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The Wages Of Singe


No Rest For The Weary
Extolay     With just short of fifteen weeks left before they could decant Rol, the crew had been on-world since Tuesday evening.  In that time, they'd relaxed and watched kite, gravball and electronics design competitions, and gone to a music festival.  They learned that the sports and music on-world were interesting, but the food was horrifying.  Aali was working on her engineering resets with help from whoever she asked to lend a hand.  Mikah told Emkir to check on what consumables the ship needed and Zimzod protested buying food while on Extolay.

Emkir knew they had months of emergency ration bar supplies, having bought them after surviving the misjump from Regina less than half a year earlier.  So, when Mikah said she was worried about being "forced" to buy things on Tremous Dex or Arden, she was told they could push through, suffering with the ration bars.  Still, they had to buy fuel before jumping to Tremous Dex because of the two parsec jump from Regina since the jump to Dex was four parsecs.  They also had to top off their power plant fuel.  It would be smart to refresh atmospherics and other consumables locally too.  In between jobs in engineering, Aali took breaks to study her stent work.  And the others helped her where they could while the crew had their projects and interests.

Zimzod studied his stent and practiced his gunnery.  Mikah kept up with her medical journals and mandated zero-g drills aboard ship.  She and Zimzod were increasingly able to participate thanks to healing, and started doing regular workouts again.  While also checking their supplies, Emkir worked on the gunnery training software and studied zero-g maneuvers with his teaching suit.  Fesic worked with Emkir on the gunnery training software and studied his lock picking.  Aiden studied his stent and took part in the zero-g drills along with everyone else.  Terin studied his stent work and had begun to focus on improving his zero-g weapons skills.  Jocelynn had been able to start working with her stent, and had also started studying the small arms on-board, with an eye to stepping in where their armorer was unavailable.

The crew settled in back at the ship later in the afternoon, they'd realized there was little else they could do on Extolay.  The system wasn't one set up for entertainment.  There was a "startown", where you could get something "close to the standard fare" for spacers, but spacers got out of their ships looking for something "better" than standard fare.  Sadly, what was available in the startown, while better than the generic stuff the locals had, wasn't much of a change from shipboard food and drinks.

The only two people who had something they "had to do", were Aali and Emkir.  She had work on her engineering resets and tests.  Of course, she had Wall-E, Marvin, Thing-1 and Thing 2(the two engineering 'droids) to help her.  That meant her job was mostly reviewing their work when not stepping in to handle jobs or do specialized work herself.  In the ship's lounge, Emkir had logged into their merchant account and was working to see where he could scare up interest in their cargo?

While Emkir worked, he also realized he still had computer files open and collecting data on the ships which came into or left the system.  Out of curiosity more than anything else, he checked the data he collected until he hit the name of a specific ship.  Then, he froze for a second as he considered the implications of that data.  The reason for his reaction was that the ship, the IMS The Scarlet Tree was Shaslu Kishman's ship.  It had other names, some of which they'd learned from the Executive Administrator of the Risek starport, and Kishman had been identified as a smuggler.  More significantly, there were questions about his involvement with the transport and use of the devices which caused so much death and destruction in the Risek system.  Now, a year and a half later, the system was still only starting to recover.

Getting past his personal reactions, Emkir let the entire crew know what he'd found.  The data showed that the ship had in fact left for Tremous Dex the day before.  So, Kishman and his ship might actually be in that port when they arrived!  Zimzod wasn't impressed at the moment, because the ship was gone and they were not planning to leave for another four or five days.  So, there was nothing they could do about him.  Terin mentioned that, from what he'd heard because he'd not been with the crew at the time, he didn't think Kishman was involved in the plague.  He suggested the man had too many millions of Credits in cargo in his cargo bay there that he'd never have cut his own throat that way.  Hearing that, others in the crew tended to agree, but there were still questions.

Getting back to the cargo, Emkir knew they'd seriously overestimated the value of vacc suits in the Extolay system.  Still optimistic about the farming machinery, Emkir was mostly looking to get a decent deal for the suits because they were the bulk of the cargo.  And the biggest chunk of 'spent money'.  Dinner had come and been eaten while he worked and relaxed with the others.  They also got into their personal studies and life was passing when a call came in on the ship's comms.  Mikah checked it and saw it was coming in from the port.  Wondering what new paperwork or bureaucratic snafu they wanted to talk to her about, Mikah answered the call.

She was greeted by a "Senior Outreach Operations Technician" named Kigakha man Mekbum.  He introduced himself and said he was glad the port could help them resolve the issue with the ship's cargo.  He hoped that was working out as expected?  When Mikah said it was, without even hinting the port had been of no real help, the man said he was calling because he wondered if she could meet with one of the port administrators the next morning?  Mikah figured she had little else she had to do, so she said she'd meet the official.  Pleased, the tech asked her to bring her First officer and command pilot along too.  When Mikah asked for a time, she was told they hoped to meet her at 10am the next morning.  After the call, Mikah warned Zimzod and Aiden they had a meeting with the port the next morning.


Mutual Interests
     While Aiden and Mikah set their alarms for earlier the next morning, Zimzod and Aiden woke before their alarms went off.  They sat and chatted until Fesic appeared in the ship's lounge, one of the next to wake up.  When Fesic asked if anyone had considered cooking, Aiden grabbed a fork and knife to begin banging them on the table as he happily chanted, "Food!  Food!  Food!".  Nodding at that, Fesic put some caff on to cook as he prepared eggs.

Mikah woke and did her morning routine before getting ready to go to her meeting, and went out to eat.  After they'd eaten, Aiden and Zimzod also got into "go meet the port" mode and soon waited for the transport the port would send.  Since they were in a port berth, the ride wasn't far or the distance long, and the "ride" was a small electric thing with an automated brain.  On the ship, Terin got into his stent-work and Fesic his lock picking.  Emkir checked the merchant account again while Aali checked the over-night work reports from the androids.  Jocelynn dug into her collection of weapons and systems data from the equipment the crew had aboard the ship, for her studies.

Emkir soon switched over to work on the gunnery training software, while keeping a market console screen open to keep an eye on that.  As he worked, Emkir got a call which turned out to be from another ship in port.  Answering, he found the call was from a woman who said she was crew aboard the R Class(400 dTon) freighter IMS Girkusge.  Their ship was in port and she said she'd seen the Upgrade's cargo advertised on the merchant display.  Emkir couldn't help notice she'd said that with a bit of a smirk.  When Emkir asked her name, the woman said she was Lana.  Lana then mentioned she'd seen most of the Upgrade's cargo were vacc suits, and the smirk was back.

Suggested vacc suits didn't sell well in the Extolay system, she wondered if the ship might be worried about having to take a loss if they couldn't find someone to cut a deal with?  From her tone, Emkir not only got the idea she thought she'd be that "someone", but he was also pretty sure he wouldn't like her suggested "deal".  When Emkir asked, Lana said her captain was headed to a world where the vacc suits might be of more interest and they offered MCr 3.6 for the cargo.  But the Upgrade paid MCr 4 for the lot and that'd be a KCr 400 loss.  Emkir wasn't enthused with the idea.  Still, not interested in burning bridges, Emkir said he'd check with his captain and get back to her.

After Mikah and the others left, Jocelynn went into her stateroom and locked the doors before pulling out the data crystal she'd gotten from Sir Makxel.  She sparked up the computer station in her stateroom and loaded the crystal into a reader port.  What she found when she checked the crystal, was a very small amount of data.  It was the contact data Sir Makxel could give from the last time he'd made contact, and was several years old.  The small bit of data said the people Makxel had worked with had been "weapons fixers", and they'd ironically had some relationship with Fantek Personal Defense.  That was the firm Jocelynn had learned of in her research on Tremous Dex.

That reminded her she'd only seen a note they'd operated on Tremous Dex and shut down after a period of time.  The information also suggested Imperial agencies handling the data were happy about that, but there were no explanations why?  Or, any further information about the company.  Ignoring that, the contact data contained comms codes for direct contact and coordinate data for meeting points.  Jocelynn could only guess these were either where he met the people or where they worked on-world.  Ironically, the crystal also had some contact codes for people listed as workers at Fantek Personal Defense.  It was disturbing because those contacts suggested how dated Sir Makxel's information was?

At the port offices, Mikah and the others were led to a conference room with quite a good bit of tech on the desks and walls.  The most obvious item was a surface region of the world's starward 'blasted' face broadcast from a holographic display.  Shortly after the guide android left them, Operations Tech Mekbum arrived with two others.  He said they were techs to handle the meeting data while he spoke.  Mekbum started by thanking Mikah and her people for coming.  He said that the port generally saw under two hundred visiting ships each week.  Most of those, he said, were larger mega-liners, most of which never even drove in-system, doing business with shuttles and tugs moving large cargo-pods from beyond the star's jump shadow.

Because of that, less than ninety ships came to the inner system and most of those visited the destination or transit ports in orbit.  So, the Upgrade was one of the smaller number of ships visiting the downport.  Mekbum added that most of the ships landing on-world were commercial and had limits to what help they could be if the port asked.  Since the Upgrade was essentially a yacht being used as a merchanter, Mikah and her crew had more freedom and could profit more because of that.

When Mikah bit back her sarcasm and asked what the port needed, the man pointed to the display.  He mentioned the storm pilots and asked if Mikah and her crew were aware of those?  When Mikah said they were, Mekbum said there were some ships that arrived in-system on a schedule because the port often had a reason to hire them for work.  One of those was a salvage ship, that the port often hired to try and recover the crashed fliers and any cargo that might be intact.  He then said it would cost the port less if they knew which sites were worth salvaging instead of hiring the salvagers to check each site to see what was left after each crash?

Nodding, Mikah asked what the port wanted them to do to help?  She was told they hoped the Upgrade could fly out to four crash sites and scan them with ship's scanners, to see what survived?  When Mikah asked what the port was willing to offer them for the job, she was told there'd be a number of things the port could give them.  On top of forgiving their port fees, including the 'less then heart stopping' Cr 600 for their berth fee, they'd be given a refresh of their consumables and refueled for free.  Mikah knew the fuel offer was the real prize there, because they had to top off their jump fuel to reach their next stop.

