cargo of marble." as he went along with the other man's informal interrogation.

Giving Fesic a quizzical look, the man asked, "Marble?  As in the toys?" in a doubtful tone and Fesic answered, "No.  Rock." with a smile.  Nodding, the man said "Rock!" in a firm voice and when Fesic agreed, "Yup.  The mineral."  the man complimented, "That's a solid cargo."  Not giving up any information of his own, the man asked Fesic and Jocelynn what they'd heard on that world?  Fesic went on answering questions rather than getting his own questions in or learning anything for a bit.  After Fesic had given a rough description of some of the rumors, the man did admit they sounded like the same thing he'd heard too.

Finally getting in a question of his own, Fesic asked, "But, you said it was a powder keg that was ready to blow up?"  The man nodded and said, "That's what we saw when we were there, and we were there just a couple of weeks ago."  Nodding, and in a disappointed tone, Fesic said, "It doesn't sound like it's getting better there.  In fact, it sounds like it's getting worse."  Continuing, Fesic asked, "So you think there will be a government take over?"  The man first laughed, then answered he thought the rumors were leading to a government collapse.  When Fesic asked what he thought would cause that the man pointed out, "You heard the rumors too.  There's people trying to bring down the Duchess."  He added that, based on what he'd seen, they would succeed too.

Fesic shook his head and repeated, "Things are getting bad there." and the man answered, "Yeah, I wouldn't go there."  Nodding, Fesic decided he'd gotten the information he wanted from the man, and decided to make small talk for a bit before he and Jocelynn moved off.  During that chat, Fesic was told the man was crew on the IMS Kalagadra, and they were hauling tech goods to the Ghandi system.  When Fesic admitted, "That sounds like a really good cargo." the man smiled and said he hoped so.  After the chat, Fesic wished the man good luck and thanked him for sharing as he and Jocelynn wandered back to their booth.  And, shortly after that, the man and his friend left those he'd been talking to at the bar.

Not long after that, the two decided to move on to another bar.  In the second bar, they overheard a woman suggesting to her booth-mate that "somebody" had brought their ship to the station and didn't want the authorities to know it.  As she talked, the woman claimed the ship had docked with the station using an alternate name, and the person boarded the station using a different identity too.  When Jocelynn turned to take a look at the booth, it looked like the woman was trying to impress the man sitting with her.  And, while it also seemed the man wasn't impressed with what she had to say, he wasn't just getting up and leaving.

Curious, and interested in learning more about their conversation, both Jocelynn and Fesic did their best to look over and check them out.  From what they could see, the woman looked like any other spacer, so she was likely crew on a ship, or between berths.  The guy had the appearance of a station dock worker, or possibly a dockside engineer, working on the station's docking systems.  Despite Jocelynn's hope of hearing more, the man sitting with the woman just wasn't interested.  And the woman seemed to be getting ready to move off the topic.  Considering her options, Jocelynn looked across the table at Fesic and suggestively said, "Maybe she'd be interested in you."

Before Fesic could respond to her pimping him out, Jocelynn decided to break down the situation in her mind a bit and perhaps come up with a strategy.  A key piece of this puzzle was that the guy was actually station personnel.  That meant he could get a promotion or reward for turning in this "mystery person" the woman was talking about.  But he wasn't only "not reaching for that", but appeared completely uninterested in the chance.  Not only that, but people "sneaking aboard" the station could bring in weapons or hazards that could really threaten or kill many people.  Even including him.  Even the whole station.  It didn't make sense that he didn't seem to care.

Fesic figured he was involved in something illegal already.  That meant reporting someone else breaking the law could bring station investigators sniffing around on his turf and catching him.  That could not only make his life more difficult, but make it harder to set up or carry out crimes.  So, if he were already a criminal, he'd prefer to let things like that stay hidden in the dark.  Just like his activities.  The other major part of the puzzle was the woman.  She was OK with offering up a major secret while putting an un-named spacer in danger if her port engineer friend did want to score a promotion or reward.  Why would she do that and risk becoming known as a snitch?  Or, at the very least, burn a potential contact?

A best guess was that she was either hoping to help the man get promoted, or get a reward, to help her chances with him.  That, or she knew he was a criminal and was offering this contact in hopes he could use the contact and build up his own illegal projects.  Or, perhaps she was offering to connect the dots so she could get a share of the profits.  That would be a different reason why she was trying so hard to impress him.  The real risk, to Jocelynn and Fesic, was that they didn't know which way the pair were leaning?

