Welcome to the

Last Updated     Nov 23 2021
The Characters
The Ship
Campaign History Page
Granted Rights
The Frontier Wars
The Spinward Marches
About Legends
Artist's Credits
House Rules
Recent Updates
Email Me
From The Frying Pan

Tremous Dex
A Less Than Graceful Arrival
     Emerging from jump, the crew confirmed they'd arrived within the la grange point Terin plotted for.  Instead of facing more than a day's flight time from the mainworld, outside the gas giant's jump-shadow, they only had an hour to burn.  Of course, that meant any reaction would also be much closer, since the tachyon burst wave their arrival caused swept the system.  Combat assets they might see could come from the port, the pirate arcology or the two still -operational shipyards.  Any reaction from those could be a response to their sudden arrival.  Or, it might just be a scouting party.  Or even pirates, looking for fresh meat.  Knowing that, Fesic, Zimzod and the crew were at battle stations.  Just in case.  Also, just in case, Jocelynn and Zimzod were in their battledress.

Turning into an approach vector towards the port as they up-thrusted, Aiden kept his eyes on the scans looking for any first reaction.  Surprisingly, when it came, the first reaction was a comms from the port demanding, "Identify yourselves or suffer the consequences!"  Mikah hoped to show the port they were valuable visitors, so she answered, "Hello.  We are the yacht Upgrade, and we're here to refuel, refresh consumables and reset our jump systems on our way to the Arden system.  The port had just confirmed they were getting signal from the ship's transponder when the comms signal was interrupted!

The new signal came from what looked like a ship's bridge and the central figure was an unkempt man who was surrounded by a number of others.  Each of those were armed and armored in a mixture pieces from a mix of tech and design.  The man who seemed to be their commander boldly said, "Welcome to Tremous Dex!  You realize there's a toll for entering our system, don't you?"  Hearing the broadcast because it was being piped through the ship, Jocelynn quipped, "I got your told right here!" and made a rude gesture even though she could neither be seen nor heard in the ship's lounge.

On the bridge, and before opening the comms for a response, Mikah suggested broadcasting an image of Jocelynn and Zimzod in their battledress as an invitation to fight.  Zimzod cut in, and reminded her they didn't want to show off the battledress and make themselves more of a target.  Emkir also told her the battledress wouldn't matter in a ship to ship fight.  Nodding, Mikah hit the comms and asked, "What's this toll you're talking about?"  Smiling a bit more, the man answered, "Well, I'm figuring we'll just come aboard your ship and see what the toll is gonna be?"

Just after Mikah said, "Yeah.  That ain't gonna happen", Terin chimed in that he was tracking the signal to a ship near one of the orbital arcologies.  The station looked like it was, or had been, a shipyard, and the ship was close to it, as if just having cast off.  He said he'd done the tracking and the ship would likely be able to intercept them on the slow-down leg of their flight to the starport.  Terin did the math and saw the intercept would happen twenty minutes out from the port.  He obviously hoped the port would send out ships to respond to the attack.  Emkir reminded him this wasn't an Imperial system, so the port could sit and watch what happened instead of risking damage to their facilities.

Having little to do at the moment, himself, Aiden got working on the sensors and was surprised what he got back.  The data suggested the bogey was a composite made from the bulk of a three-hundred ton SDB and "something else".  Still, the data said they looked to have three turrets and might have more "fixed-point" weapons.  When Mikah ordered Aiden to continue burning to the port, Zimzod suggested letting the pirates board their ship.  With the others listening, Zimzod said they could capture one or more of the boarding party and send a vid back to their ship saying they were "guests" of the Upgrade and the raider should just break off their failed raid before things got worse for them.

Mikah liked that idea, and told Aiden not to evade the raiders as she hit the comms again.  She then told the raider, "OK!  Come on aboard.  We'll meet you at the airlock."  Nodding, the raider captain smiled more as he said, "OK!  We'll see what kind of toll we assess and welcome to Tremous Dex!"  With that, he cut the comms and the crew began making plans for their coming guests.  When Jocelynn asked if it was smart to flaunt their battledress, Zimzod smiled and said no one who saw the armor would survive.  Zimzod continued, "After we take prisoners, the others will see only those on the video warning them off."

Lock Passage Zimzod then said they had to prepare a counter-boarding party to meet the boarders just inside the ship's airlock.  The crew would need to hide around the corners invisible to those entering the airlock, so they wouldn't see the crew and run.  They could use the camera in the airlock to examine the borders and prepare to deal with them.  After both airlock valves closed, with the valve to the cutter bay locked, the passage from the airlock was the perfect murder hole.  Zimzod would step around the corner to the invader's right while Jocelynn would step around from the left.  Both in battledress.  One more time, Jocelynn felt the joy of being able to step into her battledress.  Of course, that was tempered by the loss she felt when she saw the inactive channels for the others in her team.  Channels that would never be active again.

Mikah, Aali and Terin would rush in to take kneeling or prone positions while Zimzod and Jocelynn would be standing.  At the same time, Aiden would be armed in combat armor on the bridge as would Fesic and Emkir.  They would fly the ship and man the guns if the raider ship chose to fight after they took down the borders.  Everyone not in battledress would be in combat armor.  While they prepared, they also tracked the incoming ship and made it easier for the raider to get close.  As the other ship matched vee, they saw it extend a more substantial docking corridor.  A complete and enclosed gantry arm instead of a folding air-tight fabric tube.  That, alone, said these people knew their business.

When the raiders stepped through the Update's outer airlock, Aiden sent the video from the lock-based camera to Zimzod and Jocelynn's battledress computers.  From there, thanks to the commdot network they'd set up, every member of the crew could see the images on their HUD's.  Aali raised her shotgun while she had her gauss rifle strapped across her back, in case they lost gravity.  Jocelynn, in her battledress and ambidextrous, had her gauss rifle in one hand and shotgun in the other.  Mikah had one of her laser carbines in her hands and the other strapped across her back.  Terin had his gauss rifle, gauss pistol and sword and Zimzod carried both his auto-rifle and gauss rifle.  Zimzod also brought two flash-bangs and some grenades Mikah wanted thrown into the boarding passage once they finished with the borders.  She wanted that passage destroyed as a further message to the pirates.  On the bridge, Aiden had his snub rifle and snub pistol.  Emkir had his 9mm and Fesic had his snub pistol and blade.

From what they saw on the camera, two of the raiders wore a mixture of armor sections which must have been assembled from parts of captured armor stripped from the dead.  Their apparent leader had armor tailored to him and of the same type, but they were all a mix of cloth and plate over vacc suits.  More uniform, they each had an automatic rifle, and one had an SMG slung across the gut.  That had to be a very unfortunate choice.  Zimzod and some of the other crew decided these were not the pirate groups best raiders.  Because they had no camera shooting down the passage inside the airlock, Zimzod had to start counting after it seemed the pirates moved inboard from the lock.

