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Last Updated     Jan 28 2021
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An Unpleasant Appearance
     It was before 7am when the sounds of an active hospital woke Jocelynn and Fesic.  The night before, they had been led to a room with two patient beds that had not been called on for use, and been allowed to spend the night there.  After waking, the two had no real personal supplies.  Still, the room had a fresher with a sink and toilet.  Without a shower, they took turns using the bathroom and wash cloths to clean up before going in search of someone for an update on Rol?  When they did find a lead nurse in Rol's care unit, they found no good news, but there was still some encouragement.

Toxicologists had worked through the night and still could not identify the specific poison used.  Despite that, they had figured out the vector the poison used.  It was potassium-based, and they guessed it was something which had evolved in the deserts of Menorb.  That made sense given the assassin was believed to be from there.  The symptoms of the poison fell into two lines.  First, high potassium caused some cells to absorb as much water as possible, until they exploded.  Not only killing off massive numbers of cells, but creating a "false dehydration" that affected the bloodstream and other cells.  Second, low potassium would cause cells to expel calcium, magnesium and sodium.

This poison triggered both sets of symptoms, creating havoc in the body's functions and preventing what would be usual treatment to the problems caused.  Since the poison seemed to create the appearance of both "too much" and "too little" potassium in a victim's system at the same time, there wasn't a single treatment.  Even worse, Rol's circulatory system was starting to fail for lack of fluid!  Already affected cells were dying throughout his body from "fatal over-hydration".  Many other affected cells were dying because of the chemical imbalances spreading within Rol's slowing bloodstream.

And delivering any "cure" was more and more problematic because the slowing blood flow could not push any cure effectively.  And any attempt to do that with injected plasma would also push the poison further to affect even more cells until Rol's body failed.  That meant the first step to saving Rol "and" stopping the divergent symptoms along both prongs of the poison was to use a process to bio-freeze him.  That meant using medical chemicals to cool Rol's body until they could put him in stasis.  Just putting him in a low berth or other suspension would slow the processes but allow them to continue along.  This was a very old medical process indeed.

In the earliest days of Terran space travel, before encountering the Vilani, Terran scientists had found a way to prevent crystallization of the body's water during the freezing process.  This "freezing" was briefly a successful method of distant space travel until advances came from Vilani sciences.  Still, the process was very successful in saving critically ill medical patients and remained on the books even through the long dark night.  As technology improved, the tech to put someone "frozen" into status was developed.  Now, that would be used to keep Rol from dying, because the doctors had to admit they had no idea what to do after the freezing?  And worse, this process had only ever been successfully used to keep a patient alive for two weeks to a month.  So, even frozen, Rol was on a clock.

From that point, diagnosis could continue, using scans to search for the piezoelectric signature of the poisons, to map the presence of the poison.  Sadly, they didn't fully have the tech on Regina needed to succeed in that kind of mapping.  Even worse, they had no way of "plucking" the poison out of Rol's body while not ripping him apart to do it.  Faced with that, the hospital had called out to everyone including ships in port from more advanced worlds.  They asked for medical advice and support hoping someone might have an answer to the issue.  Top medical authorities from across Regina were consulting for several reasons.  Publicly, Sir Rol was an Imperial Hero awarded the Starburst for Extreme Heroism.  More quietly, they feared admitting how helpless they were to fight the poison would make them more of a target to it.  Especially in a case, as few so far knew, where the Duchess was the target of an assassination plot.

Meetings And Offers
     From what she understood, Jocelynn was disappointed the report was so uncertain.  When Fesic suggested they should call Mikah and update her, Jocelynn reluctantly agreed, and they went to tell the nurse.  The nurse brought them to talk to the presiding doctor.  After he agreed, they called Mikah to let her know what the findings and plan were.  Asleep in their bedroom in the suite, the call came to Mikah's comms fifteen minutes before she and Zimzod had planned to wake up.  Grabbing the buzzing comms, Mikah moaned, "Oh, this better be good." despite knowing it wouldn't likely be anything she wanted to hear.  When Mikah answered, the doctor calling introduced himself and explained Rol's condition and prognosis in more technical and complete terms than he'd used with Fesic and Jocelynn.  While that happened, Jocelynn and Fesic went to the hospital cafeteria to have breakfast before calling a taxi to go back to the ship.

Being a surgeon herself, Mikah was easily able to keep up with the flow of bad news as it came.  When he was done, the doctor even took the step of asking if Mikah had any gear or supplies on her ship that might help with the treatment?  Mikah said they had an autodoc, though she wasn't sure if that might help or not?  While the doctor nodded in response, he was also doubtful of that and it showed.  Still, he said he'd discuss it with the others consulting on Rol's case and see if they thought it might help?  And they were desperate enough they might consider the machine if it came to it.  He also said they might send a medtech to the ship to check on the processes it was programmed to carry out.  Disappointed, Mikah checked the clock before waking Zimzod so they could get on with their day.

At 7am, Aali and Emkir woke to their alarm, who had slept as well as they could under the circumstances.  They were happy that no alarms had gone off or that no one had tried to attack the facility or their ship.  Still, they weren't sure if it was a good sign or ominous that their comms had not gone off all night?  Cleaning herself up a bit, Aali called Jocelynn to see if she and Fesic had an update on Rol's condition?  Jocelynn took the call while the doctor was updating Mikah on his call.  After Jocelynn said they were gonna freeze Rol, Fesic heard and joked, "They're turning him into a starship hood ornament."  Hearing the explanation and joke, Aali joked back, "So, they're turning him into Captain Birdseye."  This was a cultural comment from old Terran history which Jocelynn didn't get so she just nodded.

After the call ended, Aali considered her plans for the coming days.  Her work in engineering was largely done, and she had planned to visit with her family while on world before the Arch Duke and Prince arrived.  Under the circumstances, she had to consider what she wanted to do next?  And what Emkir could take time from his work to do?  Remembering that Mikah had told her and Emkir to stay with the ship after getting the call about the stabbing the night before, Aali figured it would be good to get her work done.  She figured it would be best to finish in case they were told they had to go somewhere.  She then returned to her work while Emkir returned to working on the computer program.

In the suite, Mikah and Zimzod had sat down to have breakfast and were told their contract with the chef was coming to a close.  They'd hired him for a week, which was up the next day.  Hearing that, Mikah told Zimzod to extend the contract, because he'd hired the chef in the first place.  Shrugging, Zimzod took the steps needed to make sure they had cooked meals now that Rol was not likely to be available for a while.  After that, the couple relaxed in the living room and sparked up the news.  They were not surprised that most of the local news was taken up by reporting on events in Credo-Down port the night before and the stabbing of Sir Rol Kaihvos.  They were disappointed there was no more news on the space battle reported in the news the day before, but it let them concentrate on what was being said about Rol and the assassin.

Highlights of the report were the uncovered terrorist threat, the assassin from Menorb, the "Imperial War Hero" in desperate danger of losing his life and more!  Annoyed, both Mikah and Zimzod realized any hope the Ine Givar would not learn that the assassination had been stopped had flown right out the airlock.  They figured that would push the terrorists to move up their time-tables to make now-desperate attacks.  Still, the details of the plot had been 'edited', removing key details such as the assassin's target.  The released story was crafted to 'best suggest' that Regina's internal security forces were carrying out what they were only beginning to plan in reality.  That included both the identification, locating and destruction of any Ine Givar cells in-system.  The story also put a lot of weight on how the crew of Sir Rol, the crew of Lady Mikah's ship, were reacting to the assassination attempt.  Especially since it wasn't certain if the doctors could even save the knight?

As Mikah and Zimzod nodded knowingly at the work to 'keep the population calm', Mikah's comms began to buzz for the second time that morning.  The caller was a representative from the seneschalate, who confirmed he was speaking with Mikah before asking if she and the members of her crew available wanted to come to the seneschal's offices for a briefing on the situation?  Mikah didn't even have to consider the question as she said, "Sure.  Be right there." and cut the connection.  Mikah only then considered who was actually available other than herself and Zimzod?  She realized Terin and Aiden were still asleep in their bedrooms and got into getting them moving and ready to go visit government offices.

When Aiden joked, "Five more minutes, Ma!" Mikah retorted, "Get out of that bed now!  Do you think Rol is sitting there wishing he had five more minutes?"  Aiden was struck by the words and it took a second before he could respond with anything other than, "Wow!"  In a quieter voice, he then asked Mikah, "Are you sure you're not a Jewish mother?"  As they agreed to pull themselves out of bed, Terin asked what was happening and Mikah told them they had to go to a briefing at the seneschalate, which lit a fire under each of the men.  While they cleaned up, dressed and ate, Fesic and Jocelynn had hired a taxi to get back to the ship.

When they got back to the ship, Fesic saw that Emkir had returned to work on the gunnery computer software.  Jocelynn knew she really didn't have 'shipboard skills' because she was trained to kill.  Thinking of that, Jocelynn figured how recent events had flowed and decided to do gear maintenance.  She figured her kinds of skills would be needed soon enough.  It was a grim thought but it was made lighter because she could spread her gear out all over the ship's lounge.  That made it easier to strip and clean everything "right" and do a proper job of it.

When Mikah's team arrived at the seneschalate, there was not only a seneschalate officer but also intelligence liaisons from the Duchy and Imperial Navy as well as full captains from both the Imperial and Regina navies.  High level liaisons were also present from the Atora and Credo city police departments in addition to a personal spokesperson for the Duchess herself.  Finally, there was a medical liaison from the hospital treating Rol.  The meeting started with a discussion of the murdered intelligence operative, Calmar Singh, and how his work apparently uncovered the plot now underway.

From there, the Regina Naval captain took over to explain their understanding on the Ine Givar threat and admit they had believed that threat to have been neutralized during and after the war.  That demanded the confessions that the Navy did not know how many cells still existed, where they were, what material they had and what each cell planned to do?  The only evidence they had was the statement Agent Singh had made in his notes that "key targets" would be attacked.  This was leading to changes in schedule, relocation and the hardening of security but the captain admitted that would only shift the attacks to softer targets.  Those admissions and statements did a good bit to darken the mood in the room.

Both the Imperial and Regina intelligence agencies said they had reacted immediately, and were digging in deeper and even pulling people they described as 'valued information resources' out of the field.  That meant they were burning future information to satisfy the immediate need for information under the circumstances.  They were also flooding the cities with undercover operatives with orders to "find anything, no matter how small or trivial".  While it was "something", it was not seen by those in the room as anything of real hope.  The final stone closing the room in darkness was a statement from the medical liaison that his and many other hospitals were preparing for mass casualty events if the cells decided to simply attack civilians once they'd learned their plan was blown.  To put the metaphoric cherry on top of everything, the representative from the medical center treating Rol gave a report on his case and prognosis.

Some light was provided when the Duchess' spokesperson told the medical center representative not to panic and then cryptically said, "We may have something for you on that score and may be able to help in Sir Rol's case."  The man then admitted that the Duchess had nothing on the military situation and ceded it to the Navy officers.  As that fell into a brief moment of silence, the representative from the Duchy intelligence spoke up cautiously.  He said, "We may actually have something we can follow up.  That is, if someone wants a little revenge?"  In saying that, he stressed the word "may" and finished his comments as he turned to look at Mikah.  That clearly meant he was asking her if she wanted revenge?

Caught completely by surprise, thinking she was just there to listen, Mikah asked, "What?"  The man nodded his head slightly and added, "Revenge for Sir Rol."  Realizing he was offering her something, Mikah let out a loud, "Oh!" and then said, "OK" as she organized her thoughts.  Then she nodded briefly as she said, "I guess."  Mikah didn't mention that Rol had been one of the least productive members of her crew as far as she was concerned.  Mikah then retuned the intelligence man's look with one of her own, inviting him to explain himself.

Offers With Costs
     With the floor now his, the man explained that there was a site which had been under surveillance since the year 1100, seven years before the Fifth Frontier War.  It had been a site which they had realized at the time was passing information to Zhodani networks as well as the Ine Givar in-system.  Because they had cracked it, they had left the site in operation so they could both feed the enemy false information and also track couriers to and from the place to map and capture their contacts.  Because of that, it was one of the last places they considered hitting despite the current crisis.  He also admitted that "hitting the place" also would mean those inside would have a chance to burn the evidence or set off suicide charges.

The information they hoped could be found might be any continued contacts they had with Ine givar because they were fairly certain they had broken the Zhodani connections.  That was not withstanding current events.  What the man suggested was that a force that could legitimately get into the location could get close enough to the people there to take them down without killing them and take control of the place without a loss of evidence.  Then, their people could come in and examine everything found there for any intelligence value.  When Mikah said, "We don't do covert well." she was told they only had to appear to be shoppers until the shooting started.  Then, they had to win the shootout.  Nodding, Mikah said, "That, we can do." with a smile.

When they asked if Mikah and the three of her crew present were interested in getting into the action, Mikah pointed out she was on light duty from her last wounding.  They said she and her people would be in charge of their part of the plan so she could decide how active she wanted to be in the plan?  Considering the question for a moment, Mikah then asked what the details were and she was told the location was a shop dealing in collectable coins and currency in a strip-mall.

