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Strange Travels

An Unexpected Introduction  

     Rol woke first, and Terin woke not long after and couldn't get back to sleep.  The rest of the crew still slept in their staterooms when Rol started cooking.  Terin came into the lounge before Rol finished cooking.  The night before, Mikah had changed her mind and said they'd return to Regina for reasons she only partly explained to them.  They had that day plus two more in port before their rent ran out on the berth.  The day after that, they'd lift for Regina, so Fesic had that time to find passengers going there.  They had thirty eight tons of raw marble in their cargo bay, to sell where they could make a profit.  Waiting for Rol to finish cooking, Terin sparked up the news.

    Dinomn (B674632-9  S  Ag Ni  204  Im  M8 VI)                                       Date: 302-1113
    Regular reports published by the Council of Dinomn state the on-going
    negotiations with the Dinomn Trader's League continue.  Significant
    issues on the table included the rate of interstellar taxation for
    goods and traffic passing through the system, along with verification
    and validation processes the down-world government must find acceptable.
    Imperial attendees to the talks have reported on the various support
    topics they will be called on to validate and assist with.  From these
    reports, observers could say no real surprises had risen.

    One long-standing issue which those watching the talks focused on was
    a rise in taxes that had been held back for the last two years.  Leaders
    in the orbital community hope this issue will finally be defeated in
    this year's talks.  When asked about that expectation, Master Guasul
    Idinderma pointed to increasing traffic and trade numbers.  Based on
    that data, he answered, "With the return of trade to the system after
    the war, the system government can assuredly expect a significant
    increase in taxes.  With that, they should have no reason to raise the
    tax rate."  At the same time, there continues to be uncertainty as the
    talks, scheduled to last a week, continued past the mid-point.
                

    Skull (C2237C7-9  N  Na Po  601  Im  M1 V M0 VI)                                  Date: 260-1113
    While events in the Skull system seem to be settling down, regional reactions
    have become a rising issue.  With investigations spreading out to follow
    interstellar ties from the world's corporations and organizations.  In a move
    which surprised many observers, the Imperial Army has cycled in military
    investigators and auditors to deploy to civilian-facing missions.  Supported
    where needed by Imperial navy or even scout vessels for transport and "Showing
    the muscle", these investigators are finding life interesting where their work
    are ruffling feathers.  Often, the dynamic is a face-off where Imperial officers
    seek to remind locals of Imperial mandates while local governments remind the
    Imperials that the worlds control their territory while the Imperials control
    space.

    Notable encounters between local and Imperial personnel have been few, but
    some have even been spectacular.  None so spectacular as the attempted arrival
    of Imperial Army investigators in the Rhylanor subsector's Natoko system.
    There, they also arrived with Imperial Navy assistance thanks to the blockade
    of their system and much of the data they hoped to review might have been
    destroyed in the shoot-out that resulted from their attempts to "peacefully"
    evaluate a Natokan firm's involvement with organizations in the Skull system.
    Adding spice to this issue are the lack of action by either the Arch Duke or
    Grand Duchess to nominate a new noblebeing to represent the Skull system.
    This leaves the situation in the hands of the commanding Admirals and Generals
    handling events in that system.  Issues outside that system are being
    investigated by Army personnel but are then handed off to Imperial Ministry
    of Justice teams if anything substantive is found.
                

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  703  Im  F7 V M8 D M6 V)          Date: 295-1113
    Following up on the stunning news from the Inthe system, authorities in the
    Regina system have calmly accepted and encouraged reactions from the public
    following revelations the Quasar Viper wreck site had been confirmed and
    validated.  While little discussion has followed the search for Lady hault-
    Evers and the IMS Kard Damasc significant waves of reaction can be traced
    across the face of the subsector as news of the wreck validation spread.
    According to social sciences experts in the University of Atora on Regina,
    they expect to get significant research value out of the events surrounding
    the announcement.

    Despite the extreme loyalty of the people for their Duke, now Arch Duke,
    a large segment of the Regina population may well have believed the Quasar
    Viper
events as "Too convenient".  This despite the fact that the events which
    followed are recognized to have saved their world from either Zhodani occupation
    or treaty-enforced disassociation from the Imperium.  As a result, the scientists
    of Regina are scrambling to create and carry out studies to recover as much data
    as they can before events settle in and both attitudes and reactions
    moderate.
                

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  703  Im  F7 V M8 D M6 V)          Date: 294-1113
    Follow on reports and data releases continue after the receipt of an official
    diplomatic pouch from the government of the Arden Confederation.  Recent
    releases deal with rumors of Federation activity in the Zircon and Utoland
    systems, which were colonized by settlers from Arden just over a century ago.
    Records indicate that relations between Arden and her colonies had always been
    cordial and friendly.  Despite this, many political observers had wondered what
    might be coming given the rise of the Arden government's apparent expansionist
    leanings.

    To many of the observers in the region, Arden's expansion into the Zenopit
    system was a great surprise.  Any move to expand had largely expected Arden
    to attempt to recover control of her colonies before seeking relations with
    other independent systems in the region.  Now, signing an apparent diplomatic
    pact with the Pequan system, think tank expectations appear to have been turned
    on their heads.  It is because of this that Imperial and other observers are
    watching the Zircon and Utoland systems closely.  It is also of note that Arden
    traffic has recently increased in the Tremous Dex system, which is considered
    just short of a Tortuga port if not actually a pirate haven.
                

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  703  Im  F7 V M8 D M6 V)          Date: 295-1113
    Seen as a move to de-escalate emotions after SuSAG's recent request to consider
    the Gougeste system for membership in the Imperium, Admiral Lord Ruurim
    Agidashiir of Regina's High Command recommended a "step back".  Stating his
    announcement covered the official position of the Admiralty, Lord Ruurim
    questioned the need for Imperial investment in the system where
    SuSAG's profits could stand in place.

    The Admiral ignored or side-stepped questions covering accusations Imperial
    authorities had issues with what SuSAG produced with a thin veneer.  What
    answers the Admiral provided speculated on the already shifting nature of
    defensive requirements in the Coreward-Spinward quadrant of
    the Marches.

    Admiral Agidashiir leaned heavily on shifting defensive patterns with the
    inclusion of the Thanber and Dekalb client states, as those systems seemed to
    be accepting that role.  This was in addition to Imperial expansion elsewhere
    along the empire's borders in the sector, not to mention the continuing need
    to replace and repair losses from the war.  He added to that the need to support
    allies in the Marches, such as the Darrian Confederation's re-integration of
    the Entropic worlds.  At this time, stated the Admiral, pushing out the empire's
    borders to cover and protect the assets of an already wealthy corporation could
    not be made a priority.

    Reactions to the Admiral's speech ranged from the anger of staunch Imperial
    hardliners to the adulation of those who argued for more peaceful moves.  Lord
    Sir Asaal akik-Huumli, spokesperson for the local SuSAG management operating
    unit in the Regina region, was reportedly heard to have railed against the
    speech by an unidentified leak from SuSAG regional headquarters.  Despite
    this purported reaction in private, there has been nothing but smooth
    acceptance and cooperation from the corporation and its local
    management in public.

    Much more quietly, it has been whispered that Imperial investigators may have
    been "slipped in system" with the task force raised by SuSAG to relieve that
    system.  Indications are that reports from that forward team have begun to
    trickle back with information on SuSAG and mercenary behavior in the Gougeste
    system.  While these reports have largely ignored questions of what the
    corporation had been producing in-system, the teams have concentrated on
    Sophont's rights during the actions and subsequent "rescue" of the population.
    While very little has leaked from the actions of both the investigative teams
    and SuSAG agents, there is a suggestion that there may even be criminal
    accusations raised in the future.
                

    Mora(A99AC7-F  2  Hi In Cp  112  Im  M5 V)                                      Date: 239-1113
    Follow on reports from the Arch-Duke's Economic council continue to highlight
    improving economic, employment, trade and development numbers along the main
    trade routes of the sector.  The minister released the expected corrections
    to recently released economic indicators, none of which were a surprise to
    the various economic communities of the Marches.  Still, Minister Dame
    Nipaen Ikuvewu (Nee-pah-en Ick-oo-vew-uh) admitted, in a release yesterday,
    that many efforts still need to be made to push that improvement off the
    main trade routes to the balance of the sector's worlds.  Of specific note
    to the Minister were those systems bearing the label "Ghost Worlds".  And
    some of those systems have been languishing without investment or support
    for centuries.  While the minister has not, in this briefing, mentioned any
    systems in specific, it is known she most champions the fading and largely
    abandoned worlds of the early Mora Subsector settlement.

    Indeed, Minister Ikuvewu rose to prominence fighting for the economic recovery
    of those pauper systems which had been left in the economic dust by more
    successful systems.  Her Ladyship's appointment to the Arch Duke's team was
    seen, at the time, as a direct attack on the Grand Duchess Delphine because
    of her frequent attacks on the Mora system's "hording of wealth".  Before
    the appointment of Arch-Duke Norris, it was widely believed Dame Ikuvewu would
    have ended her days fighting for lost causes from a position of poverty and
    self-created isolation.  Despite that history, the Arch Duke was said to have
    been impressed with her Ladyship's writing and projections of economic
    ideals.
                

    Mire (A665A95-C  M  Hi Cp  110  Da  M6 V)                            Date: 204-1113
    Word has been released by the Darrian Confederation government regarding
    increased attacks on reconstruction efforts in the Entropic worlds.  Reports
    covering the last half-year show a marked increase in guerilla-level attacks
    on those forces sent to help the three systems recover from damage done in
    the 5FW and caused by the malicious actions of retreating Sword World forces.
    Most significant of these events are attacks on the work to reverse the
    sub-surface collapse of the worldlet's gas-mining region.

    Details of that situation suggest that a significant sub-surface defense
    installation in the Anselhome system, originally built by the Darrians, had
    been sabotaged by the retreating Sword world forces which had manned it.
    Word is that the destruction of the base has seriously destabilized the
    surface of the planet in that region, affecting large amounts of the gas
    production recovered by mining operations.  Local loss of life is not an
    issue as the workers brought from other Sword Worlds systems, moved in
    to replace failing Darrian automation, had fled with retreating local
    forces.  Those many Sword Worlds citizens who remain in the sealed cities
    of Anselhome will be repatriated once issues have been worked out with
    the governments of their home worlds.

    Readers are reminded the Sword Worlds Confederation, as it still exists, are
    a confederation of independent and cooperative systems.  A result of this
    means that repatriation of civilian and captured military must be negotiated
    separately with each system.  This means the Darrian Confederation will likely
    need to shoulder the social, economic and security issues raised by those
    populations for some time to come.  While the economic burden may be substantial,
    it is the resulting security issue the Confederation is working most directly
    to resolve.

    Potentially supported by those caught on each of the Entropic worlds,
    disaffected genetic Darrians who had been raised under the Sword Worlds banner
    are seen as a direct threat to Darrian re-integration of the systems to the
    Confederation.  Attacks have been made against both civilian and military targets
    and have increasingly turned against work meant to reduce the burden on the
    populations they claim are no less than Darrian collaborators.  In this most
    recent attack, massive load-shifting systems were attacked by a series of
    covertly planted bombs.  Thanks to the training level of the operatives who
    placed the bombs, the detonations did not cause immediate or imminent collapses.
    Still, the recovery council of Anselhome have had to scramble equipment and
    personnel to prevent eventual collapses of surface and mine-based terrain.
       

    Rhylanor (A434934-F  2  Hi Cp   810  Im  M2 VI)                                Date: 274-1113
    To the surprise of few in the system and subsector, an announcement was
    delivered from the Imperial High Court of the Rhylanor Subsector.  Having
    accepted for review the lower court suits brought supporting maintenance of Baron
    Kishike's enfeoffment of the Heroni system, the Rhylanor High Court have set
    all those suits aside.  Citing long-standing Imperial law and edict, Lead
    Minster of Justice Lord Sir Geemim lig Khenendukhu (Gee-mim lig Khen-en-du-khu)
    pronounced the judgement:
        There can be no doubt of the existence and validity of established
        Imperial law regardless of the novelty of Arch-Duke Norris' appointment.
        As such, it is without contest that those laws establish and support the
        Arch Duke's authority in this matter.  It is disappointing that such a
        question has been raised to this, or any court and all such challenges
        are judged null and void."