If she was trying to get him the reward, then she was a "good guy".  Which would mean they had to worry if he was a bad guy.  If they came in on the side of 'law and order', he could react badly and there could be a fight.  And if they were both criminals of one sort or another, coming in on the 'law and order' side would certainly go badly.  Perhaps, very badly.  But if they were both law abiding, and there was another explanation for his lack of interest, and they came in suggesting anything illegal...  Then, they could find themselves reported to station security, or even worse.

A major question that had risen right off was if he was legit?  Any law abiding station worker would be grabbing for the information so he could report it and be rewarded.  So, why wasn't he interested?  Was he legit but, for some reason, unable to do that?  Was he secretly an undercover operative for law enforcement?  And, if Jocelynn and Fesic intervened on the wrong side of things, how bad could it get for them?  At the very least, his lack of interest suggested he was involved in something illegal because an undercover would at least want some information on the mystery person.  Jocelynn's first hope was that the man would leave the booth and they could approach the woman, but that didn't look likely.  Jocelynn decided to take a chance and step in.

Walking over to the booth, Jocelynn nodded to the woman as she got closer and first came into her view, and.  She started by saying, "I hope this doesn't freak you out, but my friend and I kind of overheard what you were talking about."  That gave Jocelynn the appearance of having back up if the couple were inclined to attack first, and the suggestion she "had friends" if they didn't.  Jocelynn's first "hope" was to catch a sudden expression on either face, which might suggest one of the two, if not both, felt they'd been caught in something.  But neither of the two reacted immediately.

With no tells to go by, Jocelynn continued, "Sometimes it's better to play in the shadows rather than the light." with a nod to those in the booth.  Having not really given any indication of who she was, Jocelynn could see a glimmer of "Angry" and "Who the hell are you??" in their eyes but the woman took a breath before asking, "I'm sorry.  Who are you?" in a challenging tone.  Taking a breath she hoped the two didn't notice, Jocelynn said she was crew on a merchant ship and, in a sheepish tone, made a confession of saying hers was a ship's security role.  Jocelynn's hope was that they'd read the pattern as someone who knew that what she wanted went against her work title.

Misdirection was the game Jocelynn had to play.  Making them think she wasn't happy claiming her security creds might lead them to think she wanted something inappropriate.  If she could get them thinking she was in play, then she could possibly not get thrown out of their presence.  Giving her an inch, the man asked Jocelynn what kind of ship she worked and Jocelynn repeated that she worked on a merchant ship.  She then added, "One that deals in...all kinds of cargo."  She made sure to say the back half of that sentence with a suggestive tone, hoping her audience would "get creative" interpreting her words.

When the woman asked her what the ship was hauling at the moment, Jocelynn quickly said they had a cargo of marble.  The woman then asked, "Local?" and Jocelynn said it was, bound for Ghandi at the moment.  When her "at the moment" raised an eyebrow, Jocelynn shrugged and said, "You never know when a better deal will come along, or when someone just has to have something.  No matter the cost."  That raised eyebrows as the two in the booth looked at her.  The man asked Jocelynn, "Does that mean you have a better deal to offer someone?"  Jocelynn just shook her head and said she didn't, at the moment.  She then continued, "But, the universe was a fluid place and things changed.  Taking the opportunity, Jocelynn said things could change for the woman's mysterious friend too.

Bristling just a bit at the comment, the woman asked, "What do you know about him?" which told Jocelynn the "person" was male.  Jocelynn recognized that challenge and thought back over the questionable merchants she and her friends had "encountered" during the war.  Shrugging her shoulders, Jocelynn said, "Absolutely nothing right now.  But I've worked with people like that before.  Especially during the war.  I'm just wondering if he might be an old friend?"  After some more careful questions and answers, the woman admitted her "friend" was a 'free-lancer running supplies", which had been a wartime code phrase for smugglers who'd gone legitimate during the war.  It seemed this woman, or the man she was talking about, didn't want to let go of that last shred of legality just yet.

When Jocelynn was challenged to tell her more about her other 'friends', she had to pause to think about the actual smugglers she and her team had helped take down as a Marine.  The good news for Jocelynn was that the pause could just as easily be read as someone trying to decide how much of a secret she wanted to reveal to the two.  And that seemed to be the way the woman was taking it.  The guy was, as he had been the whole time, completely uninterested in the conversation.  So disinterested that he soon left the bar.  While Fesic watched the man go, the woman hadn't warmed up to Jocelynn enough to invite her to sit in his place.

