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Survival in the
     Regina System


Arrival in the Regina System

Regina     It was a rough effort, with much work, sweat and prayers, to repair enough systems and get the cruiser INS Tamesha Kargaa operational.  With limited access, to inspire as few questions among the Kargaa's crew, the members of the Dawnstar Horizon crew continued to help where they could.  On the fourth day of jump, the knights quietly gathered to celebrate Sir Brian's birthday.  When the vessel emerged from jump in the Regina System, on Wednesday 130-1112, the Kargaa broadcast her recognition codes along with a combat status code, indicating her situation.  The ship was quickly stormed by naval support vessels and placed under a news blackout until the command crew could be debriefed and the situation understood.

Zach Wood had his x-message ready for transmission, to notify his former employers of the misjump/loss of their trade ship and shuttle.  But it was held under the same blackout, and transmitted only after significant delay.  Ryddoth had completed certain 'documents' during the jump to the Gileden system after they'd recovered the Quasar Viper.  These largely concerned Sir Zimzod's actions in killing Councilor Saamsen of Stepozhevac.  During that jump, he prepared an official notice to the port offices telling them Sir Zimzod was banned from entry access to any berthing area Ryddoth might be assigned to.  He then prepared a notice to all other Scout vessels that Zimzod was to be considered a hazard to any ship he might board.  Ryddoth included a transcript of the data from the Captain of the TMS Equus and a recommendation all Scout vessels refuse to allow him to board.  While he didn't try to send these documents when they arrived in the Regina system, the former Scout still wanted to see what he viewed as justice done.

Zach wasn't charged to send his data, as such notifications were normally pre-paid by shipping lines and the IISS.  They had a primary interest in studying misjumps.  The naval command responded with the expected level of systemic urgency to the cruiser's return.  The Office of the Duke also reacted urgently.  Instructions were given to recover all evidence, and for all the members of the former crew of the Dawnstar Horizon to report to the Seneschal's Office as soon as possible.  Sir Zimzod contacted the residential manager of his fief and made plans for himself and the other knights to lodge in Credo City, inside the port's extrality line.  That left the others to consider lodgings until everything was worked out.  On Emkir's advice, the Scouts took housing at the Visiting Officer's Quarters on Regina's Scout Base while the civilians found hotel lodgings for a week.  They then called for appointments to clear procedural paperwork with the Scout offices.  Saying they "just arrived in port from the Cruiser Tamesha Kargaa" guaranteed them an early appointment with gossip and news hungry Scouts.

This helped them complete their IISS paperwork, and pick up any payments for Silver Asteroids, before they had to report to the Office of the Seneschal.  Because it was already evening, and "as soon as possible" had various shades of meaning, many of the crew were able to shop for desired items during the evening and find food and entertainment before presenting themselves.  The crew looked for items after hiring quarters in Atora City ( Capital of Regina ) or Credo City ( the Startown ).  Dame Mikah set up searches, on the planetary common web, to replace her combat armor and vacc suit.  Both were seriously damaged in the destruction of the Quasar Viper and cut away by the ship's medics.  She also put together a search for a gauss pistol.  Scout Radetsky set up searches via the scout-web ( restricted to scouts and military members ) and the planetary common web for a gauss rifle and gauss pistol.  Sir Brian went looking for a replacement for his combat damaged vacc suit.


Submitting to Review

     It was early that Thursday when the former crew of the ISS Dawnstar Horizon presented themselves, as a group to the Seneschal's Office.  After their Idents were checked and their presence verified, the Duke's Seneschal himself, Branj Dilgaadin, joined the meeting.  He introduced a number of persons from the Regina Planetary Navy ( including Lieutenant Commander Gadagush ) and an Imperial Baron as well as an Imperial Navy officer, the Son of the Duke Vilis ( who had first sponsored the three knights for ennoblement! ).  Finally, a last person was introduced as attending from the Regina Subsector IRIS! ( Imperial Regency Intelligence Service )

The introduction of an IRIS agent gave the crew a shock.  Existence of the agency was more rumor than legend.  History said such an agency once existed, after the Imperial Civil War.  But history was also firm that the agency had been dismantled at the order of Empress Arbellatra.  All that remained were rumors and scary tales of bogey men in the dark.  To find out the organization wasn't only real but had an agent present was an event which shook one's view of reality.  Especially after becoming embroiled in the legend of the Quasar Viper!  And the really unsettling fact was not that, but surprise from a number of the members of the review board itself!  It was then that the crew realized their actions had opened them up to serious charges if they couldn't bring the review council to see things their way.

As matters got underway, the Seneschal reviewed the reports received from the Lt. Commander, and those experts and officers who could explain the evidence provided.  Finishing the hours-long review, the Seneschal looked up and exchanged glances with the board members before the crew.  He then secretly deactivated the recording system before saying, "We understand from Lt. Commander Gadagush that you have possession of the Imperial Warrant carried by the INS Quasar Viper?"  The "We" in question was obviously the assembled board, who all directed their attention at the knights as if they were small boats locked in the center of spinal mount weaponry.  Without loss of composure, Dame Mikah admitted that Sir Zimzod had possession of the Warrant and, after some discussion, it was revealed to be still secured in his battledress back at his residence in Credo City.

Having worked past the usual time taken for a meal break, Seneschal Branj Dilgaadin said they would break for food while a marine detachment escorted Sir Zimzod back to his suites to recover the Warrant and turn it over.  Not a single person in the room mistook this for a question or request.  It was pronounced with the weight of law.  Both Dame Mikah and Sir Zimzod knew they couldn't refuse, as they had Lt. Commander Gadagush and a small number of other authorities in-system until then.  Saying "No" to Seneschal Dilgaadin was tantamount to saying no to Duke Norris himself.  With that, Zimzod was escorted out under guard as they took a break and food was brought in.  That was another thing.  They all saw that, while they had not been named prisoners, they had no doubt they were in fact under guard.  Eventually, Zimzod and his escort returned and, very anti-climactically, the Warrant was turned over to the Seneschal and secured.