He guesstimated when they would all be clear and the lock closed.  Then, he popped the pins from the two flash-bangs and gave a one count.  He then threw them around the corner and gave another one-count.  After that, he stepped around the corner as the pyros went off, giving the "Follow me" order over the crew's comms.  Where he and Jocelynn only had to fold in to their positions, Mikah, Aali and Terin had to rush in and drop into their planned positions.  In the passage, as Zimzod and Jocelynn opened fire, one of the pirate followers panicked and opened fire.  She shot the pirate leading the party in the back as she did!  That kept him from giving his ship the code that they'd been double-crossed.  So, the officers on the raider's bridge were dealing with a brief period of confusion as they waited to be told what was happening aboard the Upgrade?

With the others following Zimzod and Jocelynn's lead, the orders had been to aim low and shoot out their legs, because they wanted prisoners.  Because the one boarder had panic fired and shot their team lead, he was collapsing as the Upgrade crew opened fire!  So, he took shots to the chest which added to the rounds in has back.  Because both Terin and Aali suffered from trigger jerk, their shots went high of the aim.  The pirate who'd shot the team lead took Aali's round in the right shoulder while Terin's shot took the third border in the chest.  The third border also took shots to his legs as he dropped, but the second border's legs had been covered by the collapse of their leader.

For Terin, it took a moment for events to register before he called out, "They have an Emkir on their crew too!"  Mikah asked, "Zimzod, are you filming this?"  During the delay, Zimzod called to the borders saying, "Drop your weapons or I'm gonna toss in a grenade."  The lone standing border dropped her automatic rifle while the former leader gurgled and moaned and the other tried to reach his med-kit.  Mikah called out, "How many are on your ship?" and the still-standing boarder called out, "Fuck you.  I'm your prisoner." in a despondent and defeated female voice.  Mikah ratcheted up the demand, asking, "How many on your ship?  Before we destroy it?"  Not seeming to care anymore, the woman yelled back at Mikah, "Fuck you.  If you destroy that ship, you destroy yourself."

Hearing that, Jocelynn told the woman, "You chose poorly." as Mikah ordered Jocelynn to secure the prisoner.  Jocelynn moved forward as they all suddenly felt their ship shudder.  On his boards, Aiden could tell there'd been some kind of explosion but their ship hadn't been breached at all.  Nothing was venting and there were no pressure losses.  At the same time, he noted the raider ship was now clear of the Upgrade, and they were drifting clear as the raider began to move.  When Aiden called that out and asked for instructions, Mikah ordered him to begin evasive maneuvers.  Next, Fesic asked if he should fire on the ship and Mikah casually answered, "Sure.  Why not?"  More concerned with potential return fire, Fesic had been looking to target the ship's turrets.  At that range, he was able to pour all their fire on one turret amidships and devastate that section of hull.  It only struck Fesic that the ship had not even responded to their fire, meaning the pirate had not been preparing to fire to start.  Sadly, that wasn't something he could've planned for.

In the passage, Jocelynn stepped forward until the wounded pirate tried to throw a punch at her.  Laughing at the foolishness as the punch bounced off her armor, Jocelynn threw a casual smack with the back of her hand, pulling the power to not break her jaw.  That connected with the augmented force of her battledress and the woman still went down with a sudden bruise.  Grabbing the woman by her suit, Jocelynn pulled her up and then pinned her to the bulkhead by her throat.  Leaning in to give her the "blank faceplate stare", Jocelynn very casually asked, "Does this little welcoming party thing usually work for you people?" in a mocking tone.  Thanks to the bruise, Jocelynn got no answer and shrugged the question off.

When Terin suggested they try to save the boarding party leader, Mikah looked the man's wounds over and knew she couldn't save him.  To Terin, she sarcastically said, "OK.  You pick him up and carry him to the med-bay.  Then, when you come back here, I'll go and try to save him."  She was certain the dying man wouldn't make it to the med-bay.  When Terin said he would, Aiden over-heard on the comms and quipped, "Make sure you pick up all the pieces" even though he couldn't see that part of the passage.  Also guessing but not willing not to kibitz, Aali only added, "He won't need them where he's going."  From his turret, Fesic asked, "I'm not understanding.  Why are we saving this guy?"  That question reminded them they were still in combat and needed people at their stations.

Terin defended, "He was the boarding party leader, so he might have valuable information that we can get from him."  While he'd talked, Terin had moved forward to make sure the man couldn't reach a weapon as he also looked over the man's wounds.  Added to his wounds, Terin also saw the man had lost a massive amount of blood.  That drove his realization the man wouldn't live.  Still, he began doing what he could with his first aid skills.  While Terin worked, the third pirate lay on the floor wheezing because he'd been shot in the chest.  His eyes pled for treatment while Terin worked on the dying leader and Jocelynn stood over the female pirate.  If anyone evaluated him, his wounds might not be fatal if he was treated.

Noting that, Terin griped, "Someone wanna take care of the chest wound over here?"  Zimzod answer that saying, "Make a fucking choice who you wanna save and do it asshole."  His attitude was that they needed to finish this so he could get back to his turret.  Terin complained he was working on the pirate leader and pointed out Zimzod had medical training.  Zimzod raised his weapon and said, "I've got guns.  Do your job."  Disgusted with the lack of action, Terin accepted the boarding leader wouldn't make it and shifted to treat the man with the chest wound.  While he stripped the man out of his armor, Jocelynn removed the woman's arm armor to get at her wound.

What the other ship did do was burn for distance.  That could have been an attempt to escape the Upgrade's fire or it could have been to open range so they could reply with missile fire.  There was no way for Fesic to know which answer would be correct?  Getting a report from the bridge even as they dealt with the prisoners, Mikah ordered Aiden to chase the fleeing ship and Fesic to fire on their engines, to keep them from escaping.  While Aiden and Emkir programmed in a turn and burn as quickly as they could, they had more vector to cancel than the pirates.  That meant the fleeing ship had gained a small lead on them.

At the same time, they were close enough that Aiden's scans had come back with much more data than Aiden had hoped for.  Especially, the densometer.  That data told him much of the ship was already voided.  Neural data suggested there were as many as three sophonts still alive on the ship.  The most bizarre data he saw related to one of the turrets.  With the dorsal turret blasted away, the raider only had a nose turret and a ventral turret left.  Most concerned about the ventral guns, and trying to hide from the nose guns using the ship's shadow, Aiden realized the readings from the ventral turret were "odd".  Looking the readings over more directly, Aiden realized that turret might have been loaded up with storage instead of weapons!  At the same time, Fesic, Aiden and Emkir could see the bright flares as their fire cut into the other ship's engines.