When Zimzod muttered, again, about not wanting to buy any food in the system, he was reminded they needed to refresh water, atmosphere and other consumables.  Zimzod knew, from other ports, that could cost them Cr 30,000 or more not counting the fuel.  With those offers, the deal was actually starting to look interesting.  Mikah confirmed they were only expected to do fly-by scans of the sites and then return to the port.  When Mikah asked, she was assured they were not being asked to pick anything up because the salvage ship would handle that.

On top of that, Tech Mekbum said the port had seen the Upgrade brought in a cargo of vacc suits they were trying to sell.  When Mikah agreed, he pointed out that they might not have understood conditions on-world.  Perhaps, he suggested, they thought the suits would sell better than they actually would?  Because of that, Mekbum continued, the port would pay them MCr 4.2 for the cargo.  That would guarantee them a KCr 200 profit.  So, added to the free broker they already had to move the farming machines, they were getting their fees, fuel and a refresh for free with a Cr 200,000 profit on the vacc suits they might not be able to sell on their own.

Next, Mikah asked about how difficult it would be for the ship to do the fly-by?  How the heat would affect the ship, and what the atmospheric conditions would be like?  How difficult it would be for Aiden to fly and control the ship?  When Aiden asked about weather tracking and forecasting, they explained the various different issues making forecasts in their very dynamic environment.  The most obvious issues were the hot air blasting back towards the dark side of the world from the hottest parts of the planet.  Those would blow intensely at higher altitudes while cooled air would be blowing back towards the blasted face at lower altitudes.  So, there was always a very stiff "sunward" air current that ran above the surface.

Added to that, there were places where the surface mineral makeup would liquify and change albedo values to create sudden "updraft" points.  Other points that absorbed more heat could cause cooling zones that could either cause down-drafts or even sudden storm effects.  What Aiden saw from the displays the port people showed him was a very dynamic airspace, where they'd have to have up to date weather information.  The port workers said they could beam all the data from their systems to the ship, if someone onboard could be spared to monitor that?  Mikah and Zimzod said they could have someone do that.

Mikah had been very pleased when they added the vacc suit deal to the pile offered.  So, she asked Mekbum when the port would like the ship to do the work?  He said they would be happy to have that done in the next three days, which was another way of saying, 'Before your berthing fees run out and you leave.'  Mikah nodded because that gave her time to talk to her crew and make the decisions needed to set things up.  Then, they'd decide when they could make the flight and update the port.  Mikah then called Emkir and told him they'd cut a deal with the port and sold the vacc suits.  When Emkir asked for the details, he was told they'd get KCr 200 in profits and cheered their good luck.  Especially after his call from Lana.

Thinking of which, Emkir smiled...  Emkir then punched in the code to contact the IMS Girkusge and let Lana in on the good news!  When he got a crewperson on the ship, Emkir introduced himself as the Upgrade's humble cargo master and asked for Lana.  When she took the call, it was obvious to Emkir that she expected good news.  Smiling, Emkir told Lana that he thanked her for her offer but it had not been necessary.  As her expression changed, Emkir said he'd just finished negotiating a deal to sell the vacc suits on-world and his captain was quite pleased with the profit they'd made.

Turning the knife in even more, Emkir suggested they still had the farming machines for sale and would take a MCr 1 offer if her captain was interested.  Now, it was her turn to politely thank him and say she'd speak to her captain about the offer.  Still, when that call was done, Lana had to wonder if he was gaslighting her or if he actually was getting those profits?  And, if he was, how in hell was he doing things so much better than she and her ship could?  Emkir could only relax and forget Lana while considering the income from the port deal, because Lana wasn't worth wasting brain cells on.

Finishing with Emkir, Mikah called Aali and told her they were planning a "sightseeing" tour of part of the world's bright face.  Because of that, Mikah wanted Aali to make sure the ship was flight-ready and Aali did a check of the ship's exterior, to be sure nothing might fail due to the heat.  Aali said she and the androids would check things out and have an update for Mikah later.  With that, the meeting ended and Mikah, Zimzod and Aiden went back to the ship to spread the good news.  Of course, for Mikah and Zimzod it was all about the profit while Aiden pretended to be Marvin the paranoid android and moped about doing something stupid.

After Mikah's call, but before she and the others got back to the ship, Emkir got a call about the farm equipment, directly from a buyer.  They offered Cr 546,000 for the three machines, and Emkir knew that was a loss of KCr 60.  So, like the offer for the vacc suits, he said he'd talk to his captain and get back to them later if she was interested.  Emkir let his tone tell the caller the offer wasn't very appealing.  Emkir then called the broker they'd been told to work with, to tell her about the offer.  She said it was good Emkir hadn't accepted it and thanked Emkir for letting her know about it.  She did say she hadn't gotten an acceptable offer for the machinery yet.

After Mikah and the others got back, there were still decisions to make and things to be prepared, so she called the crew together.  Mikah explained the mission, explaining they had to do a fly-over of four sites and take sensor scans.  So, it would be about how good a scan they could get from each site and what atmospheric interference they could expect?  Because the key concern for the operation were sensor readings, they needed their best sensor team in the ship's cockpit.  That meant having Aiden as the lead pilot with Terin as his co-pilot.

Terin suggested they tune the sensors on board to better detect atmospheric changes and meteorologic events.  When Aiden agreed, they also discussed getting atmospheric data from the port and having someone watch that and update the flight crew.  Where Emkir had originally considered staying behind in the port, that would have meant he'd need to find somewhere to be and something to do, and even getting network access to log into their merchant account would cost him money.  Given that, he decided he could be the person monitoring the weather data.  He was a trained pilot himself and could make decisions based on the data to better keep Aiden and Terin aware of things.

Aali would obviously be in the engineering space, working on what had to be handled if issues came up.  Fesic wanted to man the gun turrets, in case there were nomads or other hazards out in the wastes which no one had seen fit to mention.  When Mikah made jokes, he said he'd rather be prepared than be surprised and caught without guns.  Mikah allowed him to do that so Fesic and Zimzod would be in their gunner's couches during the flight.  These were internal to the ship and not actually in the turrets.  The turrets housed the weapons themselves and held the systems to change orientation, aim the weapons and feed cannisters where the sand caster was involved.  It also meant that a destroyed turret didn't mean a dead gunner.

Since Mikah said Jocelynn wasn't staying behind, she planned to be in her vacc suit in the ship's lounge, in case they need extra hands.  Mikah also told Aali they needed an evaluation of the ship's exterior surface to check for anything which would cause any concern in the extreme heat of the atmosphere where they'd be flying.  Aali said she'd do a check but also reminded Mikah the ship's hull was proof against burning through layers of a gas giant's atmosphere to scoop fuel.  So, a check for degraded patches and exposed items was smart but not likely to turn up any issues.

Using a local data panel, Aali sparked a connection to the androids and had Marvin, Thing-1 and Thing-2 begin the external investigation.  She also brought up the idea of posting an android on the dorsal hull of the ship.  That way, it could be sent to check any issues that came up while they were flying.  Mikah liked that idea, and they decided to use Thing-1 for that when the time came.  They'd also have the option of flipping the ship in flight, where Aiden was OK with it, to keep the android working in shade if something had to be worked on.

Eventually, Aali confirmed the ship shouldn't have any issues making the flight and Mikah called the port to say they'd fly the mission the next morning.  The port official she spoke to was very pleased and confirmed Mikah should see the Cr 600 refund of their berthing fees already.  Mikah was also told the port would have a full "wash and cool down" team standing by for the ship's return.  They would hit the ship with anti-radiation foam and cool off the hot hull surfaces safely, so any damage checks or maintenance work could get done faster.  Happy with that, Mikah said they should plan to lift at nine the next morning.

Other than the job, Fesic decided he wanted a decent pair of sunglasses, so he sparked up a screen and connected to the local shopping network.  From what he saw, there were no real offerings of casual sunglasses.  He could see they were selling more significant visual aides to block the sun, if he were working in the sun-blasted zones on-world.  But nothing like what he wanted.  Checking to see why, he realized the inhabited parts of the world didn't have any concerns with normal sunlight.  The habzone was within the twilight section of the world, where the bright, blasting of constant sunlight faded into a "twilight zone", before fading into the darkness of the frozone.

To have "day light", the habzone had been studded with stanchions supporting raised arrays of lighting powered by solar collectors on the edge of the blasted zone.  Massive underground cabling ran back to the habzone carrying power from the solar farms.  The habzone was kept under twelve hours of "daylight" and another twelve dimmed light to provide a "night".  So, the world had no real issue with sunlight and there was simply no market for sunglasses.  From there on, Fesic spent the rest of the day either relaxing, studying or preparing for the next day's mission.


Beware Of Sunday Drivers
     The next morning, everyone was up by 7am and getting through their morning routines.  As had become his habit, Fesic cooked the crew breakfast before they started gearing up. Everyone except Zimzod and Fesic had gotten into their vacc suits.  Zimzod snapped into his battledress while Fesic got into his combat armor.  Soon enough, they had called the port to move the ship out to a lift pad while Terin and Aiden discussed a flight plan.  Their options were "newest to oldest crash", "closest to furthest away", reverses of the same or hitting the sites out of order based on other information.

Aiden considered that while saying any site could be avoided based on the weather at the time.   Watching that would be Emkir's job.  Since the furthest out was the most dangerous, given the time they'd spend flying where weather can change, Mikah suggested going as far out as possible, then flying back inward to check sites while watching the weather.  Doing the math, Aiden realized it would take them over two hours to reach the site furthest out, even if they did a suborbital.  When they arrived at the first site, which was also the second oldest crash site, Emkir reported only the expected weather instability and no sign of precipitation.  Arriving on station and hovering for ten minutes at a higher altitude, the results of the scan were useless.

Seeing his paranoia wasn't going to help them while Terin said they'd have to drop lower, Aiden bowed to the needs of the mission and they descended lower to hover and blast the site with sensors.  When the second run of scans came back, they realized one of the reasons they'd not gotten a good read at altitude was there was almost nothing there!  What they got was a defined impact site and "trench", where the crashing craft had furrowed the terrain.  But there was nothing left of the craft or cargo at all.  It had been so shattered and scattered that they saw only the evidence of impact.  So, it was time to burn for the second site, which was the most recent crash.

While making their transit, the port responded to the data sent to them and said "if" the pilot had been in control, they must have tried to make a flat landing.  Sadly, the craft must have hit hard enough to create an impact crater.  Any parts that survived the impact had likely plowed the furrow as they were smashed apart.  The furrow might even have been caused by the "plug" of captured metal thrown from the crashed aircraft crucible before it broke to pieces.  So, there was no question there was nothing at the site to even try to recover.