When Mikah nodded, the man suggested that the four of them pretend they were shopping, with two of them going into the shop first.  They would be followed later by the rest.  He also suggested that something in the shop might be used as an excuse.  Interesting enough for those already there to call in the others to join them and check it out.  As shoppers do.  the man also pointed out they all had the right to bear arms, so they'd all be in the shop and armed if something were to happen...  As Mikah and the others nodded, Terin asked if they had any details on the shop?  Happily, the man told them their people had been surveilling the place for some time and had a good amount of data on the location.  The first thing he did was to bounce to them all a schematic of the shop's main floor and basement.

Coin Shop main floorCoin Shop basement

After Mikah and the others got the files, they spent a short while discussing the layout and security features.  They were told the two-door entrance was set to lock as an anti-theft measure.  They were also told the door leading to the fresher was generally not locked but the door past the fresher entrance was a secure door.  The door at the store's back and the cargo door were also generally locked when not in use too.  Terin then asked how many people they could expect and were told there were a maximum of four hired staff for the shop.  If they came very early or late in the shop's day, they could expect two workers.  If they showed up in the middle of the day, there could be more as morning and evening staff overlapped.

The owner was generally not there, and he was the only person to be a "known suspect".  At any rate, those watching him had not reported any visits to the shop recently.  Other than that, it was a retail shop so other shoppers and visitors were possible.  When Mikah asked if there might be un-involved civilian employees who were innocently working in the shop, the man said there certainly could be.  He admitted they tried to do covert background checks on everyone but deep or well-hidden connections did get missed.  Especially when they had believed the Ine Givar threat smashed on-world.

Considering that, Terin suggested they might run into more people than they wanted to if they went in early and encountered more of the shift workers.  He said that meant he thought it would be better to go in later, long after other shift workers would have gone home.  When Terin said that, the intelligence man admitted that there could be people in the rear or basement areas of the shop who had snuck in and were not known about.  The intelligence man also said the shop might have some advanced security systems because of a special item they advertised having on offer.

Rule Of Man Commemorative The man explained that the shop advertised that they had a "mint-condition" Rule of Man commemorative on offer.  No one had seen any mention of an official appraisal or evaluation on the coin, but it certainly was a lure bringing shoppers into the shop.  And if the coin was real, that made it very special indeed.  Minted in the year -2,210 (TI).  Since the current Imperial date was 1113, that coin would be 3,323 years old!  As he spoke, those around the table were surprised it survived at all, much less surviving in Mint condition!  Even if the shop were completely legitimate, they all agreed that seeing the coin would be worth the trip.

Because of the special nature of that coin, the intelligence people had an image of the coin display, which was behind the main sales counter at the back of the shop.  The display was on a shelf in a set of shelves running along the back wall of the shop.  They could tell there was a thick barrier in front of the display which had to be some form of transparent metal.  The intelligence report also told them the shop had put in several protective features like a laser-barrier which protected the coin if the case was not properly unlocked.

Returning to the people likely to be in the shop, Terin asked how sure they were there were no other people in the building?  The intelligence man admitted they had only put a full-time watch on the place the day before.  Due to the assassin.  They'd been periodically watching the place until the update, but he admitted that didn't track people who might have been living in the basement or who might have snuck in somehow.  When Terin asked if the observation teams would act as backup in case their team needed help, they were told that would not be the case.  All those assets were under-cover people put in place for surveillance only, and they wanted the covers of those operatives to be maintained so they could continue to work under cover in the future. They didn't want their covers blown for just this one operation.

When Mikah asked about using the local police as backup, she was reminded they had no idea who was involved in, or connected to the terrorists.  Especially since they had thought the cells were gone, the first move the Ine Givar would have made was to get their hooks into someone in law enforcement.  That would get them warnings if the police were brought into the situation.  In addition to that, both Mikah's team and any involved members of the shop staff would be armed and dressed in civilian clothing.  Because of that, they couldn't be sure any officer might shoot one of Mikah's crew thinking they were a suspect.  When Terin objected that they were famous and their faces known, he was asked how many people in a fluid shooting situation would stop to examine a target's face before taking a shot?  They also pointed out that "Famous" was relative, and they couldn't be sure all the officers would know the faces of the crew.

After accepting that, Terin worked with the people there to lock down their objectives.  They were being tasked with exploring the site to find anything "odd" or out of place, which might suggest evidence where to look in search of one or more terror cells and safe houses.  They were also supposed to watch those they encountered for odd or weird behavior.  The real issue was not the shop's sales floor, but the back area of the upper floor and the basement.  And anyone claiming to be a local municipal "surprise inspection" would be marked as intelligence right off.  So, going in as shoppers and taking over was the only real route with a chance of success.

When Terin turned to Mikah and asked how she wanted to handle things, she sat back and reminded him she was on light duty.  With that, she smiled and told him he was in charge of this operation.  When Terin objected and claimed his skills were not up to the task, Zimzod leaned in and reminded him he was the one who was always jumping in to tell others how to do their jobs.  So, now it was his turn to put up or shut up.  Mikah backed that up by saying again that she was on the disabled list and not likely to be much help.  When Terin again complained this was not his forté, Zimzod leaned back in his chair and said, "Rol's a bit busy doing other things so it's your call."  The entire display by the crew did not fill the others in the room with confidence.

Terin only responded to the weight of command by again asking how they wanted to do the mission?  He vaguely asked if they wanted to rush the place or slowly infiltrate?  Zimzod shrugged and said, "I'd just blow the place up but we can't do that."  The expression on his face told Terin this was all his problem and not Zimzod's.  Aiden just snickered, "Breaching charges" and he, Mikah and Zimzod chuckled.  Aiden took a different tack and pointed out they couldn't cover all the exits and stop anyone from escaping with only the four of them.  When Zimzod reminded him they were there to find any information that stuck out, not capture the people, Aiden pointed out they could be sources of information if they were involved.

Aiden again suggested using the local police to guard the back of the building and was reminded the police will shoot at anyone in civilian clothing before looking at a face.  Mikah jumped in and reminded them the nice intelligence agent had already suggested they pose as "people going shopping" to get into the shop.  As he nodded and said he'd assumed that was the plan they were going with, Zimzod pointed out that had been a suggestion given them but Terin had not come up with a plan so there were no assumptions in play.  Ignoring Zimzod, Terin asked the intelligence man what kind of security the shop had, and if they had anti-theft systems in play?  The man told them the two-door entrance was set up to become a trap securing anyone who was obviously trying to rob the place or escape after a robbery.

Known cameras also covered the entire sales floor and they assumed a camera covered the back space of the upper floor.  Nodding, Terin asked about which doors were locked and if it was known how they unlocked the doors?  He was told their best data said all the locks were biometric.  That meant key cards wouldn't be of any help and they'd need a worker or their body.  That brought up some comments about carrying a hand instead of the whole employee.  When it was asked how they could keep the hand warm and the pulse going, Zimzod smiled and said they only had to get into the back room and find a microwave to throw the hand into.  That got a laugh from everyone despite the situation.

Getting back to the plan, Terin suggested that Mikah and Zimzod go into the shop and browse.  He suggested they pretend to find something special and call for Aiden and Terin to join them.  Zimzod was thinking that was backwards because Mikah was the most famous and the obvious 'rich person'.  If Zimzod had done it his way, Frick and Frack would have gone in, noticed the commemorative coin and called for Mikah and him to join them.  Then, "The Money" would arrive and the shop workers would have real expectations of making a sale.  But, this was Terin's job and Zimzod was happy to see how badly Terin could screw it up.  Maybe he'd actually get himself killed if they were lucky.

When Terin suggested Zimzod could ask to use the bathroom and knock out anyone back there with them, Mikah suggested it would be better for her to do that.  Terin complained that she was on light duty, and couldn't drag a body around if they had to get a hand to a sensor pad.  So he wanted Zimzod to take the bathroom for his strength instead of having Mikah rely on the "believability" factor.  After arguing that, Mikah admitted they did need someone back there who could haul a body, open the door to the back and possibly fight their way to the back door.  During that discussion, Terin said they needed to open the back door to 'let the others in' but hadn’t told them there would be 'others' waiting out back.  Or, who those others would be?

When Terin asked, he was told the place closed around ten, depending on customers in the store, so he decided they should try what they were going to do at 8:30 or nine that night.  That gave them the whole day to plan and prepare.  When he said that, Zimzod nodded and Mikah said, "I've got no plans."  Terin then asked if the intelligence people could help them hack into any computer systems found in the building.  The Intelligence man said they'd take care of those if they could secure the building?  When the idea of bringing in the rest of the crew was floated, Mikah suggested that would be too many people.  After Terin said it would be nice to have people to watch the back door, Mikah agreed that Jocelynn had nothing to do.

With the basis of a plan in development, Mikah's mind was still on Rol's case.  Because Terin seemed to be actually planning instead of making excuses, Mikah said she wanted to get back to the ship and check the autodoc before the medical center called.  The others agreed and the meeting broke up with the Duchy intelligence agent giving Terin a comms code to use to let them know what the plan was and when it would happen?  As they made their way back to the gravCar, Mikah called the ship and got Jocelynn on the line, telling her they were on their way down to the ship.  Jocelynn realized she'd have to clean her stuff in the lounge up just to prevent things being stepped on or knocked aside and lost.

Few Clues And New Secrets
     Arriving at the ship, Mikah told the others about the job and told Jocelynn to prepare herself for her part in it.  Mikah then went to the medical bay to check out the autodoc and called Aali from engineering to help her.  Aiden checked and found the shotgun he'd ordered had been delivered to the ship.  So, he unpacked it, stripped the weapon down and gave it a good cleaning before stowing it and preparing the gear he'd need for the party later on.  Zimzod decided that gear maintenance was a good idea before collecting what he'd need for that evening.

Terin decided to sit with Zimzod, Jocelynn and Aiden and spitball ideas about the plan, to get their input.  By that time, Terin's 'glorious plan was to have Zimzod and Mikah enter the place as "shoppers".  They would then call in Terin and Aiden, as reinforcements when they pretended to find something of interest.  After that, Zimzod would ask to use the fresher, to get him close to the secure door giving access to the rear of the shop.  He would be there to move any bodies they needed to move to get hand prints or biodata.  Jocelynn and the others were underwhelmed by holes in the plans like how the worker Zimzod would drag would be incapacitated, or what would happen if someone in the back room saw that happening on shop security cameras?

Jocelynn was also unimpressed with her part in the plan, which was to get around behind the building and watch the back door.  She would only act if someone came out the back, but she wasn't told if she should follow, incapacitate or shoot them if that happened?  Clearly, there were holes in this plan one could orbit a solar system through.  Because Mikah had been listening in as she kept her comms open, Aali overheard and asked if Terin didn't want more people from the crew to take part?  Zimzod said that if all or most of the whole crew showed up in the late hours before closing, the shop workers might think they were being robbed.  Aali and the others accepted that.

When Aiden asked, "What about having them close, like in another store close by?" Zimzod answered, "That's Terin's job to plan things."  When Terin said he'd suggested that, he was reminded he'd only made vague comments and no one had been assigned except Jocelynn.  Ignoring that, Terin said they would have Jocelynn outside the back door and Fesic and Aali can be "shopping" in one of the other stores in the strip mall.  They could come running if their help was needed?  Hearing that, Mikah said the should also have Emkir at the ship, with an open "one-way" comms to the team so he could listen in and update the seneschalate and intelligence people what was happening.  The others agreed to that.

Since Mikah said she couldn't get "into the fight", she would leave her comms open so Emkir could hear what was happening.  The setting would be "one-way" because they didn't want anyone with sharp ears hearing what Emkir was saying.  When Mikah said she'd try to keep herself in the middle of the shop, Fesic asked, "Want me to blow a hole in the wall in the middle of the store?" and they joked about him using his breaching charge.  After that, each of the crew were left to their own personal plans as Mikah and Aali finished system-checking the autodoc.

Nearing noon, Mikah got a call on her comms and answered to find a representative of the Duchess' household who confirmed she'd reached Mikah and then asked her to hold on.  After a brief pause, Branj Dilgaadin picked up the line and greeted Mikah.  After she answered, Mr. Dilgaadin said he wanted to bring the administrators from the medical center into the conversation to consult on Sir Rol's treatment.  Mikah waited until an administrator and the lead doctor treating Rol came into the conversation.  After all the needed greetings and introductions, the administrator said she'd been made aware that new resources had been made available and they wanted Mikah to consent to having Rol moved to a new facility.

Mikah felt it odd they were asking her permission without explaining what new resources they'd found but there they were, so she simply said, "Sure.  Where are you moving him to?"  During the sudden pause following that, Mikah got the feeling that the doctor was pointedly "not" answering while the administrator looked a bit uncomfortable.  Still, the pause was broken by Mr. Dilgaadin as he said, "Yes.  Perhaps you should come here to discuss that."  And while it wasn't a request, Mikah saw she'd not get an answer unless it was given in person.  When Mikah asked, "Come to the hospital?" she was told, "No.  The seneschalate."  Mikah then agreed she could do that.