That issue dealt with, the Seneschal asked if the timeline for the discovery and recovery of the INS Quasar Viper could be explained again?  Since he was looking at Dame Mikah and she spoke up first, the task fell to her.  As Mikah proceeded through the timeline, she omitted those items, events or persons she felt had no bearing on the issue of the Warrant itself.  Guessing that it wouldn't matter if the Stepozhevac or their Natokan allies thought the Warrant had been on the hulk, since the Warrant would soon be in the hands of Norris' people.  So she decided to streamline the tale, replacing the Stepozhevaci with, "We were hired by agents to find a suspected wreck".  As this was not an outright lie, she waited to see if they pursued the identity of the "Agents" before crossing the bridge that led to the Councilor's death.  To help lead attention away from her edits, Mikah included the kidnapping of herself and the other knights in her testimony.  She was rewarded by the amount of attention and concern that seemed to cause among the review council.

Kyle Van Ryddoth was becoming obviously uncomfortable, not knowing why Dame Mikah changed the story at the last minute, after the crew had agreed on what they should say.  As far as he was concerned, "Sir" Zimzod had shown himself completely out of control, and willing to disregard the desires of his shipmates and, apparently, any authority.  That was, without some enforcer holding his leash.  And the more Dame Mikah deviated from the "agreed on lie", the more committed he became to making a full and complete report of what truly happened.  He knew that, at the very least, the fact there had been a member of Stepozhevac's Ruling Council aboard his ship would come out and the first lie would be exposed.  Investigations would then expose other lies once that lie came out.  His first thought was, if someone was going to hang, it wasn't going to be just him.  His second was, someone had to do something about Sir Zimzod before he felt he could kill anyone, using the ends to justify the means.  And when Dame Mikah finished, and they had asked if everyone agreed, amidst the nods and ascents and general agreement, Kyle Van Ryddoth said he had information to add.

Ryddoth then submitted his documentation of the assassination of the Councilor, as a "Head of State", and other incidents he felt contributed to Sir Zimzod's increasing danger to any team he might be on.  He also voiced his concern about Zimzod's increasing willingness to take the law into his own hands without consulting others.  As the rest of the crew sat in shock and wondered or seethed, Kyle Van Ryddoth sat patiently while the reviewers read his documentation and viewed his logs.  The board members, who had finally finished plowing through the data, looked at each other before scanning the faces of the crew.  With a monotone voice, Seneschal Dilgaadin asked if, with this new information, anyone would like to change their positions which agreed with Dame Mikah's version of the events?  In hopes of learning the truth without discussion or conflict, they were told to use the terminals in front of their seats and were asked to enter their understanding of the cause of the Stepozhevaci Councilor's death.  Quiet settled over the forum as the crewmembers began typing.  Soon each of them sat back as the data fed through for the panel to review.

When this didn't help resolve the new conflict, the crew were debriefed individually, and told before-hand that this was their last chance to make an altered statement without consequences.  When no one changed their statements, each was led off to a cubical where each was introduced to an IRIS investigator and asked to sit.  Then the doors were closed and the questions began.  Finally, the crew were brought back together and told that, while those claiming the Councilor had died by accident had agreed on the major points, differences were apparent that could be memory issues but might not be.  Seneschal Dilgaadin ordered the knights to return the next day at 9am, and the whole crew at 9am the day after.  They then closed the session and released the crew for the evening.  While they all left the room at the same time, the crew did not leave together and could no longer be viewed as a single group under any name.

All of the crew were upset, but none fuming more than Dame Mikah, despite Sir Zimzod being the one thrown into the fire.  When they returned to Zimzod's fief after the day's questioning, Mikah immediately set to writing the Duke's Office about her outrage.  She detailed her service to the Imperium, the Duke and the people of the realm at large.  She stated that, the interviews not withstanding, Scout Kyle Van Ryddoth was persona non-grata in her presence.  No matter what findings were brought back in protecting the Imperium, Spinward Marches and the Duke, she would continue to serve the realm but not with "that Scout" anywhere near her.  She went so far as to say that she couldn't guarantee his safety because of his desire to stand out from, and operate separately from his assigned team.


A Second Day of Questions

     Ms. Vik spent the day after the first review meeting sightseeing and trying to relax.  Among other things, she was impressed by the "Spinward Marches Towers".  They maintained one suite each, displaying a huge amount of information and graphic data on most of the main worlds in the sector!  She used the "Bar Chit" she'd received in her retirement ceremony while relaxing in a SPA bar with Admiral Meshrumiikiim for company.  Scout Radetsky found a hit on his search for a gauss rifle, and went to a gun club in one of Atora City's wealthier districts.

On arrival there, he was treated with disdain and looked down on until after the deal.  But after that, Aiden decided to see if TAS could safely transport his new gauss rifle to the VSQ for him?  When they learned he was a TAS member, they realized he could be much more important than they thought, given the difficulty and expense to get TAS membership.  To make amends, they gave him two magazines for the rifle, which had not been included in the original deal.  As Radetsky finished up, a person in the gun club's common area, who had not been party to any of the dealings, introduced himself as a former scout.  He handed Radetsky a copy of his card, saying "If you are staying in-system lets talk a bit." before moving on.  Aiden left the gun club thinking he should really look into his TAS membership.