Burning for the second site, Aiden did his best to mitigate any heating on the ship's hull surface.  Checking from the port broadcasts and sat-data, Emkir could see the site marked "Not-Vacation spot #2" had some convection forming but no precipitation.  Or, since precipitation tended to be metals on this world, what Emkir was referring to as 'Mamma Extolay's Natural Kinetic energy baths".  That meant more choppy winds, increased turbulence and weather-based risks.  When Terin said they should check the site, Aiden said they would.  But he wanted Emkir to keep an eye kept on the location while they flew.

Lifting to a higher-altitude again, hoping for an easier flight, the ship was still battered and pushed about in the sky.  Still, when they hovered over the second site and took their scans, the data said there was something down there to get a better look at.  Aiden considered his options until Mikah, sitting behind his position on the bridge, gave the order to go back and do a lower pass.  When they moved in and started the second scan, they could quickly tell there was a mostly intact wreck below them.  And they could also see what looked like a shelter!  When Terin suggested that was what the shape was, Aiden blurted out, "A shelter?!" in amazement while his outburst spread the word throughout the ship.

Trying to wrap his mind around that, Aiden blurted out, "Can someone get on comms?" in a desperate bid to say anything sensible at all.  Normally, that would have been Rol's job because he had the skills with to cut through interference and other issues.  At the same time, Terin started changing settings to push the sensors to detect organic minerals and try to separate out any signs of neurologic energy signatures.  While Terin's data suggested there might be someone alive down there, Jocelynn got on the comms and announced, "This is the Imperial Merchant Ship Upgrade.  Do you need first aid?"  Because of her comedically now-legendary first aid actions within the crew, some of those aboard nearly doubled over with laughter.

What cut through the mirth were the broken and partial words which suggested there was a response.  The problem was that they couldn't tell what was being said, so they couldn't tell if the response was actual or recorded?  What they knew was that it had been a female voice.  While the case was made for Terin and he was saying they should land and carry out a rescue, Fesic was on the ship's comms suggesting it could be a trap or even a set up!  He pointed out that this region of Extolay was not supposed to be survivable without technologic support, so a crashed pilot shouldn't be alive.

Aiden pushed back against Terin, saying they should ask the port for instructions instead of growing a pair of balls and making a decision as "The Command Pilot" and the man on the scene.  But Terin forcefully argued that down even as he started scanning for a landing site they could use.  When Fesic agreed with Terin that they should carry out a rescue "if" the person turned out to be a downed pilot, Mikah mocked his claim it was a set up.  The joke was that neither person had any evidence one way or the other.  Terin actually mocked Fesic's suggestion that anyone would spend days fighting conditions on the surface to set a trap "just in case" someone eventually went out to look for the wreck in the short term.  Especially since that didn't seem to be the port's pattern.

Terin quickly locked down a site they could land on while Aiden called back to Emkir for a weather update.  When Emkir didn't have any new data, Aiden checked the site Terin targeted to see it was a relatively flat spot closer to the crash than he expected?  he saw it would be a steep drop to land there.  Making his decision, Aiden told Jocelynn to tell whoever was alive below to be prepared to evacuate as soon as the ship hit the dirt.  At the same time, Fesic checked with Mikah and was given permission to go to weapons-yellow.  So, their guns were not yet active but they were heated up and ready and Fesic had his combat sensors.

Realizing that she was the only logical person to hit the ship's door and carry out the rescue, Jocelynn called for a hold before they dropped, so she could get into her combat armor.  This wasn't for any defense against the heat, but in case it really was some kind of trap.  At the same time, Zimzod told Fesic he was signing his turret over to Fesic and going to the ship's hatch because he was in battledress.  That meant he could move much faster, carry a wounded or incapacitated person further and fight better than Jocelynn could in her combat armor.  So, by the time they were in descent, Jocelynn had changed and Zimzod joined her.  He said she would guard the open hatch while he'd actually go out for the rescue.

Eventually, they had Emkir watching the weather data until Jocelynn and Zimzod were ready, and then they made their drop.  During the drop, comms traffic from the port had jumped because this was something they'd never expected!  Also, Jocelynn realized as they close with the surface that she was getting one word in two from the ground, through the interference.  She could thread together statements like, "My name is Mashua", "My call sign is Ruby Hawk" and the phrases, "In need of assistance" and "Can anyone hear me?"  Jocelynn's main concern was that they still couldn't tell if the broadcasts were recorded or live?

Terin mentioned it could be automated and Mikah agreed as Aiden demanded someone check the data with the port.  And people back at the port were even more excited because the data was correct.  In the middle of that, Jocelynn got the demand from the female voice, "You're landing?  Are you fucking crazy?!"  That put paid to questions about a recording.  Dropping faster than normal, they suddenly felt the ship rocked as a down-gust formed and hit them without warning, and they were "slammed down" against the surface.  The only good news there was that they'd only been twenty or thirty feet above the surface at the time.  At the same time, Aali lost all contact with Thing-1, the android she'd posted out on the hull during the operation.  That suggested the android had been crushed on landing.

As Jocelynn answered the voice to ask, "How else can we recover you?" the woman only said again, "You're fucking crazy!" and then called out, "I'm coming!"  Jocelynn could hear the woman's breathing, suggesting she had been running when she'd said the last.  Despite the rough landing, Jocelynn had the hatch open as soon as they were down and Zimzod was out and moving as fast as his battledress augments would carry him in the direction of the crash site.  Zimzod's battledress automatically switched visual modes to protect his eyes from the insane light and heat-effects he rushed into.

Having resolved local conditions, Zimzod's HUD immediately picked out an anomaly which stood out from everything else in his visual range because it was cooler than everything.  It was at 500 yards range ahead of him and to his right.  And it was closing on his position.  The readout from Zimzod's battle computer soon came up with the analysis:
          Target: "Infantryman - Attacking"

Used to the way his battle computer collected data and refined it's analysis, and also knowing the range and interference outside, Zimzod discounted the initial analysis.  He was prepared for an attack but expected a revised analysis to change the definition as he closed on "the anomaly".  He also remembered back in the Risek system, when the computer started with:
      "Infantry Trooper, Laser Armed, GravBelt equipped"
And eventually corrected to:
      "Combat Robot, Grav-Equipped, Laser Rifle Equipped: Estimate: Armored WarBot"

That hadn't been a fun day and he was glad the squad of marines had shown up to save his and Mikah's asses.  He could have enjoyed watching Zach get taken apart though.

Inside 200 yards, the battle computer updated to an analysis of:
          "Confirmed: Human, Analysis: Unarmed Infantryman"
The movement analysis confirmed the apparent vector of movement would bring the person right into Zimzod's face.  Zimzod altered his path to intercept as he moved.  Within 100 yards, the computer updated:
          "Confirmed: Human, Analysis: Unarmed, Proposed: Civilian"
Finally, Zimzod could see the woman, in the rags of what had been a flight suit of some kind, dashing towards him with her right arm lashed to her torso as if broken and slung there.  He also picked out various splotches of browned stains which had to have been the woman's own dried blood.

At the same time, Emkir called out that a storm-head was developing directly above them.  When he then yelled, "Step on it guys!", Emkir wasn't the only person telling Zimzod to move faster because they had to leave!  Despite screaming out in extreme pain as Zimzod scooped her up and turned for the ship, the woman held on for life with her left arm and wrapped her legs around Zimzod's torso.  Zimzod then charged the ship hatch and yelled "We're in" as he crossed the threshold.  Jocelynn sealed the hatch after, and Aiden yelled, "We're out!" while throwing the controls into a lift and pouring on the thrust.

As he did, the engines whined and the ship shuddered and they went...Nowhere.  When Aiden announced that, Zimzod called out, "Engineer!  Figure it out and let's get out of here!"  Fesic yelled out, "We picked up a passenger and we're too heavy."  Despite the gravity of the situation, that got a laugh as Aali said she was on it.  Mikah joked about throwing out Rol's gestation chamber to lighten the load.  Still, when the questions started coming it was obvious someone or something had to go outside and investigate while those inside ran diagnostics.

At the same time, the first diagnostics were coming back and showing there were no system failures.  The more test routines they ran, the more they were seeing no problems.  Jocelynn demanded, "What?  did we melt to the surface?"  That underscored the fact they had to go outside to investigate.  Still at the hatch, Jocelynn volunteered to go outside and scout around as much as she could and was told not to stay out in the hot too long.  Agreeing, Jocelynn did her best to see if she could figure anything out but couldn't figure out what she was looking for?

As her temperature started rising, Jocelynn turned on the gunCamera on her pistol and started using that to broadcast to Aali, who put her goggles on to catch the broadcast across commdots.  Right off, Aali told Jocelynn to slow down her movements because Aali was becoming motion sick.  When Aali got something she could see, it seemed the ship had actually "grounded"!  That meant something had failed with one or more of the ship's landing gear.  Either one of the landing struts had folded up into the ship allowing the hull to impact the surface or something worse had happened.  Either way, Aali told Jocelynn to get back into the ship.

At the same time, Zimzod moved the pilot to their med bay and called for Mikah to join him there as he started using his paramedic skills to begin treating his patient.  Jocelynn said she's seen nothing of note, but admitted she wasn't sure what to look for?  That fed a growing consensus they should send THING-2 out to see what it could identify?  After they did send THING-2 out to do more of a scan where Aali figured the 'droid could last twenty minutes before overheating.  Unfortunately, after the 'droid did a search around the circumference of the ship they found nothing of note.

The only damage they could identify was the issue with their landing gear, and that was by assumption since they couldn't see the struts either.  Terin called Fesic to ask what the gunnery cameras were showing but any vis-light cameras were blocked by the ground.  So, they showed nothing of value and likely wouldn't have done so anyway.  They were designed for space combat and telescopic visual targeting over hundreds or thousands of miles.  When Fesic also said the barrels of the dorsal laser turret were likely bent harshly, he also admitted they wouldn't have the strength to hold the ship in place.

Where the guns wouldn't hold them down to the surface, Fesic kicked off diagnostics that would take twenty minutes to run.  Considering the atmosphere, Fesic suggested they could have been pinned by a microburst.  And they all considered that chance and agreed they should just try to lift again and see if they got off the ground?  Accepting that, Aiden decided to do the best he can to shake the ship a bit and "break the seal" as he tried to lift.  And as soon as he applied the thrust, they lifted up off the surface!  That got a cheer from the others as he announced it across the ship.