Breaking the call, Mikah told Zimzod he was coming with her and told Terin to keep working on the plan as the couple went to the gravCar and got moving for Atora.  When they arrived, they were ushered into a meeting room where others had already gathered.  Some had insignia indicating they were medical professionals, but had no insignia or data indicating which hospital or facility they worked for.  The seneschal was there along with several people in civilian dress who were apparently his assistants.  More than the people present, what struck Mikah and Zimzod most as they entered was the feel of the room.

If the medical personnel could all have been said to have been unhappy about something, the people in civilian dress seemed outraged.  So, perhaps not Mr. Dilgaadin's assistants.  Despite that, Mr. Dilgaadin himself looked entirely calm.  On a video display, they had connected comms with the director of the medical center currently treating Rol.  What Mikah and Zimzod noticed about that connection was the markings stating it was a call made on one of the most secure networks on the planet!  After they had the couple sit with the others, Mr. Dilgaadin said, "As I told you, we have had additional facilities become available specifically for this case."  With that, he turned to one of the civilians and very politely said, "Please explain to Her Ladyship what we're talking about?"

Standing, the man very visibly swallowed his personal issues before clearing his throat to speak.  When he got started, Mikah could almost swear she was listening to Rol or Aiden while the man took every chance he could to mis-state or only vaguely describe what he was saying without actually saying anything at all.  What it all came down to was that there was a lesser known or even secret higher-tech medical facility which could improve their chances of saving Rol's life.  After Mikah said she would be grateful for any additional help with Rol, the man turned to Mr. Dilgaadin.  In a voice that seemed a bit "pained", the man said, "Sir, it would be..."  There was a pause where the man seemed to reconsider his original words.

The man continued, "...beneficial if we could ensure that any communications about this facility remain as secure as possible.  And while that wasn't spoken as a demand, no one was willing to suggest it wasn't one.  Turing to Mikah, Mr. Dilgaadin told her and Zimzod they had to be bound to a non-disclosure agreement ensuring that no word of this facility was ever disclosed to anyone else before anything could proceed.  When the two agreed, Mr. Dilgaadin had tablets brought in so they could step through the security procedures and take the appropriate thumb prints and recorded affirmations.

That done, they were told they were being taken to the Duchess' own personal and private medical treatment center, which was so secret it didn't even officially exist.  Mikah was told that one of the main benefits of the move was that the new facility contained the devices needed to create a current backup of Rol's mind.  That would be sent to his insurers in the event they could not save Rol's current body.  Especially as he had a cloning insurance policy in force.  The facility was also significantly higher in technology than any other facility on-world.  After Mikah went through all the paperwork and gave the appropriate permission, she was told the move would be scheduled.  Mikah was told it would not likely happen until the next morning.  Following the move, they would handle the brain scan before continuing Rol's treatment.

How Most Battles Are Lost
     After Mikah and Zimzod left, Terin continued discussing his plan.  He suggested that once the four crew were in the shop, they would "feel out" the staff to try to figure out who might be innocent and who was involved in the terror group?  Sadly, his suggestion that they would do that never moved on to how it would be done?  He simply said it and assumed it would be done.  Aiden did suggest ignoring the staff by setting off the fire alarms and getting them out of the shop.  Sadly, this was a strip mall store and all the electronics for that would be in the shop's rear.  It didn't stop Emkir from joking, "Sure!  Throw a flare on the floor!  It shouldn't be noticeable at all." The smile on his face showed how his comment was only meant to poke fun and get a laugh.  When Aiden almost growled, "Subtly." Emkir almost demanded, "Have you met this crew?"

When Aiden pushed to see if they could reach out to the police to trigger the alarm from a connected watch station, Terin reminded them all the seneschalate had suggested not getting the local police involved to prevent them getting shot by mistake.  Emkir next suggested they just move into the place and shoot everyone with tranq rounds.  Terin said he had been planning to tell everyone to load tranq rounds even though he had not even gotten close to considering armed actions through-out the discussions.  Not only had he not mentioned it, but he had not considered who could be involved in his operation based on having weapons which fired tranq rounds?  That forced them to revisit the entire organization of the operation before they moved forward.

After they confirmed everyone did have a weapon that could fire tranqs Terin continued.  He said they should draw all the employees out from behind the counter at the back of the shop and get a feel for the sympathies of the workers.  Again, he simply failed to say how that would be done, and also failed to set any signals they could use to communicate what they'd learned without making the "bad guys" aware.  After assuming they could magically achieve those goals, Terin said they should then tell the workers they were deputized by the Duchy and the owner of the site was involved with the Ine Givar and their help was needed getting to the basement to investigate.  Another issue Terin ignored was the chance that one of the workers was involved and the other, or others, was not.

Despite his apparent confidence a moment before that they would be able to figure out who was innocent or not, Terin said that anyone who was connected to the terrorist would likely have to be tranq’d at that point.  Hearing that, Fesic interrupted and asked about the people in the back room or basement, who might be watching any shooting on security feeds?  Ignoring the point entirely, Terin answered, "Right.  Which is why we're gonna have a discussion with them and not just shoot them."  That ignored the fact he had eventually arrived at "shoot them" which could be seen on the cameras if anyone was watching.

When Fesic pointed out they might still have to shoot the workers and deal with those in the back, or in the basement, Terin simply said his plan was best because it offered the chance to get the door open by workers helping them.  He never bothered to address what would happen if they were forced to shoot and the place was locked down.  And Terin's only concern was a lock down.  He never considered the terrorists might come up shooting, or worse.  When Fesic asked, "And why are we doing this again?" he was told that Mikah had agreed to do it, and then put Terin in charge.  In the pause after that was said, Emkir smiled and said, "It's obvious we're doing this because Mikah wants you all dead."  Jumping on the dark humor shuttle, Fesic smiled and said, "Glad I'll be shopping somewhere else!  Good luck guys!"

Accepting he could not simply ignore the situation, Terin knuckled down and said, "Look, we need to get into the back room and basement somehow.  We either fight our way in or we get one of the people outside to let us in.  And if they're innocent citizens who don't know what's going on, they'll give us information and let us in.  If they're terrorists, we're going to have to fight them one way or another."  While Terin desperately held to the ideal of 'hoping for the best and not planning for combat', Aiden was thinking about a possible fight and suggested the person who ended up in the fresher could use the doorway as cover to control the passage against anyone coming from the back room.  While that was a good start, the suggestion didn't consider "multiple someone's" coming out with overwhelming force.  Still, it was lightyears beyond Terin's 'hope and pray' ideals.

Terin finally told Aiden it was unlikely anyone in the back or basement would come up to fight.  With no evidence and little data, he firmly said they would most likely try to get away.  For "evidence" he reminded them that the intelligence people guessed there would be, at most, four people in the place.  Of course, that assumed the intelligence they had was actually correct.  Emkir interrupted then and asked, "If you're a store manager working in the back, and you look at your screen and see your two workers encircled by four people, where some of them have hands in pockets or under jackets, what is the first thing you are gonna think of?"  Aiden beat Terin to the punch as he said, "It's a robbery."

Emkir fixed Terin with a stare and asked, "And what do you think that manager is gonna do then?"  Terin had to admit the manager would hit the panic button, lock the place down and call the police.  Still desperate to pretend they could avoid a fight rather than plan for one, Terin suggested they plan to get the workers to call any manager from the back of the shop before they push things.  At that, Aiden suggested they look for something valuable and start asking about that because that would force the manager to come out and deal with the sale.  Hearing that, Emkir asked, "You mean like the Rule of Man commemorative?"  His tone suggested he deserved the prize for 'Most clever in this conversation'.

As Terin instantly pivoted to use this new idea and said, "We can have Lady Mikah say she wants to buy that coin..." Jocelynn interrupted asking if she could make two suggestions.  When Terin and the others turned to her, Jocelynn said, "First, have Mikah dress up in nice clothes, go in and act very wealthy.  That way, the manager has to come out and deal with you."  As Terin accepted that idea wholeheartedly and started verbally adjusting his plan, the enthusiasm swept the floor from Jocelynn and her second point was never made.  Much of the conversation that followed was if Mikah wanted to play the 'demanding rich bitch' or play it cool, make it obvious she was wealthy and out to spend lots of cash and let them fall over themselves coming to her?

Aiden suggested the coin in the visible casing might be fake with the real one in a safe, but that meant nothing to the plan since any manager would have to come out into the sales floor either way.  For a brief moment, Terin suggested he and Aiden go into the store first, claiming to be looking to confirm the shop still had the coin before calling for Mikah and Zimzod to join them.  Despite the obvious benefits of fitting in with how the aristocracy worked, it fit with how a big wig with cash would send out searchers for an object before coming to where it had been found.  There would be no real explanation why that had not remained the plan later?

Aiden worried that too many people in the store including body guards might freak the store staff out despite the fact they were still only talking about Aiden, Terin, Mikah and Zimzod coming to the store.  Missing that entirely, Terin said there would not be an issue because Mikah would be expected to have body guards as a Lady of the Court.  This reinforced the error that there were "any" bodyguards involved at all?  When Aiden said he thought that Zimzod was Mikah's bodyguard, Fesic joked, "Zimzod is her boy toy." and they all laughed.

After the laughing died down, Terin started again, saying he and Aiden would go in and explain they were working for Lady Mikah and looking to see if the coin was there for her to buy.  Aiden interrupted, saying he thought the idea was not to clue the staff in?  While not saying what they would be clued in to, he apparently felt using Mikah's name would scream "Law Enforcement".  Rather than just saying 'we'll make up name for a rich person then', Jocelynn suggested, "How about you just send in me, Zimzod and Mikah and I'll be her body guard.  You guys watch the store from outside."  And without examining any of the mis-statements and misunderstandings that went before, that offered Terin a chance to get himself out of the kill box without proposing with the idea himself!  Still, Terin did argue semantics, pointing out he never suggested they call themselves body guards.

Fesic then suggested, "Why not just walk in as if you're going to buy something?  You don't have to over-think it."  Rather than reacting to that, Terin defended his plan saying he was only talking about going in 'two at a time' because he worried they'd get upset if all four of them showed up at once.  That didn't explain why he had the idea to announce they were servants of any nobility or put on a show.  So, Fesic decided he had to explain it in smaller words.  He then said, "Look, if you want them to go in and you want them to be at ease, just be regular customers.  You've already got an idea what you want so just go in there as someone who wants to buy that coin.  If you wanna be cautious because this might be a fake, they will understand that.  But, They will question why you are not acting normal."

Terin did worry that the staff might recognize them anyway, but that was swept aside as Aiden said he felt Jocelynn's suggestion was likely the best.  That Mikah was out for an evening with her boy toy and a lady friend.  Emkir jumped on that, saying, "And, if they recognize you, what usually happens when they recognize you?"  Everyone then jumped on the answer, "The manager comes out to ask how he can help you" shuttle at once as they each wasted time competing for their affirmation to be the most substantial one.  As things died down, Emkir asked, "And what do the other staffers do?" followed by someone saying, "Wait on you, hand and foot."  Nodding, Emkir then asked, "And what if they act afraid and scared?" which was followed by a pause.  Fesic filled that by saying, "If they're afraid or scared, then they have a reason to be afraid or scared." and Emkir just nodded.  Fesic capped that off by saying, "That's when you blow up the building." with a huge smile because he wouldn't be in it.

Considering everything that had been said, Terin made his decision happy that his ass would no longer be in the kill zone.  He announced that Mikah, Zimzod and Jocelynn would go into the store while he and Aiden would be around back watching the rear door.  Aali and Fesic would be "watching the front" and waiting in case there was a call for backup while Emkir would be at the ship operating as a communications command point.  Hearing that, Fesic asked Terin to clarify, "So, we're no longer shopping.  We're out watching the front?"  When Terin said, "No.  It's a strip mall.  You can still be watching the front while shopping.  As you go in and out of doors."  Still not certain, Fesic asked, "So...  You want us to go in and out of doors for ten minutes?"

Exasperated, Terin said, "Not for the entire time.  You have to use some intelligence!"  To that, Emkir snapped, "Why?  No one else is." and got laughs.  Terin clarified that it would be a strip mall and they could be in stores watching out the front windows as they "shopped".  With that resolved, Aiden ignored the fact they had plastic explosive and detonators on a shelf in the ship's locker and asked, "If you and me are now in the back, should we try to penetrate the rear with the breaching charge?"  Most of the crew were so busy laughing at the double entendre to notice the mistake and suggest a sensible solution.  Especially since Jocelynn was trained in demolitions.

Setting his grand plan further in jello, Terin said, "Mikah, Zimzod and Jocelynn would go into the store to buy the coin and they get the manager up front." Then then continued, "They're gonna figure out, by the reactions of the employees, if they are simply innocent civilians or if they are involved in the terror cell."  As Terin prepared to move on, Emkir asked what would happen if they couldn't figure things out, since Terin's plan ignored that possibility.  Terin took a good long pause to consider that before saying they would have to assume that all the employees had been part of the cell.  Terin then started to explain that they'd have to try and "talk them into coming over" when Emkir interrupted him again.