    To say the least, supporters of Baron Kishike were disappointed and it is without
    doubt the Mega-Corp LSP may be likely to bring suit before the Emperor himself.
    That despite the fact such an action would not happen for at least a year, with
    another year's time being required to return any judgement to the Marches.
    Such actions are especially likely given the orders which followed the judgement
    of the High Court.

    In the authority of the High Court to follow up judgements to determine who
    such a case could arise, the Court has unanimously announced an Imperial audit.
    This audit has been assigned, per the orders of the court, to identify all the
    cases raised in this matter and follow the financing behind them.  Should such
    financing be found to be in collusion, or should details be learned counter to
    Imperial Law, those found to be the offenders will be charged!  This surprise
    even suggested the investigation would challenge those claims the Baron
    himself was not involved in the raising of suits against the Arch Duke's
    authority.  Based on these most recent announcements, shares of HeroniCorp which
    had been rising on the Subsector exchange dropped significantly.  This reaction
    to the post-decision investigations spread pain among many in the subsector's
    financial sectors because it was entirely unexpected.
                

    Natoko (B582211-8  N  Lo Ni  801  Im  M2 VI M6 D)                            Date: 260-1113
    An update was released to TAS from the headquarters of Admiral Uuela and
    offices of Senator Kudilas.  Established in the outer worlds of the Natoko
    system, resistance to the Imperial Navy's 'stop and search'
    procedures have been much reduced.  A procedure of detainment and transfer
    has been set up to move detained crews from ships continuing to resist to
    Rhylanor for trial, in addition to the auction of seized vessels and cargo.
    Beyond legal actions against ships in-system, the situation with the system
    government is felt to be at an impasse and TAS reporters have to wonder
    how long that might last?

    A review of the table of organization for the force assembled by Senator
    Kudilas' mandate had been heavily naval.  Up until a month before, that
    would have suggested a protracted siege of the system until the local
    government submitted to the Senator's investigation.  However, more recent
    arrivals to augment the force included larger troop transports hosting Marine
    assault forces and their associated boats.  In addition, the INS Black Sky
    arrived in-system within the last week.  That ship is known to military
    historians for its involvement in a number of system liberations in the
    latter year and a half of the Fifth Frontier War.  The Black Sky is
    a surface assault carrier.

    Such a carrier provides internal architecture to dock with transports and
    swiftly transfer large amounts of troops to assault cutter bays while
    providing them bulk munitions.  The vessel class also supports the equivalent
    of two battalion's worth of surface bombardment guns to support those landings
    carried out by the vessel's cutters.  Finally, the ship's separate self-defense
    batteries are supported by two squadrons of fighters able to operate both
    as the ship's CAP or moving into the atmosphere to defend cutters from local
    orbital and aerospace fighter defenses.  This arrival, above all, suggests
    the "siege" may be about to enter a new phase.
                

    Inthe (B575776-9  A  Ag  423  Im  F8 V)                            Date: 267-1113
    TAS has received a brief release from the office of Admiral Amarki Shagu,
    commanding the Imperial naval base in the Inthe system.  The dispatch covered
    confirmation that the recovery and investigation of the Imperial strike carrier
    Regina's Storm continues now that the wreck has been installed in an orbital
    shipyard gantry.  As investigators intensify their work on the salvaged wreck,
    the Imperial Navy has announced the intent to enclose the ship so the wreck
    and its environs can be pressurized.  Start of construction on an enclosing
    shell has already begun.
                

    Fennec/Sabine (B556836-A  S  V  820  Im  K7 V)                            Date: 258-1113
    Word has come from the Fennec system of Prince Lucan's final preparations
    to leave the system and sector.  Bound for Rhylanor and Regina in the Spinward
    Marches sector, the Prince took part in local ceremonies while his ship and
    fleet prepared for departure.  While exact details of the passage are not
    released, TAS notes it is hard not to notice the departure of a fleet element
    the size of the royal escort from such a small system.
                

Aiden was the next person to come out of his stateroom for breakfast while the two men watched the news.  Eating and relaxing, the three talked about Mikah's decision to leave for Regina in three days instead of the Ghandi system.  Aiden asked Terin if they could work together to plot the planned jump and Terin agreed they could do that.  He also suggested that Aiden should generate a plot on his own in the coming days, as a test and they would check that for accuracy.  Aiden agreed and thanked him for that.  Soon after that, Aali and Emkir came out of their stateroom to join the party.  And soon after that, Fesic, and then Jocelynn arrived to eat, and later on, Mikah and Zimzod finally joined them.

When they were all together in the lounge, Rol asked what things the crew had left to do in the port, because they had less than three days to finish anything they planned.  Aiden started to suggest checking their vacc suits again, because that was done earlier in the week, and preparing a jump plot to Regina.  Talking about their departure, Rol asked if they wanted to review the ship's supplies?  Nodding, Zimzod, joked, "That's a good idea Rol.  Tell me what we need so I can shoot you."  Nodding at Rol, Emkir asked how they were doing in the galley and Rol said he planned to check on that.  Joking back, Rol said, "I think I have everything we need.  I'd only need the blood of a marine."  Hearing that, Jocelynn snapped, "Hey!" in the pause before Rol continued, "Probably one that's already been juiced."

Because they would burn off a single parsec's worth of jump fuel getting to Regina, Aali asked, "Are we gonna fuel up, or will we suck off a gas giant?"  Hearing that, Jocelynn joked, "That's what she said!" and Aiden scoffed, "She makes refueling from a gas giant sound like syphoning from a tank."  Not missing a beat, Rol answered, "It's what comes out of the other end that we have to worry about." and got some laughs.  Following that, Fesic pointed and said, "Terin likes to suck things." and even more people laughed.  Aali answered that saying, "Munarshu was our monkey in charge of pulling corks out of cows butts." in a disapproving tone.  When Aali suggested that meant the ship should get a mascot, Jocelynn said she thought they'd nominated Terin for that.  While Terin rejected that, no one agreed with him and more people laughed.

After the laughs, one then each of the others said they should get their gear ready to leave port and they all agreed to spend the morning holding a ship-wide GI party.  The next hours were spent cleaning up and doing gear maintenance.  The morning wore down into lunch and, after that, Rol asked about going to a shooting range for some practice.  Fesic and Jocelynn said they did right off.  Soon after, the entire crew joined in and they were all going.  Rol planned to bring his six-shooter snub pistol and gauss rifle.  Mikah planned to bring her laser carbine, laser pistol and snub pistol.  Fesic brought his snub pistol and gauss rifle.  Aiden brought his snub rifle and snub pistol and LAG.  Zimzod brought his .45 Semi-automatic pistols and Darrian gauss pistol as well as his gauss rifle.  Aali chose her gauss rifle and snub pistols and Emkir his nine-millimeter and gauss pistol.

Remembering they had training pells, Jocelynn brought her cutlass along with her snub pistol and gauss rifle.  Terin brought his newly customized gauss rifle and considered bringing his gauss shot pistol, but worried about replacing the ammo for the pistol.  Checking to see he only had two clips of each type of ammo for the gauss shot pistol, Terin called the range and asked if they could sell him more?  Not as well stocked as wealthier ports, or those who had more active weapons markets, and because so few people went down-well, there was little weapons trade in-system and that limited the types of ammunition stocked.  As a result, Terin was told they didn't have ammunition for the gauss shot pistol.  Leaving that on the ship, he brought his snub pistol instead.  When they were asked about the Cr 50 cost of transporting the weapons to and from the range, Rol and Aiden agreed to pay Cr 25 each.

After several hours of target practice with their weapons, and Jocelynn's pell practice, they paid the bill for range time and ammunition.  Leaving the shop after having their weapons locked and sent back to the ship, they talked about eating dinner out.  Zimzod worried about being at the ship to get the weapons, but was reminded the bay crew would receive and hold the shipment for them.  So, the weapons would be safe.  Zimzod suggested going to a bar, but was voted down and reminded they had enough alcohol on the ship to host their own party.  Jocelynn even joked that it had been a while since they'd had a drinking contest.  When they joked about having a party, Aiden snarked, "We could do it just before liftoff!"  The others laughed as they decided to go to a 'moderate-rate' restaurant.  Happily, Dinomn was a "bread-basket world" so prices were lower than they would be in systems like Wypoc.

They eventually settled into dinner at a place called the "Bright Star Diner" and put in their orders, along with some drinks.  While they ate, a wait staffer came to the table with a note for Mikah.  the note read:
            "I understand you are Lady Mikah, and your ship is leaving the system.
              Does your ship happen to have an open berth for a passenger?"

Confused, Mikah read the note a second time before asking the waiter who the note had come from?  She was also privately concerned it was someone from the media, or with some worse connections.  Like IRIS.  Turning, the waiter pointed to the small "bar" the restaurant had, where a man was sitting and appeared to be nursing a drink.  When the man noticed their attention and waived, Mikah said, "Fesic.  You're in charge of cargo and the berths and stuff.  You go talk to him." in a dismissive tone.  She then added in an almost-growl, "Tell him he should go through normal channels."  Nodding, Fesic stood and moved over to the man at the bar.

The man was tall, perhaps six feet, with a 'pinkish' complexion.  His angular face framed a large nose, angled lips and dark green eyes under thin eyebrows.  His deep brunette hair was medium-length, curly and un-styled.  His face had stubble above a short neck, broad shoulders, short arms and slender hands.  His torso was muscular, with a narrow waist, angular hips and legs that appeared strong.  As Fesic stepped up to him, the man held out his Ident as an introduction.  It also showed he was an investigator for the Imperial Ministry of Justice!  In the pause while Fesic digested that, the man returned his Ident to an inside pocket of his station jacket and said the station's data on their ship said they were leaving port for Regina.

When the man apologized for meeting them in the restaurant, saying he wasn't one for going through channels, Fesic asked why that was?  The man answered, "Investigators prefer not to be noticed when they are doing things."  After another pause, Fesic realized the man would leave his answer at that.  Nodding, and deciding to play tit-for-tat, Fesic took the man's name and contact data before saying they would get back to him after they set an actual launch time, since he already seemed to know they'd be lifting on the 305th day, and where they were going.  At that, the man challenged Fesic to confirm he at least had the high passage berth?  Fesic nodded and said he did before returning to the crew.

Back at the table, Fesic asked for a terminal, then logged into the network to remove the High Passage berth from their launch advertisements.  He also saw no one had asked to book any of the low berths yet.  Still, they had days ahead for that to happen.  When Fesic told the others the man was an investigator for the IMoJ, Emkir snarked, "Oh good!  We'll have a spy on board." and Aiden groaned, "Everybody be on their best behavior."  Fesic answered Aiden by joking, "Aren't we always?" with a confident smile.  Aali only added, "So much for the drinking contest."  Nodding, Aiden said they'd have to keep Jocelynn;s battledress stowed and she reminded him it was still disassembled and mixed with Munarshu's combat armor.  Splitting the bill for dinner cost each of them Cr 30 with drinks except Terin, who only paid Cr 25 and had no alcohol.  Still punishing him, Mikah ordered a Cr 20 drink and made sure Zimzod was paying for her dinner.

After dinner, Terin was looking forward to asking Aali to help him connect to the ship's systems better during stent practice that evening.  Ironically, Zimzod hoped to ask her help in connecting to his Battledress battle computer too.  That meant they wanted Aali to move in two separate directions at the same time and ignore the others.  When Terin asked if they could all do one or the other, Zimzod made it clear he wasn't going to open the Battledress access to the whole crew.  That decided it.  Aali said she could help the most people by helping Terin concentrate on his connection.  Zimzod could then take lessons learned from that and try to apply them to his work with his Battledress.