Waiting for more data from their sensors, Aiden worked on keeping the distance between the two ships the same as he worked to keep the pirate ship between them and their operating turret.  Mikah's orders to Fesic were to keep firing.  When Aiden asked Mikah if they should demand the ship's surrender, Mikah first said, "Nah.  Just blow them up."  But then, she said, "Well, disable them and then we'll demand they surrender."  In the passage, Jocelynn said she'd drag the woman to the ship's lounge and tie her up there, Terin protested that the woman would bleed over everything.  Mikah said to bind the wound with gauze and told Jocelynn she should be able to figure that out.  Her attitude was that she didn't really care if either pirate benefitted from the care they got.

That done, Mikah grabbed the dropped auto-rifles, a dropped auto-pistol and three blades which the pirates had been armed with and secured them in the ship's locker on her way back to her post on the bridge.  When she got back there, Mikah asked about the explosion?  Aiden reported that, from the data he had, it seemed "something" on the end of the pirate's docking arm detonated.  He guessed it was a quick release device which really didn't care how much it damaged any ship it had been attached to.  Still, his system readouts said they weren't venting anything, so there wasn't a hull breach.  Aiden also reported the pirate ship seemed to have lost fifty percent of her engines but was still fleeing.  Even as he spoke, Fesic kept up the fire on the ship.

A Shifting Situation
     Checking his sensors, to see how the continued fire changed the situation, Aiden noticed a new alert.  Checking his screens, Aiden announced, "We have three new ships in-bound!"  Hearing that, Mikah decided it was time to stop playing.  In an angry voice, Mikah told Fesic to destroy the ship he was firing on.  Of course, that was easier said than done because they didn't have the class of weapons needed to shatter a ship that size.  Working through his options, Fesic decided to shift his fire to lock everything they had on the pirate's engineering section.  Given the damage he'd already done, Fesic expected it wouldn't be hard to burn his way into the ship's heart and kill her that way.

While he did that, Mikah ordered Aiden to burn hard for the port, though he reported back to her that the pirates would still intercept them.  When Jocelynn suggested they put the captured woman on camera to convince the others to back off, Mikah decided to do something different.  She ordered Zimzod to dump the video of the massacre in the passage from his battledress to the ship's systems.  She then wanted someone to add to that the sensor data showing what the Upgrade was doing to the ship they had faced.  Finally, she wanted the video to end with the bleeding slumped bodies of the boarders, as she hoped to intimidate the new pirate ships into backing off.

Zimzod chimed in, as he got back into his turret, that the pirates had the upper hand.  If they engaged with all three ships, there'd be little left of the Upgrade when things were done.  On the bridge, Aiden was doing his best to do another 'turn and burn', as his orders changed and he worked to get them on a best-line towards the port.  While he did that, he got a reading that one of the three on-coming ships was in excess of 400 tons!  While the other two ships read as smaller, that one ship likely out-gunned and out-tonned them by itself.  Now in his turret, Zimzod started planning how to best use the sandcasters?

Zimzod knew any sand fired would simply drift at the velocity it had when deployed, so any change in vector or velocity would leave that cover behind.  Their best bet was to create a corridor ahead of their planned travel that they could fly into.  The good news was, he actually had some training on that.  The bad news was that doing that would tell the pirates exactly where they planned to fly.  Improving data from their sensors confirmed the three ships they were facing were two massing 200-dTons and one massing 500-dTons.  Not only were their weapons hot and ready, but Mikah's attempt to intimidate them seemed to have failed completely.  So, the new pirate flotilla appeared to be out for blood.

Closer to the ship, Fesic's continued fire on the nearby pirate's engineering section led to a change in his target.  The energy readings from the pirate suddenly dropped off at the same time that ship's external lighting died.  What Fesic could see were what he expected were the pirate's emergency lights.  As far as he could tell, the target's power systems were down, if not destroyed.  That also meant he'd done heavy damage to the ship's engineering section, if not destroyed that too.  Confirming that with his sensors, Aiden said the neural data from the ship suggested there were only two pirates alive on the target, and both were located where he expected the bridge to be.  It seemed no one was left manning the pirate's engineering compartment.

They now had a body inside the ship, just past the airlock, and wounded prisoners each in the med-bay and lounge, and after declaring the first pirate ship the 'SS Drifting Hulk'.  Terin did what he could for the man in the med-bay before returning to his station.  Mikah had reached out to the port, and they'd said they were not interested in getting involved in a fight they were willing to say Mikah's crew had started.  When Mikah protested the pirates had started shooting, the port could only answer for what they saw.  Port officials also pointed out the Upgrade could have paid the toll instead of resisting.  On top of that, the port risked much more damage to any of their station segments than the ship did if they decided to get involved.  So, they planned to wait and see what happened?  Not happy with that, Mikah and the crew had to admit they'd been warned that would likely happen if they got involved in a fight.

Disgusted with the situation, Mikah ordered Aiden to put them on a course to ram the port!  When he turned to look at her, she emphasized that she was serious!  As everyone on the bridge then turned to look at Mikah, Terin pointed out the port had to have defenses and they'd certainly join the pirates to destroy the ship before they could ram anything.  Even angrier, Mikah demanded someone else come up with an idea.  She pointed out it seemed they were gonna die anyway.  So, if the crew wanted to live, they should come up with ideas.  Hoping to get more information, Terin said he was going to pump the wounded guy in the medbay, since the woman wouldn't talk with and was all uncooperative.

Back in the med-bay, Terin asked the wounded man how much his life was worth to his pirate leaders?  The man gasped as he laughed because Terin hadn't put things together yet.  He said no one aboard that ship had been of value, and they'd been sent out as a bait ship.  If the Upgrade had rolled over and paid the tax, that would have been good.  But, they were sent out alone to see if the Upgrade would shoot instead.  So, they'd been targets and the pirate band wouldn't do anything to save him.  His tone, as much as it could be, was one of disgust that Terin couldn't put that together himself.

While Terin wasted his time with the wounded, Jocelynn considered the contacts she'd been given.  The first was a person named "Borislav Orti", on whom she had no more information.  The other "contact" was the name of a group her Order had worked with in the past.  They were the "Nedyal".  Jocelynn's first thought was that she could try and broadcast calls out to see if she got any answers?  That ground to a halt when she realized she didn't know what factions they were allied with, or how they'd react?  For all she knew, Borislav could have been the pirate leader they were fighting.  Or, the Nedyal could be that pirate faction.  The one thing she was forced to admit was that she had no information, so the contacts couldn't help her in this fight.