Emkir then suggested they put themselves in the store staff's shoes.  Assume, that, close to closing time, someone came in looking to buy the one huge treasure the store had.  So, might they not have a reason to be uncertain and nervous?  Then, you try to tell them, 'Wait, we lied!  We work for the Duchy."  So, your answer is to assume they're bad and shoot them because they have a perfectly reasonable excuse for being nervous?  Aiden then pointed out that all they needed was for Mikah to walk in dressed "casually expensively", not for court.  He continued that if they just "acted wealthy" and let the shop workers make their own assumptions, then she could start talking about needing a present and even name drop and the store's staff would come running without anyone making grand statements.

When Terin once more started re-stating his grand plan, he had firmly decided Mikah would be the first into the store with Jocelynn and Zimzod while he and Aiden would cover the store's rear portals and Fesic and Aali shopped nearby.  Mikah would 'act wealthy' and suggest she was looking for something rare and unique as a gift, and might name-drop that it was for the Duchess.  That would hopefully lure any management type from behind the scenes out onto the sales floor.  Following that, Terin continued to glaze over the hollow point in his plan, saying, "You guys are gonna have to see if you can figure out if they're innocent civilians or not?  And once the manager comes out, it will be up to you guys how you play it.  Tranq them or try to swing them to your side."

Terin then suggested, "You might want to tranq the manager and keep one of the innocent civilians on their feet to help you get past the doors." as if any of those things would be possible, or even that simple once the shooting started.  Interrupting, Emkir suggested that Terin figure out how that would happen so it didn't appear he expected anyone to suddenly become psionic and solve the problem.  Ignoring Emkir's point completely, Terin began listing the tranqs and sonic stun pistols they had in the ship's locker as ways to incapacitate the store staff.  But, not a word on determining the guilt of innocence of the staff.  So, that part of the plan had a big stamp on it reading "An idiot expects something magic to happen here".

Fesic then asked, "So, you expect us all to be armed with tranq rounds?" and Terin said, "At least, to start.  Everyone should have a backup weapon with something more lethal just in case."  Considering that, Fesic decided he'd bring his snub pistol with a clip of tranq loaded.  Backing that up, Fesic would bring two clips of ball ammo "just in case".  Fesic also knew he would bring his sword-cane and be wearing executive armor under his clothes.  As for style, he wasn't part of the 'glam team' so he figured he could dress casually.  Doing someone else's dirty work didn't mean you had to put some of your "Going to Court" best at risk.

Listening in, Jocelynn figured she'd dress for her role, and have her combat knives available.  She also wanted her dagger in its scabbard hanging from her belt.  Considering the situation, Jocelynn loaded her six-shooter snubbie with tranq and her semi with ball ammo as a "hold-out" weapon.  Zimzod also had a snub pistol in his collection, and loaded the six-shooter with tranq to put in his duster pocket.  At the same time, his most visible weapon would be his .45, in its holster on his hip.  He'd also wear executive armor, but he had to dress up a bit to play his role.  But he wouldn't dress too fancy and neither would Mikah.  Not wanting to be too careful, Zimzod did quietly slip a flash-bang into one of his duster's pockets.  It wasn't a grenade but it could come in handy.

Being assigned to a "back-up team", Aali planned on wearing executive armor under her lone ballistic-cloth shipsuit which had an in-sewn cross-draw holster pocket covered with velcro.  Something Aiden was very envious of once he saw it and realized it existed.  She'd be wearing running shoes and her weapon would be her semi-automatic snubbie loaded with tranqs. She also pocketed two magazines of ball ammo.  Aiden planned to gear up as he would any time he went into "the bad side of town".  His only changes were that he would wear one of his ballistic-cloth shipsuits and would wear a shoulder-holster for his custom snub.  When he planned to wear a jacket to cover the holster and weapon, he found the bulk of the ballistic suit made movement hard and would obstruct him if he had to fight.  That meant he had to go out shopping for a jacket that was slightly over-sized and gave him back his freedom of movement.

Terin planned to dress in a nicer set of casual clothes despite stationing himself out back and out of the line of fire.  He also planned to have executive armor underneath and his snub pistol in a pocket with his utility knife off his belt.  Mikah modified her "dangerous places" kit by swapping out her laser pistol for a snub pistol, and loaded her six-shooter with tranq rounds.  She wore her thigh holster under the skirt of an upscale outfit so she wouldn't have to worry about flashing a gun when she was supposed to be a rich girl out on a spree.  Still, she pocketed the twelve rounds of ball ammo so she could reload with it if things got real.  Mikah also loaded herself down with all the good jewelry she had.  Her only visible weapon was a belt knife.

As they all spent time over the day planning, Emkir had a different job to do.  He had to work with the seneschalate to set up comms channels that would get him directly through to both the seneschalate and those intelligence assets he'd have to contact.  As the comms command center, he had to learn what the others were doing and get that to the people who could be their only rescue if things went south.  because the channels he'd be using were mostly set up specifically for this operation, there was a good deal of testing to confirm everything was working.  At the same time, he worked with the intel people to make sure he had a separate an specific channel so he could get to Aali at need.  Still, he would only be talking to the government people.  Any attempt to talk to the crew before he was told it was ok would be heard by anyone nearby and could turn the operation into a blood-bath.  And with Aali involved, he was not gonna have that.

Is It Time Yet?
     After spending what was left of the morning planning and preparing, the crew had to make their own lunch while Fesic complained, "Where is Rol?"  Everyone giggled at that including Mikah and Zimzod.  They'd returned in time to get a rundown of Terin's plan and decide what they wanted to wear and bring to the party.  Mikah also told them that Rol had been moved to a facility where they could better treat him in hopes of saving his life.  She then said they'd keep Mikah updated if things changed.

Hearing that, Zimzod asked, "Are you gonna tell them the doctors have a plan, or just say they were winging it?"  Mikah smiled happily and loudly said, "Oh, they're just winging it!  In fact, they're experimenting and..."  At that point, Fesic interrupted her to ask, "Is the first experiment to see how far a ferret can get up the tube?"  After the laughing finally died down, they got to making themselves food and chatting through lunch.  Because of the situation, Aiden was the only one who wanted to go shopping so he asked if anyone wanted to go with him?  At that, Jocelynn said she'd go and Emkir and Aali also joined in.

Getting ready, Aiden knew he could have ordered on line, but would have had to pay extra for immediate delivery, and would have had to hope the jacket fitted the way he wanted.  Still, he had to change into the ballistic shipsuit so he could make sure it fit right.  With permission to use the gravCar, he planned a quick, 'there and back' run and quietly hoped the others didn't want to do a lot of window shopping.  The trip to a local venue that wasn't part of the startown sprawl was quick and Aiden had checked on the local network before leaving to find a store to shop in.

Aiden was a man on a mission so he didn't waste much time finding a light and generic looking jacket which fit him right and let him move in the ballistic suit.  Still, he had to estimate the feel of the holster since he didn't wear that out, but he felt good about the Cr 50 buy.  Aiden was even happier when it turned out the three others had only come to get off the ship and get some air.  Still, there was some looking about but no one actually saw anything that grabbed attention and they finished up and went back to the ship.  When they returned, the trip had taken about an hour and Aiden was able to grab his holster and try it on under the jacket and with his pistol.

After lunch, Mikah had relaxed since she was on light duty anyway.  Zimzod got working on gear maintenance, concentrating on the pieces he'd have with him that night.  When the shoppers got back, Jocelynn got back to work on her gear.  Aali sparked up the news to see how things were rolling along with all the new fuel being poured on the fire?  Interstellar news was still circling the story from the day before where an interstellar naval battle had been reported.  Still, there were no new details and the talking heads, military data experts and retired naval admirals were having their say.  As with any news story, the few facts or details were fading to theory and "so called" expert conjecture.

While the local planetary news did have stories about the effects on trade the fighting might cause, or on local defense initiatives, the hottest stories were on any late breaking details or rumors on the hunt for Ine Givar cells.  There were also lesser stories about preparations for the official elevation ceremony which would happen on the 330th day of the year.  Like the population, the crew were surprised to realize the long-awaited event was only nine days away!  That was good news for Mikah, because the sooner she had her chance to try talking to Norris and get her questions answered, the better.  Other rumor-stories nattered on about how long the Arch-Duke and Prince would spend in system?  Since their travel plans had only been loosely defined, there was a huge amount of speculative noise out there.

After he tried out his jacket, Aiden logged onto the local network and went searching for maps or even satellite scans of the store, to better understand the terrain.  What he found was that this shop was the second shop from the left end of the strip mall.  To that shop's right, there were four more shops.  Aiden guessed it would take him close to a minute to run around the left end of the mall from the front of the shop to the rear.  Terin wasn't concerned about having to make the run since he planned for Fesic and Aali to be able to come help.  And, if Mikah's team got into the back room, they could open the door to let Terin and Aiden in.  Once again, Terin showed his lack of planning by saying that if things were so bad they had to make the run, then everything was screwed anyway.  So, he completely refused to even try and plan for any kind of combat response.

While the rest of the crew relaxed or worked at tasks, Fesic took a call from the broker he'd contacted and she told him she was working on moving the marble but didn't yet have a real customer.  She did promise to contact him the next day as a touch point.  Dinner time eventually rolled around and the opinions differed from "Eat hearty" to "eat light" before battle.  Since they planned to reach the shop around eight that night, it was also time to start talking about how they would get there?  The simple plan would have been to all mount up in the gravCar and then deploy piecemeal from a landing point a number of intersections away.  That would let them control their deployment gaps absolutely.

While he had not planned out the 'why', Terin said he assumed they'd all take the gravCar and arrive at the same time.  Hearing that, Mikah said it might be better if some of them took the ground car too, so they didn't all show up at the same time.  Zimzod suggested they park around a corner from the shop, and disperse from there.  Mikah said some of the crew would go back to the suite after things happened while others would go back to the ship.  As people nodded, Mikah finished, "Might as well take both."  If there had been a question beforehand, Mikah's comments settled things as Terin sat back and let things happen.  The next question was who would be travelling in the car?

It was obvious Aali had to go with the ground car as the only driver they had for the vehicle.  Fesic, Terin and Aiden also signed on for the hour-long ride.  That left Mikah, Zimzod and Jocelynn in the gravCar.  Since the ground car would take so long to get to the mall, Terin started planning measures so they would arrive at the same time.  Separating out, partly because they didn't want to arrive all at the same time, was counterproductive but no one argued.  Aiden did say that in his research he'd seen there was both front and rear parking so they had choices.  To maintain timing, Terin settled on making estimates of travel time for both vehicles and staggering departures.  Then they'd use comms if the ground car ran into delays.

A slight discussion broke out when Zimzod asked if the ground car or gravCar should get their first and Terin said it didn't matter.  When Zimzod asked why the hell they were taking two vehicles if it didn't matter, Mikah said the ground car should get their first.  Aiden agreed with that because it would let him and Terin get around behind the building before "the show" started.  With that settled they all prepared their gear one last time and made sure they were dressed as planned before relaxing.  Finally, the time came for Aali to head out with her crew and face the roads of Regina's capital region.  Surprisingly, Aali found the roads had thinned out even though they should have been in the tail end of local rush hour.

It was a happy surprise that Aali made excellent time and the gravCar was still in-bound when she pulled up three shops to the right of the coin shop.  Getting out of the car, Aali and Fesic looked at their choices for "shopping".  To the left of the coin shop, the last store in the mall was a low-end clothing and personal goods store.  To the right of the coin shop were a small shop selling snacks, small goods and novelties.  Next to that was a small hole-in-the-wall eatery with a counter and tables.  Next were a small electronics shop, a cleaners/launderers and a gaming-gear data-shop.

While Fesic and Aali went into the store selling small goods and novelties, Terin and Aiden got out of the car and Terin suggested they go into the electronics shop.  When Aiden objected to that and said they should just move where they were supposed to, Terin waved off his concerns saying Mikah's team can go into some other shops first even though he hadn't called them to say he was changing the plan.  When Aiden was annoyed, Terin gave in and the two casually moved along the shops to the left end as if window shopping.  Past the clothing shop, they strolled around the side of the building making a wide turn towards the back as people coming from houses further off might do.  Once out of view of the shops, they made a better pace to an area behind the shop door where they could even sit and hang out, blocked from view by cars.

Watching them go out the corner of her eye, Aali wondered what the vagrancy laws were like locally.  Sadly, it was too late to raise that question to their leader and plan for it.  Not long after, Mikah landed their gravCar in front of the shop into which Fesic and Aali had gone.  Unwittingly, Mikah had given them the perfect signal she had arrived and it was 'game time'.  Still, to be sure, Mikah checked that her comms was open and "sending only" before she told the others she had arrived.  Aboard the ship, Emkir notified the others, the seneschalate and intelligence teams.  When he reached Fesic, the gunner replied, "Roger that double yum yum.  This is artichoke and we're in position."  Emkir only answered, "Careful.  You don't wanna get Terin all jealous."