Watching the sensors as they lifted, Terin could see they left the footing of their forward landing strut behind as in the lift.  Mikah told the others not to worry because she'd find a way to make the port pay for the damage and Aiden asked if she still wanted to scan the other two sites the port sent them out to look at?  Mikah said to do quick scans and see what can be recorded, but not to "go nuts".  Accepting that, Aiden and Terin burned for the third site while Aiden told everyone to start running diagnostics and make sure they didn't have other damage they weren't aware of.

Around the same time, Fesic has gotten his data back and the diagnostics showed "undefined" damage to the dorsal laser turret.  It recommended the turret not be used until the issue could be correctly identified and repairs made.  Realizing the weapons were of no used, Fesic powered them down even though he now had no "surface-facing" weapons.  On the way to the third site, Aiden asked Emkir about the weather and was told the scanners showed a turgid state building towards a storm of some kind.  Emkir also warned there were signs of impending precipitation, which would be falling metal in this region.

Aborting their scans of the third site, Aiden had Emkir call back and update the port as they looked at the sensors and charted a path around the forming storm.  When the port asked if they might try to get a high-altitude scan from above the storm, Aiden said he could.  But, he asked what value they could get through clouds of drifting and falling metals and heavy elements?  Still, he turned the ship back and burned for altitude into the hotter high-powered air currents of the atmosphere.

In the medical bay, storm pilot Mashua "Ruby Hawk" Akhamii was both very happy and thankful to have been rescued, but amazed how stupid the crew had been in landing at all.  After that, she was out cold thanks to drugs for treatment.  As Mikah checked the woman's arm with her scanners, she saw the bones had been essentially shattered.  If she did the work, there would have to be hours of painstaking reconstructive surgery with a lot of added metal.  Shaking her head at the amount of reconstructive work to be done, Mikah was realizing that a medical bay on a ship in a violent atmosphere wasn't the place for that to be done by a team of two.

The data Aiden and Terin got from the third site wasn't of a high quality, but there were enough details to suggest a wreck existed.  And, to suggest the crash hadn't been survivable.  Terin said they should move on to the last site and consider returning if the weather had improved.  Since Mikah and Zimzod were in surgery, Aiden had to man up and make a decision himself.  So, he burned for the last crash site because scans showed a storm in that area looked to be dissipating.

Finally over the last crash site, they managed to get a very high-quality scan even from high altitude.  The grim story they got from those scans showed the aircraft was largely intact and there may well have been a survivor.  But, the crash had happened weeks before and the sensors showed no life signs at all.  After discussing that, Terin asked if they wanted to return to the third crash site to try again and Aiden asked if the weather had cleared up or not?  Just as Emkir reported clearing weather in that area, Aali reported getting error readings from some of the ship's thruster systems!

In the med-bay, Mikah had put the pilot in the autodoc to let it do what it could while she cleaned up and got working on a patient report for the port.  She'd sent Zimzod back to work with the others after he'd cleaned up.  So, when she heard Aali's report, Mikah ordered Aiden to get them back to the port and report their situation to port administration.  Despite the failure to get a solid scan on the third site, the port was ecstatic of the rescue of Ruby Hawk Akhamii and were happy to have the ship return.  On the way back to the port, Zimzod went into the ship's locker to grab the geiger counter there and check his armor and Jocelynn's.  Both were cool and uncontaminated.

Plans And Losses
     Burning for altitude, Aiden checked the reports from Terin and the computer as he decided they could still land the ship at the downport.  That was good news because the government really wanted them to land on-world.  And they had all their support vehicles and services ready to bring the ship in.  Even as they arrived and hovered over the designated landing pad, port workers began hitting the ship with high-powered "hot gel" fluid jets.  The gel was hot so it wouldn't trigger damage due to sudden temperature changes and expansion damage to the ship's hull.  The gel was also formulated to both leech heat from the hull and mitigate the radiation effects on the outer hull.

The onslaught of chemical jets only increased as the ship settled onto the pad.  That continued for some time before the gel was blasted off with a neutral pressure wash.  Then, port workers started hitting the hull with a "radiation-eating" chemical foam.  The treatment of the hull continued as they used grav-beams to again move the ship onto a elevator so it could be lowered into the below-ground facilities.  Then, they were shifted onto a crawler which moved them to their berth.  The whole while, they were being hit by different cocktails designed to both speed the hull's cooling and reduce any radioactive absorption the hull had suffered.

On the ship, Mikah passed around tests for all the crew, to make sure no one had been burned, especially Zimzod and Jocelynn.  Meanwhile, the autodoc said Mashua was in surprisingly good condition not counting her arm.  Mikah had to wonder at the survival training the authorities were giving their storm pilots?  Despite sitting in their berth, the crew were told it would be some time before they were done with the hull treatments so they were told to relax and wait until the OK was given to unbutton the ship.  At the same time, they started asking questions about the condition of the storm pilot?  Mikah sent her reports in, along with scans of the woman's right arm.

The autodoc report said it would be a few more hours before treatment on the woman was done, and she'd have to undergo significant surgery on the arm after.  As the conversation continued, Mikah got the impression there was a lot more behind the port's interest than the recovery of a downed pilot, and she could see what looked like reporters in the background as she answered questions.  Outside the med-bay, Aali was just really getting into her engineering work, because Aiden and Terin had shut things down, and she could run more complete diagnostic tests.  Fesic knew the dorsal laser turret was screwed and had a good hunch the barrels were bent badly.

After another hour on the ground, the port both told them it was safe to open their hatches and asked permission to send a medical team aboard the ship to examine Mashua Akhamii.  Mikah and the crew were good with that, though Mikah told them Akhamii was still being treated in the autodoc.  When Mikah met the team at the airlock, they were ironically from the first hospital she'd visited when Mikah had gone looking for the missing port worker.  Not that she'd dealt with any of them at the time or them her.

The other thing Mikah noticed was that, along with the doctor, anesthesiologist, pair of nurses, there was a person with a wearable video camera and microphone!  From the patches on that person's utility vest, it suggested the man was a reporter!  He even had a small drone camera hovering above and slightly behind him, programed to follow him as he moved.  Others in the crew pointed to the man, joking he was the insurance agent, or the lawyer.  It was eventually confirmed he was a reporter because Mashua Akhamii was a celebrity in-system.

In fact, she had been one of the more famous pilots in-system until her supposed death earlier that week.  Needing to deal with repairs, Mikah was good letting the doctor's team sit and wait for the autodoc to finish.  And the Doctor said they'd send supplies over to top off the autodoc in thanks for the rescue and treatment.  Mikah told the reporter he had to stick with her since she was not giving him the chance to start roaming the ship unattended.

Apparently, the crew had arrived Wednesday evening just after the huge retrospective broadcasts and video celebrations of her life had been played.  The video event had apparently been pulled together quickly, because most of the material was taken from coverage of her exploits from earlier exploits on the storm pilot videos.  All they'd had to do was specifically craft the ending to fit what details had been known at the time of her crash.  But, if the crew had seen any of the broadcast, they hadn't realized the memorial was for a recent crash.  Still, she'd been rescued and they'd done the rescuing, so this was massive news locally.

With the news spreading throughout Extolay, the wave was hitting every shore.  Because of that, Emkir got a buzz on his comms and answered to see it was their cargo broker.  When he answered, she sounded very pleased as she asked him "What the fuck did you do?!"  Emkir only shrugged and said, "The port sent us out to do some surveys and we found a survivor.  So, we brought her back."  Nodding that off, the broker said, "Yeah, well now there's a bidding war for your farm machinery."  Emkir only gave her a thumbs up as he said "Excellent!"  She continued, "Everyone wants to buy the cargo from the ship that rescued the Red Hawk!"  When Emkir tried to give her direction, she told him she'd call him back after managing the bidding, and cut the line, making it clear she knew her job.  Before she did, the broker did say some of the buyers hoped to have the machines signed by the crew.

When he told Mikah about that, she was more concerned with getting the ship repaired so they could move on and keep on schedule.  Mikah did joke about charging for autographs when she heard about that.  When Emkir had found her, she, Aali, Fesic and Zimzod were outside the ship checking the damage with a team of engineers from the port.  While Aali was telling Mikah what had to be fixed, the port people were both helping with that and taking notes at the same time, to provide an estimate on repair costs.  Berth technicians had changed the grav plates to lift the ship off the ground so they could evaluate the entire hull.

After a careful examination, it was decided the ship had become stuck because of a number of events which happened in sequence.  Now that they were safe in a port and had the time to do it, they worked with Aali to download flight data from the ship's computers.  That showed they'd most likely been hit by a microburst as they brought the ship in to land.  The burst slammed the ship into the uneven ground near, but not in the clear space they'd planned to land on.  The ship's forward landing strut struck the ground first, and the footer unit was twisted and jammed into a crevasse, where it became stuck.  No matter how much they'd looked, there would have been no way to see that until the ship lifted.

When Aiden had first tried to lift the ship, the damaged strut was still stuck and hadn't failed.  Despite the torque and other forces, it held them down to the surface.  Scans of the ragged remaining edge where the strut had failed showed that force waves had pushed and pulled on the metal in various directions.  That and a molecular scan told them that the ship had pushed down on the strut again as Aiden deactivated the engines and the ship settled back down after their first attempt to lift.  That second crushing impact had likely damaged the strut enough that it simply snapped the second time they tried to lift.

The ship's two other struts were bent a bit but neither broken or failing.  On top of that, they could obviously see the bent barrels of the one dorsal laser turret, with its internal focusing arrays likely mazed.  Another thing they found while checking for damage was Thing-1's gravboot.  It had been the most dense part of Thing-1, and became embedded into the ship's hull plating when the 'droid was crushed.  When all the damage had been told and the costs totaled, the port engineers estimated the repair costs at KCr 700 or so.  That covered the hull and strut repairs, because all the struts had been bent and suffered fatigue damage.  The Port Administrator said he could "convince" the yard to do the work at cost, which would still end up in the area of KCr 300.