Outside the stent-work, they shortened the "Cliks and Codes" lessons to half an hour, to teach Mikah, since the others were well along on practicing what they'd learned.  After that, Jocelynn and Emkir got back into attempting to reverse the hack on the person who'd bought Jocelynn's High Passage.  They planned on working on that until eleven that night unless they hit a promising lead.  They also added the IMoJ investigator as a 'possible suspect' behind the hacking, since he had come at them in an unusual way.  Still, others had questions about that.  After the cliks class, Fesic saw Jocelynn was busy so they'd not be going bar hopping.  With time on his hands, Fesic went through the ship's library selecting a list of reading material to cover in the week in jump.  After doing that, he got started on his reading.

After the stent practice, Terin and Aiden started working out Aiden's test jump plot when Terin told Aiden to choose an hour on the next day and work out a test plot based on that time.  When he was done with that, Terin checked the plot out and worked with Aiden to validate it, which took the rest of the evening.  Aali settled in to do some reading after the stent work, like Fesic.  While Zimzod had been in the stent practice, Mikah had watched a vid, and after he was free he suggested the now "well used" bikini and the two went to their stateroom for more fun.  When he got out of the stent practice, Rol went to check their food stocks so he knew what they'd need to buy so he could shop the next day.

By the end of the evening, Emkir had not made any real progress back-hacking the passage buyer.  Aiden had finished his test plot and reviewed it with Terin.  Fesic had read until he was ready to rack out and Aali read until Emkir was done working and they could step into their stateroom for the night.  Rol had figured they'd likely do well to order two more weeks of food supplies for the ship.  Since Mikah wasn't available until the next day, he noted his results and went to sleep.  Jocelynn had also racked out after she and Emkir had closed up shop for the night.  Everyone else was either in bed or made their way to bed as the day ended.


Drinks And A Prank  

     As was his pattern, Rol had woken to an early alarm to get through his morning routine and cook breakfast, eat and clean up.  What was unusual about this day was that he got to do that in relative silence and privacy.  No one had woken early enough to join him while he was cooking, eating or cleaning up!  Finding that oddly relaxing, Rol finished cleaning up while leaving the cooked breakfast to cool on the table for the others as they woke.  Done with those, he went into his stateroom to pick up on his communications training.

When Mikah woke, she was surprised to find herself not in her bed with Zimzod!  In fact, the bed she was in was much larger than her regular bed.  Suddenly more alert, Mikah looked around the stateroom she was in and saw her gear setup in a sensible way.  But the room held a larger collection of things she would likely want to own including additional artwork matching her tastes.  And the stateroom itself was much larger than any stateroom she'd ever occupied.  Quickly getting into some clothing, she moved to the stateroom's exit and left the compartment to find herself in a corridor outside the room.  The space was wider than the Upgrade, and was obviously "Officer's Country" aboard some kind of military ship.

At that point, Mikah decided she had to be dreaming!  Deciding to wake herself up, Mikah started to jump up and down, shake herself or otherwise get her eyes to open.  While she did that, a lieutenant rushed up to ask, "Excuse me Admiral, can I help you?" in a concerned tone.  About that time, Mikah pinched herself and woke up.  She was now in her own bed, next to Zimzod's sleeping form, and in her own stateroom aboard the Update.  Lying there, Mikah sighed and guessed that if she'd let the dream continue, that may have been the closest she'd ever come to commanding a dreadnaught.

Noticing Zimzod himself was starting to come awake, Mikah decided to get moving.  So, she got out of bed and went about her morning routine.  Getting up when she had, Mikah just beat the alarm she and Zimzod had set while alarm clocks were ringing in Aiden's stateroom as well as Emkir and Aali's.  By the time they all finished their morning routines and emerged into the ship's lounge, a now-cooled breakfast was waiting and Rol was not in view.  Zimzod moved directly for the food while Mikah grabbed some food and then watched the news.  Sadly, the day's news was largely talking heads slicing and dicing moderate updates received by X-Boat of the news delivered already.  Nothing new had broken as the others ate and listened.  By the time they were finishing and cleaning up, Jocelynn also came out of her stateroom to grab chow.  It would not be until Jocelynn was finishing her meal that Fesic and Terin would step out of their respective staterooms.

Mikah's primary order of the day was that the crew should make everyone aware of what they each needed, so a shopping run could be made and everything brought aboard before they launched.  When Rol asked if she wanted to have a pre-lift party that night, Mikah said she did and Jocelynn joked, "Will there be cake?"  Ignoring the joke, Terin said he'd break out the hookah.  When Rol told Mikah about his notes from the night before on their supplies, Mikah said, "OK!  Get it done." and happily put the shopping in Rol's hands.  When Jocelynn asked if Rol expected them all to go shopping, Terin reminded him they could simply call a food services company and have the supplies delivered.

Rol nodded and shrugged before saying, "Yeah, but then you don't get all the really special and interesting stuff."  While the others suggested innuendos about what Rol meant by "special stuff", Mikah said they could do both, order and go out and shop too.  Rol said he had planned to order the bulk from a distributer but also thought there would be specialty items the others might want to hunt down personally before they left the system.  That led to talk about other issues like the fact they had an IMoJ investigator coming on board and had things to hide.

Answering that, Jocelynn reminded them her Battledress was disassembled and layered in with the components of Munarshu's combat armor.  Nodding, Emkir mentioned the sensor drone they'd "bought" from the Scouts.  When Emkir volunteered to help deal with the drone, Jocelynn and Mikah said they'd shop with Rol.  Aali and Fesic teamed up with Emkir to "hide" the drone.  They decided they'd re-organize the containers filled with marble so those would block visibility to the drone.  Yes, it was a ridiculously simplistic plan but it was their best "quick plan".  Listening in while the three talked about re-organizational plans, Terin suggested they move the drone to the cargo space in the Probe.  Emkir reminded Terin they'd also check the Probe as part of any inspection.

Talking about that, they came up with the idea to buy a set of three-quarter ton and one-ton cargo pods.  They would move the drone into the Probe and seal it in the smaller of the pods.  Then, they'd put that in the larger pod, but leave that one unsealed.  When the inspectors came aboard in Regina, they'd claim the pods were spare and unused, hoping the inspector would accept that.  After Regina, they hoped a meeting with the Arch Duke would solve their issues with legality...  Logging into the network to check for cargo pods, Fesic also saw they had a message about the atmospheric tester they had listed for sale.

While they had listed the tester for Cr 800, someone had sent them an offer for Cr 500 for the device.  Checking into the offer, Fesic saw the buyer had been scheduled to handle a ground-delivery option and wanted to make sure they had test gear, just in case.  Fesic agreed to sell the unit for Cr 500, but made sure the buyer knew they had to pick up the unit that day.  Soon after, Fesic got a funds transfer and confirmation the buyer would pick up the tester that afternoon.  After signing off on that deal, and seeing they had no interest yet in their low berths, Fesic went back to work with Emkir and Aali on moving the cargo to get the drone out and prepare it to be moved into the Probe's cargo bay.

While they did that, Aiden did some individual stent practice and packed his gear, getting his stateroom ready for lift in two days.  He also spent time on the bridge making sure his stations were in order.  Zimzod also did stent work and followed that up with some training on the ship's gunnery simulator.  While they worked on that, Terin went for a run.  Before they went shopping, Rol talked with Mikah and they ordered two weeks food from a local service.  One week was regular fare while the other was "High Living", since they would have a passenger aboard.  The bill for that came to Cr 1,500 and Mikah had that paid from ship's funds.

When they finally went shopping, Rol made it clear they were looking for local specialties, specific to Dinomn as well as local or out-system curiosities.  Ignoring other local delicacies like "onion-flavored" strawberries, Rol came to a shop selling a "crumbly and very aromatic" cheese.  Looking into the cheese, he learned it got its crumbly texture because it was made by implanting the curing cheese with maggots from a local insect.  While the insects didn't eat the cheese, they chewed through it to break it up into crumbling mounds the flavor of which was affected by the chemicals in the saliva of the escaping insects.  Hearing that, Mikah forbid that cheese being brought aboard her ship.  She didn't want to have to worry about any bug infestations.

Despite not really being interested in the cheese, Rol did jokingly argue about buying some of it just for fun.  He even tried some of the cheese, to satisfy curiosity.  It was not only less tasty than he hoped but also had less flavor at all than he would have guessed.  Rol only shrugged and moved on as he considered it could have worked out a lot worse.  They did do some tasting when it came to various cooking add-ins based on a mixture of garlic and onion and liked those.  From there, the three went to check out sweeter specialties.

As they wandered, Mikah saw a display of no-spill heating pans which could be magnetically attached to any surface including shipboard surfaces.  Into that, the cook could heat or melt oils, butters or similar materials. Then, they could pour in a mixed batter which would quick-fry into a light and air-puffed pastry which was healthier than other fried snacks that were more densely packed.  This let diners enjoy the flavors of their pastries without overfilling on the heavy pastry itself.  Of course, they not only bought one of the devices, they also bought batter mix and enough powdered sugar to make the air-pastries unhealthy again.  Very unhealthy.  Mikah paid the Cr 75 for the supplies.  After buying that, they looked for add-on kits letting them use the fryer for different things.  One thing Jocelynn found were meltable items such as chunk chocolate, which could be melted.

Doing that, they could dip other things into the melted goo.  Jocelynn was excited to try dipping fruits and other tasty stuff in that!  Along the way, as they shopped, Jocelynn recalled something she'd seen once in a "very fancy" party when she was younger.  It had been called a 'Sweets Fountain' and it constantly pumped the melted fluid of meltable sweets over a set of dipping stations built into the device.  Diners could then pick up cut pieces of foods and dip them into the sweet fluids.  Coating them before eating them.  Going on a search for a fountain, or analog of that, the three found something that fit the description.  They also found chocolate and other flavored meltables for sale.  They bought one of those along with several lots of meltables for another Cr 75.

After having gone for his run and taking a shower, Terin went out on the station looking for supplies for his hookah.  Unfortunately, the station's business centers were largely centered on those things the local economy supported.  That meant very few "specialty stores" including those that might sell supplies for hookahs and similar specialty devices.  That forced Terin to widen his search and spend more time searching for what he wanted, even having lunch on the station.  One thing he found by lunch were indicators on how to better find those sellers of what he wanted.  By later that afternoon, Terin found smokables he could use in the hookah, and a number of mild hallucinogenics.  He also found enough supplies to refresh twenty percent of his tea kit.  Seventy percent of the stuff he bought for the hookah was plain smokable, in five flavors.  The other thirty percent were mild hallucinogenics.  That cost him Cr 1,000. 

Aboard the ship, Fesic, Emkir and Aali had decided the best way to "hide" the drone was to do it in plain sight.  They would buy a three-quarter ton and full ton cargo pod and put the half-ton drone inside the smaller pod.  They'd close that up and leave it unsealed.  They would then put that in the larger pod, which they'd leave partly open in the cargo space of the Probe.  If asked about it, they'd tell customs the pods were spare and unused.  Then, they would hope any inspector would stop short of opening the inner cargo pod.  It was a simple plan, but the best they could hope for.  Talking about ways to better discourage inspection, they joked about labelling the pods "Sex Toys".  Then it was suggested that Zimzod could be sitting there waiting for inspection.  Naked and holding his extremely overpriced electronic dildo.  Of course, that led to jokes about one of the inspectors inviting Zimzod into the pods to play...

Finally, Fesic reached out to the current bay crew chief and asked where they could get cargo pods?  He was told the port could sell the ship the pods with the full ton pod at Cr 1,000 and the three-quarters pod Cr 750.  After Fesic agreed to pay for them, the bay chief said the pods would be delivered later that day.  That satisfied Fesic even though he knew they'd have to move the pods into the Probe with the drone inside them later that day.  Until the pods were delivered, he and Aali and Emkir moved the drone clear of the cargo for that.  Then Emkir went back to his translation work and watched vids.  Rol sat and joined him when the shoppers got back and Mikah and Jocelynn both stored their new toys.  Aiden also decided to read and watch vids for the rest of the afternoon too.