After the first day's questions, the knights returned the following day while the rest of the crew were left free to explore the region or hunt for items of interest.  The early discussion played along the edge of the previous day's charges.  During that, the knights learned that Duke of Vilis Bondal a'Plena would arrive on-world later that day.  They were told he would preside over the questions concerning the death of Councilor Saamsen of Stepozhevac.  This was important, because he was their "Patron" on the mission that led to their being knighted.  And he had hosted them after their success, providing medical and other support.  It was also he who petitioned Duke Norris for their knighthoods as Duke Bondal could only ennoble them in his own household, and therefore his own subsector.  So they knew Duke a'Plena, his son Baron Suar a'Plena, Lt. Commander Gadagush and the Duke's Seneschal, Branj Dilgaadin would be sitting in the review with other members of the Regina Subsector Navy as well as IRIS officers.

On a more pleasant side, there would definitely be a reception for the Duke, with expected attendance by all in-system nobility and notables.  Invitations had and would be sent at the Duke's Palace after the council finished.  Finally, after the early questions, the knights were introduced to additional agents from IRIS and Regina's own intelligence community.  They were sat down and the day's schedule described as a full investigation of the kidnapping the knights, described during the initial debriefing.  After a full day of basic questioning, followed by "intensive questioning" by some 'very intense' IRIS people, a surprisingly clear and complete picture was developed of the events.  There was some concern over the killing of the teen during the theft of the SUV, but no decisions were made at that time.  Eventually, drained and exhausted, the knights were released with the reminder they should return with the rest of the crew on the following morning at 9am.

And sure enough, as expected, the arrival of Duke a'Plena and his son Baron Suar a'Plena in-system sparked a reception dinner and reception.  As exhausted as the knights were, they realized they couldn't avoid attending their patron, as it appeared their invitations were personally made by His Grace himself.  While Sir Brian bemoaned the obvious failings of "too much of a good thing", Mikah considered how to use this opportunity to advantage?  Of course, this line of thought was running behind the primary question.  What the hell to wear??  In the end, they all scrambled to dress formal, with Mikah selecting the party dress whose bustle hid a laser sword power pack from view.  As she dressed, and slipped on her starburst dangle ear rings, Mikah was satisfied to note the bustle did nice things for her figure too.  That was followed by the tart consideration that it should, given the cost.  But she really hadn't been concerned with that when she had the dress made either.  Eventually, the three left the suite for the ordered transport and were off to Duke Norris' palace for the reception.

As they mingled, the plan was to meet and greet in a sea of new contacts and potential patrons.  Of course, they made it a point to greet His Grace soon after his arrival.  When that happened, Mikah was pleased with the impact her gown made.  Duke a'Plena had never seen her dressed for anything other than field or recovery work.  As she noted his reaction, she knew she had an opportunity before her which Zimzod and Brian would not.  For his part, Zimzod was not one to hob with the knobs.  He paid his respects and was recognized, which was all he could hope for from the Duke.  They'd done their work for him and moved on.  Now he saw a large number of well decorated military nobility whose presence suggested the opportunity for adventure.  Especially now the Dawnstar Horizon was destroyed and the crew were breaking up.

Sadly for Zimzod, this crowd was not the social circle to which he'd been raised.  He stuck out like a bit of a comet among asteroids and, thanks to his dress uniform, he was noticed.  Soon Zimzod found himself taken under the wings of a veteran of the Marine Corp, Colonel Sir Rhanii Tanshil, Baron of the Regina Court.  As the Baron and his companions took Sir Zimzod under their wing, they worked to make sure the ragged knight did not act in a way that might sully their shared uniform while also taking him on a tour of the gathering to introduce him around.  Not only did Zimzod take the opportunity to learn from his seniors, but was also gifted with more high value introductions than he could have dreamt of!

Still, the event was not "high powered and pumping."  These large gatherings were places where the Nobility could meet and greet each other.  Get to know each other and share plans, connections, aspirations and learn about each other.  Space was filled with too large a number of nobility for everyone to know each other much less know many well.  Mikah did finally get the opportunity to join the Duke on the dance floor and used the time while he redefined how he thought of her to her advantage.  As they danced, she was able to both play the 'loyal troubleshooter' as he asked about the crew's adventures, and the 'damsel in danger' as she suggested those dangers she could have better avoided.

When he tried to pin her down on specifics, they fenced verbally before she said that a better, more customized weapon and improved armor would have made her more effective.  When the Duke finally mused about the armory on his yacht, Mikah smiled demurely and graciously thanked him for any help he could provide.  Soon, anyone watching would have thought the Duke was preparing for his next conquest while the pair talked about her new combat armor and gauss rifle!  Still, Mikah completed 'her mission' early enough and the three didn't stay late because they had a 9am meeting the next day, to see if they'd be executed?

As the knights attended Duke Vilis' party, Aiden called the scout he'd met at the Atora gun club before having a light lunch at the TAS restaurant while checking out the facility.  He'd spent the rest of the day exploring the TAS Hotel and facilities and, after dinner, went off to meet his new friend at a bar.  They agreed to meet at 7pm, and Aiden found him drinking a version of scout brew while waiting for Aiden to arrive.  Once met, they talked about what Aiden was looking for in the way of arms and armor?  Having gotten a good idea of where Aiden was coming from, he took Aiden over the extrality line back onto the starport.

On the port, he led Aiden to what looked like a warehouse section of Credo-down, and to a discreet but obviously legitimate looking "shop".  To say it was like walking into a tesseract was an understatement.  The shop, which seemed a small part of one warehouse from the outside, was actually a huge department store composed of a number of warehouse-sized sections.  Each attached from the rear center and sides of the front or additional buildings.  On the inside, it became apparent the owner was well secured and protected.  His "department store" catered to every merc or combat minded customer that passed the doors and seemed to rival some Instel-Arms sites Aiden had visited.  Personal weapons weren't demanded at the door but the "internal security" of the place made it clear that wasn't needed.  Aiden was quickly introduced to the owner himself. His obvious military bearing and gruff manner said he'd been a gro-po from "the good old days" of world-crushing warfare.