In the ship's lounge, Jocelynn decided to try a tactic with the wounded woman she was now guarding.  Holding the woman by her shoulders so she had to look back into Jocelynn's face, Jocelynn simply said "Nedyal" as she watched for any reaction.  The woman's sullen look didn't change as she sullenly demanded, "so?"  When Jocelynn asked, "Does that name mean anything to you?" the woman said, "I know who they are."  Next, Jocelynn dropped the name "Borislav Orti" and got no reaction back at all.  Fed up with the pirate, Jocelynn tried outright hostility as she demanded, "Look, cunt-face!  You're going to die either way so I suggest you either give me information about it, and we can do this a lot nicer.  And we can let you live and maybe have friends at some time in the future, if you need them.  Or..."  At that point, the woman interrupted and told Jocelynn the same thing Terin had gotten from the other pirate in the med-bay.

When Jocelynn asked who it was who'd sent them to die, the woman said it was the pirate leader.  Jocelynn then asked, the guy you shot and the woman said, "No, Smiljan is the leader of the pirates.  The guy who is probably bringing all his ships to teach you a lesson for shooting at us."  About that time, Fesic got on the all-ship and said they should call the pirates and threaten to cause the pirates enough damage to make their victory pyrrhic.  Almost immediately after that, Terin said he thought that was a bad idea.  As Fesic and Terin debated the idea, Zimzod broke in and said he agreed with Fesic.  He then gave Fesic permission to make the call.

When Fesic said he was hoping for more support from the rest of the crew, Mikah chimed in and said she agreed.  Before Fesic could open a channel, Terin suggested Fesic not mention there not being much left of them to loot after the battle and Fesic asked why?  Everyone else wanted to hear Terin's answer because the idea was to make an attack on them too costly.  So, not having anything left to loot would only improve Fesic's point.  That meant they all hoped to better understand where Terin's logic got lost on this point?

When Terin started saying they had to make sure Fesic's threat was convincing, Mikah broke in angrily.  She demanded, "Terin!  It's three ships against one!  Terin got in a brief, "I know" before Mikah continued, "They out-class us, they out-mass us, they out-gun us.  What the fuck do you think is gonna happen?  In your most brilliant field, in your most brilliant expertise.  Where do you think there is survivability in this?"  Again, Terin tried to defend himself, saying, "We know there's not!"  He started to continue when Mikah again demanded, "And, you think he does not know that?  What?  Do you think he's stupid?"  Fesic then joined in, saying, "He knows he can take us but we have to convince him that it's gonna cost him more to take us than it's worth."  Mikah almost shouted, "Right!" as if volume could get to Terin where every other fact couldn't.

When Jocelynn asked about putting the prisoners on camera, Mikah snarled that the pirate leader didn't care about any of them.  Grasping at some way to contribute, Terin suggested they at least sweeten the pot by offering to release the prisoners in vacc suits or something, so the pirates could pick them up.  Finally, Fesic broadcast a message starting, "Attention pirate leader, I'm the gunner with his finger on our weapons console..."  Fesic then methodically and calmly explained how they’d do their best to create as much damage as possible while forcing him to destroy them entirely.  After he got done, they got a response very quickly, demanding, "Are you the captain of your ship or just the guy with the guns?"  Mikah broadcast, "I'm the captain of the ship" with all the attitude Fesic hadn't used in his broadcast.

Mikah then demanded, "What does it matter to you who you're talking to right now?"  The pirate smiled and told her, "I wanna know who it is I'm having a drink with when we both dock at the port?"  Mikah disbelievingly asked, "So, you're buying for all of our crew?"  The man only smiled again and said, "That remains to be seen."  On his sensors, Aiden got an aspect change and checked his data.  He saw the 500 tonner and one of the 200's had flipped end for end and were now burning to change their vectors.  While it was too early in the maneuvers to be certain, the changes were right if the ships were turning for the port.

On the comms, the pirate continued, "For now, you're gonna dump my people in survival bubbles out your airlock so my ship can pick them up.  Mikah agreed, and said, "We'll even give you the body of the man your people helped us kill."  The pirate commander grunted, "Keep him, he was a looser."  The commander nodded as Mikah said, "We don't want him.  We're gonna dump him." and then told her, "We'll meet you at the port and there will be drinks."  When the comms was cut, Mikah called back to Jocelynn and asked if she could throw the prisoners into a survival bubble?  Mikah repeated the word 'throw' to emphasize that she meant for the treatment to be rough.

When Terin suggested they check their airlock for any signs of damage, Mikah responded, "The best time to do that is now!" in her best 'Thank you captain obvious' tone.  Jocelynn grabbed the woman as she said, "Man.  It's your lucky day."  The woman only groused, "Fuck you."  Jocelynn's reaction was to again smack her across the jaw, only this time she forgot to pull her strike and fractured the woman's mandible!  Realizing what she'd done, Jocelynn said "oops" in a tone of mock-apology.  Terin was told to drag the prisoner in med-bay forward to the airlock, because his legs had been shot up and he wasn't walking.

Dragging the woman, Jocelynn checked the ship's locker and found they had four generic rescue balls and one advanced tech survival bubble which was old.  The bubble had been made back in 1104, so it was nearly a decade old.  Still, Jocelynn grabbed one of the rescue balls to use.  At the airlock, Jocelynn stuffed the woman into the ball and then also tossed the wounded man in when Terin arrived with him.  Jocelynn also planned to throw in the dead body of the other boarder, but decided to loot it first.  Having been shot front and back, and with the body having "released all fluids", removing the man's armor made a gooey mess on the deck and Jocelynn was glad she was in sealed battledress.  She did point to the mess and say, "Terin, you're gonna have to clean this up after everything is done."

When Terin protested, he was reminded he was the ship's steward so it was his job.  Jocelynn found the man's gear were two magazines of ammo for his automatic rifle, two magazines for his automatic pistol, a carbon electro-ceramic plate cutter, a TL-B chemical drill and a telescoping scythe-probe.  The carbon electro-ceramic plate cutter was a hand tool for cutting metal plates as thick as a quarter inch.  The TL-B chemical drill was a hand tool that used chemical loads to punch holes as deep as an inch into most materials.  Jocelynn didn't find any loads other than the one in the tool.  The telescoping scythe-probe tool extended a scythe-shaped tooth with a line of basic sensors on it including a gas sensor, an audio pickup and two micro-camera lenses (90 degrees/0 degrees).  Checking those out, Jocelynn got the idea this man had been a "break and entry specialist".  Still, Jocelynn took the cutter and drill because she thought they'd help with Armorer work, and the probe, because she thought it was cool.

After that, Jocelynn threw the dead body in with the protesting prisoners as Aali came up from engineering to check on the airlock.  When they cycled the inner lock, everything worked normally and the compartment was pressurized before the valve opened.  Still, they could see the control pad for the outer lock, and it was obvious there was an amber light flashing instead of the expected green.  Stepping up and connecting tether lines from the ship to their suits, Jocelynn held on to the ball while Aali closed the inner valve and cycled the outer lock.  The valve cycled as normal, which was a relief, and Aali pulled back to let Jocelynn throw the rescue ball out the hatch.