After Mikah got back to the ship, she'd found that Zimzod had squared away his things in their stateroom and she did the same with her gear, making sure she was ready for the lift in two days.  Zimzod was in the lounge relaxing with much of the crew and she joined them.  Jocelynn, on the other hand, went to the galley and immediately started to read the instructions and set up the sweets fountain.  To her disappointment, Jocelynn saw the fountain couldn't be set up permanently, so she'd have to break it down, clean it and store it between uses.  Still, she set up the fountain for the party they planned the next night.  When Fesic asked, he was told they'd launch in two days at noon, and called the IMoJ man to tell him before adding the launch time to the low berth advertisement.  The buyer of the tester showed up and picked it up.  Following that, Fesic spent Cr 100 ordering two bottles of scotch to be delivered.  The rest of the evening went quietly as the crew relaxed or trained.


Drinks And A Prank  

     As was his pattern, Rol had woken to an early alarm to get through his morning routine and cook breakfast, eat and clean up.  What was unusual about this day was that he got to do that in relative silence and privacy.  No one had woken early enough to join him while he was cooking, eating or cleaning up!  Finding that oddly relaxing, Rol finished cleaning up while leaving the cooked breakfast to cool on the table for the others as they woke.  Done with those, he went into his stateroom to pick up on his communications training.  Slowly the rest of the crew woke and went about their work.  They prepared for lift, trained or relaxed as the day developed.

While Jocelynn set up the fountain, the others talked about booze for the coming party.  Terin volunteered to make edibles for the party from hallucinogenics he had.  Emkir and Aali said they'd donate the bottle of cherry heering they had to mix in with the chocolate Jocelynn was going to melt into the fountain.  That meant they had to do even more reading, to make sure they didn't make a chocolate and cherry flavored soup where much of the alcohol had been heated out.  They also volunteered both of their bottles of Aquavit to drink at the party so they could suggest a theme.  Zimzod said they should open the one bottle of "Feral Bird" 89 proof bourbon he'd already opened.  That had two liters left of the original three.  He also planned to open his three-liter bottle of tequila.

Finding she only had a bottle each of red and white wine, Mikah was mock outraged!  She instantly logged into a terminal looking for a place to order more.  After doing some reading on local vintages and pricing, Mikah ordered a case each of white and red wine in liter bottles.  That cost her Cr 300 total for the two cases, which would be delivered to the ship.  The rest of the evening went quietly until the party started.  Terin had decided not to drink too heavily and Aali was also not going to drink much, though Jocelynn and Rol both planned to drink a lot.  Mikah decided to "drink moderately" as did Fesic.  At the same time, Jocelynn had melted the chocolate and worked to "spike it" with the cherry heering.  That meant those who planned to drink lightly could get an unexpected boost from the side effects of having more alcohol or mixing alcohol types.

As the party went on, the crew noticed Fesic was acting drunker than he'd planned.  While he'd planned to drink only moderately, he found the cherry-flavored chocolate in the fountain very tasty, and his intake was spiked thanks to Jocelynn's "ingredients".  While the alcohol never knocked him off his feet or out of the party, he was certainly inebriated and acting that way.  Rol, on the other hand, had announced he intended to get drunk as had Jocelynn.  While Rol's fade had been both sudden and inevitable, Jocelynn had gotten sick, cleaned up and drank even more, to get sick again and then suddenly collapse.  The rest of the crew suffered no ill or unwanted affects as the party had progressed and Zimzod had specifically abstained from drinking.  Still, he wasn't caught without a plan and eventually convinced the rest of the crew to help him with his evil prank as they dealt with the two sleeping crewmembers.

When he asked Mikah if she thought it would be funny, she said she did while Fesic heard the plan and announced he wanted no part in it.  Zimzod got everyone except Fesic to help by stripping Jocelynn and Rol down to their underwear while he also stripped to his shorts.  Then, he had them pose Jocelynn in her bed so he could be spooned by her sleeping form.  After that, the crew then posed Rol so he was being spooned by Zimzod!  Zimzod then had someone go through Jocelynn's clothes storage for a pair of her panties to pull over Rol's head.  Zimzod then relaxed and slowly joined his bedmates in sleep.  The biggest surprise to the others was that Zimzod had been wearing underwear, after all his frequent claims of going commando.  The last act of the saga was the moment when all else was done and Terin took a picture of the trio with Zimzod broadly smiling for the image.  After that, the party faded as did the crew.


A Morning's Challenges

     Realizing they had no idea what time Rol would wake up, much less what would happen when a nearly-naked Jocelynn found herself in bed with Rol and Zimzod, Terin had set his alarm for six in the morning.  After he finished his morning routine, he cooked food for the crew.  Terin moved into the lounge and cooked a few stacks of bread slices dipped in a mixture of egg and milk then fried, along with a few sides.  After cooking and eating, Terin went about making sure the spare stateroom was clean and set up for their on-coming passenger.  He then started cleaning the lounge up.  Terin planned to do his nav-plot while outbound from the station.

When Rol woke, all he knew immediately was that his head hurt.  A lot.  He remembered pain like that from the drinking competition he'd lost to Emkir.  The parallels with the drinking competition didn't end there either.  All he could think to himself was, "Not again."  When he opened his eyes, Rol could tell he wasn't in his own stateroom.  There was also an arm draped over him and someone pressed against him from behind.  Closing and opening his eyes in an attempt to better focus his vision, Rol could see there wasn't just "one arm" draped over him, but two!  He could tell one was male and the other female.  Rol had gotten as far in the puzzle as realizing both arms were "left arms" when he heard the groan from someone who was definitely female.

When Jocelynn woke, her head also hurt.  Opening her eyes, she could see a scene which was at the same time familiar and not.  The space was her stateroom, and she'd been sleeping there on her right side with her back against the forward bulkhead of the space.  But sleeping on his right side, right in front of her, and with his back to her, was a man she was willing to bet was Zimzod!  She could see that just past him, sleeping on his right side with his back to both of them was another man.  Who that was, she couldn't make out right off.  Before she could do anything else, the "guy in front" squirmed slightly and she heard Rol's voice ask, "What the heck did they do?"  While she was sure Rol "meant" there to be some kind of emotion in his voice, it wasn't there as far as Jocelynn could hear.  Answering Rol, Jocelynn angrily said, "I don't know but I'm gonna put a stop to it."  As she spoke, she took her left thumb and violently rammed it up Zimzod's ass as hard as she could!

Zimzod's morning was already seeming to start badly, with those close to him making much too much noise for his aching head.  Then it felt like the person behind him was starting to try and have ass sex with him!  That got him to push hard, which knocked Rol off the bed onto the stateroom floor as Zimzod did his best to roll and face his "attacker".  That pulled him clear of Jocelynn's thumb as he got an up-close look at her in her bra almost nose to nose with him.  Deciding she had to be the one "starting things", he reached towards her intending to grope her breasts.

Hitting the floor and unaware of what was happening on the bed, but aware there was more than one other person involved, Rol moaned, "Was it as good for you as it was for us?"  He got no words back as Jocelynn slapped Zimzod's hands away from her so Rol continued, "I didn't realize it was patrol time again."  Giving Jocelynn a pouty look, Zimzod flashed a smile and said, "Guys!  That was incredible last night!"  The suggestion was that they'd had a threesome.  Not sure what Zimzod was on about, she knew "that" hadn't happened and figured this was all the end of someone's prank.  Someone, Jocelynn had just decided, who was going to die.

Having come to that thought, Jocelynn very roughly climbed over Zimzod and past Rol to get herself a shirt to throw over her underwear.  And, if the guys got hurt because they didn't get out of her way that was their fault.  Even if they had also been victims.  Shifting and trying to stand himself, Rol realized his vision had been obscured by something made from a sheer and flimsy fabric.  At the same time, he reached up to pull it off his head, Jocelynn realized someone had pulled a pair of her panties from her clothing drawer and "bagged his head" with it.  Jocelynn moved into her fresher first, and cleaned her hands and thoroughly cleaned her thumb before stepping out to reach for a long shirt from her wardrobe to put on.  About that time, Rol was standing holding his hand towards her as he offered her the pair of panties back.  Waving that off, she said, "Yeah.  You can keep them." in a tone that said 'I'm not touching those now'.

When Zimzod suggested Rol ask her for the pair she was wearing, Jocelynn said, "On second thought." and stepped forward to take the panties from Rol.  She then put her knee on the bed and reached down to try and bag Zimzod's head with that pair.  Seeing the move coming, Zimzod waited for his moment and then reached to grab Jocelynn and pull her down so he could plant a full kiss on her lips.  As she fought to pull back, Zimzod asked, "You didn't have a problem with this last night.  I thought you were the one who started this!"

At that point, in a confused tone, Rol asked, "So you're saying she...  So, you're saying we..."  Then, in an almost panicked voice, he asked, "Why don't I remember that?"  Jocelynn followed that up angrily demanding, "Why don't I remember that?" and emphasized the word "I", making it clear she didn't believe Zimzod.  Zimzod pointed at Rol and said, "You were dancin' around with her panties on your head..." and Rol cut him off, demanding, "How did I get her panties?"  When Zimzod was caught having to make something up, he could only say "Uhhhhh" as Jocelynn added, "Yeah, cause I'm wearing mine."  Her tone was now turning accusatory.  Zimzod's 'Johnny come late' answer was, "I'm not sure how that happened.  I was pretty messed up."  Shaking her head, Jocelynn just grunted, "Ah, Yeah." in a disbelieving tone.

Taking a breath and deciding to see this thing through, Jocelynn demanded, "You remember everything that happened but you don't remember that detail?"  This time, Zimzod didn't miss a beat as he answered, "I didn't say I remembered everything."  When she challenged back, "You said it was great." Zimzod answered, "Yeah, it was." and a bigger smile returned to his face.  As Zimzod started to pull himself off the bed, Rol swung an elbow which Zimzod only partly blocked before Jocelynn went back into her fresher saying, "Get out" before she closed that door.  Hearing that, the men set aside anything other than heading out to their staterooms.

Rol had it easier because his stateroom was cati-corner across the passage from Jocelynn's.  Both Zimzod's stateroom and Mikah's were in the forward section of the ship, so Zimzod had to head forward into the ship's lounge and encounter anyone there before getting into either.  Having cooked and cleaned the spare stateroom, which was already clean because Jocelynn had recently used and reset it, Terin was cleaning up in the lounge when Zimzod moved forward into the space.  Looking up, Terin asked, "You're awake already?" while pointedly not asking why he was coming forward from the aft end of the ship?

Of course, he also knew what had happened the night before and expected a lot more fireworks when any of the three woke.  So, things were much quieter than he'd expected.  Shrugging, Zimzod said he was awake but didn't elaborate so Terin continued, "Well, you don't have another black eye so I guess everything went OK.  Remembering the picture he'd taken as Zimzod crossed the lounge to step into the stateroom he and Mikah were sharing, Terin moved to a terminal and started setting up the picture on the screen savers, so everyone could enjoy it when they woke up.  After he was finished cleaning up, Terin moved to the bridge to start gathering data and working on his nav plot.

Zimzod went into the stateroom he'd been sharing with Mikah and saw she was still asleep.  Shrugging, he stepped into the fresher for a shower and got his morning routine started.  While he was finishing his shower, Mikah started to wake up and realized "someone" was in her fresher.  And, she didn't know who because she knew Zimzod had slept in another stateroom that night.  Getting up, she checked and asked, "Are you done already?" in a surprised tone.  Still, she didn't suggest what she'd expected.  Zimzod blamed his early morning on Rol and they laughed as they went through their morning routines.  Soon enough, Mikah, Zimzod, Rol and Jocelynn had come into the lounge while Terin was working.