The owner first asked, "What can we do for you?" to have Aiden answer, "Combat Armor...sealed or not."  Unfortunately, Aiden didn't have much to spend.  When his fellow former scout leaned in to whisper something into the owner's ear, the man led Aiden to another part of the "Personal Armor" department.  There, he showed Aiden a one-piece suit of ballistic cloth armor that would offer more protection than the standard cloth armor.  He offered it to Aiden for a very good price, and Aiden accepted.  After that, Aiden asked about helmets and ended up buying a heavy infantry helmet to replace his lighter version.  Aiden then asked about ammunition for snub pistols, and was offered a number of ammo types before buying some HEAT rounds.  Though fairly expensive, they added heavy hitting flexibility to his arsenal.  Happy with his purchases, Aiden and his friend hung out for a bit before he returned to the TAS hotel.


Do They Live Or Do They Die?

     The following morning, as the knights were getting ready, Dame Mikah received the combat armor and gauss weapons she asked Duke Bondal for!  Both Sir's Zimzod and Brian drooled over the gear and tried to "help her" open the crates.  But Dame Mikah had pulled the gauss rifle and loaded it.  As Zimzod tried to push his way past her, the weapon, held muzzle down, fired and a round splintered with shrapnel catching Zimzod in the calf.  While it almost knocked Sir Brian down laughing, it did also back both men off as Dame Mikah finished dealing with her new gear.

After that, the knights left to meet with the rest of the crew for the final decision on their actions.  It had been a rough pill to swallow, that they’d achieved all they had only for Ryddoth to stick a blade through all their spines in one blow.  Of all the crew, Mikah mostly hoped to see Ryddoth one more time...so she could kill him.  Yet, when they arrived and were taken under guard, Ryddoth was not only missing but didn't even appear expected.  They could only hope his body was being used as nutrient for some farmer’s field.  Sitting at the head of the council table, Branj Dilgaadin considered whether he wanted to reward the crew of the Dawnstar Horizon, or make them disappear as he swept them with his eyes.

       Under normal circumstances, I could reward them instantly, he thought to himself, but
             maybe making them disappear would be easier.

He glanced around the conference room.  His Grace, Duke Norris, spared no expense in furnishing it.  Every surface was black, and polished to a mirror finish.  The myriad reflections from the epaulets of the assembled officers and their dozens of medals were striking.  Especially, in contrast with the concern exhibited by the former Dawnstar Horizon crew.  Despite the esteemed company, Dilgaadin felt grim.  One aspect of his position that he did not like was political play-acting.  His Grace, the Duke hired him for three attributes: efficiency, sound judgment, and his disdain for intrigue.  Dilgaadin had no further political aspirations, nor a wish for a noble title, fame, or fortune.  He found this farce of an investigation distasteful, and would be much happier when he could formally end the assembled council and really get down to business.

Dilgaadin looked over at Lieutenant Commander Kugumde Kiis Gadagush, standing with a group of other Imperial Navy officers, listening to an Admiral and nodding occasionally.  That was another sour note.

       She just had to call the Navy when they arrived in system, didn't she?

Dilgaadin sighed, of course she did.  Kugumde was loyal to His Grace but she was military to the core.  So she followed protocol.  And, while it was annoying for him, protocol stated that when a centuries-old ship was recovered after a stuck jump, with a game-ending relic that could unseat your Duke of the Realm, and the Stepozhevaci councilor assigned to the questionable salvage operation turned up dead, you contact your naval superiors rather than just the Seneschal.  As a result, for the past two days, Dilgaadin had to endure a parade of nobility, Navy officers, and IRIS officers.  And, who invited them?!  Asking questions, speculating, and otherwise getting in the way.

He was fairly certain the investigation would end well, meaningless as it was.  As the Duke's Seneschal, he set the tone of his proceedings and made certain the atmosphere here was neutral and decorous.  To ensure this, he arranged that certain events and actions were omitted from or changed in the official reports presented to the assembled council; There were just too many debilitating secrets wrapped in the affair for the rank-and-file.  Fortunately, though, there was plenty of plot left over to make for a juicy, relatively harmless story.  The Imperial Navy officers were engaged, and none were the wiser.

With a sigh, he double-checked his console to ensure the video recorders were running, adjusted his pad for his own notes, and then addressed the crowd.

       "If you please take your seats, Ladies and Gentlemen, we shall get started."  He waited until
             everyone was seated and facing him.  He struck his Staff of the Realm five times on the
             tiled floor to begin the proceedings.  The survivors of the Dawnstar Horizon straightened
             up and the armed guards covering them tensed for just an instant.

      "I now call to order the third administrative session of the investigation into the matter of
             the events that led to the acquisition of the Quasar Viper and the death of Councilor
             Saamsen of Stepozhevac.  This council is charged to determine if criminal indictments
             should be levied against the crew of the former Dawnstar Horizon, specifically:
             Zachariah Wood; Ingrid Martinusdtr Vik; Aiden Radetsky; Kyle Van Ryddoth; Admiral
             Emkir Meshrumiikiim - Retired Scout Service; and the Knights of the Realm Dame
             Mikah, Sir Brian, and Sir Zimzod.

       "We are assembled to hear the final reports. Admiral Eiggomorten, would you please have
             the Navy's report read into the record?"

The next several hours were spent listening to the carefully edited reports.  All the reports agreed that the crew were hired by agents of unknown origin to investigate a derelict ship adrift in space.  And that an agent had come along to oversee the operation.  The dead ship was found to be the Quasar Viper, a legendary vessel which disappeared in 984 TI.  As the reports were read, Dilgaadin silently filled in the omitted information as it would have been mentioned:

      "...Agents of uncertain origin hired the crew of the Dawnstar Horizon to investigate reports of
             ...a hulk in Rhylanori space ...those "agents" were actually the Stepozhevaci, and they
             knew exactly what the hulk was, and what was on it as well as sending the Councillor..."

    "...Sir Zimzod found a warrant in a safe...that would have upended all the power in this
             region..."