After that was done, Aali and Jocelynn both moved out to check the outer surface of the lock and the hull.  The hull surface around the lock was peppered with blast damage, dents and nicks in the hull plating.  Aali figured they'd have to swap a few hull plates and there'd be a lot of buffing and polishing to clean up the hull.  As far as the amber light, Aali said she'd have to diagnose the outer lock later, to find the cause and fix it.  After scanning and documenting the damage, the women stepped back into the lock and secured it.  Aali said she'd plan the work out after they were in port.

Treating With The Enemy
     Soon, as they made their way to the port, they passed the outbound pirate ship.  The transponder signaled that was the IM Rumen.  Aiden let them know the sensors said the weapons on the 200 dTon ship were powered down as they closed and passed.  Further in-system, the 500 dTon ship was the MV Cedna and the other 200 tonner was the MV Xefe.  They were closing on the port and everyone aboard had to wonder how the port felt about having the two ships docked to their station?  As they wondered that, Aiden announced the Cedna was docking with her weapons hot...  When Aiden contacted the port for docking instructions, he was given an approach that would bring the Upgrade past the station to come around and dock on the opposite side of the station from the Cedna and Xefe.

Mikah asked if there was an issue and the station tech simply said they were taking reasonable security precautions.  The tech then offered them options for berthing including an internal berth, a docking bay or an external docking mount.  Mikah didn't like the idea of an internal berth because, even though it had the most amenities, they would be inside the station and unable to escape if they needed to.  Mikah considered the berth, because simply being docked to the station's hull made them a sitting duck if someone attacked.  Still, it was also easier to blow the docking collars and flee if they had to, and Mikah eventually chose that option.

Accepting that, the station said the docking space would cost the ship Cr 1,000 in hard currency on arrival, and they'd activate a beacon and sent the code.  When Mikah agreed, Aiden said he was receiving the beacon and they were inbound to docking.  Mikah went to the captain's safe and pulled out one of the two Cr 1,000 notes they had.  Pulling up close to the station, Aiden nudged the ship in nose-first until the docking clamps sensed the hull.  He then drifted as the clamps extended and locked onto the ship to pull it in.  The docking systems then pulled the ship in secure to the hull of the station so they could open the cargo bay doors and step into a small cargo-bay space.

What they saw when they came down to the cargo bay were a group of armed and 'less-than-friendly' looking port workers who told Mikah she had to present the cash before they would carry out arrival procedures.  Mikah raised the note and then threw it into the cargo space to land on the floor with a sour look on her face.  After a worker checked the note for electronic validity, another worker stepped forward and said, "State your cargo?" to which Mikah answered, "No cargo."  The man was so surprised, he actually exclaimed, "Really?"  When Mikah said "Yeah", the man turned and nodded to another of the workers.  He then told Mikah, "Let this technician examine your cargo bay to confirm this claim."  Fesic stepped up and said he'd escort the tech as the rest waited.

Since they were in the bay's main hatch, they could see a number of items and the technician made directly for a half-ton cargo pod in which the crew knew they had the Imperial Navy Sensor drone.  When Mikah said the container wasn't cargo, the technician insisted they open the container and prove it.  Shrugging, Fesic both showed the man the container was not listed on their cargo manifest and also opened the container to show him the device inside.  What the man saw was a device that had a red-painted outer body with black piping and a black-bordered red Imperial Starburst.  Those who knew the heraldry knew a black-bordered red Starburst was used only by the Imperial Navy.

Impressed despite himself, the tech asked Fesic, "What does it do?"  Without a pause, Fesic gave the man a very basic description of the device as a sensor drone.  The man then looked over the outside of each of the weapons lockers, but didn't ask for any to be opened.  He just checked to make sure they were not a front hiding something behind.  Last, he very carefully checked the sand caster ammo rack, going so far as shining a pen light on the cannisters to make sure the markings said they were sand cannisters.  Some had to wonder what he thought they might have in the racks, but thought it best not to ask.  Also, as he worked and Fesic watched, the man didn't touch anything.  But he was subvocalizing, so he was in communications with "someone" the whole time.

Just before the man finished with the sand cannisters, the rest of the team waiting outside the cargo bay seemed to warm up noticeably.  the technicians then turned to Fesic and walked with him back to the group.  There, he reported that everything was as stated regarding the ship's cargo bay.  Nodding to Mikah, the man asked, "OK, since you don't have any cargo, what is your business here?"  Mikah simply said, "We're here to refuel, recycle our consumables and reset our engineering before our next jump."  When Mikah said they also had to have a drink with someone, the man waved that off saying the port had been advised of that.  His expression was as if he'd swallowed something sour. 

When the port man asked how long they expected to be in port, Mikah said "Hopefully, no more than a week.  Our engineer needs to reset our engines.  That's the only reason we're staying that long."  As they told Mikah what services the port was ready to provide, she realized everything was priced on an 'a la carte' basis.  It was obvious the port would try and get them to pay for every little thing.  And the prices would be as high as they could set them.  Unless they paid for rooms in one of the few very overpriced hotels, they would live on their ship and likely stay aboard unless they needed to leave to visit any of the available venues.  While there were many offers that were intended to be inviting , there were few things that were actually interesting.  Especially based on the pricing.

Done with them, the port official gave them the basic rules and warnings of the station and his team left them.  Free to do her work, Aali set the androids to work on the engine resets.  She then turned to Mikah to ask how soon they could get started being refueled?  Mikah said she wanted to start on that as soon as possible and Aali asked if Mikah wanted her to come to the "meeting" with the pirates?  Fesic suggested they keep at least one of the ship's gunners on the ship and ready at all times.  But, since he felt he had to go meet with the pirates, he volunteered Zimzod to stay behind.  Zimzod agreed, because he was Mikah's XO, and Mikah reminded him to not activate the weapons and sensors unless actually provoked.  There were smiles at that as they remembered what had happened years before on Regina, in the Dawnstar Horizon.

Jocelynn said she would go with Mikah, but she'd wear her combat armor because they didn't want to flash the battledress around.  Aiden confirmed he should stay with the ship in case they needed to move suddenly, but Mikah said Emkir should go with her.  When Terin asked if he should go with them, Mikah told him, "If you wanna come, you have to wear a red shirt."  That got laughs from the crew even if Terin wasn't impressed.  Fesic then asked, "He has to get busy with his toothbrush, doesn't he?" and Terin waved that off saying, "I've got all week to do that."  The comment did remind Aali she needed to schedule work on the airlock.  Terin decided to get in his combat armor and go with the crew to the bar.

Before they left, data started coming from the port and they were told the refueling would cost them Cr 112,500 for their jump fuel and Cr 1,500 for operations fuel.  On top of that, they were charged Cr 20,000 to refresh consumables.  When Mikah didn't blink before accepting the prices, the port became even more friendly.  With the fuel flowing and other steps in progress, Mikah got a ping from the port which she was told, up front, was 'free of charge'.  That made her wonder what might happen if they needed to send or receive other messages in the future?  Still, the message said the pirate leader, Smiljan, had reached the bar with his people and they were waiting on Mikah's people to have a drink with them.