Coming into the lounge, Rol started out making an excuse for breakfast.  He was in the middle of suggesting people make themselves sandwiches when he noticed the food Terin had made.  It also wasn't long before they noticed the image Terin put up on the screen savers in the space.  And as they each 'enjoyed' the image, it was obvious they had both been posed in the bed together and that Jocelynn and Rol had been out cold while Zimzod was smiling and enjoying the situation completely.  Turning to Zimzod, both Rol and Jocelynn growled comments while Zimzod just smiled and said, "Come on guys, last night was great!"

As she got her day going, Jocelynn decided she would also have to clean her bedding out of schedule so she'd be doing laundry that day.  While they were eating and preparing to get moving, Fesic had woken and joined them in the lounge.  Aside from slight tinges of pain and the need for water, he was doing OK that morning.  While he noticed the image of the three in bed, Fesic kept his thoughts to himself on the shenanigans of the night before.  Aiden soon joined them in the lounge as Fesic was sitting to eat.  As the two joined the group, Zimzod looked over at Rol with a smile and said, "Well, this isn't awkward."  That got a healthy laugh from Emkir.  Rol only growled back, "You say that now, don't you."

Not knowing what Rol meant by that, Zimzod answered, "Yeah.  I was a bit messed up last night so I was down with it."  While Rol tried a tactic none could guess at by asking, "You wanna try it when you're not messed up?" Jocelynn just pointed and snarled, "That picture suggests otherwise."  Zimzod defended, "No.  That was after the fact."  When Jocelynn said the picture showed he knew exactly what he was doing, Zimzod repeated that was after the fact.  While Rol demanded, "After what fact?" Zimzod had to stop and think before answering, "After the fun was had."  Still, he not only didn't sound very certain of his answer but also was now suggesting he wasn't aware of what happened earlier but became more aware later.  So, neither Rol nor Jocelynn were buying.

Still, Rol asked, "After what?" and Mikah added, "After shenanigans."  Nodding at her, Zimzod repeated, "After shenanigans."  Zimzod again repeated, "You guys passed out."  When Rol tried to threaten, "I have ways of making you talk." that only got laughs since Rol had never proven himself effective in getting answers.  Jocelynn confidently said, "I don't think anything happened or Mikah wouldn't be that calm."  Of course, she was basing that on her perception of Mikah's relationship with Zimzod.  And Zimzod waived that off, saying, "Nah, she only wants me for my money."  Fesic snarked, "Well, that makes sense." before Mikah angrily answered Zimzod, "Don't forget, you did get me shot!  You didn't shoot me yourself.  You got me shot.  I, at least, shoot you myself."

Aiden asked, "How much did you insure Zimzod for again Mikah?"  Zimzod again tried to claim he had pounded Leeta into the deck.  When a few of those there pointed out that was after Mikah was shot, he said, "That's because Mikah jumped the gun.  I was getting ready to flatten the bitch and then Mikah went all hokey."  When Mikah snapped, "You took too long." Rol tried to joke, "That happens with Marines."  Sadly for Rol, Mikah turned on him and said, "Yeah, I know." in a tone which reminded Rol that he'd failed too.  And he didn't have the excuse that he'd been kicked out of the Marines, like Zimzod did.  Hammering in the nail, Mikah finished the conversation saying, "The other marine in the compartment also waited too long."

While the others started getting ready for launch, Jocelynn knew she didn't really have a launch station because she was essentially ship's troops, like Rol.  When she said she had to do her laundry, Rol said he had dirty laundry to do too.  Snarking back at him, she said, "I bet you do." and then joked, "I hear somebody wrote a book a about it too."  Caught by surprise, everyone who heard that snark broke out laughing.  Recovering from her laughing, Mikah decided she could help Aali out with work until the passenger arrived and things like getting his cargo aboard, and other things, had to be done.  As things got close, she'd take her station on the bridge.  Since Aali wasn't yet awake, Mikah sat and watched vids.

When Emkir and Aali came out of their stateroom to eat, Aali thanked Mikah because she figured she'd be able to use the help.  After Emkir finished eating, he moved into the bridge to make sure his stations were prepared.  Aiden was also on the bridge, working on his stations as well as helping Terin with the nav-plot.  While they did that, Fesic finished eating and checked their low berth advertisements to find they'd had three people ask for passage overnight.  Seeing that, Fesic sent out a note to each telling them when to arrive at the ship's berth for processing and sent them a data packet on what to expect with low passage.  After that, Fesic took down their passage advertising and all the "for sale" ads they had published.  He also warned Terin and Mikah about the arriving popsicles.

Terin and Aiden eventually got done with the nav-plot in time for Terin to join Mikah by the hatch for the arrival of the passengers.  The first to arrive was the investigator, who'd done this enough times he was well used to the process.  While he'd had the right to a ton of cargo, he really only had the large number of fully packed bags that told the crew he truly lived out of them.  They were getting him settled when two of the three low berth passengers arrived.  They were a very young couple who were of legal age and apparently entangled socially in some way.  But they were clueless and had to be guided through each step.  Lucky for the crew, they had read the packet and only had a kilogram of personal items each to stow.

The crew were taking the couple through their steps and finishing up helping the investigator get his bags aboard when all the alarms in the bay started going off.  The spacers recognized the alarm immediately as a "Security Incident" while the others only knew something was going wrong.  They got more of a hint when they started hearing a popping sound like that of small arms fire through the open hatch connecting the berth to a station corridor.  As fast as that happened, they were standing in the bay with their low berth passengers when someone in the ship sealed it and locked them outside, where the shooting was.  The couple were frozen in a sort of petrified shock.

When Terin suddenly said, "Seal the hatch!" Mikah nodded to him and calmly said, "Yeah.  You do that."  Terin then sprinted towards the hatch to close and seal it only to get there a second after one of the bay workers did.  The worker sealed the bay and turned to Terin, misunderstanding his sprint.  The worker told Terin, "I'm sorry Sir.  For your safety, I am not permitted to open this hatch until we get word from station security.  Please stand back."  At the same time, Mikah grabbed the passengers and moved them to the far end of the bay to put the ship between them and the hatch.

Seeing that, Terin opened a comms to those in the ship and, when he got Aiden, he told the pilot to unseal the ship.  Aiden, who had panicked and sealed the ship in the first place, agreed and unlocked the ship's hatches.  As soon as the alerts shifted from red to green, Mikah started herding the passengers onto the ship while Terin ran for a hatch on his side of the bay.  Getting in and sealing the ship again, Terin said into the open comms, "Why do I get the feeling that was our third passenger?"  The only answer he got for some time was Fesic's reply of, "Could be."  Beyond that, Mikah took payment from the low berthers and the investigator.  Then, while Terin got the IMoJ man settled, Mikah led the couple to the low berths and started "settling them in".

It was during her work that they got the news from the bay chief that it was safe to unseal the ship.  And, that they wouldn't be receiving their third low berth passenger.  While Mikah finished up with the popsicles, Terin went through the vacc suit and emergency drills with their high passenger.  Any request to station security for information on the events outside their bay were met with a curt but polite refusal.  Finally, people were settling down and assuming their stations.  Then, nearly twenty minutes before their departure time Jocelynn's comms began to buzz.

Strange Unexplained Events

     When Jocelynn answered her comms, she saw the caller was the woman she'd exchanged link data with in the bar.  The woman who's friend might have been a smuggler.  Sitting next to the IMoJ man in the lounge with Rol and Zimzod, Jocelynn decided she wanted to take this call in the privacy of her stateroom.  Excusing herself, both to her caller and those around her, Jocelynn moved to her stateroom before telling the woman her ship was "literally" about to leave port.  Nodding, the woman asked, "I wonder if you can do me a favor?" as if the Update's departure status meant nothing to her needs.  When Jocelynn waited for more, the woman continued, "I need something small personally handled.  It's hand-portable and I'd like you to agree to carry it."

Trying to put things together in her mind, Jocelynn repeated, "We're about to leave." as she thought about it.  She then asked the woman, "Is there a place we can meet?"  Before the woman could answer her, Jocelynn asked, "Can you tell me what it is?  And where it's going?"  The woman told her, "It's just something that has to be hand delivered.  And the person who will receive it will meet your ship in Regina."  Her tone was dismissive and would have suggested the matter were unimportant if not for the time crunch.  When Jocelynn again said the ship was "just about to leave", the woman said she was in a bar near the ship's bay.  Hearing that, Jocelynn decided she had the time and said she would meet the woman.

As Rol and Zimzod sat with the investigator, Jocelynn returned to the lounge but then started heading toward the passage to the air-lock.  In conversation with the investigator, Zimzod missed the conversation that followed.  When Rol asked if she was going somewhere, Jocelynn said she was but would be right back.  After Rol nodded and said, "I hope so." she then moved on the air-lock passage.  When she hit the stud to open the lock, Aiden, Emkir and Terin saw indicators light up on the bridge and Terin hit the comms, calling everyone's individual comms to ask who was leaving the ship?  As the inner hatch on the air-lock opened, Jocelynn answered her comms and told Terin it was her leaving, but she'd be right back.

Since his actions had essentially started a conference call, Mikah heard the conversation partly because she was on the bridge and partly because she opened her comms.  Hearing Jocelynn's answer Mikah, "Where are you going?  You're not going anywhere!  Get back in the ship!"  At the same time, Emkir locked the outer door of the air-lock to secure the exit until the situation was resolved.  When Terin verbally jumped down Jocelynn's throat saying, "We're leaving in fifteen minutes!  You can't just leave the ship fifteen minutes before launch!" Jocelynn hotly told him, "I don't remember asking your permission!"  Mikah answered that, "Ah!  Captain here!  Captain says NO!  Get back on the ship."  Trying to regain any shred of dignity, Terin said, "And I'm on flight control right now, so Yes, I am your boss!"  That prompted Mikah to correct Terin, saying, "Aiden is the command pilot."  Someone else added, "You're not in charge."

Accepting Mikah's orders, Jocelynn said she'd close and lock the air-lock and go back to the lounge.  After that call ended, Jocelynn called the woman back and told her the ship's captain wouldn't let her leave the ship.  When the woman shrugged and said, "Oh well, your loss." Jocelynn went to say, "I'm sure it is" but the connection had already been cut before she could finish the words.  Done locking down the hatch, Jocelynn returned to sit with the others in the lounge while time burned down to departure.  When the time came, the bay had been voided, the outer hatch opened and the mag-locks holding the ship to the bay deck were released.  Hitting the SMS thrusters, Aiden drifted them out of the bay while Emkir called off the numbers.

After they were far enough away from the station to be clear, station control gave them clearance to begin their out-system burn and reminded them to keep to the vector and limits of their approved flight plan.  Planning a jump directly coreward of the system, they were assigned to the quadrant of the system's space which was designated for traffic outbound in that direction.  This level of organization allowed traffic to be managed without risking inbound and outbound mixes and issues with jump fields forming near unprepared vessels.  As they flew, Terin worked to fine-tune his plot numbers as they drove to a specified zero-velocity jump point.

Knowing the burn out-system would take them fifteen hours, they had time for better introductions between the crew and their passenger and a "departure drink".  Aiden went off shift for several hours so he could rest until they came to their calculated jump point.  By the time they reached the jump point and had dumped their velocity down to zero, most of the crew and their passenger had gone to sleep.  Through the evening, the crew learned or remembered the rules when hauling a passenger.  They only "really" had to be willing to help and answer questions while Terin served the man his meals and cleaned the man's stateroom during the day-shift.  But the fact was that the man had access to the lounge and they couldn't ignore him.  He also would have had the right to ask for access to the cargo bay to get to his cargo, but he'd not had anything stored there.