The woman's attitude didn't improve any when Fesic got up from their booth and came over to join them.  Seeing her tense up as he approached, Jocelynn turned and saw Fesic before telling her, "Don't worry.  He's with me."  Accepting that for the moment, the woman did defrost a bit when Jocelynn said, "He's our ship's cargo master."  Jocelynn watched as she eyed Fesic more critically, then pointed in the direction her friend had gone and said, "I'm sorry.  Did we ruin your evening?"  The woman shrugged and said, "Not ruin, but you didn't help it."

Nodding while accepting that she'd chosen to "crash the party", Jocelynn only answered, "Sometimes...these events turn into unexpected opportunities where our normal contacts aren’t interested."  They all knew that was a direct reference to her cargo engineer friend not buying what she'd been trying to sell.  Nodding but still a mostly closed book, the woman invited Jocelynn and Fesic to sit and talk.  The conversation that followed was mostly about generalities, though Jocelynn did finally confirm that the mystery person was, in fact, a part time smuggler and that he'd only just arrived in-system.  So, the woman couldn't say much about his interests.  As for the port worker, she admitted he would have been useful because he knew how to ignore things.

While Jocelynn worked to get information, Fesic's goals had shifted slightly after they were invited to sit.  It started when he appeared to be ordering drinks for Jocelynn and himself and offered to buy for the woman too.  Slowly, his tone of voice and body language also shifted subtly until both women realized he might have interests in the woman beyond her possible contacts.  Or, rather more physical than business contacts.  And while the woman gave no sign she was insulted, annoyed or amused, she also showed no real signs of interest either.  Which may have been no interest or that she didn't know him from Adam.  Paying her tab eventually, she did say that they would run into each other again if they really did spin in the same circles.  Then, she left after sharing her contact data for Jocelynn's personal comms data.

Paying The Tab

     Back at the ship, the stent work broke up around 9pm and Zimzod immediately grabbed a comms and tried to call Mikah at the hospital.  Getting a base operator, he was routed to the base hospital.  There, he was told Mikah would not be able to take calls and the operator apologized before cutting the line.  Pissed at the disconnected line, Zimzod was frustrated when Terin asked if he wanted to hit a bar?  When Zimzod said he did, the others joined in too.  As they gathered up, Zimzod asked about Fesic and Jocelynn and Emkir said they'd left just after the signals class.  Terin said, "Why don't you call them?  If you really care, call them.  If you don't fuck 'em.  Let's go to a bar!"

Zimzod agreed, saying, "Fuck it.  Let's go to a bar." and they got moving.  Eventually settling at a bar, both Aali and Aiden nursed their drinks, spending Cr 15 each.  Emkir drank more and spent Cr 35.  Terin spent Cr 20 and Zimzod said screw it and drank like a fish for Cr 50 worth of booze.  Rol spent Cr 25.  On their latest "field trip", Jocelynn and Fesic spent Cr 35 for drinks and transport and Fesic spent Cr 10 more when he bought drinks for the ladies.  After the drinks, Zimzod was still walking but was unstable on his feet and really needed "guidance" back to the ship afterwards.

While Zimzod was getting smashed, Terin had been trying to get laid.  He started out trying to play off the cache of his Darrian birth as an "exotic alien", but that got him little more than novelty attention.  When he realized that wasn't working for him, Terin stepped into the fresher to loosen his hair, to cover his pointed ears, and tried to score while just being "his loveable self".  And, he got even less attention because he wasn't even a novelty anymore.  That meant he was available to help guide Zimzod as they made their way back to the ship.

When Fesic and Jocelynn got back to the ship, they found it empty because the others had gone out drinking.  Realizing they were alone, Fesic joked, "What do you wanna do, cuddle bunny?"  Tired of being taunted about her sexuality, Jocelynn sighed and said, "I guess we'll wait for the others." in a tired tone.  Sitting down and activating the viewer screen, Jocelynn started searching through vids for something to watch and they both waited until the rest of the crew got back to the ship.  When Fesic asked, Jocelynn made it clear they would not be cuddling on the couch until the others got back.

When the rest of the crew returned, Zimzod was obviously plastered.  As they came into the lounge, Rol led Zimzod saying, "Come on, big man.  Let's get you back into your bunk."  Zimzod smiled and said, "Thanks twiggy".  Seeing Fesic and Jocelynn as he came in, Aiden asked, "OK, how many bruises Fesic?" in an expectant tone.  Because he actually took the time to look before shooting his mouth off, Terin looked Fesic up and down and told Aiden, "Actually, it doesn't look like Fesic got beat up this time."  Fesic just smiled and said, "We did alright."  Jocelynn then told them all, "We almost...  Almost, almost got beat up."  Hearing that as Rol led him to his stateroom, Zimzod turned and asked, "What did she look like?"