Terin asked if they wanted to connect to the local network, but all they could see was a station-wide net.  There didn't seem to be anything global in reach.  Hearing that, Aali worried they might get all the malware and viruses available if they did hook up to a network, so that decision wasn't made at the moment.  Finally, Mikah said everyone should get into combat armor for the trip to the bar.  Despite having said he’d be in his armor earlier, Terin said he thought combat armor was over the top for a trip to the bar.  Zimzod asked, "Are you going in "less than combat armor"?"  When Terin said he planned to wear his armor, Zimzod nodded and barked, "OK then.  Shut up!" in an angry tone.  Terin said he was just saying it for the record, as if anyone cared that he was offering nothing of value to their plans.  Emkir asked, "For the record?  You mean, 'Do as I complain, not as I do'?" in a tone that made it clear he disapproved.

At the bar, they found Smiljan sitting comfortably in casual clothes and no armor at all.  He had three others sitting at the table with him, and they were also in casual clothes.  Behind that table, of course, were a short line of pirates in armor and with weapons in holsters or slung off shoulders or across bellies.  Seeing that as they entered, Mikah turned to Terin and said, "So, again.  We were right." as she then walked over to greet the pirate leader.  Over their private comms, Jocelynn asked, "When have we ever left a bar without a fight." and Terin said, "Plenty of times, actually" as the others all agreed with Jocelynn.  Overhearing from the ship, Aali added, "Do try, this time." because the last thing they needed was a full out battle on the station right after their arrival.

In a humorous tone, the pirate looked up at all the crew in armor and asked, "Which one of you is the captain and which one of you is the guy with his finger on the guns?"  His comment and tone seemed to claim a victory point because he'd felt comfortable enough to not show up in armor.  Or ,at least, that they could see anyway.  Mikah took her helmet off and said she was the captain.  Following her lead, Fesic popped his helmet and said, "I'm the guy with his finger on the guns."  The pirate heard them repeat back his lines and considered the two might not be planning to give him anything more than he had or they just might not be very inventive in person.  The pirate then waved his right hand to the table, on which there were cups and a bottle of some liquid, and said, "Let's drink."

Taking in the settings, Mikah could see there were only glasses for the four sitting pirates and two other glasses on the table's far side.  So, the pirate had only planned to drink with two of them.  Instantly, Mikah regretted not offering to give them a bottle of her "special hooch" and bringing the vargr juice she'd made.  She chalked that up to "for the future" as she and Fesic sat down.  Still, with a line of armored pirates standing behind their leader and his team, it wouldn't have gone over well if the four sitting pirate suddenly keeled over after taking drinks.  And the port wouldn't have been pleased to have to deal with a fire fight in the bar right after the crew arrived.

After Mikah and Fesic sat at the table, a man who might have worked for the bar or the pirates stepped up and poured drinks for those at the table.  Not waiting for any action on the crew's part, Smiljan took up his glass and said, "I'm going to raise a toast to the brass balls bitch." as he then nodded in Mikah's direction.  Not missing a beat, Mikah raised her glass and said, "And to the man who gave me another chance to clank the balls together!"  They each took sips of what turned out to be a sweet-tasting brandy before the pirate prepared to speak.  Emkir, who had removed his helmet and snagged a glass from the bar, got his words out before the pirate as he said he'd like to propose a toast.

Giving Emkir a bemused look, the pirate leaned back in his seat as he let Emkir invite himself to the party.  He was also amused when Emkir raised his glass and said, "The gods are not crazy.  They're just higher than kites."  Since Tremous Dex had no real atmosphere to speak of, kites were not "a thing" in the system so his comment was a complete non-sequitur.  That only suggested to the pirate that the toast was a code to the rest of the crew in the ship.  Adding to the amusement, Mikah then turned towards Emkir with a smile and said, "Thank you toy man", which only added in another string of likely codes in the pirate's opinion.  Smiljan wasn't sure what plans the various codes might set in motion, but he was comfortable in the plans he had in place.

Waiting to be sure they were done with their tricks, Smiljan then drank to the code words and leaned forward to ask Mikah, "So, why did you shoot up my ship?"  Despite his words, the man's tone was open and conversational.  He didn't seem to be looking for a confrontation.  Mikah very simply said, "They shot first." because she knew the pirates couldn't have seen what happened aboard the ship.  In fact, the one pirate had panicked and shot her team leader.  But, no one had shot at her crew so the crew of the Upgrade had fired first.  And the pirate ship they'd shot up had never gotten off a single shot.  So, they not only shot first, Mikah's crew were the only people to have gotten a shot off at all, except for the first panic-shot.

When the pirate said that wasn't what the sensors showed, Mikah pressed that it was what the boarding party had done.  Several of the crew in armor behind Mikah agreed with her including Jocelynn.  Mikah then said, "Just ask your little chickee you sent aboard.  She fired first."  The pirate admitted, "I wasn't there.  I'll deal with her later."  Mikah sat back with a smile and said, "I'm sure you will, and I hope you'll be generous."  Smiljan smiled and said he would, promising at least two, perhaps three rounds.  At that, Jocelynn again chimed in, saying, "She shot her boss, by the way."  Mikah nodded and said, "Yeah, she did.  Just so you know."

Hearing that, Smiljan's smile actually slipped into a look of surprise as he asked, "Really?"  Mikah nodded as she said, "We threw some flash-bangs and she panicked.  She shot your guy, and since she'd opened fire, we shot back."  The pirate nodded and sat back as Mikah proudly admitted they took advantage of a mistake to shoot his people down.  With a contemplative look on his face, Smiljan said, "Well.  The guy she shot was the nephew of one of my trading partners.  I hated him!"  The others sitting with Smiljan laughed as the pirate leader took another draw at his drink.  Mikah only said, "Well, you can be double generous with her."  Smiljan shrugged and then said, "Maybe I'll promote her after all.  Perhaps she'll command the next bait ship."

After another sip at his drink, Smiljan said, "So, let's get to some drinking and some dealing.  What are you doing in our system?  Expecting more than that, Mikah simply said they were passing through on their way to the Arden system.  Mikah continued, "We're here to refuel, reset our systems and get the fuck out."  Considering that, the man then said, "A little sensor drone tells me your cargo bay isn't exactly as empty as you would have us believe."  Mikah eyed him and asked, "I'm sorry, are you with the port?" and Smiljan said he wasn't, but told her, "That doesn't mean I don't have eyes and ears."  Mikah considered that answer, and the boondoggle that was the sensor drone.  An invitation for the Imperial Navy to come hunt them down and kill them, for which they'd paid the Scouts on Inthe KCr 100.  What a privilege!