So, after the "launch" from the station, Rol invited the man to try some games as those not working hung out and perhaps joined in.  There was a tense moment early on when the man asked for a tour of the ship, and Zimzod simply told him, "No."  Accepting that politely, he settled in with those in the lounge while the discussion of bridge watch came up on the command deck.  They decided that since Terin had to handle the passenger, Aiden and Emkir would take on ten-hour shifts covering the "day" and "alter-day" shifts.  Mikah then volunteered to cover the four remaining hours of "ship's night".  When Fesic volunteered, he was reminded his bridge rights had been revoked because of his pranks.  He was told he'd be chaperoned whenever he had to work on the bridge.

Over the next week, each of the crew did their best to be friendly with the passenger because he was unavoidable in the ship's lounge.  In addition to that and his bridge shifts, Aiden kept up his daily routine, his physical work outs and practiced his stent-work and nav training.  Emkir worked on translating the book scan he favored, both on and off the bridge, while also increasing his workouts thanks to the recovery of his back.  Aali also increased her workouts and did stent-work on top of managing the ship's engineering. 

Fesic wanted to do as much gunnery training as he could, given the quality of the ship's software.  He worked at reading down the list he'd created before leaving Dinomn.  Zimzod joined Fesic in the training, if only to keep an eye on the gunner to prevent him showing the investigator anything he disapproved of.  Beyond that, Zimzod hung out and did gear maintenance.  Jocelynn also planned to mostly do gear maintenance, though she also had to do the minimal amount of terrarium-maintenance that was required of a new installation.  Soon, she'd only need to check the settings once a month at most, but the early weeks needed a bit more attention until the settings were settled.

Mikah had made sure to copy news data from Regina on the events which had happened including the rumors, the Quasar Viper and the fact both the Royal Prince Lucan Alkhalikoi Alkhalikoi and Arch Duke Norris would be present in the system with a large number of very important nobles from all over the sector and some of those from the other sectors in the Domain.  Mikah wanted to go over those events with the crew and perhaps pick the brain of their passenger for any insights he had.  Rol planned to spend time in communications training and stent-work while also relaxing with the games and sharing them with the others.  On top of that, Rol added more physical workouts and gear maintenance to his regular schedule.

Terin continued his stent practice and continued to work to maintain what he'd learned in the aborted computer classes he'd taken.  Beyond that, he had his duties to the passenger taking up time.  Of course, no matter how busy they were, most of the crew made time to join in playing the games.  They also did their best to be personable to the investigator, who could best be described as "Very reserved" or even a "cold fish".  So, he was not openly welcoming to start with, and he seemed to only hit it off with Jocelynn.  He seemed to like and respect Rol and liked Zimzod enough.  He also seemed to more enjoy Aali's company than the rest of the spacer types but preferred the ground pounders.

Other than that, Aiden had an amiable enough relationship with the man while Emkir and Fesic spent less time with him because they felt there was something off putting about the guy.  With Terin, he was polite and professional and the Knight got the feeling he could take the investigator or leave him.  When it came to Mikah, the man seemed to go out of his way to keep their interactions entirely professional and official.  Almost offensively so.  He would only greet or respond to her as "Captain" and not even "Lady Mikah" or any other valid response.  Of course, commentary on his attitudes when he wasn't around led to a new use for the line, "Jocelynn's given him a thumb up" among the crew.

The investigator split his time between time spent in the lounge and that spent in his stateroom, and when he was in public he was always up for a game with Jocelynn, Zimzod, Rol or Aali when the chance came.  Over the week's passage, they came to an unspoken acceptance of who to deal with or not and no one ever got any hint what his issue with Mikah was?  Through the early part of the week, Zimzod and Fesic not only trained in gunnery but also ran a full diagnostic of the system.  One of the things that was annoying was the "double vision" caused by the training system's design.  Able to be used even when in real space and possibly under threat, the system painted the "training level" on top of the "real world" display.  So, while you could not fire the weapons in training mode, you would see what was there while training.  And, in jump space, that could be quite distracting.

That was, until they were training on the third day of jump and Fesic got an actual hit on something the sensors said was a real object!  The surprise was so sudden Fesic was stopped cold when it happened, and he asked himself how that was possible in jump?  And he knew the answer was that it wasn't.  Fesic first ran a quick test of his guns and saw they showed a brief contact at range.  He then called over to Zimzod, to see if Zimzod had seen the same thing?  It turned out Zimzod hadn't seen the hit but he had seen the same sort of thing happened in the past.  Back in the third quarter of 1112, he and the crew were on the first leg of their return from Mora to Rhylanor aboard the Gazelle class light escort Sable Addix.

During that jump from Mora to the Brodie system, Aiden had checked the bridge systems and saw their sensors had gotten a hit that no one could explain.  Telling Fesic to hold on, Zimzod called Aiden.  When the pilot answered, Zimzod asked, "Check this out" but the feed he'd been getting from Fesic's guns had gone clear again.  When Aiden asked what the problem was Zimzod explained it and asked if Aiden could pull the logs from the system?  Agreeing, because he'd had the same thing happen to him, Aiden pulled the logs and went to work.  And after hours of work, Aiden found an anomaly which appeared on their sensors for thirty seconds at a range of five hundred thousand clicks!

Intending to examine the hit as deeply as he could before his first sleep break, Aiden could tell it was just that on first blush.  The hit imparted no more data than that it had been "there" for thirty seconds, and then it...wasn't.  Aiden didn't even know which of the sensors had captured the hit and he'd relied on help from Aali the last time it happened.  That time, it had been the ship's densometer.  Opening a data log, Aiden also connected to his personal files on the ship and then connected to his notes from the event on the Addix.  He then added notes from that first event to the new notepad, then started digging into the new event and noting similarities.  When he started the work, Aiden also sent a quick message to Mikah saying they'd had a ghost sensor hit but giving her no more details.  In the ship's lounge, Mikah was reviewing news items from Regina for insights when she heard the ping of a message.

As cryptically as she could, Mikah said, "Well.  That's interesting." and then stood from her seat and went from the lounge into the bridge.  She smiled to herself as she moved, once her face was out of the inspector's view, because she knew investigators were a curious sort of person.  And this man would be curious what it was she'd been told?  She hoped it ate at him given how he was treating her.  On the bridge, Mikah told Aiden to show her what he had and he did, though it took longer to explain the interaction with Zimzod and Fesic than it did to show her the hit.  As they looked at it, they shared their memories of the event on the way to Brodie.

Remembering there was no second incident on that trip, Mikah wasn't surprised the sensors had gone silent again and told Aiden to just keep the sensors active just in case.  Listening in, Zimzod misremembered and asked if that hadn't happened just before they'd emerged into the battle vs von Kreiden's ramshackle fleet at Rhylanor.  When Zimzod suggested this could be some kind of close pass with some kind of combat vessel, Mikah didn't think that was the answer at all.  And Aiden knew it wasn't possible without some quantum advance in jump technology.  But Mikah did ask how long it was between that hit and when they'd emerged from jump space in Brodie?  When Aiden checked his notes, he found that event had happened on the third day of that jump.  And this day was the third day of their current jump.  When he said that, Aiden wasn't the only one to feel a phantom chill down his spine.

Not willing to have his concerns set aside so quickly, Zimzod pushed that there were a number of "ghost fleets" like the ships that attacked the Selat Atrara salvager platform, or even von Kreiden's fleet.  He suggested this might be a signature of those ghost fleets and how they were getting around.  What he didn't realize was wrong about that was that the tech would have to have been advanced.  And von Kreiden's fleet were both lower tech and badly battered to boot.  Zimzod was emphatic they should have their battlestations manned when they emerged from jump at Regina.  When Mikah said they were not entering the Regina system with weapons hot, Zimzod said, "I'm not saying we go in hot, but we should have everyone ready."  Mikah and Aiden agreed they could do that.

While Aiden didn't agree with Zimzod's belief this was some "advanced tech" jump system, his natural paranoia kicked in.  In addition to the fear they'd emerge from jump right into someone's gunsights, there was also the fear a paranoid Zimzod could spot something and start a fight by opening fire without reason.  So, Aiden then planned to program an evasive program into the flight computer.  On emergence, it would be tied to a control he could slap and would spin the ship randomly and then activate the full thrust of the maneuver drive.  He also figured that those lurking out to hit someone "just arriving" might be waiting on the in-bound vectors so he would mask those from being selected by his macro before putting it online.  As soon as they came out of jump, he'd look for any sign he needed to hit the macro.

While Aiden plotted his actions in his head, Mikah was realizing she had to have a crew meeting without the investigator being involved.  Her restriction wasn't because anything they were doing was illegal, but because she wanted him to stew.  When Zimzod moaned about not having nukes, Aiden thanked the stars and said he was pleased, which insulted Zimzod.  Especially since having the nukes aboard the Addix had saved their asses!  When Mikah agreed with Zimzod and they shouted Aiden's fears down, Mikah and Zimzod discussed how to man their guns when they emerged.

Their ship had one turret of sand casters, mounted on the after-ventral port side of the ship, and three turrets of lasers.  So, they could man two of the turrets and let the other to run on computer, or they could divide them into batteries and man each of the batteries.  If they did that, they'd have to decide who would man the laser battery and who would man the sand?  Coming to that point, Zimzod openly admitted Fesic was the better trained gunner and it was decided Zimzod would man the sand from the turret and Fesic would man the laser battery from the bridge.  Under the circumstances, Fesic said he wanted to increase the gunnery practice for the rest of the jump.  When they agreed with him, Mikah pointed out the bridge would always have a pilot manning the space so his restrictions wouldn't be an issue.

Having decided how to array their people "just in case", Fesic then asked if they were going to be in battledress, combat armor and vacc suits and Mikah said they were.  With that answer, Fesic asked if they planned to ask their passenger to get into a vacc suit, and what they were planning to tell him to get him to suit up?  Mikah made it clear that anytime they were coming out of jump it was standard practice to wear vacc suits or armor aboard the Upgrade.  She then said they'd tell him those were the ship's rules and he'd be expected to comply.

When Zimzod asked about the low berth passengers, Mikah told him they wouldn't be defrosted until the ship had landed.  All things set, Mikah wanted to get the word out to everyone on the crew but felt she couldn't call a crew meeting because of the investigator.  Choosing a path of action, Mikah told Zimzod to discretely get the attention of Terin, Jocelynn and Rol and tell them what was happening.  At the same time, she would try to get Aali and Emkir somewhere to tell them.  Nodding, Zimzod joked, "I'll discuss that while we're spooning." with a large smile on his face.

Figuring Aali would be in engineering working, Mikah said she could go below-decks and then call Emkir to join them there.  Unfortunately, when she left the bridge, Mikah saw that Aali was in the lounge playing a game with the investigator and Terin was "assisting the man" with something.  Because of that, she knew she couldn't break up the game to get to Aali or Terin.  At the same time, Zimzod had pinged Jocelynn, Rol and Terin to see what they were doing?  After finding Terin was busy, he asked Rol and Jocelynn to meet him below decks as he climbed out of the turret and made his way to the corridor aft of the cargo bay.

While both Rol and Jocelynn met Zimzod, they were cautious as Zimzod started things off joking about spooning.  And while Jocelynn was even a bit hostile initially, Rol lightened the mood a bit when he suggested, "Look at it this way.  You can perform the nutcracker on him."  That got her to laugh.  Zimzod just smiled and said, "Don't threaten me with a good time!"  Getting serious, Zimzod said he needed to talk to the two of them and asked if they could move into Jocelynn's stateroom.  She backed off, demanding, "Is this how things started last time?"  Rol just aimed a thumb at Zimzod and said, "Ask him.  He's the guy who knows about this stuff, not me."

When Zimzod offered, "We can do it in Rol's stateroom if you want?" Rol came back with the suggestion they could talk in the ship's engineering spaces.  Less enthusiastic, Zimzod agreed they could do that and Jocelynn waived that off with a resigned shrug and told them both they could talk in her stateroom.  Once in her stateroom, Zimzod got down to business and explained to them the basics.  He made sure they understood that seeing anything on sensors should be impossible before he explained that he and Fesic had seen something!  Not only that, but he also told Jocelynn about the event during the jump to Brodie the year before, since Rol had lived it with the crew.