    "...Councilor Saamsen later died of his injuries; his body was disposed of through an
             air-lock...And then in this very room, Ryddoth recanted his first statement and told
             this assembled council that Saamsen was murdered.  The rest of the crew disputed his
             claim, and Dame Mikah swore vengeance."

    "An inspection of the Quasar Viper showed nothing of discernible value among the
             possessions of the crew...because the crew of the Dawnstar Horizonhad picked the
             ship clean..."

What was amazing to Dilgaadin about the situation was something he’d noted when he first read the preliminary reports and the individual's files.  Not one member of this crew was common.  They were all people of merit.  Dilgaadin knew of these knights, as he had processed their petitions himself.  But the others aboard the Dawnstar Horizon had respectable resumes as well.  A retired Port Authority Executive Director, two retired Scouts with respectable records and decorations.  One retired Scout Admiral and relatively successful merchant, though his past associations were a little...suspect.  Yet, when you put these individuals together, it seemed chaos ensued.

What should have been a simple search-and-recovery mission wasn't. Instead of quietly taking the Warrant, playing dumb, and quickly heading back to friendly space, they hijacked the whole damn ship. And then, they chose to move it halfway across the sector rather than dumping it into a gas giant or star! Thanks to Sir Zimzod, the Councilor got himself killed. And then, when the crew unwisely jumped the Viper back toward Regina space, they landed in the middle of a pirate battle. This was fortunate for Gadagush, whose ship had sustained significant damage and key casualties, including her Captain. There would be advancement coming out of that! But it demonstrated the strange favor the Dawnstar Horizon had with fortune. Time and time again in this affair, they were in over their heads, and yet time and time again they saw themselves through the tempests and into calmer seas beyond. Time will tell, he decided, if they possessed wile or just dumb luck.

This was fortunate for Gadagush, whose ship had sustained significant damage and key casualties, including her Captain.  There would be advancement coming out of that!  But it demonstrated the strange favor the Dawnstar Horizon had with fortune.  Time and time again in this affair, they were in over their heads, and yet time and time again they saw themselves through the tempests and into calmer seas beyond.  Time will tell, he decided, if they possessed wile or just dumb luck.

Finally, the reports were entered into the official record.  Everyone was in agreement about the facts in the investigation and the scrubbing of the reports was a success.

       Does IRIS wish to include any reports in the official record?" Dilgaadin asked the silent
             group at the far end of the table, facing the door.

The lead IRIS officer looked at him.  "No, Sir.  Not at this time."
'Shocking...' Dilgaadin's thoughts mocked.  The thought was evoked in a sarcastic spirit that begged to be voiced but could never be.

"All right," Dilgaadin said.  "At this time, I would like to thank all of you for helping us with this investigation and your valuable service to His Grace.  I respectfully invite Duke a'Plena, Baron a'Plena, Admiral Eiggomorten, and you, sir," gesturing towards the lead IRIS officer, "to stay to entertain final recommendations.  All other members of this investigative council are dismissed.  May He reign forever."

The Imperial Navy officers and the rest of the IRIS personnel filed out of the room.  The crew were escorted to a waiting room for the period of the deliberations.  When the room was cleared, Dilgaadin switched off the recorders.  He then addressed those who remained.

       "So, Zimzod did kill Councilor Saamsen?"  Everyone nodded.
       "But, I'd like to think there was just cause for doing so.  Are we in agreement?"
             They nodded again.

       "So, we rule as the knights have claimed, that the Councilor's death was an accident.  We
             shall make our decision public, and consider the matter closed.  I doubt the
             Stepozhevaci will wish to pursue the matter in a public forum, considering the
             Viper's true contents and the manner they used to acquire it.  But, now we can
             breath a sigh of relief that all ended well, and His Grace will be pleased with these
             'war prizes.'

       "Now, what will be done with the crew of the former Dawnstar Horizon?"

The Duke of Vilis cleared his throat.  "May I respectfully request they be spared?  Even with this...death, they have shown great valor and courage.  They could have presented the Warrant to any of our enemies, but they came here.  When they arrived at Rech, they fought admirably and helped the Tamesha Kargaa defeat the pirate forces.  They should be rewarded.  If not the crew at large, at least the knights."

Dilgaadin looked at Eiggomorten.  "Admiral?"

       "They were invaluable," Eiggomorten replied.  "Gadagush insists she wouldn't have won the
             day without them.  They are a bit...unorthodox.  And I wouldn't want them under my
             command.  But they seem to get the job done.  As a point of order, I am promoting
             Gadagush to command of the Tamesha Kargaa."

Dilgaadin nodded, wondering why the Admiral felt it necessary to bring up a non-sequitur here?  But he brushed it off, nodding to rubber stamp the promotion as he shrugged and asked, "Does IRIS have an opinion?"

      The senior IRIS officer leaned back in his chair.  He stared at the reflection of his gloved fingers in the tabletop before speaking.  "They have a lot of secrets that they keep from one another," the officer began.  "They are not a cohesive group, though they do 'get the job done' when their lives depend
             on it."  He nodded to Eiggomorten.  "Individually, they all are people of distinction.  As a
             group, however, they are reckless at best and destructive at worst.  I doubt this will be
             the last time we meet regarding them, if they stay together."

Dilgaadin smiled, pleased that he had come to the same conclusion.  Then his smile faded as this statement brought up a much-pondered question.

       "So are they more valuable to us alive or dead?" he asked.

No one answered immediately; there was silence in the room for several moments.

       "Alive!" Baron a'Plena finally exclaimed.  "They're loyal, and they work.  I mean, honestly, I
             don't even know why we're discussing this in the first place?  We have the Warrant and
             the Viper.  The councilor was a megalomaniac anyway, and was not our friend.  I say,
             let's give them a ship, and see what else they can do?"

The IRIS officer looked a little horrified while the Duke beamed with pride.