Before Mikah could decide how she wanted to answer the question, Fesic announced, "It's a sensor drone.  Are you interested in it?"  When Smiljan asked, "What do you mean, a sensor drone?" Mikah very quickly stepped in and said, "Well, if you don't know what it is, you probably can't use it." and hoped he'd agree.  Mikah then asked, "How about a blow up doll?"  Despite the situation, Emkir burst out laughing as he remembered Brian's antics.  Ignoring the doll offer, Smiljan said, "I know of many different kinds of sensor drones.  What kind is this?"  When Fesic said, "It is, ah, an Imperial drone", Smiljan nodded and answered, "Since you come from the Imperium, that's kind of obvious.  But it still doesn't tell me what kind of drone it is?"

More interested in buying time than giving in to the pirate's demands, Fesic said he could get the man all the data on the drone once he got back to their ship.  Smiljan nodded and said, "I'll consider that as an interesting topic of future discussion."  Turning to Mikah, the pirate started, "So, you shot up a ship I valued..."  Mikah interrupted him, saying "Yeah, I don't think so.  We saw the scan data on that ship.  You didn't give a shit about that ship."  As she finished, she was even laughing a bit.  Ignoring her comments, Smiljan began again, "You shot up a ship that I valued, and we have to co-exist in this system until you leave.  So, how do you propose we go about that?"  Mikah proposed the idea that they stay on their side of the system and the pirates on their side and not get in each other's way."

Smiljan smiled and pointed out that Mikah's 'side of the system was docked at the station and his side was everything outside the station's reach.  Looking at Mikah, he said, "Not crossing into my side means you'll be here for a very long time."  Accepting the situation, Mikah decided to follow Fesic's lead.  So she offered, "Give us safe passage to leave the system and you can have the scanner drone."  It wasn't what she wanted to do but that meteor was already falling, so it was time to decide where it would land.  Mikah would have preferred to use it for information when they got to the Arden system.  Now, it would be a lure at best.  When Smiljan said he'd need more information on the drone before he'd accept the deal, Mikah said they'd get him the information.

Smiljan pushed back, saying, "I may agree to your offer, but only after I have the drone and know what it is."  As he tried to add another condition, Mikah firmly told him, "You will know what it is, but you will not get hold of it until we leave the system."  Having reached a point of negotiation, they haggled back and forth until they came to the point that Mikah's crew would get him all the information on the drone in the next twenty four hours.  He'd then investigate the device and decide if it met his needs to sparked his interest.  If not, then Mikah's crew would have to find another way to appease him.  Smiljan finally sat back and said he could accept that if Mikah bought the next round of drinks.  When Mikah accepted that, Smiljan said he had one other demand.

Having thought they might be done with this, Mikah sighed and waited for his demand.  Smiljan continued, "As I'm sure you understand, these kinds of deals need to be sealed by blood.  So, should we actually come to an agreement on this, you will need to join me somewhere where we can execute the two survivors you handed back to me.  Since I can't trust them with even the most basic jobs."  After Jocelynn exclaimed and Fesic said, "Oh shit!", Mikah simply asked, "Do I get to kill one of them?" in a business woman's tone.  Smiljan nodded and said "That's part of the deal" as Mikah actually smiled and said, "Alright!" with a pleased tone.

Less Than Fine Dining And Data
     After the last glasses were drained, including the round of five drinks Mikah spent Cr 200 on, the pirates stood and began following their leader to the door.  As they were leaving, Jocelynn spoke the name Nedyal, to see what their reactions were?  Smiljan half-turned and looked at her as he said, "We're not them babe."  His tone made it seem he found the moment funny.  With her helmet on, the man couldn't tell what her expression was, so he just shrugged and the pirates moved on.  Around them, they could feel the wave of relaxation from the bar staff.  But, when they started offering the crew over-priced under-quality goods, Mikah simply thanked them as she led her people back to their ship.

On the ship, Aali had been marshalling her 'droid forces and setting them to tasks while organizing the work schedule.  When she got that more or less done, she then slipped into her vacc suit, grabbed her tool kit and went outside the ship to check out the airlock.  It took some time for her to diagnose the issue, but saw she'd have to disassemble and re-align the outer lock valve.  That meant they had to bring the ship into a pressurized bay for the work.  Coming back inside, Aali put her tools and vacc suit up while she waited for Mikah to get back.

Leading her people back from a meeting that had certainly not gone the way she'd hoped, Mikah saw Aali coming to talk and hoped there would be some good news after all.  When Aali explained the situation to her, Mikah asked how long the work would take to get the lock fixed?  Aali considered her options, because the work wasn't difficult but she'd need muscle, or androids.  Having worked it out while waiting for Mikah, she said it would take two days with the androids or three with muscle from the crew.  Aali also reminded Mikah that if they used the 'droids, that took them off their resetting work.  When Fesic mentioned the grav-lifters, Aali pointed out those were used to connect to flat or evenly-graduated surfaces.  The parts they'd be working with would not be something the lifters could be used to move.

Despite the delay in the work, Aali said she preferred to keep the 'droids working in engineering so both jobs could be done in parallel.  That meant she'd prefer to rely on the muscles of the crew.  Agreeing with Aali, Mikah called the port and said they had to do some repairs and asked how much it would cost to rent a bay for three days?  When she was told it would cost KCr 10, Mikah sighed and accepted because she knew that was making the port happier with them.  After she sent the cash, they set a beacon so the crew could move the ship.  As soon as the hatch on the bay closed, the space was pressurized and they could do as they pleased inside or outside the hull.

Fesic and Terin were quick to volunteer for Aali's work gang while Jocelynn and Zimzod said they could really help with their battledress on, in the closed bay.  Aali said the entire crew could help her as they had time or the drive to do so.  Jocelynn reminded them she had a mission she had to carry out and Aali agreed with that completely.  When that begged the question who should go with Jocelynn, Mikah said her skills meant she should work with Aali and so should Zimzod, using his battledress.  It was obvious Aali couldn't go with Jocelynn and Fesic also had electronics skills Aali could use.  That left Terin and Emkir to go with Jocelynn, especially since Emkir was the closest thing they had to a diplomat.

With the groups settling into numbers, Zimzod asked Jocelynn who'd push Rol around once they got the gestation chamber on wheels?  That got a laugh from everyone as someone suggested they use the gravBoot Jocelynn bought to mount his chamber on.  There were then jokes about how they'd have to hide behind his chamber if attacked, and how that would save them.  Of course, Jocelynn joked, that would leave his chamber in pieces all over some passage but...oh well.  Hearing that, Emkir asked, "How's that different than the last fight Rol was in?"  That led to a few more jokes before Jocelynn got down to seriously considering her situation in the system for the first time.