That didn't include replacement of the android, which would cost over KCr 300 itself.  A port official said they understood the ship was on a tight schedule and they could book immediate space on the orbital shipyard to get the work done.  When Fesic asked about the barrels on the laser turret, they said those would cost KCr 50 each to replace for a total of KCr 150.  Hearing they could be holding the bag for KCr 450 in repairs, Mikah asked about starting a fund raiser while they were short-term celebrities for rescuing the pilot.  A port administrator said they could, and even offered to help with the regulations and datawork.  Mikah told Emkir to get on that with the man.

With that being handled, Zimzod asked about the alarms they'd had from the ship's thrusters during the run and if Aali had checked those yet?  She admitted she hadn't yet checked those because of the issues with the ship's hull, and planned to check on them next with her diminished android crew.  Workers at the port said they could assign an engineering crew to help Aali diagnose issues with the ship but couldn't promise any cost reductions.  Internal systems were expensive.  When Jocelynn asked how long the repairs would take and how it would affect their schedule, Mikah said they didn't have a choice anymore, and had to wait until the work was done to know the answers.

It wasn't long before the crew's short-term celebrity paid a first dividend.  Officers aboard the yard had "vacated" a repair slip to help out the rescuers.  And, to advertise to others that they'd provided the service.  The next balloon to rise came in a call from a local media company.  They wanted to embed a news team with the crew for the remaining time they were in-system, to document the story of the rescue and more.  They also wanted interviews with each of the ship's crew.  When Mikah asked if it was worth KCr 600 to them, they offered KCr 70 and Cr 5,000 individual payments.

Mikah admitted to herself that the vid-market on that world couldn't be that lucrative.  But, she also knew every little bit would help pay for the repairs.  When the caller promised the team wasn't planning on living on the ship with them, and would get quarters on the shipyard or elsewhere, Mikah accepted.  After that, they waited until the port and yard told them things were ready, and they could move the ship to the yard.  Then, they had to wait for the media production company to get their team out to the berth.  When they arrived, they had some of the reporters spoke to each of the ship's crew, getting permission for interviews, while others did set up shots, took vids of the ship's damage or spoke to port personnel, for additional footage and information.

The work was just wrapping up and the news crew field director was just trying to wrangle Mikah's people for a group shot when they were all surprised.  It seemed that the autodoc had finished up with the Red Hawk some short time before, and the medical team moved her to a gurney to get her to the transport waiting outside the ship.  That meant the newsies were there and filming when Mashua Akhamii was rolled out of the ship.  Used to her own celebrity, and feeling no pain thanks to the autodoc, Mashua had the medics stop so she could make the expected statement.

At first, she had the medics roll her over to where the crew were standing and gave them each one-armed hugs and kisses as she told them how amazed she was they were stupid enough to land for her.  Turning to the cameras, she told the public how insane she thought the crew were and then said, "I didn't have a choice on landing but they did!" in a tone that said landings should never be made out in the blasting light.  She then continued, "I don't know why you did that but I can see it cost you pretty badly."  With that, she eyed what she could of the ship damage before turning back to the camera.

Mashua then surprised them all by continuing, "My fans know I have a fund raiser site, and I want to help these people because I wouldn't be here if not for them.  Please donate to my fundraiser because everything you donate will go to them to help repair their ship from today until they leave the system."  While that caught the crew entirely by surprise, the truth was that most of Mashua's fans had given heavily for her funeral earlier in the week.  So, the masses had already been tapped and would have less to give this time.  Still, as Mikah had said, every little bit would help.

In orbit, the crew docked with the shipyard and were directed to a repair slip right off.  After docking, they were offered accommodations on the station even though the yard boss said that wouldn't be necessary.  From what they could tell, the electronics and thruster issues Aali had gotten an alarm from were minor and any repairs would be modular.  So, they wouldn't have to shut the entire ship down for that and the external repairs wouldn't require a shutdown at all.  The slip they were put in allowed the yard to put an atmospheric shroud around the ship so the area could be pressurized even while it remained in zero-g.

By the time the docking tube was in place and all the details taken care of, a swarm of workers went out to investigate and confirm or update what work had to be done.  The news crew broke up into those members following each of the crew around and those involved in working a deal out with the yard or in other production work.  In the ship's engineering section, a team of five techs showed up carrying a bunch of cable rats.  Those were small robotic devices used to creep into a ship's bulkheads and other structures as they traced cabling.  Operators would keep track of them and help guide them while also using on-device cameras to view damage or other details.  After getting Aali's requirements, restrictions and direction, they promised her they'd have a full report in twelve hours.

After the workers had a complete list of the damage and work needed, they told Mikah and Aali they'd start talking about schedules and when the ship would be able to get moving?  Since it was late afternoon, Aali stayed in engineering to observe, help or give direction as needed.  That continued, and the others settled in, until dinner time when they were all invited to eat with the senior officers of the shipyard.  Terin joked that they were in for 'high quality vat meats' but was surprised to find real foodstuffs being served.  It turned out that the world's chief bureaucrat had paid to send the food to the station.  The crew were told the food would last as long as the work continued.  Still, they were promised the work wouldn't be delayed for the food even though enough of it was received to feed a good part of the station's staff.

Settling in with the news crew present turned out to be a bit different than usual.  The teams wanted to schedule time to do interviews.  Some of the crew, Mikah included, wanted to get the interviews done and out of the way that afternoon.  But, after Mikah did her interview, she found she couldn't brush the newsies off that quickly.  They next asked her for a tour of the ship.  Agreeing, Mikah also came up with a plan to "spike donations" to their own fund raiser.  Taking the crew back to the med bay, where she had 'personally treated the Ruby Hawk', Mikah made sure to take them into Rol’s stateroom, to show them the gestation chamber in which Rol's clone was growing.

As Mikah showed them the gestation chamber, with googly eyes and other art work drawn on it.  She knew the news crew would notice the artwork and ask questions about it.  When that happened, Mikah laid it on as thick as she could get away with.  She reminded the news crew's viewers how "Sir Rol Kaihvos had selflessly given his life to stop an assassin.  How he saved the life of the Duchess of Regina with his last breath".  To the news crew, she appeared to be overcome by a wave of real and intense emotion.  Of course, she didn't think it would be good to tell them she was fighting hard not to vomit...


Now Co-Starring A Bored Crew
     The next morning, the report was ready for the crew.  On the "crash" damage, the failed landing leg was the key issue, and they also recommended replacing some sections of hull plating.  That meant cutting away and replacing hull sections while they replaced all the ship's landing struts.  They had to replace the struts because they'd all had some damage and fatigue.  Since they recycled their materials as often as they could, they guessed they'd see a loss as small as five percent from materials cut from the ship.  For the hull material, they could recycle enough to not charge the ship for any new material.  At the same time, the three barrels for the laser turret were bent to destruction and those they had to get from the Navy base in-system.

Talking about the landing gear, the replacement costs would be more significant costs.  Finally, they'd traced the cabling and found runs that ran close to the skin of the ship had gotten a bit fried by some random radiation bursts.  Those runs would have to be removed and replaced, and the smaller spaces scrubbed and decontaminated, but they had the bots to do that easily.  So, the thruster issue turned out to be of little concern.  That meant they were paying chump change except for the landing struts.  And most of the material for those was covered in recycling, not that they'd "not charge" some random customer full price for them.  But the crew had saved a favorite storm pilot so they were doing this work as close to cost as they could.

As far as the laser turret barrels were concerned, they confirmed they had to get replacements from the naval base, but said they'd requested them under accounting for defense allotments.  They also said the request had been endorsed by both the systems Chief Bureaucrat and the system's Imperial Legate.  If that didn't come through, then the barrels would cost the crew KCr 1,500 more, on top of the other issues.  As far as a repair schedule, they said they could get everything except the laser barrels done in a day and a half but would have to wait on the naval base to say how long those would take to fix?  After they got the barrels, it would be less than a day to replace them and possibly less than half a day.

With work beginning on what the teams could fix or replace, the crew of the Upgrade would be on the station for the next two days.  That let them plan to leave the system on schedule on the 352nd day of the year.  All they worried about were the laser barrels and how long that could delay them?  Those who could, helped work on the ship where they wouldn't get in the way.  Others kept up their studies if they could, but some of the crew simply had nothing more to do than relax or watch the news.  Some of that was generic, but Zimzod got very excited by the news from Pimane, his homeworld.  They were also very interested in news from the Natoko system, of Imperial military actions there.

    Whanga(E676126-7  Lo Ni  G  224  Im  A1 V  M1 D)                         Date: 318-1113
    Word has been received from the Whanga system of the arrival of a
    fleet of sleeper ships, which had originally departed the Terra
    system in the mid-1000's.  Communications from Commander Sir Iduur
    Akidarga stated the ships detected the solar system and were in
    the process of establishing in-system orbit around the mainworld
    as expected.

    TAS has learned this colonial effort is based on the granted fief of
    Colonel Sir Apirana Turupa Ngata IV, formerly of the Imperial Marine
    Corps.  Colonel Ngata, a native Maori from the pacific archipelagoes
    of Terra, had enlisted with the Marines and served with distinction.
    After noted actions against the Solomani Confederation, he was granted
    rank and title directly from the Emperor.  With some consideration,
    Sir Apirana chose to enlist his people in the effort to create a new
    Maori homeworld, separated from the cultural limits faced on Terra
    as a minority population.

    Over the next years, with support from the Imperial and Duchy navies,
    the colonists will be deployed from their sleeper ships to their new
    homeworld.  It is unfortunate that plans to prepare for the arrival
    of these colonists were interrupted or delayed by the Fifth Frontier
    War, however the ships are well prepared.  Cultural anthropologist
    Sir Agurbu kam Mushasaar has also remarked that colonists might not
    need as much support, based on the originating culture from which
    they rose.

          Sir Agurbu stated, "As with a number of the cultures still
          emerging from Terra, the Maori culture has been resistant
          to some levels of change and technologic advance.  This
          makes those who hold to the original roles, and maintain
          with little change, their traditions and skills better
          able to adapt to the wilds of a world largely
          untouched by modern cultures."

    ADDENDEM: 340-1113: Regina
    As news of these events reached the Regina system, Prince Lucan and
    Arch Duke Norris stated they were pleased with the progress being made.
    Both men stated they had no intention of visiting the system any time
    soon as they expected the colonial effort to be far too busy to deal
    with a state visit.  The Prince did surprise the media when he stated
    he'd had orders regarding Sir Apirana, who had left the Imperial Marine
    Corps as a Colonel.  Given his new role as the leader of a planetary
    colonial effort, the Prince announced the Knight would be promoted to
    General, commanding all colonial military forces of the Whanga system,
    with permission to raise a brigade of defensive troops in-system.