Zimzod then pointed out how that set of jumps had ended in emergence into a battle, and again insisted the phenomenon were connected.  Being much less educated than Mikah or Aiden on space operations, Rol and Jocelynn both took Zimzod's guesses more seriously.  Still, Rol asked if they were sure no one mistakenly touched a control they shouldn't have?  To create a false hit?  Zimzod shook his head and said he was in the turrets the same as Fesic and knew there had been no incorrect settings.

Zimzod then said they wanted everyone in vacc suits or armor just in case, and Rol said they did that anyway.  Zimzod nodded and said, "including our passenger."  Nodding, the two were not concerned with that because he was Terin's problem.  Bringing things back to the hit, Jocelynn asked, "So, we think there is someone ahead of us?"  Zimzod shook his head and said, "We only know we saw something we shouldn't have."  Zimzod then started explaining his theories about the ships involved in the attack that killed Brian, and other ships which seemed to move around without being spotted.

Since there wasn't anything they could do unless someone came into target lock weapons range or tried to board the ship, Rol and Jocelynn could only ask what Zimzod wanted them to do with the new information?  Zimzod said they should just be ready in case something happened.  And, he told them he and Fesic would be manning the weapons stations when they came out of jump.  When Rol asked if they'd report the contact, since it was expected that these things would be reported to the Scout Service, Zimzod would only say, "We'll see."

While Zimzod talked to Rol and Jocelynn, and Mikah eventually got Emkir and Aali into engineering, Fesic saw Terin was done with the investigator and pulled him out of the lounge to talk.  In the ship's engineering section, Mikah was having the same conversation with Emkir and Aali, and Emkir reminded them of their talks with the battleship captain in the Gerome system as well as Admiral Saigacrem and his team.  Emkir also reminded Mikah that Admiral Saigacrem had classified that specific incident and apparently had his people working on it.  Still, that didn't mean they shouldn't report this incident because the expectation was that spacers who saw things like this were to report them to the Scouts.

Mikah nodded to Emkir and told him that was why they'd be prepared for anything when they came out of jump.  To that point, Mikah explained to both Emkir and Aali what she'd talked about with Aiden, and the macro he was setting up for an emergency burn.  So, she wanted Aali to be aware of it if she needed to do anything to protect the ship's engines in that event.  She also promised Aali any extra help the crew could provide.  She told Emkir he needed to talk to Aiden and get educated on the macro and what to do as Aiden's backup.  Agreeing, Aali asked for a copy of the sensor hit so she could look into it and Mikah said she'd have Aiden flag the file in the computer so she could find it.  She also said she'd have Aiden send them the macro so they knew what to expect.

Trying to find a "casual" way of getting Terin out of the lounge, Fesic called over, "So, Terin.  You want to show me that hookah of yours?"  Not sure what Fesic was up to, and more than well aware of Fesic's past history with the hookah, Terin's answer was guarded at best.  Agreeing to talk to Fesic, Terin said they could discuss whatever had Fesic's interest up on the bridge.  That was a subtle grind because he could open the bridge, which Fesic couldn't anymore.  When Fesic started to explain what happened with the sensors, he took a long and torturously long verbal path and dragged Terin along for the ride.

Fesic then continued to tell Terin about the information he'd got from Zimzod about the hit they'd seen in the Mora subsector the year before.  Finally coming around to the full point, Fesic said they'd be on high alert and tell the passenger it was part of the ship's standard operations that everyone be in a vacc suit or more when the ship left jump.  That would let them get him suited up without telling him why, in case anything happened when they exited jump.  Nodding, Terin said he'd heard rumors of events like that being reported over his career in the Scouts but Fesic said he'd not heard those rumors.

Since they were on the bridge, Terin was able to turn to Aiden and ask him to put the data from the hit on the screen so he could take a look at it.  Fesic asked Aiden if the hit suggested how large the object was and Aiden said it didn't show that information.  Fesic next asked if the data could be refined and Aiden said it could, as the jump continued.  He also said he had to bring Aali in the last time this happened to the crew, and they finally found that hit had been detected by the Addix's densometer.  At the moment, they had no idea which of the Upgrade's sensors had detected the new hit?

Because he'd needed her help before, Aiden comm'd Aali to see if she'd work with him on digging into the new hit and she said she would work on it whenever she could.  Aiden then commed Mikah and asked her if she should check with the Scouts on Regina to see if they had any resources he could ask for access to in order to help him understand the hit?  Mikah just said he shouldn't do it.  That argued with the standard expectation that events like this would be reported to the Scouts, which Aiden knew full well.

Eventually, the jump clock started winding down to the end of the voyage.  During the run, none of those working with stents made appreciable advances.  Those watching and checking the sensors detected no new hits at all.  Along with that, Terin was struggling to continue grasping at memories to keep his computer studies alive.  The work Aali and Aiden had done over the past four days had told them the "hit" had been an energy source.  That meant the sensor that received the hit had been a neutrino sensor.  It also meant they'd get no vessel size or course information from the data at all.  Even the data they had could mean it was a small ship with an over-sized power plant or a large ship with a more normal power plant.

The rest of the data from the thirty-second hit made it clear the "hit" had existed consistently at a 500,000 Km range.  With that information, Aali and Aiden chose their best time to turn over their report to Mikah.  Accepting that as the mystery it was, Mikah decided she was gonna try and solve at least one mystery during the jump.  She started by getting the investigator's attention and asking him, point blank, if he'd been the one who had bought Jocelynn's High Passage?  When he said he'd not been involved and had no idea what Mikah was talking about, Mikah laid the whole event out to him verbally.

Surprised and actually interested, despite whatever issue he'd had with Mikah, the man listened and processed whatever bits of information and evidence she offered.  The only thing Mikah held back was Emkir's counter-hacking attempt.  Mostly because she didn't want the man to know how ineffective Emkir was.  After the story, the man said he wasn't the one who'd "acquired" Jocelynn's passage and Mikah asked him how he'd bought his?  In answer, the investigator actually pulled his Ident out and opened it so she could see several things.  First, he had an expense account from the IMoJ to let him pay for things like lodging and passage.  Second, she could see the history of purchases of High Passage for that voyage and the previous two before it.  So, that was proof positive it wasn't him.

For the first time in the voyage, the man opened up a bit when Mikah asked him why he was on Dinomn and he said he was between assignments and on his way to Regina.  She asked him why he was bound there and he simply said he'd been ordered there.  When she asked what he knew about the gathering of nobles, he answered, "That I didn't want to be anywhere in a subsector of it."  With Lady Mikah being a significant noblewoman of the Domain, and someone who knew and worked for the Arch Duke if the media and news were to be believed, this could have been the first possible clue why he had an issue with Mikah if anyone were paying attention.  At the moment, no one was.

Taking advantage of the openness with the man, Mikah told the investigator it was the ship's policy for him to be in his vacc suit and strapped in when they emerged from jump.  While that surprised him, the man said it wouldn't be an issue and he'd suit up when needed to.  While that was happening, Fesic stepped into the bridge and asked Aiden about the results of his and Aali's work on the sensor hit.  Before he answered Fesic, Aiden asked Mikah if she wanted the results released to the crew despite the fact Fesic had been the person who first spotted the anomaly.  Mikah then told him she preferred that it would only be shared with those who needed it or had the skills to understand what it meant.

When Aiden said Mikah wanted it kept under wraps for the moment, Fesic told Aiden he wanted it to compare the hit to the training targets the simulator was offering, to see if it matched any of those.  That would suggest the "hit" was fake and caused by the software.  It would also have been shown by the diagnostics Fesic had run, but Aiden didn't know that.  Neither did Mikah, and so she OK'd handing over the data to Fesic when Aiden explained to her the reason given.  Still, Fesic ran his new tests and found the hit was much larger than anything the simulator was throwing at them because it was largely designed to train against pirates and raiders.  To be complete, Fesic handed a report of his findings over to Aiden.

That evening, as they prepared to emerge from jump, Zimzod moved his 45 caliber semi-automatics into the sand caster turret so he'd be armed if the ship were boarded.  The rest of the crew watched vids, hung out or played games.  Jocelynn spent some time with the investigator who apparently seemed to prefer her because she had no title at all.  Then, soon enough, the evening came to an end and they set their alarms and settled in except for their flight officers.


More In-flight Entertainment

     At 6am that morning, Aiden's alarm clock woke him and he rushed through parts of his daily routine so he could get to the bridge and relieve Mikah.  Freed from her shift by 7am, Mikah moved to the galley to grab caff and a snack before showering, dressing and gearing up.  By the time she hit the shower, Zimzod was going through his morning routine and so was Rol.  Rol would soon be out and cooking for everyone.  By 8:30 am, everyone was awake and eating or had finished breakfast and moved on to other interests while waiting for the emergence alarm to go off.

While everyone except Terin relaxed the day away, Rol planned to wait until they estimated they were two hours from emergence before snapping into his armor.  Emkir got into his vacc suit while the investigator made it clear they were all a bit paranoid.  Everyone in the crew felt very comfortable in their paranoia though, and some offered to give him a list of reasons why.  Mikah put a stop to those offers.  Fesic planned to read and relax until mid-afternoon before snapping into his armor and moving to the bridge.  All of this had the effect of bemusing the investigator, who had never before seen this behavior in a ship outside active war conditions.

The man's bemusement ended at 12:30pm, when the ship's alarms all started screaming proximity and possible collision alarms!  Despite the fact they were still in jump and had no positive control of the ship, Mikah loudly ordered, "Evasive action!"  As Mikah continued to threaten Aiden if he scratched their new ship's paint job, the pilot was desperately working the sensors to figure out what the hell was happening?  While Aiden worked on the bridge, the investigator decided the reason everyone aboard was so paranoid was because they couldn't tell when they were in or out of jump space!

Shrugging, he started moving to ready his gear for the approach to Regina, which system he hoped they were qualified to actually get to, until the investigator quickly found out they were still in jump space!  That completely changed his attitude very quickly.  As he did that, those who were not in a vacc suit or armor were gearing and sealing up around him and he decided they just might have a point after all.  So he did the same.

When Aiden finally had the data he was looking for, the answer was another ghost blip on the sensors.  This one had been a sudden blip, there and gone again in seconds.  But there enough to somehow convince the ship that it was about to collide with another body and set off the alarms.  And that made no sense at all.  When Mikah asked for an explanation, Aiden gave it to her straight:
          1) The sensors had to detect an object that was on their vector, which was the
                    direction they were pointed in even if their velocity was zero

          2) The sensors had to determine that both the detected body and ship had entered
                    a serious risk to collide

          3) The sensors would then need to have determined that the closing speed of both
                    bodies indicated a significant likelihood of collision

In the lounge, Rol saw the investigator come out of his stateroom in his vacc suit and grimly joked, "These are the kind of things that make people want to buy a farm on a planet somewhere and never go into jumpspace again."  Aiden gave Mikah his report and captured the data from this latest hit and copied it to his records and Aali even as he managed his other work managing the bridge.  That now included locking down the sensors and setting up a double-check screen specifically for them.  By the time Mikah had Aiden's report and had finished what she was doing in engineering, she decided to move up to the bridge and take her post.  Passing the investigator, Mikah took a bit of personal pleasure in asking, "Whose paranoid?" as she passed him.

Catching her before she was out of earshot, the investigator asked, "Excuse me Captain.  What was that?"  Mikah briskly snapped back, "That was a proximity alarm."  Hearing that, he answered, "Ok...  How was that possible?"  Mikah only shot back, "Think about it!"  When he decided it had to have been something else and asked her if there would be a better explanation later, Mikah told him she didn't know because it was a proximity alert and she had to find out how they could get that while still in jump space?