In her role, Mikah fairly sailed down the row of stores until she got to the coin shop and then stopped to wait for Zimzod to precede her into the shop while holding the door for her.  Mikah then "flowed" into the store as Jocelynn came behind and caught the first door so Zimzod could re-enact his moves and hold the second door for Mikah.  Once she was in the store, Mikah led them onto the sales floor by half a step as Zimzod took her left side and Jocelynn followed behind.  The whole time, Mikah's attention was on those who would serve her while the two marines scanned the place for dangers, living or not while pretending to be attendant.

As they'd entered, one of the two obvious shop workers came forward from the rear counter and asked if she could help them?  Stepping to the woman, Mikah said, "I'm looking for a gift for a dear friend who is being elevated soon." in a tone that was half command and half a warning not to waste her time.  In doing this, she hoped to sound just like the many self-important people who had come to her with tasks in her past.  Mikah continued, "I'd like to get her something special and I know she likes coins."  She did her best to finish up in a tone that made it clear she had no idea coins could be of any value at all, because that's how rich people sounded.

Surprised but hopeful of a "big sale", the woman said "Wonderful!" if only to give her time to center herself again before asking how much Mikah was looking to spend on this gift?  Waving that question away as if it had no meaning, Mikah said, "Price isn't important.  I just want to make sure it is something special.  Especially if you have anything that can be considered rare.  If you have such an item?"  The woman, whose eyes had been lighting up as Mikah spoke, simply asked, "Please, let me get my manager." before backing away from Mikah and then turning to go to the rear counter and hit a comms panel on the wall.

As she held a control and spoke into the panel, the three took the time to move up, pretend to look at the displays nearby and better look around the shop and evaluate it more.  Soon enough, the manager came out and welcomed Mikah, asking how he could help her?  Mikah turned to give him a look that said, 'You will get me what I need' as she said, "Yes.  I'm looking for something rare as a gift for my friend because she is going to be elevated."  When the man repeated the word, Mikah answered, "Yes.  He asked, "As in, They Duchess is going to elevate her?"  At that point, Mikah's tone retreated a bit as she answered, "Um.  Sort of, yes."  The appearance was that she had just realized she'd given out more information that she should have.

With his already risen eyebrows remaining raised, the man asked, "When you say rare, exactly how rare do you mean?"  Giving the man a look, Mikah told him, "I'm not exactly conversant with the coin market so I will have to rely on your advice on that." in a tone that said, 'That's your job, isn't it?'  Nodding, the man asked, "And what amount were you looking to spend?"  Mikah again dismissed the question, saying the gift was for a very dear friend and price was not a limit.  Nodding, the man still begged the question and claimed it would help him determine what to show her.  Mikah simply shrugged and carelessly said, "I don't know.  A million credits, maybe more." with what she hoped was just the right air of 'money means nothing to me'.

After the manager recovered from an unstoppable "antelope caught in a ship's backwash" moment, he actually raised his finger and said, "Well, we do have one item that might be what you're looking for."  And with that, the stunned glaze shifted to a gleam.  As the woman they had started dealing with got out of his way, the manager asked if Mikah would come with him and led the way back to the counter.  Grandly waving a hand to suggest Mikah and her entourage step up to the counter, he stepped behind it and pointed to a spot on one of the shelves behind the counter.  On a wooden shelf at nearly eye-level was a single coin which seemed encased in a number of layers of security devices.  The primary layer of the device was made of transparent-as-glass metal, and they could see what the intel people told them would be a 'Rule of Man' commemorative coin.

To give the man his due, the manager even had a look of pride on his face at even being able to offer such a treasure.  It almost balanced out the look of avarice on his face as he considered his commission for the sale.  Mikah let her eyes and expression shift to, 'What am I looking at' mode as the man said, "We do have this.  Though it might be out of your price range because it is on offer for two million credits."  As Mikah played the role of 'the face everyone was looking at', Zimzod and Jocelynn were stealing glances at the other two workers, because they'd all known what they were walking into.

Giving her team more time to check things out, Mikah asked what she was looking at and the man explained what the coin was?  He then said it was one of only three examples known to exist in the Spinward Marches sector.  Mikah could only sit back on her heels and ask the questions someone actually interested in the coin would.  After the man was done, Mikah asked, "So, it's rare?" and the man agreed.  Mikah then said, "Well, considering this momentous event and how much she dearly means to me, I think we can proceed."  The manager nodded and said, "Yes Ma’am.  Under the circumstances and given the value of the item, I would need to see your identity and proof you can actually pay the price of the item before we start unsecuring it."

Behind his forced calm words, Mikah could tell this was a big deal for the man.  Jocelynn and Zimzod could tell the eyes of the two workers were round-eyed in shock this was really happening.  As for Mikah, she was using her hand computer to log into the ship's funds and dazzle the man with her credits on hand.  After that, Mikah presented her Ident, which told them she was Doctor Dame Mikah Kirlim, Lady to the Court of the Domain of Deneb!  When he read that off, both he and the two workers went rigid!  The manager quickly recovered and reached out to check her Ident before seeing how much money she had and metaphorically melting into a happy puddle on the floor.

While their going rigid could've been that someone from the Domain court being in the shop was less likely than someone that rich being in the shop, Mikah decided it meant they were terrorists.  Sadly, no one had even brought up any idea of how she could signal the group that she'd ID'd terrorists and it was time to start shooting.  And while Zimzod and Jocelynn both saw the others tensing, they had not read into it the same thing Mikah had.  That was until Mikah reached down to grab the hem of her skirt to get to her thigh holster.  Seeing that, Jocelynn put her hand on the weapon in which she loaded the tranqs.

By the time Jocelynn's hand settled on her weapon, Zimzod had his six shooter out and had fired on the worker who had waited on the sales floor while the other woman and manager had stepped behind the counter.  Hitting her with a dart, he was bringing his weapon around to the two others as Jocelynn quick-drew her weapon and fired a snap shot at the manager.  Her shot tagged the man in his left arm as Mikah got hold of her weapon and Zimzod brought his aim around.  Before she could stand up or Jocelynn could switch her aim, Zimzod had shot the second woman too.  Mikah only got to see the startled looks of the two before they fell to the floor.  She then spoke into her comms and said, "Hey!  Hey boss?  Did you hear there's been shots fired?  You guys gonna come in or what?"

Terin told her that the front team would join them and they could let him and Aiden in when they got back to the shop's rear workspace.  A plan which nearly guaranteed he and Aiden would be out back until any shooting would be done.  Hearing their number come up from bingo the commander, Fesic said, "Well.  Time to go in."  Drawing weapons as the entered, Fesic took the left aisle and Aali the right while Mikah's team "fortified" the counter area and everyone was asking Terin, "Ok??  What comes next??"  Terin simply told them they had to get to the rear work space behind the shop and let him and Aiden in the shop.

Meanwhile, Under The Floorboards
     The coin shop had been a sometime safe house for years, and the Impies hadn't figured it out even during the war.  While the Zho's had left them to fend for themselves, it wasn't a surprise because of how things had turned against them.  The only thing they knew at first was that everyone had gone to ground.  Thanks to the events of the war, that looked pretty normal for the average citizen, so they had lots of cover.  And the cache had also not been discovered.  So, when the war ended, it was time to reconnect the cell and see what happened next?

The years were long and there seemed to be a bit more of an Imperial presence, which was a concern.  Still, no moves had been made and things settled into a new normal while they waited.  Before the signal finally came, they'd been concerned about the cache enough to move much of it into the shop's basement.  But they'd still never dreamed the operation would happen.  Working out the codes, they knew when to prepare, when to go operational and what their target was.  Now, they just had to wait, which turned out to be even harder.  When the code amber was called, they all resigned their jobs and moved into the coin shop basement to prepare.

The basement had long been prepared for this, with a false wall hiding a box of sound deadening walls and ceiling.  the Still, there was an alert light that told them whenever anyone came into the shop from the front or back, and there was always someone on watch.  Still, being hidden under the front of the shop meant there was no getting out the "normal ways" if the Impies came pouring in.  So the shop had been designed for that too.  A special contractor had built a charge into the forward wall of the basement and the person on watch had the controls.  Taking cover and setting that off would explode under the front door of the store and kill anyone posted as guard or entering as part of an attack force.

The blast would also cause the debris to settle on a stepped slope and create a path of escape.  Around them were the bulk of the cache between which their cots were set and outside the small fresher.  With access to the full basement when no customers were in the shop, they could live there for months, but only expected to be there a week or so more.  After moving in three days before, they had their plan, their gear was ready and had been stripped and cleaned any number of times.  Their standard dress code were full-body ballistic cloth suits and their belts were always close with the ammo and gadgets set and ready.

Still, the tense nerves of the first day slowly faded to procedure and then to compliance to orders.  No one expected the Impies to figure the place out just like they'd never expected the cell to really be activated this long after the war.  Three and Five were sleeping and Com was reading while Four was on watch when three late shoppers came into the store.  The camera resolution sucked but Four actually whistled at what she could make out of the bling on the lead bitch.  Com actually looked up at her, but she shook her head just so and he went back to his book.  He might be in charge but this was just her personal hatred of the rich Imperials.  She swallowed her feelings and casually watched, expecting these people to come and go like all the others.

Suddenly, her thoughts changed as she saw Joe come out on the sales floor.  He was a shit manager, and tended to only go out front when he had to, preferring to watch vids in the back when his work would let him.  He also spent more time in the shop's back area these days, since his marriage was on the rocks.  There was a bet between the team members how long the marriage would last?  A bet that would never pay off since none of them expected to live that long.  Four watched with increased interest as Joe greeted the rich pigs and as he led them back to the counter.  But when she saw where Joe was pointing, she couldn't stop herself muttering, "Holy shit!" in surprise.  That got Com's attention and he set down his book to move over to the display.

Two set down the wiring diagram she'd been working at and One grabbed the cloth on which he had weapon parts so he could watch the screen while continuing to re-assemble a pistol.  As they watched, it was clear Joe was talking to the customers about the coin.  No one had ever believed it was real.  And no one had ever expected anyone to even consider buying it.  But still, people came from all over Regina to see it and sometimes even from other systems.  It was priced so high both because of how rare it was and because "not selling" it kept bringing in customers year after year.  Still, they were all watching a camera shooting back up the sales floor as the man with the two women casually but quickly turned and almost professionally drew a snub pistol to shoot Wenath!

The sale girl was hit with a round and started before she fell back while the "rich bitch" started raising the hem of her skirt for reasons none of them could tell as the other woman, a red head, reached for her hip.  Then suddenly, as if it were some kind of contest, the red head quick-drew a pistol and shot Joe before the man could bring his weapon around and shoot Annet.  Finally, the woman they'd decided had played the 'rich customer' pulled a pistol from a thigh holster under her dress.  Com may have been in "command", hence the name, but it was One who first said, "They're robbing the place!" in surprise.  Two followed that up saying, "But their amateurs!  Look at how stupid she is putting her holster under her dress!"  Still, they'd watched the three gun down the store staff.  What followed was a short and sometimes heated dispute if this was a robbery or a raid?  That ended when they saw two more people come to the shop's door and draw weapons before entering and separating to move up each aisle ignoring the goods!

Something Odd
     Aali suggested that Zimzod should grab the manager and carry his body to the secure door because the intel people had told them the door should be biometrically locked.  While Zimzod went behind the counter to get the man's body, Jocelynn moved back to the front of the shop to watch the door in case anyone came in from the street.  When Terin commed in and suggested they make sure all the bodies were behind cover so no one would see them, Aali moved up to do that.  Fesic moved to cover Zimzod as he moved the manager's body to the door while Mikah, who was on light duty, leaned against the counter.  In the basement, 'Com' had made his decision because thieves don't play "hide the bodies like holiday gifts" when they rob a place.  And there was no blood coming from any of those bodies, so they had not been shot with any standard round.  Com woke everyone up and got them to gear up for a fast escape.  The cavalry had not come and he hoped they could blast as much as a squad when they did.

Cracking the door to the back, Zimzod peeked in even as he managed the body he had in a fireman's carry, and saw the hall beyond was empty and the door to the fresher ajar.  Zimzod then stepped back and told Fesic to move into the passage and check the fresher, to make sure there was no one hiding there.  Behind him, Zimzod started moving to the secured door which led to the rear work space.  Moving up to the secured door as he looked for a place to slap the manager's hand, Zimzod was pissed as he saw the panel was a 'punch-code' panel and not biometric at all.  Dropping the manager in disgust, Zimzod told the others they needed someone awake who had a code instead. As the team in the basement geared up, Com watched and wondered what the hell they were doing until he saw Zimzod's reactions at the door.

When she heard that, Mikah joked, "Too bad we don't know how to pick a lock."  At a road block Fesic got on the comms and asked, "What do we do, oh fearless leader?" and Terin told them to get Aali behind the counter to pretend she is a clerk in case anyone passing by looked into the store.  Terin then said to stuff the manager in the fresher, just to keep him out of the way.  Since there could be some running and shooting, Zimzod agreed and he and Fesic dragged the man in.  When Terin then said, "OK Fesic, let's see your new lock picking skills", Fesic almost growled, "You're kidding.  Right?"  Completely lost on a point Terin had not planned for, the navigator ignored the passage of time since the shooting had started and asked, "Aali.  Do you know any way to get around a key punch pad?"