Emkir chimed in and said, "He must not have been that strong if he couldn't beat up Fesic." and got some laughs.  In an annoyed voice, Jocelynn said, "It was a woman" and Emkir asked her, "Fesic got beat up by a woman?" in a confused tone.  Jocelynn rolled her eyes and then said, "Fesic didn't get beat up by a woman, but she did look him over with interest.  When Jocelynn was asked how she did, she first snapped that she didn't pick anyone up, and was told they meant the black market.  Catching up with the conversation, Jocelynn happily said, "Better than before!"  Hearing that, Emkir asked, "Better how?"

Jocelynn smiled and said, "We actually had a breakthrough tonight."  Continuing, she said, "We finally made a contact which could prove useful."  Terin reacted positively, saying, "Hey!  That's good news."  Getting a jump on things as the self-appointed cruise director, Terin asked, "What do you guys wanna do tomorrow?"  While the others shouted out options including Rol's suggestion of finding an amusement park, Fesic quietly suggested they should come up with a "story" the next day.  When Jocelynn wasn't sure what he was talking about, he said they'd been unprepared for the questions they'd been asked that night.  And he felt they got lucky not to have been shut down hard because they had no clue.

While Jocelynn and Fesic had been talking, the rest of the crew had come together on the idea of searching for an amusement park the next day.  Hearing them talk about that, Fesic said, "Surely, we'll be able to visit Mikah tomorrow." and the others agreed they should be able to.  Talking about the park and visiting Mikah, Jocelynn said she might have to stay with the ship because her terrarium order would be delivered the next day.  that was when she was told about one of the wonders of the civilian universe.  She was told the bay crew could accept the delivery for her and hold it until she returned.

A Missing Man Morning

     Despite not setting an alarm, Fesic woke up at 6:30 in the morning after just about four hours sleep.  Looking around, he made sure he was alone in the bed, just in case.  Realizing how early it was, Fesic tried to get back to sleep and ended up laying there for twenty minutes before giving up and going into his morning routine.  Out into the lounge long before anyone else, Fesic decided to go to the park to spend some time, and picked up a mug of caff and breakfast along the way.  His plans meant he wouldn't be back at the ship until 10 am or so.

In her stateroom, Jocelynn woke at 7am, just as alarms were going off in Rol and Zimzod's staterooms.  Glaring at the clock, she simply rolled over and managed to get back to sleep.  It was nearly 8am by the time they made it to the lounge and Zimzod was suffering from his drinking the night before.  Rol started cooking breakfast while Zimzod was taking in as much water as he could.  By that time, Aiden's alarm had gone off and he was going through his morning routine.  Alarms would also go off at 8am, in Terin and Emkir and Aali's staterooms before Aiden got out into the lounge for breakfast.

Shortly after that, Jocelynn woke up again and saw she'd only gotten about an hour more of sleep.  Trying to roll over and get back to sleep again, Jocelynn only wasted time before realizing she might as well get up and start her day.  By 8:45 that morning, everyone was in the lounge except Mikah, who was in hospital, and Fesic, who had left for a wander in the park.  Rol had served breakfast and the crew were eating or sitting around.  Excited to go to the amusement park, Terin wondered where Fesic was and finally started banging on his stateroom door.

When his hard knocks got no answer, Terin checked and found Fesic's door was locked.  Moving to the bridge, Terin overrode the lock and came back to open the stateroom door and call Fesic out.  Seeing Fesic wasn't there, Terin was annoyed as he wondered where Fesic had gone?  Locking and closing the door, Terin complained to the others that Fesic wasn't there and was out wandering around somewhere.  Looking up at Terin, and certainly dragging from lack of sleep and his hangover, Zimzod snarled, "Whoopee!"  Others in the compartment laughed at that and wondered when Terin's apparent morning energy was gonna get him beat up?

Not reading the attitude ruling the compartment, Terin complained about how Fesic was slowing them down from getting to the amusement park.  Aiden, who had gotten less sleep that a few in the compartment risked getting slugged when he moved over to Terin and physically started grabbing at the man to take his comms from him and hold it where he could see it.  The message, if foolishly delivered, was, 'If you're so damn concerned, call him.'  In the end, despite his walk, Fesic was dragging with very little sleep as were Jocelynn, Aiden and Zimzod.  The rest had managed to get an hour more of sleep but that was just over five hours.  So, no one was operating with a full tank, not to mention their collective lack of a "complete deck".

Next: Shopping, Adventure And Shootouts