The Seneschal nodded.  "I agree."  He looked at the Duke.  "And we can arrange that."

The Duke grinned, obviously relieved, "Thank you, Sir. I can help arrange it."

       "Ryddoth contradicted his shipmates."  Admiral Eiggomorten pointed out.  "Whether he's
             correct or incorrect, he still left them twisting in the breeze for dead, and was willing
             to pay whatever price came his way.  That's a dangerous kind of man, your Grace,
             and I don't think the crew wants him."

       "He's not a team player, no." the Duke of Vilis agreed as he made some notes on his pad. "But,
             paladins can be useful, too.  Especially when it's your cause they are willing to die for."

The lead IRIS officer nodded in agreement.

       "I have a use for Ryddoth.  We'll get him his own ship to replace the Dawnstar Horizon, and
             offer him some...freelance work...for my son that I think he'd be happy to do.  Any
             objections?"  As the Duke looked around, there were none.

       "What about the rest of the crew?" Dilgaadin asked.  "The other scout..." he glanced at his
             notes.  "Radetsky.  And Wood and Vik?"

The Duke gave him a blank look.  "I thought we meant the whole crew.  Was I mistaken?"

       "I think we can mean the whole crew, as long as it is insured that they stay together for a
             while.  Including the merchant.  Which might be too bad for him, really." Dilgaadin said,
             staring into space for a moment.  "His ship’s systems failed and misjumped, they
             answered his hail, and now he's stuck with all of this.

       "Oh, well," he continued, looking down and typing on his pad, "Perhaps better than dead.
             I'll also supply them with some of our codes and other helpful information, your Grace."
             Dilgaadin looked up, "Just in case."

"Thank you, Sir."

       "And," the IRIS officer said, "I think I'll give them a hailing code, too.  They seem to have a
             nose for trouble--maybe they'll expose some for us sometime and save us...investigative
             hassle."

Dilgaadin and the Duke of Vilis wrote for a few minutes in silence.  Finally, Duke a'Plena looked up.  "What about the charge of the knights?  About being abducted?"

The IRIS officer shrugged.  "We can look into it, but I think it's moot, don't you?"

Dilgaadin also shrugged.  "We'll keep their testimony in our files here.  Maybe they'll become
       relevant to our affairs at a later time."

Duke a'Plena had a sour look on his face, but said nothing.

"Anything else?" asked Dilgaadin.  No one spoke.

"Of course, everything is pending the approval of His Grace, but I think he'll be pleased with our
       recommendations.  Thank you, gentlemen.  This meeting is adjourned.  May He reign forever."

As the others gathered their equipment, saved their notes and prepared reminders for the action items they had taken, Seneschal Dilgaadin was ready to 'drop the boom'.  He called in the senior trooper from the guards covering 'their victims' to issue his instructions.

"Tell them they're exonerated and free to go until we issue instructions.  And have the knights join
       me here.  Alone."

The relief in the waiting room was only matched by Dame Mikah's hopes to get a shot at Ryddoth.  She'd been disappointed both that he hadn't been present for her to kill and that his absence seemed to have been set up by the Seneschal.  As the others went back to their quarters to wait for what came next, the knights filed into the conference room that had almost been an executioner's court.  Once seated before the Seneschal, he hit them with his sentence.  Seneschal Dilgaadin told them they had waded very deeply into issues that were far beyond their level and were very lucky to come out of it still breathing.

Despite that, they were told their loyalty wasn't in doubt as much as there was concern about the hazards they seemed to create wherever they went.  As a result, the crew were not to be charged but were to be given a ship and would be expected to be at the Duke's service.  The knight's initial joy at being "given a ship" was tempered when they were told the ship wasn't theirs but would remain owned by Duke Norris.  Further, he told them the ship came with even more conditions.  First, he told the knights they would have to hold onto the entire crew, and Mikah leapt up believing that included Kyle Van Ryddoth!  She was quickly calmed and told Ryddoth had been dealt with and was no longer even in the system!

Somewhat mollified, Mikah settled down only so long as it took for the Seneschal to drop the final bomb on them.  They were getting a vessel that had been owned by Duke Norris since the Regina Planetary Navy had captured it during an anti-smuggling operation.  But it had been stripped down and they had to re-equip it to the extent they could afford to.  The final blow was a mandate, stating they had to identify themselves as troubleshooters and offer to help the governments of every system they entered as they arrived!  When Mikah asked about payment, the Seneschal said they could use the ship to earn payment through trade or any other services they could provide in their travels, but they could not ask for payment for help provided under the Duke's mandate.

When they asked if they could be paid for any services, the Seneschal said they could accept any rewards offered but not solicit payment.  The knights next asked what kinds of help they would be expected to provide?  With a smile, the Seneschal then invited in a Marine who had been waiting outside towards the end of the proceedings.  He had not been aware of what had been discussed or decided and was now invited in as the knights were told their first "mission" had been prepared for them.  They were then introduced to the Marine Officer, one Major Rol Kaihvos, and told there were issues in the Inthe system with Vargr gangs smuggling weapons past the customs lines.

The amount and power of weapons were threatening local law enforcement and things were closing on a tipping point.  The Marquis of Inthe had been asking for help for some time, and they were to be that help.  Major Kaihvos was not only a veteran of special forces combat during the war, but had often faced Vargr forces.  This made him a perfect advisor to help the crew as a Vargr expert.  After the introductions were done and the knights knew they had been completely leashed, they were released to return to their suite.


Receiving the Ship

     Early the next morning, Mikah was contacted by the Seneschal's office to see if she wanted to visit the Stingray class yacht the Duke was "loaning" the team?  She accepted the appointment to arrive at a government berth at the starport by 10am.  Preparing for the inspection, Mikah tried to call Aiden who answered with a smart aleck line.  So she hung up and called Zachariah Wood.  With Zach as a pilot and Sir Brian as an engineer, Mikah was confidant she was ready to check out the ship.