    The Arch Duke then reminded the media that the Whanga system had
    historically been held as an asset of the County of Efate.  Since Sir
    Apirana's fief granted him two worlds in that solar system, including the
    main world, it would be important for Countess Josephine to consider his
    position within her county, since she now held the system as Baroness
    of Whanga.  This comment set off a number of rumors that "Colonel Sir"
    Apirana could soon find himself both a General and a Marquis, if not
    a Lord or other class of landed nobility.
                

    Pimane (E500343-4  Lo Ni Va  G  903  Im  K0 V)                            Date: 253-1113
          FLASH!  FLASH!  FLASH!  FLASH!  FLASH!  FLASH!  FLASH!  FLASH!  FLASH!
    Authorities at the Strouden Imperial Naval base was received from the
    Pimane system of a unique and surprising discovery!  The surface of
    Pimane is known to be a mix of star-baked vacuum mountains and plains
    pitted by deep valleys falling into unknowable darkness.  The most
    accepted hypothesis said Pimane originally had an atmosphere and
    supported life, but lots that to a cataclysmic collision with a rogue
    world several million years ago.  Rumors claim some of the deep chasms
    of Pimane contain both atmosphere and life, but there has never been
    anything more than the unproven reports of local explorers.

    Despite a lack of evidence or, perhaps, because of it, the University
    of Mora had included the system in an educational investigation of
    interesting or unusual astrographic features of the Mora subsector.
    Despite examining sites that had all been examined and investigated
    before, the expectation there would be no great discoveries was spun
    wildly when drones operated by a combined-discipline team did, in fact,
    make a most startling discovery!  Following a period spent examining
    the world's surface and choosing sites to further explore, the teams
    began deploying drones to explore the depths of several plunging
    valleys and crevices.

    One new tool the University provided the students were "multi-cellular"
    drones made up of a single primary drone and an "outer shell" of "single-
    cell" micro-drones.  the micro-drones were no more than needed to secure
    themselves to a location while receiving and re-broadcasting any signals
    from parent or sibling drones.  No more than a few inches long and less
    wide, they could detach off the parent to be secured along the path of
    descent, allowing the parent drone to plunge deeper into the chasms while
    still broadcasting data and receiving instruction.  And it was this
    specific advance which allowed a team of instructors and students to
    make the unexpected discovery.

    While details are still being held by the University's publicity team,
    they have confirmed discovery of "several" cave-like structures which
    appear to naturally maintain an atmosphere!  Claims that such pockets
    of atmosphere, and even signs of life, have long been made by the bolder
    native explorers living in Pimane's lone city, Hope's End.  Even now,
    as the University celebrates this discovery, some of Pimane's local
    explorers have complained they could have proven their own claims years
    ago if they'd been given any credence.  Despite the sour response to
    this news, the people of Pimane will certainly celebrate the call by
    senior educators to have the University bring in more significant
    assets to more completely explore and understand this discovery.

    Supported by a pair of escort vessels from the Mora Duchy Navy, the
    three science vessels embarked on a three-year study planning to
    investigate various sites and systems within the subsector.  The
    ships were staffed with both professional and apprentice crewmembers
    and a full division of the University's professors, graduate students
    and even undergraduates.  The goal of the investigation was
    less one of discovery than the intent to better document what had
    been studied previously while providing both experience and "live
    target" education to those who would become the sector's next leading
    scientists.  The simple experience of living in the environment of
    the expedition was seen as a master class in itself.
                

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  G  703  Im  F7 V  M8 D  M6 V)          Date: 339-1113
    Following the events in-system in the past months, there has been
    a continuing environment of unease affecting Regina, system-wide.
    Between sleeper terrorists and the sudden actions of known-disruptors,
    lives have been lost and damage done.  Even worse, the actions
    highlight holes in the security of the duchy, even to the core
    of its home world.  This had not been eased at all by the apparent
    stroke of luck which was all that saved Duchess Seldrian from
    an assassin's poison, or worse.

    Even as the assurances delivered by Prince Lucan promise more
    security "for the future", citizens of Regina still need to get
    past "now".  Evidence has already been seen of a rise in the hiring
    of mercenary units by a number of in-system corporations, or those
    out-system firms with facilities and people in what had been coming
    to be called "the Beacon system".  Still, that nickname of hope which
    had been gained following the Fifth Frontier War siege and resistance
    seems to be diminished even as disturbing news continues to be heard
    from systems such as Rhylanor.  Even as the Duchess and other leaders
    in the Marches assess and work to soothe the concerns of Imperial
    citizens, many wonder what the future holds next?
                

    Regina (A788899-C  2  Ri Cp  G  703  Im  F7 V  M8 D  M6 V)          Date: 340-1113
    Following actions taken by a group of known disruptors calling
    themselves the "Payans In Exile", the Admiralty of the Duchy Navy
    have revealed the following details: 
    On 334-1113, two civilian starships departed Credo-down port.
    Those ships, the IMV Hell's Bells and IMV Miyvsha Rhiin joined three more ships.
    The small flotilla then proceeded out-system while trying to avoid inspection.
    The IMV Saez Gezkozkha and Hell's Bells were classified as 1k dTon armored escorts.
    The IMV Miyvsha Rhiin could best be called a command and control craft.
    These craft escorted the IMV Mumishu Lu and Adish Khaashul, which were
    large transports.

    Sadly, four of the Regina Customs service cutters that closed on the flotilla
    were disabled, and three others damaged with fourteen service members killed
    in the action.  Eventually, the 5,000 dTon INRS Samun Gir was able to join the
    action with several subcraft.  the conflict still ran on until the fighter
    flight released by the Samun Gir got past the escorts to strike at the engines
    of the unarmed transports.  At the same time, two new fighter squadrons were
    approaching in advance of their mother craft.

    Facing already mounting numbers, and already guilty of actions against the
    Duchy Navy, two of the escorts decided to try their luck.  Abandoning the
    transports and focusing their fire on the larger ship, they hoped to fight
    until they opened a hole through which to flee.  Realizing he was abandoned,
    the captain of the Adish Khaashul also made the unfortunate decision to use
    his ship as a weapon to strike at the fighters attacking his engines.  The
    result of these decisions was even more dead bodies in space.
    Eventually, the skirmish ended with all vessels and survivors in the custody of
    Regina Naval personnel.  Charges and prosecution will follow.

    In a side-note, a planet-wide search for Mr. Gelamid Mome, the self-styled
    leader of the 'Payans in Exile', was located.  In another legal rabbit-from
    -a-hat, initial investigations of his actions, whereabouts and communications
    failed to link him to the action or the vessels involved.  Mr. Mome is
    currently being held in the face of a more significant forensic investigation
    of his recent activities and communications.
                

    Natoko (C8879AB-9  Hi An  G  204  Im  F4 V)                       Date: 305-1113
    It has now been two days since operational commander Admiral Khimuru
    Uuela had given orders to begin the orbital assault of Natoko.  More
    details have been provided of those early actions as KEW(Kinetic
    Energy Weapons) targeted key military and command/control facilities.
    Using the confusion and terror of bombardment as cover, General Sir
    Darkirger then released sticks of the 1,204th Marine Pathfinder
    Battalion.  It is understood that one third of the battalion were
    deployed to secure sites with another third held as reinforcements
    while the remainder were held for contingencies.

    Following the initial landings, some contingency targets were also
    struck by the 1,204th while Marine heavy forces started hitting their
    landing zones.  From there, fighting has been reported to be heavy
    in some locations while other locations appear to have simply
    surrendered or may have gone underground.  Viewers are reminded that
    every citizen of Natoko is issued a rank at birth.  From that point
    forward, based on physical, practical and academic performance, they
    are sorted into paramilitary roles at which they work in order to be
    available if called up by the local or world government.

    A briefing has stated that an early objective would be to pacify all
    major urban centers on this world of two billion citizens.  Aides for
    General Darkirger said command hoped to have on-world facilities
    available in Lakan City for media reporters before the end of the
    week.  Pryor to this action, Lakan City had been the only city on-world
    to which off-worlders had access outside the downport.  From an
    orbital perspective, it appears nearly a third of the downport are in
    flames as heavy fighting continues in that region.

    Rumors suggested Natokan commanders had placed heavy forces in that
    region, assuming Imperial forces would need the port for landing.
    Ignoring that move and forces, Imperial forces created other landing
    zones at need, and continue to ground forces on-world to join the
    battle.
                

    ADDENDUM: Direct statement from General Sir Darkirger.
    In a surprise move, the General came before the media moments ago.
    While the General did not take any questions, he did very angrily
    state he regretted the collapse of the Ligaya urban structure
    during combat operations.  The General asserted that teams were
    already being deployed to the site not only to carry out search
    and rescue, but to investigate the cause of the collapse of a
    structure which may have contained living and support spaces for
    between 20 and 50 thousand residents.  With little data at the
    moment, it can only be said that extreme loss of life is expected.
          

    Porozlo (A867A74-B  Hi  201  Im  M1 V  M9 D)                            Date: 291-1113
    Imperial forces remain in control of all Ko Qiquiang government and
    military facilities.  Additional forces requested from Rhylanor have
    arrived in-system as a hedge against the need for further action.
    News releases stated that Ko Qiquiang was currently to be considered
    "Occupied" until Imperial authorities could work with the local
    populace to form a new government.  The expectation is that any new
    government formed will likely at least tolerate if not support the
    free trade bloc, and change the balance of powers in that
    region of Porozlo.
                

Zimzod's reaction to the news from home was a bonus for the news crew as they got to sit and talk to him about the system and his family.  Of course, Zimzod had harbored a dim hidden hope he could bring back the forces and arms needed to better defend his home.  While he never admitted or discussed that with the news crew, Zimzod did say the system had been largely defenseless and economically isolated.  He admitted the lone "city" on the world was called, "Hope's End".  So, he was pleased that new activity would be bringing more ships and money to the world.  He hoped the Navy would move in and the family he'd left behind would be better protected.

There were questions about how well the crew knew Admiral Uuela, because of the reaction to news from the Natoko system and what was essentially an Imperial invasion of that world.  Emkir did admit to having worked with the man at points in his career, but shared little else.  And, no member of the crew gave up any further information about what they'd known about Natoko or the Stepozhevaci of Porozlo.  It seemed they were doing OK while their enemies were suffering for their crimes.  At one meal, Mikah even silently raised her glass to justice for finding the captain and officers of the Tukera liner Equus recently.  At least, from Mikah's point of view.