Knowing enough time had passed that whoever was in the basement was ready for them if they'd been watching, Zimzod disgustedly said, "I know how to get around it.  You shoot the lock."  As he spoke, he was drawing his .45 do put words to action.  In the basement, the team had all their basic gear on and each had a pistol and rifle.  They were ready.  Still, Com wondered if these idiots were actually stuck at the locked door and they could possibly relax?  If that was what the Imperials were throwing at them, they'd never find the hidden door in the basement wall once they "finally" made it into the basement.  Still, he decided it wasn't worth the risk and he started preparing his team for what came next because the cameras showed only two vagrants out back and normal innocent traffic out front.  With luck, they'd still find a way to hit their target.

Just as Mikah said, "Shoot the lock", Zimzod fired while Fesic leaned back both from flying bits and reacting to the echoing concussion of the shot in such a small space.  Zimzod's round took out the knobs, strike plate and all as it blew a nearly three-inch diameter half-circle hole in the door.  He followed that with a kick that forced the door open as they all knew a live round would certainly have woken up anyone not already aware they were there.  Zimzod then rushed up to a barricade stance at the corner of the corridor and a storage closet so he could scan the open break space beyond the passage.

Hearing the gunshot, Terin ordered Jocelynn to move up to help Fesic and Zimzod.  He then told Aali and Mikah to pretend they were clerk and customer in case anyone looked into or entered the store.  Hearing that, the two women took better positions across the counter and started to play store.  With so few Imperials in the store, Com decided this had to be an advance team and he and his people talked about actually waiting to use their 'escape charge' to kill as many Impies as came along.  Still, Com wanted to get a shot at their target and eventually that desire was shared by more of the team then not.

Ufflete hault-Hucknall Mansion As they talked, and Zimzod's team found the back area cluttered with chairs, a desk, cabinets, shelves and 'break area' fittings but no people.  Moving into the space, they pointed gun barrels at the stairs to the basement but didn't go down.  Out front, Aali got a message from Aiden suggesting to look behind the counter for any security-based controls.  She ignored Terin saying he didn't think she'd find anything and checked anyway.  While she found no security controls, Aali did get one rather big surprise when she noticed an image of an old and decaying estate in the countryside!  Seeing that image certainly surprised Aali for a number of reasons.  The place was the old estate and technical Baronial seat of the Ufflete hault-Hucknall family.

In the history of the world and Duchy, those who would found the Ufflete hault-Hucknall family had risen to noble rank as the Marquisate became a Duchy.  Eventually, they had been granted Baronial rank within the Duchy, and granted larger lands.  With additional lands had come additional wealth and the image showed the mansion that had been created by joining the two ancestral family homes as well as some out buildings.  Still, what can go up can also go down and the family's fortune had suffered as had their line.  Still of Baronial rank, the last two remaining members of the family had long since moved from the remaining family lands to "officially" live in Atora after the family's accounts had faded to "work-a-day" normal.  In truth, they both served aboard naval warships, one of the Imperial Navy and the other of the Regina Navy.

As the formerly grand estates were abandoned for more functional housing, the government responded by creating an agency to maintain, patrol and protect the properties.  Sadly, from just after the Fourth Frontier War, funds and then people for the program had been hard to find.  Because of that, it had been an idle fancy of Aali's to someday retire to the agency from whatever life had planned for her.  It had even happened that one or two of the estates had gone on the market, and been sold to a commoner family who'd saved the money needed to buy it.  Driven from of her genealogic hobbies, Aali knew of the abandoned mansions and was especially aware of this home.  A younger Aali had dreamed her family might save enough to that fading estate and rehabilitate it.  A picture of that presumably abandoned estate got Aali wondering if it might have become a safe house?  She took a shot of the image and send it to Emkir to give the intel boys.

There's Always A Boom
     When Zimzod's team turned the corner and started securing the back rooms, Aiden called in to make sure they remembered to check the storage closet, because that's where he'd hide.  As Zimzod and Jocelynn checked the closet, Fesic went to let Aiden and Terin in the back door.  So, as the rest of the team came together in the back of the basement and Mikah and Aali chatted out front, the team in the basement came up with a plan.  Largely pushed by Four, the idea was to try and scare the woman in the front of the store into running for the door.  Then, Four would have taken great pleasure in blowing them up with the front of the shop.

To do that, they figured they could do a single firing line of rounds up through the floor of the shop.  Judging by the amateur show they'd given in taking the shop, the team felt they couldn't be that well trained.  So, each of the team members would take a position and fire two rounds up through the floor above them.  Then, they'd make the rush to their cover positions and give the women another count of ten.  If they were the scared rabbits the team expected, that would put them close enough to the blast to make Four very happy.  If not...they had to get out anyway because they had a target assigned to them.

Not amateurs, both Mikah and Aali hit the deck as the shots blasted up through the shop's floor.  While Aali was behind the counter ejecting the magazine with the tranq rounds from her weapon and grabbing for a magazine of ball ammo, Mikah first made sure the fire was not advancing on her position!  after making sure she was not under fire, Mikah grabbed her comms and shouted, "Hey!  Someone's in the basement shooting..."  She got that far, with the shots shattering displays and sending bits, pieces and displayed goods flying, before a sudden blast pushed her flat against the counter!

Lucky for Mikah, the charges had been designed to push the front of the shop up and out.  The design gave the terrorists in the basement the best chance to be left a ramp out, with rough steps even if it was covered in debris.  Mikah also lucked out that the terrorists knew they didn't have any time to spare for a last shot back into the shop as they fled.  They simply got themselves out of the ruined shop and took off for what would obviously turn out to be a vehicle left in place just in case they needed it.  As Mikah recovered, Emkir had said 'Screw the one-way comms' and was shouting, "What happened!!  I heard explosions!"  Mikah finally had to shout him down before saying, "Just shut up and call the seneschal.  We're under attack!  Get us back up here, now!"  Emkir did as he was told after saying, "OK.  Doing that now."

As Mikah assessed the situation, she could see the entire front quarter of the shop's floor had collapsed in to a massive hole, as if a rectangular sink hole had opened up beneath it.  On the far side of that hole, there were figures in what looked like ballistic cloth suits finishing their climb from the sudden pit with weapons strapped to their torsos and belts holding pouches and gadgets.  Realizing she was out-numbered and out-gunned, Mikah started moving through the debris towards the door to the back of the shop as quickly as she could, given her still-healing wound.

After Aali had switched her magazine, she also started making her way to the back door, though she had the cover of the counter and could move faster.  In the back room, Jocelynn reacted immediately as she bolted towards the doors leading to the front of the store while grabbing the weapon she had loaded with ball ammo.  When she came to the door to the front of the store, it was blown back and off its hinges as she took a left-barricade stance with her weapon raised.  What she saw stopped her for a heartbeat as she took in the fact the entire front of the store was gone!  And there was a smoking rectangular crater where a chunk of the floor had been!  Getting past the surprise, Jocelynn began to scan the lips of the hole over the sights of her weapon, but the terrorist team had cleared the hole and were running for a vehicle by the time she arrived.

Jocelynn dismissed the sounds behind her as Zimzod charged to her back and also looked for a shooting vantage without standing highlighted in the door frame.  Rol had come up with them too, but Fesic's brain had snapped to a different plan.  He figured that whatever exploded was being dealt with and might have been a lure to get them to do just that.  He ran for the storage closet door and took a barricade position there aiming at the top of the stairs.  If the blast was some kind of diversion, he'd shoot at anyone who came up from the basement.

Just about to come in the open door in the back when the blast went off, Terin and Aiden both bolted to the end of the row of stores and then towards the front of the strip mall.  As they ran, Terin tried to order both Zimzod and Jocelynn to keep anyone from coming up the stairs but both had already done what they wanted to do instead of listening to him.  Mikah told Terin she and Aali would do it, even though neither woman was anywhere near the staircase, just to shut Terin up.  Jocelynn and Zimzod would have seen the fleeing terrorists sooner except for some sudden sound close at hand which had them switch focus.

When they saw it was Aali making her way to them through the debris, they listened for Mikah in time to hear her say she and Aali had the stairs covered.  With that, the two again switched focus out the hole in the front of the store, now knowing no one seemed to be climbing out of the hole.  In the distance, they saw the fleeing team of armed and armored figures and started firing.  As Aali reached them, she too started firing as the figures reached a vehicle and got into it.  Mikah simply and slowly crawled through the debris until she could see the others.  Fesic stood watching the top of the stair case over his sights as things quieted down.

By the time Terin and Aiden made it to the front of the building, the fleeing terrorist were buttoning up their ground car and peeling out as rounds pelted the vehicle from those of the crew still firing.  Before anyone could do anything else, there was a second large blast from the hole and the entire front half of the shop was blown away or collapsed.  Mikah was still down against the counter and was pinned there while Aali was pinned down against the back wall of the sales floor and Jocelynn and Zimzod were blown back into the hall away from the door.  Both Terin and Aiden were knocked down by the blast which also shattered windows all around and set off vehicle alarms.  There were also new sources of screaming as those in the shops to either side recovered from their shock and started screaming in panic.

In her ear, Mikah had Emkir screaming, "What happened?  What happened?  What happened?"  After she recovered, Mikah told him, "The rats have left the building and they're blowing it up.  We're not sure if they fucked up or are doing it section by section."  Even as she spoke, she propped herself up and got moving faster because her section would be next if that was the case.  Picking himself up from the ground, Terin ordered, "Everyone get out!  Get out the back door!"  When Terin told them to get the manager and workers out, Zimzod said, "Fuck that!" as he moved to help Mikah up and out.

Persisting in stupidity, Terin insisted, "They can be questioned." but no one was listening to him except Zimzod.  He told Terin, "You want them?  You go get them!"  They all made their way to where Fesic was and then out the back of the building.  Emkir reported he'd reached the seneschalate and they'd notified the local police.  They had also recommended that when the police arrived, no one should be holding a weapon at all.  As Terin wasted time trying to get the others to grab the store staff, Aiden came up with a better idea.

He'd been watching down the road in the dark as the ground car he now thought was the getaway vehicle accelerated away from them.  Then, he decided they could take the team's gravCar and try to track them from the air.  Asking Terin if he wanted to come along for the ride, the two sprinted for the gravCar and Aiden did his best to both get them in the air and make sure Terin knew which ground car he'd been watching.  Seeing and hearing them do that, Mikah called Emkir and told him to tell the authorities the terrorist had left the scene and her team had two of their crew in pursuit in a gravCar.

Aiden kept them at an altitude that wouldn't interfere with other traffic while Terin did his best to keep eyeballs on the car he thought was the target.  After a bit, the car started going into more and more congested traffic patterns and Terin had to work on keeping a lock on the lights of the car he was tracking.  During the entire run, they had been broadcasting to Emkir, who had been updating the connected police departments.  As the traffic the ground car was in got worse, the police asked them to activate the gravCar's emergency beacon.  That would tell them what stretch of traffic they were over?

While the two watched the action below, the police started closing off and halting traffic on the roadway in segments.  Terin told Aiden he was still fairly confident which car the targets were in as the police started physically getting between the cars they'd stopped to check each car before letting them go.  Police VTOLs took position over the roadway announcing there was a police action underway and people needed to sit tight and not do anything inappropriate.  Watching from above, Aiden let the police know the targets were both armed, armored and battle-ready.  The operator they were talking to told them they already had that information.  With literally hundreds of cars, it took a good bit of time before they got to the car Terin thought was "the one", only to find out he'd been wrong.

A Brief Interlude
     Back at the ruins of the store, the police started rolling up and even had pictures of the crew which had been transmitted by the seneschalate.  Behind the first cars to arrive were the fire and rescue units.  The first questions covered the basics and then built on that.  As fire and rescue got working, they already knew there might be three "victims" in the ruin to try and reach.  The good news, for that shop and the mall, was that the explosives had not been incendiary.  While some small fires had been lit, or started by suddenly broken wiring, there wasn't much fire or smoke.  The shops to either side of the coin shop had their walls buckled and experienced a partial roof collapse, but their contents could be recovered.

Later arriving units of police were assigned to either crowd control or recovery of the scattered coins and other items blown out of the coin shop.  A fire team of battledressed troopers arrived with a military liaison and the troopers made their way into the "hole" which had been blasted out of the basement.  Eventually, the rescue unit found the manager and shop workers still out cold and otherwise unhurt.  They were being revived as one of the battledressed figures climbed out of the pit with a man-portable shoulder rocket launcher recovered from the pit!

The report was that a good stash of combat gear had been in a secret room hidden in the basement and a hasty attempt was made to carry out a scorched earth exit and destroy it.  As Emkir heard and that now relayed it to Terin and Aiden while they watched police check each ground car in the mess they'd made, Aiden mumbled, "That could have gone better."  Terin shrugged and assumed the three from the shop had been involved as he said, "At least they've got three prisoners."  He decided that based on Mikah's reaction to the staff after they saw her Ident.  But that could simply have been a nervous reaction to suddenly finding themselves dealing with significant Interstellar Nobility.  So, one of the giant holes he had completely failed to plan for was to blame for everything that had followed.