Once at the berth, Mikah, Zach and Brian found a launch, one of the Seneschal's assistants and a 20-ish aged flight officer.  The Seneschalate officer introduced the pilot as someone who would get them into orbit before Dame Mikah's pilot took the controls for the flight to the ship itself.  While the secrecy was never explained, the pilot got them into High-Regina orbit before being ordered into the engineering section of the craft.  Then the Seneschal's assistant gave Zach the coordinates for the ship and they set off to a small apparent planetoid ring.  It soon became apparent the "ring" was actually a formation of decommissioned ships!  Each was held, by the nose, by station keeping 'droids keeping the ships in their position via slave 'droids correcting drift.

Once they were lock to lock and sealed their connection, the Seneschalate officer led them through the airlock and onto the yacht.  Together, they took a tour of the ship top to bottom.  As they did, Dame Mikah and the others got an idea of exactly how "stripped" the ship was when it had been impounded.  They also noticed some systems had been modularized.  That allowing some "creative trading" to be done, thanks to the hidden spaces gained by moving modules around.  Surprisingly, despite the ship having been picked clean, it still had a 20 ton launch and air-raft.  A check of the basic systems showed the power plant and life support were active and there was enough fuel in the tanks to safely land at the port.

The Seneschalate officer asked Dame Mikah if she'd like to land the ship or bring the rest of her people up before doing that?  She said she'd have Zach land the ship while they returned dirtside in the cutter.  Once they sealed the ship's off, Mikah took control of the cutter while Zach setup his control board on the new ship.  They then undocked the Seneschalate cutter from the ship and both vessels descended into the atmosphere.  Dame Mikah only handed off the controls to the Seneschalate pilot to land his cutter once they were close to re-entry.  Zach handled re-entry and landing as instructed in the public port, putting the ship down right on the cross hairs.

After landing, and before leaving, the Seneschalate Assistant told Dame Mikah that their fees were paid, in addition to some support options.  So they could rename and paint the ship as well as having a complete check of her systems done by port engineering.  After thanking the man for that, Dame Mikah called the rest of the "team" and told them they had a ship, and added that it wasn't ready to move into yet.  After she told them that, the crew agreed to gather later in the morning and begin the process of provisioning the ship and preparing it to travel to the Inthe system.

After they gathered, they had everything to decide from what gear they should equip the ship with to what to name her and how to paint her?  As they each added items to the equipment list, they also discussed the many options for names passing over such things as "Misbehavior", "Bad Company" and "The Asylum" for the name "Pilot Error".  The paint scheme would be uninspiring, as the crew all agreed they wanted to "not" draw attention.  So the scheme selected was standard for ships and the port was notified.  The crew were asked if they wanted the ship's systems checked yet or if they preferred to wait until their engineer was aboard?  Mikah scheduled that for later in the afternoon, before returning to the others.  The list of gear had grown through the morning and finally topped out for them to send to the port offices.  Ideas like a multiple rocket grenade launcher were shot down but the reply from the port included...

       Eight Vargr Language Translators
       Vargr Lingo Program
       Plastic Explosives(Breaching Charges)
       Detonators
       Three sets of Infrared Goggles
       Tow Ropes/Cables
       Bed Cloths
       Spare parts for the Engine and comp
       Galley equipment and serving stuff
       Video Equipment and videos
       Eight Filter Masks
       Eight Protective Masks
       Electrical tool kit
       Metal working tool kit
       Mechanical tool kit
       Survival gear kit(Desert Survival kit, Camp cooking gear, Tents, Water
             Filtration / Distillation unit)
       Four TL A Vacc Suits w/Spare PLSS and spare tanks
       A collection of Spirits, Wines, Beer and Cider from the Regina system

The bill worked out to Cr 123,600, and Dame Mikah first suggested collecting from all the team to pay it.  But when Ms. Vik brought up the question of ownership and "ship's shares", Dame Mikah decided to retain control and split the cost between herself and Sir Zimzod.  After that, they set a chain of command for the team, with Mikah and Zimzod leading while the Admiral would be the ship's captain for paperwork purposes.  While that was being discussed, Admiral Meshrumiikiim put his foot down that everyone should use his first name, "Emkir".  This got several tongue in cheek responses of, "Yes Captain".

Having been refused grenades and surveillance equipment by the port, Aiden mentioned the "arms warehouse" he’d visited the night before and they made a call.  They had a number of items the team were looking for, including a "Surveillance box".  That would contain adhesive remote mikes, "flying eyes", room bugs, remote listening devices and a base unit collecting all the data on a central computerized recorder system.  Dame Mikah, now recognized as "the Boss", bought that for Cr 10,000, as well as an additional bug sensor for Cr 1,000.  During the discussion about bugs and recording, it was asked if the team all had comm units capable of being scrambled for safe communications?  Emkir, Ms. Vik, Aiden Radetsky and Zach Wood all needed to upgrade.

The arms dealer offered a cut-rate price, allowing them all to turn in their current comms units for long range(500km) ear-comm units with multiple channels and scramble capacity.  Zach refused and paid an additional Cr 500 to get one of the new comm-units which wirelessly connected to other local devices they had been synchronized with.  While there, Rol and some of the others also bought additional or variable loads of ammunition for their personal weapons.  Snub pistol Tranq, HEAP and HEAT rounds were a "specialty".  Dame Mikah also bought a collection of grenades including 30 concussion, 5 Tranq, 20 Training 20 smoke and 40 Frag grenades for Cr 1,350.  Some calls to a medical supplies firm got a price of Cr 10,000 to outfit the ship's medical bay, which Dame Mikah paid herself.