With little else to do outside their studies, Emkir and Fesic decided to get more work done on the gunnery training software.  And that was work that would bore viewers into looking for paint so they could watch it dry!  Because of that, there was no one covering them when an engineer from the shipyards came into the ship's computer room.  Having come in to ask Emkir to run some routines, to map the output circuits, the man stopped and scanned the screens both men were using to see what they were working on?  Trying to be polite and not interrupt, he soon found himself wondering what the hell the two were doing?  When he asked what the hell they were doing, Emkir did his best to explain what Zimzod had gotten them into.

After getting permission from Emkir, he looked at the work himself while muttering how stupid the idea was.  When Fesic challenged, "Well, what should we be doing instead?" the man waved them to follow him and said, "Come and talk to my boss."  On the way, the man explained his boss managed a number of things for the yard, including software installs.  They had a massive computer core on which they had all the software they could get.  And they needed that to pump programs into ships they were building, or where they could sell upgrade software with or without hardware.  He even said they had software for ships they couldn't build because they could sell and install that.

When the tech told his boss what he'd seen, that man couldn't believe his ears and said he had to see that for himself!  So, they all trooped back into the Upgrade and sparked up the work screens again.  The man's first demand was, "Do you know how long this is gonna take you?" and Emkir chuckled as he said he thought it would be years.  The man then demanded, "Do you know how risky this is if you've done anything wrong?"  When Emkir admitted he'd not looked that far down range, the man explained that any mistakes could mistakenly connect code they didn't want connected.  Like having the software accidentally activate the live weapons systems when they were supposed to be using the training system!

Emkir admitted, "Oh!  That's not happy."  He didn't say anything but remembered a story Zimzod, Brian and Mikah had told them about a situation they'd gotten into in the Credo-down port.  Thanks to a prank Sir Brian had pulled and stupid actions of a former crew-mate named Sir Quinn, Zimzod had rushed the ventral turret of the ship they were aboard at the time and activated the ship's weapons systems.  In The Port!  They were immediately acquired and targeted by every weapon system in range, including systems from the orbital naval base!  Emkir did Not want that to happen to the Upgrade.

Pointing at the screen, the supervisor asked, "Do you know what we call this?"  He then answered his rhetorical question, saying, "We call this Idiot!"  After a beat or two, the man spoke in a conversational tone as he said, "I'll tell you what.  I've got my man here, and he's my right hand.  Since he's mostly a computer and electronics jockey, he's not really working on your hardware.  Gimme half a day to have him look over your systems and we'll see what we can do for you.  But just dump this out of your ship's memory and storage and purge the system of it entirely.  Make sure there is nothing left to accidentally make a mistake with."

Before thanking the man, Emkir called Zimzod and let him know they wanted him to dump the code they'd been working on and start from scratch with something they'd provide.  When Zimzod agreed, they let the tech sit and start purging the data from storage.  As he got started, the man began stringing together commands in ways that even impressed Emkir.  Emkir watched closer, and started seeing some commands used in ways he never expected, like opening a tracking program which created and filled a log and tying other processes to that using their process ID's, so he could connect any process and get an event-separated listing of the work in order of the actual time stamps.  That let him start packages as needed and remembered, instead of starting console logging to a new file for each process.  Emkir admitted to himself that he was impressed.

After the man had purged the data from the system and traced it down with device addressing maps to make completely certain he'd purged it all.  He told Emkir and Fesic, "This is a civilian-based weapons system and array.  Give me a few hours and I'll let you know what we can do for you."  The tone was, 'Go away because people looking over my shoulder while I work bother me.'  Emkir thanked him and asked what his preferred alcohol was?  He also bragged a bit about his collection of booze before inviting the man to come share drinks later.  The tech said he preferred things with a fruity flavor, which made since given how hard it would be to get real fruit in the system. He also said he wasn't into wine.

Hearing that, Emkir wondered if they still had the bottle of cherry-based liqueur but couldn't remember and figured he'd check while the guy worked.  Eventually, he checked the booze closet and realized they had lots of bottles of elderflower liqueur, and wanted to give the guy a bottle of that.  But, the guy had said "something with a fruit flavor" and Emkir had promised.  So, Emkir eventually found a bottle of limoncello and figured he'd give the man both bottles.  Mentioning the idea to Aali, she suggested he crack a bottle of the elderflower booze later when the guy came for drinks.  If he liked it, Emkir could give him an unopened bottle with the limoncello.

Later in the day, Emkir got a call from the port broker saying a deal had been made to sell the farm machinery.  She said it was also affected by their current celebrity, and the deal meant the crew would have to return to the city.  That was because the deal called for the entire crew to each autograph the machines.  Emkir found that funny, but had no problems with the deal.  They also wanted a group picture with the crew and the 'Farmers', though drone and machine operators was a better description of the people.  Emkir had no issues with that either.

When Emkir finally got a chance to ask what the crew was getting out of the deal, he was told the buyers were paying KCr 300 per machine!  That turned out to be a 150% payment, and gave the crew a KCr 300 profit!  On top of that, the ship would get a crew-sized" fruit basket too!  And that was worth hundreds of credits on this world.  After he finished the call, Emkir let the crew know the good news, because they not only could pay for the repairs, but there would still be profit for everyone, dents and all.

At a point during the day, the film crew wanted those who had been on the bridge during the rescue to simulate their actions as the ship's computer played back feeds to instruments, scanners and other controls.  They also had Terin give them the data they had seen, to add into the broadcast.  They then sat with Zimzod and Jocelynn in a more intimate interview where they reviewed the video from Zimzod's battledress during the actual recovery itself.

Later in the day, the computer tech checking their software came back, saying they had a very high-end computer system which they weren't using to it's best.  He then listed the software they had which was needed to make the ship maneuver and jump out to four parsecs.  They had the software to create or process navigation plots.  In addition to the entertainment "Library" package, they had return fire, anti-missile and other software for fighting when they had to.  But their "Target" package only let the computer target a single opponent.  To fight more targets, they had to have live gunners working the turrets.  And that wasn't the best plan.

The tech pointed out that they "had to" charge if they were giving something away or using up supplies, but the software packages would stay in their computer core even if they installed a copy in the Upgrade.  And, they could get around the licensing.  So, he felt he could give them a multi-targeting package letting the computer attack up to four different enemies with their four turrets.  That was important because the sand casters might have to aim at a point different than all the lasers.  He'd also give them a package which would, once loaded, automatically track any fight and add in a level of evasion, helping them dodge incoming fire.

On top of that, he added in a Predict package which would also track enemy movement and fire to help guess "where to shoot" to better target them.  And finally, in a deal which "really" wasn't quite legal, he could install a military-grade gunnery training software package.  That software would sense and integrate with all their systems to offer a firm training basis.  When Emkir got his ability to speak back, he thanked the man who said the installs would take the next eight to ten hours and would be done automatically from the yard's computers once he got it started.

After that, they went to share drinks and the man did like the elderflower liqueur, so Emkir gave him the limoncello and a bottle of the elderflower liqueur.  While they drank, the man was even more free with his comments, suggesting his people sold the software for twice what it was worth when they could, so he wasn't worried about it.  Especially since they didn't really audit the software.  That was because the programs required complex licenses.  Despite that, there was a running racket in cracking the licenses so those rarely caused any issues for the sellers.  When Emkir offered the man more booze, he took a bottle each of Drambuie and Sambuca.


Funding, Films And Fruit Baskets
     The crew largely had less to do on Tuesday than the day before.  The huge moment was when they got back word from the Naval base that the military quartermaster would send them the three barrels later that day.  That meant the total cost for their repairs would come to KCr 250.  That and more had been paid in full by the profits from the cargo and the KCr 70 from the media studio!  And they still had a fundraiser of their own going as well as the funds they'd get from Ms. Akhamii's fans.  The cash from the storm pilot fans eventually came to KCr 50 and the ship's fund raiser got to KCr 40.  So, that was KCr 90 that would be pure profit plus the extra KCr 20 from earlier income after paying the repair bills.

Talking about the cash they were raising, Aiden suggested letting Emkir try to re-start his cult.  When he suggested they could rake in a lot more cash, Emkir interrupted.  In an annoyed tone, Emkir made it very clear he'd been fined hundreds of thousands of Credits for that little fiasco and wasn't interested in repeating the stunt at all.  There were jokes about finding someone to sell action figures and souvenirs, but they knew there'd likely be weeks, if not months, of bureaucratic issues to deal with even if they simply hired someone else to do it.

Before leaving the shipyard after the repairs were done, they were given a chance to sit down and watch the documentary the media team had created.  Everyone was satisfied with it and Mikah said the team should send a copy to Regina, Lanth, Lunion, Rhylanor and Mora.  The news crew promised the coverage would be part of the news feed being sent out from Extolay on the X-Boat network.  They also asked for a copy for themselves and for a copy to be sent to Countess Athkazuk, who had returned to Inthe.

As work on the ship was wrapped up, the crew discussed general orders for the visit to Tremous Dex.  While they always got into their vacc suits whenever emerging from jump, Emkir felt it important to play captain obvious and tell them they should be prepared to do that arriving in the pirate system.  Terin told them he'd be in his combat armor instead.  After a few jokes about finding ways to be invisible, Terin said Tremous Dex was the moon of a gas giant and the jump shadow of the gas giant was almost 25 hours.  He floated the idea of using a trojan point to enter the system closer to the main world.

When Mikah asked about their options, Terin wrote off points "three" and "two" because the first was on the other side of the gas giant and the second could be in the orbit of another moon they didn't want to crash into.  That left them points "four" and "five" which led and trailed the planet in its orbit or "one", which was further out.  When Mikah asked about the risk they'd be looking for an attack from a trojan point, Terin pointed out the gas giant had six moons.  So, counting the system's star and the gas giant, that was an eight-body problem.  Few navigators would be willing to even try that, but he felt confident.

Terin also suggested they jump in and power down to drift.  That meant there would be a brief period in which they were lighting themselves up before they shut down, drifted and listened with their passive sensors.  When Mikah asked about options, Terin said the place he thought they'd most expect someone to emerge when using a trojan point would be the number one, furthest out from the gas giant.  Since emerging at the fifth point would mean chasing the planet in its orbit, Terin recommended the fourth point.  Using that, they would emerge 148,750 miles from the world, which would take them a little more than an hour and a half to travel.