By the time the police were done asking questions and taking statements from Mikah's team, Terin and Aiden had been able to circle back to the strip mall.  Despite having both vehicles, it was so late that Aali updated Emkir before she and the others went back to the suite for the night.  Relaxing before beginning any kind of clean up, Terin commented, "Well, that was entertaining." in a glum tone.  Zimzod shrugged and said he could have simply blown a hole through the walls to see what was inside the shop if he'd had a FGMP-15.  Aali snarked back, "You would have likely cooked everything down there if you did." and the others laughed.

As they joked about Emkir ever getting an FGMP, Terin suggested they call the seneschalate to see if anything had been learned from the remains of the shop or the staff?  Zimzod shut that down growling, "As far as they're concerned, we're done."  Mikah agreed with him as they all remembered or realized that the higher ups only needed them for what they did and they wouldn't be included in anything else unless it was needed.  Mikah nailed the spike into the box top as she acerbically continued, "They're not gonna tell us anything else about this."

Trying to get some of them to smile, Zimzod suddenly said, "Hey!" in a loud voice.  And as everyone looked up, he held his hand out towards Terin as if he were showcasing something and continued, "You didn't get Mikah shot!"  After Terin admitted, "That's true" in a tired voice, Zimzod turned to Jocelynn and continued his booming voice as he said, "And you didn't get Fesic beat up!"  After the laughs that got, Aiden asked, "After the shooting started, they didn't manage to hit anyone?"  Rol answered, we may have hit them but didn't stop any of them." which reminded the scout that just because someone has been hit, it does not mean their armor has been penetrated or they've been disabled.  Neither Zimzod, Jocelynn or Mikah felt like giving the scouts a lesson on what "combat drug" could do for a trooper.

Zimzod nodded and said, "We never checked the ground for blood before the law rolled up and after that, it was a restricted area."  When Fesic suggested they could go back and see if there was any blood in the cleanup effort the next day, Mikah said they'd have that place locked down hard and there would be no getting close.  Others nodded and agreed.  When Aiden suggested they would be watching the hospitals for wounded, he was laughed at because a unit like that would have had a medic.  All they needed to do was get the wounded moving until they hit their target, after all.

As they sat and chatted, Mikah got a ping on her comms and checked to see it was a "Thank you" from the seneschalate.  Responding, "No problem", she then got back an FYI that the commemorative coin had been recovered and determined to be an excellent fake.  She thanked them for the information even though she had never actually planned to buy it.  She did send them a request to keep them up to date on Rol's condition and then let it go knowing she'd get nothing else.

While the others were tired and started getting ready to go to bed, Terin got himself some ice cream and turned on the news.  As he watched, the 'big story' was all about how the entire city of Atora and surrounding regions were now on frayed nerves because of the news out of Credo-downport the day before.  An example of that was playing out even at that moment as whole sections of the capital city went into near lock down after an explosion that evening.  An explosion that it turned out was due to a badly maintained propane heater in a coin shop.  As he watched, there were images from ground or aerial news cams of the site Terin had led them against that evening.

Seeing that, Aiden interrupted the comments being made about sweeping the issue under the rug and suggested he had a question and actually admitted it might simply be his paranoia running his thoughts.  The rest of the crew, who were used to his paranoid fears driving the pilot, did not disagree with his warning but let him speak.  Having the floor, Aiden asked if they should mount a watch since the workers at the counter had seen Mikah's name and there could be some danger because of that.  Zimzod didn't have the energy to point out those people were locked on their target and wouldn't likely waste a side trip to put themselves at risk now that they were on the run, so he let it go.  At that point the terror cells had their targets and the seneschalate would love to keep them up all night in hopes of setting a trap.

Mikah acerbically said, "Sure!  You get first watch." as they all considered Aiden's words.  When Aiden said he'd do it, Fesic joked about him waking her up at midnight and Aiden corrected it would be 3am.  Hearing that, Aiden joked, "I'll come in backwards" because everyone had been joking about giving him back the scar he'd had after Emkir accidentally shot him on Rhylanor.  Still, Aiden persisted, asking if this was him being paranoid or a real security concern?  When Terin said he thought it might be, Zimzod decided it wasn't worth the risk but also didn't care how stupid the others were.

Still, when Aiden asked if he should take the first shift and wake Zimzod at three, Zimzod said, "No.  Wake Terin."  After Aiden agreed to that, Zimzod smiled and volunteered to take "day shift" which only meant he woke up with Mikah and spent the rest of the day with her.  Mikah told Aiden to call Emkir and make sure he locked the ship up tight.  When Terin then asked if they should call the building and let them know they might be at risk, Mikah said, "Sure." with an uncaring shrug, and continued, "I'm going to bed."  Aali said she'd call Emkir so she could tell him to warn the port too.

From then on, as the others slept, Aiden's paranoia ate at his mind with every creak or sound, as if killer terrorist cockroaches would come out of the woodwork to get them.  Eventually, he made it all the way to three in the morning without panicking and drawing his weapon to blast anything his imagination suggested lurked in the shadows.  He went to knock on Terin's bedroom door just as Terin's alarm started going off.  Terin then stood his shift without realizing how lucky he was that Zimzod was tired enough to just go to bed.  Getting ready for bed, Zimzod had considered sneaking out to scare the wits out of Terin in the depths of the morning.  He never considered scaring Aiden because that boy was so tightly wound he'd start shooting.

The night ate at Terin over the hours of his shift and became no less an experience as the morning light played shadows across the suite's floor.  Finally, both Aali and Zimzod had woken and finished their morning routine to come out for breakfast.  Aali planned to eat and then see if anyone else wanted to drive back to the ship after breakfast.  His shift done, Terin decided to have breakfast and grab four hours of sleep.  As the others woke, Jocelynn and Fesic said they wanted to ride back to the ship with Aali.  That left the teams essentially the same as they had been days before, except Rol was in hospital.

Rewards Of A Kind
     Mikah woke to the second day of her medically ordered 'light duty' and was only glad her inept crew hadn't gotten her shot the day before.  After she finished her morning routine, but before she went out for food, Mikah checked her comms and saw she had a message.  Figuring it was an update on Rol, Mikah checked her comms to see an invitation for Mikah and her crew to come to a visit at the Ducal Estates!  Mikah responded to the text invitation saying, 'It will be our great honor to attend.' and then checked the message for the time and date of the intended visit.

Seeing the visit was scheduled for later that day, Mikah came out and told others.  Talk the changed from 'moving to the ship' to 'who was going to pick up Emkir'?  When Jocelynn asked if that meant "Court Dress", she was told they only needed to dress up nice.  past that, Mikah started to tell Aali to get Emkir and come back north, but they realized that would be two hours on the road beyond anything else.  When she also realized Aiden was asleep, Mikah told Aali she'd drive them down to get Emkir in the gravCar, and so Aali could change.  The rest spent their time cleaning up and getting out their pretty clothes with the help of building staff before relaxing.  Both Fesic and Jocelynn had only brought their grungy clothes down to the ship to go contact hunting, so they had their nice stuff at the suite.

Jocelynn had the most fun because she'd been left behind with the butler to wake the others up and neither Aiden nor Terin were happy with the situation.  Terin had only just climbed into bed and Aiden had planned on a few more hours sleep.  Zimzod took things better than they did even though he wasn't pleased with being woken by an attack of flying throw pillows.  Thanks to Mikah driving the gravCar, she, Aali and Emkir were back after just more than an hour.  That let Emkir snack on breakfast leftovers before getting himself all pretty and ready to relax until an airCar painted in the Duchy's colors arrived to pick them up.

When Mikah heard their ride was a marked car, instead of the black cars or more common unmarked cars, Mikah worried about paparazzi.  Emkir shrugged that off saying there weren't any press at their building and they would be landing 'on' the estate.  So, any press there had been invited because they'd behave.  That meant they had no reason to worry.  What they noticed as they landed was that there was a party waiting for them, dressed all in the duchy's colors.  And the first thing they were to able make out as they came closer was that one was a bearer who was flying the banner of the Duchess!

Then, getting even closer, Mikah understood the reason for the banner as she realized Duchess Seldrain was there in person, in the protected center of the party waiting for them to land.  Mikah had been in positions like this before and she wasn't very pleased.  Thank you's from on high all too often came with significant expectations and responsibilities.  That had happened with Seldrain's father and she expected no less from the daughter.  Still, it was time to be gracious and friendly.  When she mentioned Seldrain to the others, Aiden mock called out, "Hey Duchy, how ya doin'" and Mikah laughed and called back, "Yo Homey!"  They all got the shakes out before the car hit turf.

On the ground, Mikah led her people to meet the advancing Duchess as Seldrain smiled and said, "Welcome to the estates.  Please accompany me."  With a single nod leaving her gazing at the grass, Mikah said, "Yes, your Grace" and followed a step behind as Seldrain walked toward a large grav-based people carrier.  The crew were allowed to follow behind Mikah, flanked by security, with the ducal party coming up behind.  As they approached, Aiden did his best to see if they were about to be 'scolded by mom' or not?  But he got very little time to look at her before she turned and he only saw her back from then on.  Before they reached the carrier, they encountered another group who had been waiting where they'd apparently been assigned to until Seldrain led the crew to them.

As the two groups joined, Seldrain began introducing the handful of new people as Countess Ashiruma, her minister of finance, and Duke khasima Ugurkuu, her minister of defense.  As the introductions continued, Jocelynn was the only one caught by surprise there was another Duke serving the Duchess.  She would later be reminded the man was a planetary Duke on Regina.  Seldrain was an Imperial Duchess, and her Duchy covered a number of worlds.  In this special case, the Duchy of Regina also controlled the County of Jewell, so the ruler of Regina controlled the bulk of two subsectors including 6 solar systems directly.

Arriving at the carrier, Seldrain boarded with two of her close advisors and Mikah, followed by her crew.  Then, to the surprise of the crew, the door closed and the rest of the party remained at a distance as the carrier lifted off!  Even leaving the security and her high advisors behind.  As they lifted to a reasonable altitude given the trees and buildings on the grounds, one of the companions deployed a folding table which had an electronic device mounted in it's top.  He then began swearing them to a level of secrecy that Mikah and Zimzod recognized as they watched.

Missing the thought everyone else saw, Aiden was happy he was being sworn in rather than being sworn at.  Jocelynn was the only one to vocally react, saying, "Uh-oh!"  Following the formalities, the other member of Seldrain's personal party stepped forward to explain they were on their way to a facility which, "Did..Not..Exist."  The look in the man's eyes left no room for misunderstandings.  "A facility which, if revealed would be so at the cost of their lives."  Despite the size of the carrier they were in, they first entered a large hanger and then descended into a pit which opened as the hanger's doors closed behind them.  Dropping down the center of the tube, they came to a nexus of transit tunnels and began moving along that until they came to another nexus and started their ascent.

They finally arrived in the hanger of what they assumed was another facility and they got a look around at the few other craft present.  Some looked like top of the line med-rescue craft and the rest were sleek and deadly Rampart fighters which appeared to be 'top of the line' and already armed.  To those who understood the state, they appeared to be in 'hot-5' standby.  Looking for their crews was a quick task as they noticed the men with weapons drawn and ready to fire on them and kill them all.  Until they saw the Duchess.  Almost with the speed of lightning, they brought up their weapons and saluted Seldrain.

Following the Duchess as she moved, Mikah and the crew quickly exited the bay, which they now saw held an emergency rescue and transport flight with armed escort, and moved to meet another team coming to greet Seldrain in an interface hallway just outside the bay.  As the crew watched, quick greetings were exchanged and the crew really only caught the tail end, when the Duchess asked, "So, doctor, what is the latest on Sir Rol's case?"  Standing in the passage, the doctor gave the Duchess a very technical description of the processes they were using which only Mikah potentially understood.  The others only caught snippets of meaning including discussions of piezoelectric values and variances.

While the one thing they really wanted was a translation, what they did see was that the doctor was pissed.  Despite his position relative to the Duchess, this man was familiar enough with her to not give a damn how he should be treating her.  Especially in front of unintroduced outsiders.  The man was so angry that, as he spoke, he started moving back to where he must have come from, forcing the Duchess and her party to walk along!  Passing through a portal, they entered a smaller space which was literally crowded with devices and tech gear.  And all of it medical in nature.  And all of it from higher tech levels that most of the crew had encountered in their careers.

The compartment they were in seemed large enough to treat only one or two patients.  Surprisingly, one apparent module of treatment systems actually looked very familiar to Aali, Aiden and Zimzod.  They were the systems which had been used on them to record their mental images for cloning!  It was common knowledge, if rarely talked about, that Seldrain was Arch Duke Norris' 'True Daughter', a clone of him except the gonosomes were 'XX' instead of 'XY'.  But while her origins were not known, it was assumed the cloning work had been done on a higher tech world because Regina did not have the facilities to do the work locally.  Now, the crew were just starting to realize why this facility was so secret.