A catering company was contacted and 3 months' supply of food and drink ( 10 medium days and 20 "higher" days' worth of meals ) were bought as part of the deal paid to the port.  Once the items were ordered, it fell to the crew to check the engineering, with the help of port engineers, receive the ordered items and prepare the ship for active service again.  Ms. Vik had bought a training program on starship electronics and Sir Zimzod bought a grav vehicle driving training simulator.  While Dame Mikah asked the arms dealer to find them a ship's weapons training package, they set to dealing with arriving supplies.  There was a muted party as the crew celebrated Aiden's birthday.

As the afternoon continued, the crew worked on the ship and Dame Mikah allowed Zach to try his hand at raising more money speculating in cargoes.  He found three cargoes that fitted his profile: clothes, electronics parts and processed foods, but the lot of clothes were too expensive.  Not being sure they could buy the cargo and find a buyer in the few days left, Dame Mikah said they should back out.  But Zach risked Cr 1,000 of his own on the two tons of electronics parts.


Some Tests And Secret Answers

     The next day the crew got permission to take the ship on a "shake down" cruise just beyond far orbit.  They'd been loaned two target drones, to test their aim and sensors on, and lifted for space.  The ship handled well and the sensors proved to be military grade, thanks to the previous smuggling owners.  But having Zach and Zimzod man the guns would have been comedic if it didn't mean the ship was defenseless.  Eventually, after three hours, the frustration became too much and the live fire exercise was ended.  The crew landed the ship and returned to their work.

Zach checked with the port and found he had a buyer interested in his cargo!  Despite his best abilities, he actually only made back 90% of his investment and returned to the berth disappointed.  With one last day before they planned to lift, Dame Mikah called the Seneschal's office to let them know they were preparing to leave.  Hearing this, the official invited the knights to come to the office.  There, they met in private with the Seneschal himself.  First, he explained that the crew's involvement in the issue of the Warrant made them very specialized assets, because of what they now knew.  Because of that, he handed them a book of accounts and code phrases.  These were explained to be emergency codes.

While it was granted that interstellar communications were difficult and time consuming, the knights were told that if they needed help they had only to reach an IISS post and send one of the phrases to one of the accounts and The Duke of Regina would get the message and send aid.  They only needed to fortify themselves after that, and hold out until aid arrived.  Additionally, they were given access to a coded account which would provide both for repairs to their ship and/or transport back to Duke Norris' people if the ship was destroyed.  In the last, The Seneschal looked each of them in the eyes and explained that they were due greater rewards, but these had to be granted directly by The Duke himself.  And given that Norris was out of regular and direct contact, those rewards would have to wait.  As the Seneschal turned to leave them, he stopped as if remembering something.  He slid a plastic flimsy from his pocket across the desk to them and said, "You can use this on any world with a global data-net".  With that, he stepped out of the office.  The flimsy had what looked like an address coded phrase.

Not knowing what it was for, or when they would use it, they took the flimsy and left, satisfied they would get what was due them.  Once they returned to the ship, both Dame Mikah and Sir Zimzod decided it must be some additional method of calling for help.  Sir Brian however had a gleam in his eyes that the other knights didn't trust.  As soon as they got back to the ship, Brian shot directly to his stateroom, closing and locking the door behind him.  Demands of, "Brian, what are you doing?" and "Brian open the door!" were met with excuses so Zimzod stepped into his stateroom and his battledress.  Minutes later, in his armor, Sir Zimzod stepped up to the door and decided to try opening it normally again.  The door slid open this time, and they saw Sir Brian doing a search on the global data-net for engineering equipment and information.  Nothing sinister.  Sir Zimzod turned as he un-buttoned his battledress helmet and shared a look with Dame Mikah.

Both knew they only had to wait, and their wait ended after just over an hour.  As progress continued toward the next days' launch, Sir Zimzod answered a "call buzz" at the entrance to the ship's berth and found a man waiting in a dark nondescript outfit.  As Zimzod opened the door, the man said, "Hello, how can I help you?"  Taken a'back at the question, Zimzod wasn't sure who the man was while still being certain it was Brian's fault.  After a brief discussion, he learned the man was from a local office of IRIS, the Imperial Regency Intelligence Agency.  The man said their office had received a coded request for assistance.

As he heard this, all the pieces fit together for Sir Zimzod and he invited the IRIS man into the ship. Once aboard, he made introductions and explained the mistaken request to Dame Mikah and the man at the same time. As Mikah listened, and the agent watched, Zimzod reached out to grab Brian, intent on some physical "training". At first Brian managed to evade the former marine's grasp and dodge his attempts to pin the engineer. But Brian's luck ran out as he ducked and spun to dodge another grab and ended up ramming head-first into a bulkhead, knocking himself cold. As Dame Mikah finished their apologies to the agent, they both ignored the whimpers and cries coming from Zimzod's stateroom giving evidence that Brian had been awakened for his "training".


Off To The Future

     Finally, they prepared to file their departure flight plan and leave, the crew received a nearly last minute message from the weapons dealer about a possible training method for them.  So at that 'nearly last minute', Dame Mikah and Sir Brian took Aiden in the air-raft to the arms dealer's warehouse.  Once there, the Dealer took control of the raft and flew them to what turned out to be a global defense station manned by a set of defensive System Defense ships, squadrons of aerospace fighters and a sensor post.  There, they had the software demonstrated for them before making the Cr 30,000 buy.

Followed back to the ship by a specialist trooper carrying the memory module from which the software would be loaded.  The crew called the field control and said they'd be ready to launch as scheduled, despite the last-minute work being done.  Once he finished the setup for installation, the trooper warned the crew not to activate the install until they could remain dirtside for twenty-four hours.  That done, and everything else secured, the IMS Pilot Error lifted for the sky.  Fueled by the port thanks to the Seneschal's office, the crew burned for the 100-diameter limit and, on 136-1112, jumped for the Yori system, as a first step to the Inthe System.

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Next: Passing Through the Yori system    Or: The Tale of the INS Quasar Viper