The next question was about fuel.  Mikah and Zimzod were big fans of going in after skimming fuel from a gas giant so they could run if they had to.  The problem with was that the Tremous Dex system had an active pirate guild in-system.  Jocelynn was the only person who didn't remember the raider that attacked them in the Regina system.  That ship had attacked from the upper layers of a gas giant's atmosphere.  If the raider hadn't shot the satellite, the Pilot Error would have been dust along with everyone aboard her.  So, they knew skimming for fuel would leave them wide open if a pirate was lurking for an easy kill.

Also, they knew the port was hungry for hard currency.  So, it might piss them off to arrive after having fueled up, or refusing to buy fuel from them because the gas giant was cheaper.  But, if they paid what was likely to be highly over-priced charges for fuel, the port might even work harder to protect them while they were in-system.  And since they had to land and do business at the port anyway, it might be the safest course to over-pay and deal with it.  So, Mikah decided they wouldn't scoop from the gas giant and would go directly in to the port.

After their planning session, the crew set to preparing to leave the shipyard as the workers finished up the repairs.  The new software had been installed and Emkir, Fesic and Zimzod planned on playing with that during the trip to Tremous Dex.  But, they first had to drop back down to Extolay and complete the deal for the farm machinery.  That included autographing the machinery and taking pictures with the farmer.  And that term was more than a bit off, because they were more like machinery or drone operators.

The signing party was a bit of fun but the crew were reminded the news changed fast on Extolay.  As dull and dreary a world as it was, the attention of the population jumped from one exciting thing to another.  The Red Hawk would be important until she died, and then her death would be celebrated and the people would move on.  Because things blew over quickly, it wasn't worth suggesting all sorts of money-making schemes based on future interest.

After the party, and the handing over of the fruit basket, Emkir checked to see if anyone had wanted to book passage.  He wasn't surprised to see no one had signed up to fly with them to a pirate world outside the Imperium.  So, they'd be carrying no cargo or passengers on the run, but Jocelynn could break out her battledress after entering jump.  Getting back aboard the ship, Mikah gave orders to square away everything they could, and be ready to wake at 7am the next morning for a 10am departure.  They totaled the profits and losses and paid out Cr 22,776 per crew member.  The crew then snacked and relaxed for the rest of the evening.


Leaving: Step One
     According to Mikah's orders, the crew all had alarms set for 7am, and planned to lift from Extolay on their way to Tremous Dex.  As they got ready, they knew they had 22.5 hours of burn in normal space before clearing the star's jump shadow to make the jump to Tremous Dex.  That would be 9am the next day.  They spent the time with some of the flight crew taking bridge shifts on the run out while the others relaxed, studied or slept.


A Week In Jump
     Waking early that morning, the crew were ready and at their stations when the ship finally crossed out of the shadow.  Confirming they faced no sudden issues, they loaded the plot Terin had generated and Aiden dimmed the ship's lights before releasing the stored power in the jump capacitors to the ship's lanthanum grid.  All local space glowed white and they tumbled into jump space, on their way to the Tremous Dex system.  Over the week in jump, Zimzod and Fesic worked with the new gunnery training software and announced it was good.  Very good.  When someone said, it was certainly worth the price they'd paid, they got a laugh.

Zimzod also worked on his stent and continued to do gear maintenance and Mikah's drills.  Fesic continued working on his lock picking course.  Terin sat in while Emkir and Fesic checked the new performance profile for the computer mapping the new software and establishing new performance baselines.  Terin also used the cargo bay to practice with his zero-g weapons.  He even talked to Aali about creating a catch box, which stopped rounds from dangerous ricochets so he could practice live-fire in the cargo bay.  Aali suggested a curved horn structure, but that would have been an issue to fabricate while Terin just needed a shadowbox with an angled internal bed to direct deflected rounds.  They eventually made one he and the crew could use.

As they tested the training software, Fesic and Zimzod were impressed.  They were especially pleased when the newly installed Predict software worked inside the trainer, and how well the trainer integrated with all their installed systems.  While Fesic was simply trying to keep his gunnery skills honed, Zimzod was actively working to improve his skills.  Mikah not only continued to run the ship-board zero-g drills, but also expanded those to use the empty cargo bay too.  She also continued with her medical journals and relaxing with the crew.

As well as the gunnery training, Zimzod took part in the zero-g drills and gear maintenance.  Beyond that, he relaxed with Mikah.  In jump, Jocelynn worked on her program of broadly studying every weapon and defensive system the crew had.  She initially targeted the tac missile launcher and missiles individually, but worked on that as part of her over-all program to become the ship's back up armorer.  Jocelynn also concentrated on her stent work, joining with the others when she could. 

Over the week in jump, Aali had her engineering work to get done and a re-organization of tasks for her androids now Thing-1 was gone.  Aali made sure to do stent work and take part in the drills too.  Past that, she read or relaxed with Emkir.  In addition to his computer work, Emkir used his teaching suit whenever Mikah had the ship in zero-g or during the drills.  Aiden had his stent studies and wanted to take part in the zero-g drills.  When he also brought up making contingency plans for getting out of the system quickly at need, he was reminded they were already in jump.  They had already targeted a pirate point to reach the main world quickly and planned to land and buy fuel from the port.

If they got the fuel immediately, Mikah said they had some level of freedom to leave when they had to.  Mikah also said that anyone in the crew who had the skills should help Aali so she could get done with their resets as quickly as possible.  It wasn't as if this port was a tourist spot.  The rest of the crew would have to lend a hand in helping find the right contacts.

Terin agreed with that because they didn't know much about the port or what would happen once they arrived?  Their best bets would be to pay for an exposed pad for the ship to land on.  That would be a space they wouldn't have to blast their way out of if they had to run.  Outside of that, they had no idea where they'd have to go and how hard it would be to get back to the port if they had to run?  Or, what weapons and defenses the port would have ready if they ran and the port allied with the people chasing them?  So, the only answers were to keep in communications and try to know where everyone was.

They knew the ship would be down on a port tarmac at the very least.  If they had to flee, that meant having to find and gather the crew before blasting out of the port.  Possibly while evading surface fire from the port and interception or attack from ships in space.  So, once they were down, they could choose rally points.  From those, they could gather forces and try and get to the ship.  While they could come up with other ideas at the moment, they were in jump space.  So, they only had what resources were available on the ship.  If the idea had been mentioned sooner, like before they'd left Extolay, they could perhaps have shopped for gear they might need.

But, in jump, they only had what was aboard the ship.  Going over their possessions, Terin mentioned their drones, but they only had small ones and no drone would be helpful if the person being tracked when into a building.  It would then be noticed and possibly taken out, for many reasons that were not all hostile.  The conversation reminded Jocelynn about the box of "spycraft gear" Rol had left in the ship's locker.  She'd asked about it when she'd reorganized the locker, but had never seen anyone use anything from it.  When she asked, the rest of the crew decided to look and see what was in the box?

Locator Marbles It didn't take them long to find a set of boxes which each held six spheres.  The documentation with the boxes identified them as "Tracking Sensors".  Reading more, they found each sphere contained a battery along with both a broadcaster/receiver and a microcomputer.  Each sphere, when turned on, broadcast its location out in all directions and listened for data from the other spheres.  Based on the strength of the signal, a sphere could determine how far away the other was, and in what direction.  If more spheres were active, they could three-dimensionally map where the others were, as long as they could communicate with each other.

Realizing what they were solved one issue, but not the other.  They needed a device they could sync the sensors with, which could also both read their data and graphically impose it on a map.  It wasn't until later in the jump when they found that the battledress computers could do that.  Not only Zimzod's, but Jocelynn's after she unboxed her armor.  She could do that since they had left the Imperium.  All she worried about was if she'd be able to bring the battledress "back" into the Imperium?  Beyond issues with Jocelynn's battledress, they only had to get an electronic map of any facility or region where they planned to work.

They could then scan that file into the battledress "map box" application and then share it between suits using the interlaced battle computers.  That connection was something that was easy to set up once the suits were both powered up with marines inside.  The documents also had a list of materials which could partly or more completely block their signals, and they only lasted for six hours before having to be recharged.  That was done by connecting them to a charging panel, which was in a separate box found next to the spheres.

So, now they had a way to track their people as long as too many walls or minerals didn't get in the way.  Not to mention electronic interference.  They talked about active and passive duress codes as well as using the clik codes to communicate if things go south for someone, and the overall plan for their "mission" on Tremous Dex.  Whoever they'd need to deal with wouldn't be on the starport, which meant either the high or down ports.  And since the highport was entirely owned by the starport, that meant they had to go downwell.

On top of that, they'd also have to wander around in the minefield of spaces each controlled by different groups who might be allied or at war.  While they did that, they'd have to see if they could find a hint of who to talk to or where to ask questions while Jocelynn would have to decide what to do with the contacts given her?  So, Tremous Dex was a puzzle, and they'd have to find the pieces before they could identify if they were friendly or razer-edged, having already cut them.


Tremous Dex World Image Peeking At What's Next
     Eventually, at 10:30am on the 360th day of the year, the ship's computer signaled the jump governor was threading energy and they'd be coming out of jump soon.  Everyone geared up with the understanding that they would be a lot closer to Tremous Dex than expected when the emerged if Terin had hit the mark.  So, they had to prepare to get the ship moving faster, with all systems up, than normal.  And, if they happened to surprise anyone out there, it could lead to some shooting.  Still, as they left jump and powered everything they could down, they could see the world of Tremous Dex displayed against the starfield and knew Terin had hit the target.


Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Zimzod: Manning a turret as the ship arrives, in Battledress  
     Mikah: On the ship's bridge as the ship arrives, in her vacc suit  
     Aali: In the ship's engineering as the ship arrives, in his vacc suit  
     Emkir: On the ship's bridge as the ship arrives, in his vacc suit  
     Aiden: On the ship's bridge as the ship arrives, in his vacc suit  
     Fesic: Manning a turret as the ship arrives, in Combat Armor  
     Terin: On the ship's bridge as the ship arrives, in his vacc suit  
     Jocelynn: In the ship's lounge as the ship arrives, in her vacc suit  
     Rol: Just beginning his 6th week of gestation (12 weeks to go)  

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Next: From The Frying Pan