Finishing his report, the doctor turned on his heel and left without any sign of dismissal from the Duchess.  He left the chamber through a different portal than the entrance they used and presumably went back to his work.  Turning to the crew, Seldrain explained, "This is the facility we have had Sir Rol moved to for further treatment.  As you have seen, this clinic is capable of things the rest of the medical facilities on world can't do, and may be his only hope.  From what the doctor just told me, and Lady Mikah overheard, there is a fifty - fifty chance Sir Rol will die.  We cannot be certain we can hope to save him at all."

After a pause, she continued, "However, we have already recorded his mental image here,"  With that, she gestured towards the systems devoted to that in the clinic, "and we are aware he has a policy insuring his cloning.  We will have the data sent to his insurance company in the event his body fails.  At this time, we chose to bring you hear and show you this facility because you deserve a reward for your help in the issues we are currently facing.  As a reward, we will allow those of you with stents to have your mental images recorded and updated for your use or to be sent to your insurance agencies where you have similar policies."

Seldrain told those who were interested the process would be done over the coming hours before they left the clinic.  Aiden pointed out he had a stent, but had burned his cloning policy when he'd died nineteen days short of a year before.  He expected that to exclude him from the offer.  Nodding, the Duchess said she would permit his image being recorded 'just in case' and Terin asked for the same even though he'd never had a cloning policy.  The Duchess allowed for that too.  She explained she could do this special thing for them because there was not much she could do publicly to reward the crew.  Some of them had watched the news as she explained the need to keep the public from panicking and the alternate explanations for events like the explosions at the strip mall.

Not many in the crew caught the word "events" and realized the "event" at the strip mall had not been the only events that had happened.  Jocelynn was also told her right to bear arms as a private citizen were now made permanent while on Regina and where she committed no illegal acts.  That right also included the right to conceal arms, and the Duchess would have her Ident updated to reflect that.  When she turned to Fesic and said, "For reasons I am not at liberty to discuss, we are not giving you the same rights." Mikah snarked, "They've heard of you." referring to his actions on Lunion.

Turning to address the entire crew, Seldrain told them all, "For those of you who are not living out of your ship, we are opening up several out-buildings so we can move your on-world residence onto the ducal estates."  That statement dropped a good few jaws in surprise as they realized they'd essentially be neighbors with the Duchess for the rest of their stay.  Mikah glanced at Aiden as she said, "Thank you!  That will ease some minds about security issues."  Seldrain simply nodded to Mikah and continued, "We would also like you to stand ready just in case there are events we need your help to investigate."  Those who'd been expecting the other shoe to drop felt the impact in her words.

The rest of the day was spent by the crew and staff from the estates either having brain scans done or working to pack their gear up and move it to their new residence.  They all got classes on dealing with the estate guard and security entering or leaving the property or airspace.  When your neighbor is the Duchess, you have to put up with these things.  Emkir, for one, was glad he'd be living aboard the ship because he didn't want to have to deal with all that crap in order to go to a bar for beers.  When they learned their new "staff" also included a kitchen crew, Zimzod called up the company whose contract he'd just extended and cancelled the chef.

The move ended as the crew settled in to their first dinner in the new digs.  Relaxing even more, the crew had few adventures beyond checking out the entertainment systems in the place while more than a few of them checked out the stocked bar.  Zimzod complained just a bit when he couldn't find any kind of cigars in the place.  Still, given it was the night after a move and after a late evening combat event the night before, the crew mostly decided to enjoy laying low.  Aiden chose to watch a vid while Jocelynn took a luxurious bath, which she couldn't on the ship.

When talk eventually shifted to Rol, they all wondered how low the odds were that he would survive and Mikah did her best to answer more than a few questions.  The technique Mikah knew they would have the best hope for would be a combination of deep tissue microscans and a number of what the team hoped would be micro-surgeries.  Where molecular radiology and scans showed concentrations of the piezoelectric fingerprints for the poison, they would cut into Rol's frozen flesh and run lines of fluid through advanced-composite micro-tubules to hopefully leach the poison from the body.  At one point, Zimzod wondered why they'd bother and everyone looked at him.

Shrugging off their judgement, Zimzod said Mikah could always ask the Duchess for a very special favor.  At that, Mikah cut him off and said she wasn't asking for an FGMP for him and he laughed but said that wasn't what he meant.  He told her she could ask the Duchess to let Rol's body die and use their super-secret facilities to start cloning a new eighteen-year old Rol there on world.  Mikah waved that off, saying "We're not gonna be here that long, are we?"  Emkir commented they could either make the commitment to return to Regina in eighteen weeks or spend the time on-world.  Fesic added, "Or, we can just leave messages for him to catch up to us somewhere."  Some in the crew nodded because that was what they'd done after Aiden had died and been cloned.

After Mikah said she wanted to give Rol his best shot at recovering, Aiden asked how long she planned for them to be on-world as it was?  Mikah said they'd guessed they'd be on-world for a month when they'd landed three weeks before.  Now, the Arch Duke and Prince had to arrive in the next eight days for the planned ceremonies.  That meant they'd have to re-new their berth rental or move the ship with no idea how long they'd have to stay around in order to get a chance at Norris, to ask about Jocelynn's battledress.  When Zimzod added in his FGMP, Mikah waved him off saying, "Yeah.  Right.  That too." in a tone that suggested he'd be appointed a Duke before he'd get one of those.  Aiden killed the chat about Rol by suggesting they'd spend the next week or two learning if he'd survive?  After that, they all relaxed until it was time to sleep.

Life Catching Up
     The day began early for Terin and he was the first to learn life as a guest of the estates was quite different than anywhere else.  Sensors warned the staff when a guest started moving and soon enough a gentleman's servant came into the room and asked Terin if he required assistance dressing and preparing for the day?  Terin had been finishing up in the bathroom and was real surprised when the man walked in and addressed him.  Recovering his equilibrium, Terin thanked the man for his attentiveness but said he was good.  Accepting that, the man left the room to wait in the hall until Terin might need him to be directed to breakfast.

Greeting Terin, the man asked if Terin had any interests before eating?  Terin said he didn't and asked the man's name.  After learning his man-servant's name, Terin let the man lead him to breakfast, which was unsurprisingly in the same place they'd had dinner the night before.  There, he left Terin to the care of the dining room staff.  After he sat down, Terin was pleased to actually have someone come to him to take his personal order!  In their rooms, Aiden and Fesic had roughly the same experience Terin had.  In the rooms of each couple, a pair of androids came in to offer the same services.

As Aiden stepped out of his shower and saw the man-servant waiting, he asked, "Did Zimzod send you?"  After the man explained his presence, Aiden told him to go through his wardrobe and lay something out for him to wear.  Then, he said he'd dress himself.  Fesic did the same thing Terin did and excused the man from the room.  When Emkir and Aali asked the androids to choose their outfits, they selected the day-versions of the very special outfits the Duke of Lunion had given them.  When the androids walked in on Mikah and Zimzod, he let out a whoop and then asked them where they were the night before when they could've used sex toys?  Mikah sighed and told him to shut up.  After they explained themselves, Mikah sent them off despite this being her third day of mandated light duty.

As each person or couple left their rooms, they also found their assigned servants waiting in the hall.  Arriving at the table about the same time Terin was finishing his meal, Terin said the place was 'top of the line' with a smile.  While servants stepped up to take their orders, Mikah nodded at Terin and said, "After Rol gets cloned, he's gonna have to step up his game!" and the others laughed.  As they ate, Jocelynn's alarm went off and she began her morning routine.  Stepping out of the bathroom dripping wet with a towel around her, she came to a stop as she saw the waiting maid-servant.  Telling the woman she could dress herself, Jocelynn did invite her to help style her hair.

While the maid did help some as Jocelynn dressed, holding items and such, she went to work as Jocelynn sat and asked how she wanted her hair done?  With a chuckle, Jocelynn said, "Surprise me." and the maid went to work.  Out in the dining room, Terin sat and chatted as the others ate.  This continued until a servant came to Aali holding a plate on which there were several sealed-plastic messages which had been delivered for her!  Opening them, Aali realized they were ballots, delivered due to the planet-wide law that the voice of the public must be heard on every proposed law or significant change of a law.  Aali realized this was the 'end of year' review period and decided to get the task out of the way as she read through the stack.

While Aali considered the ballots and punched out the selection holes for her choices, those around the table who'd never even heard of voting were very impressed.  Especially when Aali explained and said that even the servants were able to vote just like she was.  Still, Mikah did growl at one point, "Don't get any ideas.  I'm the captain."  Reading through the issues, Aali had firmly decided she would only vote where she felt qualified to do so.  Still, there were two issues on which Aali had strong feelings.  The first was a measure to transfer funds from a 'public projects' source to support military projects.  This was a pure 'Butter vs Bullets' question.  A blok within the government were fighting the measure saying Regina would be better off if the funds were spent on supporting the public as intended.

Despite her understanding of public needs, Aali's sympathies were in support of a strong navy because Regina was not only right on the ragged edge of the frontier but was one primary target of their very aggressive neighbor.  The Imperium may have won this last war, but that only suggested the enemy might just send more forces.  The second item was based on enlarging a public works project Aali had learned of when the crew had last been on-world.  This measure wanted to increase the size and impact of the works, which were happening in the section of the city where her parents lived.  Aali was concerned that this spread might too quickly affect them, so she opposed that.  Finishing her ballot, she stepped over the terminal and fed the plastic sheets to the reader to tabulate and send off.

As she finished eating, Mikah asked if their residency allowed them access to the Duchess' libraries and she was told there was an entertainment library for the estates as a whole, but there was no access to the private libraries of Her Grace.  Mikah was delivered a complete summary of Rol's case treatment and progress such as it was.  Mikah read the report until the others finished eating and then moved with them to watch the morning news while they waited for Jocelynn to emerge from her room and eat.  With a lack of hot items coming from the Interstellar news feeds, much of the news had shifted to the domestic stories.  With the events in Credo-down still a major part of the news cycle, the events in the strip mall also stole a chunk of attention.  There were other minor events reported but not much detail was given on those.

While watching the news, Mikah receive an FYI notification that His Grace and the Prince were expected to arrive in-system in five days.  Mikah was very pleased at that heads up until she read that the crew were now considered to be part of the "welcoming party".  That meant they would have to get dressed up in their finest and be part of the group that went to the private starport.  While Mikah was pleased this suggested they had a much better chance to speak with Norris, she had perhaps forgotten their own arrival at the estates, where the party that greeted them was quickly shut out and left behind.

When she told the others, Aiden also jumped on the assumption train and said they'd have to try and find a way to get Baron Zander in too, because of their agreement.  Instead of jumping on the train with the two, Emkir explained exactly that possibility that they might simply be assigned as banner waving members of the crowd without facetime, speaking roles or even access into the presence.  Eventually, they were joined by Jocelynn, whose hair was braided and done up particularly nicely that morning.  She'd been even later to the meal because she spent time looking out windows she passed at the grounds, amazed because she'd grown up on a ice-covered world that did it's best to kill anyone outside the city habitat.

When she sat to eat, she talked about what she could have seen of the grounds as she'd walked.  Eventually, Jocelynn asked about gardens, park-space and other places one could walk and enjoy?  Fesic had also been interested in that and was very interested in joining anything Jocelynn set up to tour the grounds.  When everyone was interested, they even said they could get a gravChair to keep things from being too taxing on Lady Mikah's continued recovery.  They also made it possible to get a grand tour from some of the junior grounds keepers, who would benefit from reminding themselves of all the details they needed to learn to do their jobs on the estate.

Spending much of the day wandering the gardens and open spaces of the estate, they realized the tour let them go into areas normally off limits because the staff knew when other spaces were blocked off for restricted use and when those who had used them moved on and they could slip in.  Later in the morning, a servant came to tell Mikah and Aali they had a visitor.  Separating from the group, they were taken to one of the outer security buildings along the borders of the estate where they realized the men waiting for them were from the jewelry firm.  These were men representing those people working on the pieces they'd ordered.

Sitting down with the men, the women were shown prototype pieces that surprised both women because they looked as if they could have been final pieces.  Both Mikah and Aali were given the chance to handle and examine each piece to be sure it matched her expectations.  After they signed off on the designs, they were told the final pieces would be delivered in two days and their accounts would be billed.  Some time after the ladies had left to deal with the jewelers, Aiden was also told he'd received a package.

Still riding his paranoia and cowardice, Aiden made sure the item had been scanned and safety checked completely before he asked to be taken to receive it.  What he found when he got to the post was a small box from the jewelers, which contained two smaller boxes.  Within one were his cuff links and within the other, his lapel pin.  Along with the box was the signed receipt for Cr 1,100 for hand-made jewelry.  Over the day, lunch was served and the ladies and Aiden had their chances to try on the clothing which had been delivered for them.  Finally, after relaxing and touring the estates, it was dinner time as they gathered again in the dining room.  While they didn't have to dress, the entire meal still felt like it had a formal air to it.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Everyone is in the dining room of their building for dinner

Next: Revenge And Reflection