Sitting down, he decided the easiest answer must be the correct one and somehow there was something defective in this ship's sensors.  So, he decided, it was the fault of the crew for not detecting the issue and fixing it and there was no further need to argue the point.  He didn't bring the issue up again even though Terin arrived with offers to check the man's vacc suit seals and offer him help with his other needs as the flight continued.  While Terin did that, Mikah got to the bridge and ordered all crew to their emergence stations.

Emkir holstered his nine-mil and moved to the bridge while Zimzod got in his battledress and then manned his turret.  In the lounge, Jocelynn and Rol joined Terin and their passenger and Terin reminded them all they still technically had three more hours of in-jump flight time.  That was plus or minus the variance that made the length of every jump distinct and different.  The investigator nodded, as this was something he knew.  When Rol added, "And we won't even charge extra for the in-flight entertainment." with a smile, the man continued to keep his conclusions to himself.  He did tell Rol, "I'll note that for my future travel plans."

With everyone at their stations and settling in to "what's gonna happen next", Aiden's fertile imagination came up with a 'ping' and he suddenly said to all those in the bridge, "Oh crap.  I just thought of something."  Of course, that got the automatic replies about his ability to even be able to think?  When he finally got his fear converted to spoken words, he asked, "What if the first hit and this new one meant something was paralleling us through jump?"  Those in the bridge alternatively asked him what he planned to do about it, or told him to just relax and enjoy the ride.  There was certainly nothing else they could do.

Everyone did their best to relax at their stations, taking breaks for meals and relief only as the hours passed.  By 4pm ship time, they were still in jump and no one was concerned.  After 5pm, Mikah asked around to make sure no one was queasy but they were all good.  Despite the end of his shift, Aiden maintained his post as time and jumpspace moved on.  Finally, at 5:30, Aiden and Emkir got the emergence warning from the computer and Aiden announced they were preparing to leave jump.

Passing Barriers

     Soon after the warning, they emerged from jumpspace into normal space and the race was on to see who could lock down their position fastest?  Soon enough, Aiden and Emkir confirmed and announced they'd arrived in the Regina system.  Mikah demanded, "Anything in the vicinity?" and was told there wasn't.  Not long after that, they started getting broadcasts from the closest beacons which gave them general vectors towards the mainworld because the beacons detected tachyons and had no further data on who or what they were.

Aiden locked up flight guidance on the distant speck of light which was Assiniboia, the gas giant Regina orbited.  He then announced they were twelve hours out from Regina orbit.  Mikah gave the order for everyone to keep their eyes on a terminal or viewport and watch for any new traffic.  Aiden stood down from his shift and went to relax while Emkir officially took over.  The next two hours passed with nothing more than the expected tachyon bursts of other ships arriving in-system at distances that meant they were sometimes not even on the Upgrade's sensors.  And none of the arrivals were a threat at all.

At that point, Aiden decided to take a nap while they flew.  Three hours further down the line, they got their first word from the port, bounced off remote satellites, that acknowledged their arrival had been logged.  They were given a frequency to use when contacting the port and codes to connect to inbound buoys as they burned in-system.  At the same time, their sensors had started picking up more in-bound traffic but nothing that was any reason for concern.  No one was even close enough to reasonably hail with comms.

Near the end of Emkir's shift, they got a distant sensor ping from one of Regina's varied patrol craft.  Their code header read the destroyer INS Viimanii of the Regina system navy, and confirmed their transponder data matched broadcasts from the arrival beacons.  The message further confirmed their inbound vector and gave a warning to maintain that vector.  They were also warned that deviation from that course might be met with force because the system was under advanced security protocols.  No explanations were given of that.

From that point, Mikah told everyone they could relax because they were entering the security perimeter of Regina.  Finally, two hours in, they were trading light-delayed comms with in-system authorities and the arrival had been essentially normal for any approach of a busy frontier system.  The military and patrol contacts had been more than expected but the system was expecting a Royal visit and massive amount of visitors who were high-value targets.  So, Regina's military could be excused that.

That contact was from an outer customs station, and warned them of system customs regulations.  They were told to be prepared for an inspection.  The broadcast also contained a file with the customs regulations of Regina but that was nothing they didn't already have on file.  Still, there was an index so arriving captains could see what changes had been made on a "date of change" basis.  At that point, Emkir handed the bridge off to Mikah.  She knew Aiden was just taking a brief nap so she planned to hand the bridge off to Aiden when they made orbit.

The inbound flight was a path which led them into orbit of Assiniboia ahead of Regina's orbit.  They would continue to decelerate as the world "caught up with them", and they synchronized their flight plan to enter Regina-orbit.  Before that happened, they had to undergo a customs inspection.  Not long after that, they started getting signals as they closed on the inspection cordon and were approached by a trio of Regina security cutters.  Another shift they made was to get out of their armor and into shipsuits.

Finally, they were trailed by an approaching constellation of three cutters.  According to standard operations in-system, one of the cutters came in to dock while the other two remained in overwatch, with weapons hot in case anything stupid happened.  Everyone on the Upgrade wanted to make one billion percent sure nothing stupid happened.  As she started tracking their approach, Mikah woke Aiden so he could quickly splash of water on the face, grab a mug of caff and relieve her in time to meet the Regina military at the air-lock.

The team that boarded were a trio of marines led by a lieutenant who welcomed them to the Regina system as an unemotional side comment after the lock opened and they were invited aboard.  Armored and equipped to respond to threats, they were holding gauss rifles and ready to act.  He then asked for their papers and reason for visiting the Regina system?  Mikah handed over the ship's papers and the Idents of the ship's compliment and said they were inbound as merchants.  She added she was hoping to get an audience with the Arch Duke when he arrived.  Introducing herself with her 'highest titles only' had the effect of seeing all the members of the team snap to attention.

The level of military "crispness" only continued after Mikah's papers and Ident confirmed her rank.  That continued even more as almost everyone on the ship also seemed to be some form of nobleperson and their passenger was a fully-credentialed investigator for the Imperial Ministry of Justice.  Handing back the papers after they recorded their entries, the lieutenant said, "Welcome to the Regina system, My Lady.  We wish you well in your mercantile activities and also wish you luck in seeking an audience with His Grace.  Still, I do need to mention there are a great many visitors to the system who have the same hopes."

Mikah thanked the man and admitted they were only hoping for an outside chance that they might get to meet with the Arch Duke.  Nodding, the lieutenant said, "I can understand that.  And once we get done with the inspection of your ship, I hope that you and your crew will enjoy all the amenities that Regina can offer visitors."  From there, he asked to be taken to the bridge and the tour began.  Leaving the bridge, they worked back along the upper deck and jumped the first hurtle as the lieutenant saw the components, and asked about them?  Still, he never recognized them as battledress components.  There was also no indication the lieutenant was lightening his hand because they were nobility either.

Descending from the upper deck to engineering, the inspection then moved forward until it got to the cutter bay.  As they entered, the inspector asked if they could expect to find anything and Mikah told him they were storing disused cargo pods in the cutter's cargo space.  Nodding, they went in and saw the larger one-ton pod partly open, but not so open it was easy to see into.  Stepping forward and pushing the pod more completely open, the lieutenant lifted a minilight in his other hand and looked in to see the second pod.  He could see it was unsealed and decided it was just as he'd been told.

Mikah and the others escorting the lieutenant carefully released a breath they hadn't realized they were holding when the officer moved away from the cargo pods.  Doing their best to release their tension in a way they hoped wouldn't be noticed, they followed the lieutenant and his two troopers as they finished the inspection.  In the cargo bay, the lieutenant and his team were amused by the stockpile of weapons in the crew's lockers.  They then did a fair bit of pushing cargo around to "examine" the cargo pods and Mikah and Zimzod realized they would have found the drone if they'd only hidden it in with the marble.

Finally, they returned to the lounge where one of the troopers was "overseeing" the rest of the crew and passenger during the inspection.  There, the lieutenant put his official seal on the inspection form and on their papers before he bounced them the codes they'd need to get landing approval from the inner system and dock.  After that, the military team left and Mikah ordered Aiden to take them in.  Heading up to the bridge again as the cutters moved away, Aiden reached out to the in-system authorities and started asking for permission to approach and land downwell.


Another Brave New World

     From there, the flight to the orbital space of Regina was a quick one, and they closed on the space controlled by the orbital high-port.  Entering into that space, flight controllers asked if they wanted landing space on the highport or the downport?  When they asked to land on-world, they were asked where and Aali's family connections came in valuable there.  Since many wanted to land near the capital, it was because she was a native and had family in Atora city that they actually got permission to land in a downport near Atora.  In fact, this smaller port was much more heavily secured as it catered to high-value clients.

That decision was also made because Mikah asked for a "secure" berth when offered options.  This had been the best answer as ports on-world continued filling up.  Mikah also said they'd be paying for the berth for the next month, so that cost the ship Cr 10,000.  After they eventually settled onto the port and were shifted to their berth, Mikah was asked if they wanted fuel?  Since they only needed forty-four tons of jump fuel and twelve tons of fuel for their power plant.  That ended up costing them Cr 35,000.  Mikah also requested a refresh of the consumables, for which they charged the ship Cr 20,000.

Next, they had to deal with the passengers.  The inspector was able to take his baggage and go and his Ident got him 'faster than normal' service.  That meant he wasn't there long before he was gone.  The port officials asked Mikah if she wanted medical support for waking up their low berth passengers and Mikah said she shouldn't need that.  While the rest of the crew packed last minute items, Mikah brought Zimzod up to assist medically and Terin, because he was the ship's steward.  Then, they began the process of waking up the couple.

Surprisingly, the two came out of cryo very swiftly and well.  There were few "waking up" side effects and no larger issues.  Either from the process or from pre-existing conditions, like the passenger who'd died on their trip to Wypoc.  Entirely unaware of the processes involved, the woman actually thought that she'd been anesthetized to test how well she would handle being in a low berth.  So, once she was awake she asked how soon they would leave for Regina?  When Mikah said, "We're here." she did a double take and asked, "What?"  Mikah repeated they'd landed on Regina and she and her companion were being woken up and could take the small parcels they'd carried aboard and go on their way.

With that settled, Mikah was planning on things she wanted to shop for like supplies to restock the autodoc.  About that time, Zimzod got a call on his comms and was welcomed to the system by a representative of the seneschalate.  They told him about the accommodations which would be his during his stay, and that it would cover the needs of his crew too.  After bouncing the address and facility information to Zimzod they told him the building had a concierge.  That concierge wanted him to be aware representatives of his order of chivalry also stood ready to assist him and had an Order House and concierge available to him too.

Mikah first told them not to pack "all their guns" and said to stick to an honor weapon if they had the right.  Beyond that, the laws were so strict that Jocelynn could not go armed outside their residence.  Still, she could plan to have a weapon moved from the ship into the suite so she could defend herself there.  After that, the downport crew scanned and vetted everything they took out of the ship and got them to a lift.  Beyond that, they were moved through the bulk of a massive and bunker-like structure that was the "secure port" they'd rented a berth in.

After that, Zimzod rented a vehicle for them to use for the next month and paid Cr 2,500 for a gravCar that would hold all of them and a small amount of baggage.  While they waited for the hoverCar to be brought around, they joked about where the suites would be this time?  Rol asked if they'd repaired the wall in the last place and they joked about being sent back there as a punishment.  After word came their vehicle was ready, they were moved from the berth to the open-air vehicle port.  That surprised them as they realized "high security" meant what it said as far as their berth was concerned.

Seeing that and the visible security, Zimzod was pleased no one would be blowing that place up or breaking in.  Indeed, the visible armored security were in uniforms of the United Army of Regina, which also meant they were reserve forces which could be called on to fight in Imperial Reserve and Colonial formations.  By the time they were free of the port and able to lift the grav-rental, it was nearing 9am in the morning, local time.  So they all piled into the gravVan and were off to their suite.

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Next: Next World, New Shadows