She had two contacts she knew nothing about and was on the highport, in orbit of the world where she felt those contacts would likely be.  Jocelynn's first idea to try and get more information was to have Aiden give her the manual for the sensor drone.  Then, she's have a reason to comm Smiljan because she would be delivering information they'd promised him.  Then, she felt, she could ask him directly about the names while talking to him one on one.  The others were OK with that plan, when she told them, but didn't want her to do that very soon.  They didn't want Smiljan to think they were rushing to make him happy or satisfy his needs.

Mikah also told Jocelynn that Smiljan wouldn't likely answer her questions.  When Jocelynn held out that he might because she was giving him information, Zimzod reminded her they already owed the man the information she had.  So, she couldn't offer it in trade, or hold it back, until he did what she wanted.  Jocelynn realized Zimzod was right and suggested she could try to bribe the man, but Emkir just laughed when he heard that.  Zimzod stepped in again and said he was the type that shot people and took what he wanted, so he didn't take bribes.  Looking at a possible set of brick walls, Mikah mentioned the port network again, and they went over the same ground they'd covered earlier.

That was when Aiden suggested the idea of going off-ship to someplace they could rent a terminal from.  Emkir picked up on that and said Jocelynn could always go back to that bar, overpay for a lousy meal and ask about renting a network terminal if she wanted.  When Jocelynn liked that idea, she asked Emkir and Terin if they wanted to go along with her?  Because she needed the information, Jocelynn offered to pay for all costs.  Zimzod made jokes about how Jocelynn needed to get Terin beat up so he could catch up with Fesic.  Fesic only joked, "Better him than me."  Terin and Emkir agreed to go with her and Terin actually offered to pay his own way!  That decided, the three went off to the bar while Aali got started in the bay, to not waste any time.

In the bar, they were happy to serve whatever the three ordered and said they could bring a wireless console to the table and connect them to the network for an extra fee.  When Terin asked how much that fee would be, they were told it would cost CrImp 100 each hour they used the terminal.  Getting the menus, the three saw meals ranged from Cr 40 to Cr 200, with an ad claiming the Cr 200 meals included meat that was not grown in a vat!  Jocelynn saw that and joked, "Yummy!" in a sarcastic tone.  Eventually, they all ordered meals that cost them Cr 75 each, along with drinks as needed, they all ended up paying Cr 120 for consumables.  They also took a good long time "processing" the food they'd been served.  After eating, they could each honestly say the food had been better on Extolay.

The longer they took to eat, and nurse their drinks, the less they worried about the bar workers coming over to push them to buy more of anything while they explored the network.  Jocelynn knew Emkir was the most skilled at using computers and was happy to learn that Terin really was a skilled researcher.  So, with Terin designing searches and Emkir preventing them making common user mistakes, Jocelynn began her search.  After some time searching, they'd learned more of the history of the south-west section of the city.  This was because that part of the city had been built up heavily for industry early on.  Exo-Elements had built smelting and ore processing plants there hoping independent miners would come to the system and pay to use their services.

After the Imperial retreat, groups of people had banded together looking for places where it would be safe to live.  Working together, they transformed sections of that part of the city into safe and livable spaces where they could keep themselves supplied with fresh air and water.  And, if they couldn't grow their food, they had access to it.  Over the decades since the retreat, which some were calling "the abandonment", other groups had moved in and forced those people to serve them and provide them housing.  The most recent group were the mercenaries, who liked the area because of the heavy and industrialized structure.  Anyone wanting to come there to get them would have to fight the city structures as much as the mercenaries themselves.  This was important because they eventually learned the group "Nedyal" was located somewhere in there.  Try as they might, the three couldn't get more information on them.

After even more time, they found rumors that Borislav Orti might be some sort of deal maker, negotiator or information broker.  Rumors also had him possibly living somewhere in the south-west quadrant of the inner city.  Perhaps, not far from the remains of the tower once called the 'Imperial Spire'.  Finding the data they had, the three decided to keep at it for some more time to see what else they could find?  As they worked on, they eventually came up with a comms link to the mercenary hall because it was suggested the group Nedyal could be contacted through them.  They got nothing more from that research.  They also got nothing more on Borislav Orti.

At the same time, they also learned that getting around in the city was going to be more challenging than they'd realized.  Reading about the history, they saw how many places had been blasted, damaged or otherwise vented to the trace atmosphere.  Much of the city's automation was limited to those sections of the city that one faction or another kept up, which meant they claimed the turf.  And the spaces in between were no-mans-land.  So, they'd likely need a vacc suit at the least.  Not to mention having to worry about who else was wandering around in the ruins. or trespassing on someone's turf.  Jocelynn was hopeful because the hiring hall was a place that was neutral for all the mercenary groups.  And anyone who wanted to get them while they were in the hall would have to fight their way in through the mercs.

Because getting around in the city would be so difficult, the three spent some time going over the map of the city.  While they tried to get an idea how bad moving around would be, they spent some of the time focused on the area around the Imperial Spire.  Noticing their interest, a waitress mentioned she'd lived in the downport before she'd gotten her orbital job.  During her time dirtside, she'd heard rumors of a narrow connection from the upper city level to an old caved-in lift shaft.  Rumors said it might connect to a colony of secretive techs.  She'd also heard part of the shaft collapsed the year before, and would probably take some work to open.  That would also be tricky because mercenaries do sometimes patrolled the area like it was their turf.

At first, Jocelynn wondered why the woman made the comment but she must have had a reason that benefitted her.  Perhaps, she hoped for better tips, perhaps she had some other reason for the comment.  Jocelynn never did find out.  When she asked the woman how they might find the techs, the waitress admitted she didn't know and always thought it just a rumor.  When they asked her where the techs might be, she pointed to an area which didn't really narrow things down.  Still, Jocelynn decided she'd leave the woman a Cr 10 tip, and Terin said he'd match that too.  Seeing the two put their credit chips out, the woman smiled but wasn't very impressed.  Seeing that, Jocelynn asked if she'd remember more for Cr 20 more?  The woman took the cash and said she didn't know if he was in the same part of the city, but she'd heard of a hermit named Jan "the Blade" Lintrel.  She said he'd been known to get "very stabby" when people wandered onto his turf.  Jan was said to live near the Imperial spire.

After Jocelynn paid Cr 300 for the network time, they got back to the ship and Mikah made the teams official.  When Mikah said Emkir and Terin had to go down to the city with her, Jocelynn made it clear no one "had" to go with her.  Still, she made it clear she either wanted to reach the mercenary hall or strike out looking for Borislav.  Terin said he could pilot her down in their cutter, but Jocelynn said she didn't want to put that at risk by landing in it.  Still, she knew they were in orbit and the only ways to get dirtside were their cutter or a hired or paid for ride from the port or some other faction.  Considering that, Zimzod pointed out that hiring someone to fly you down would mean being left down there if you got into trouble and had to run for it.

While the others agreed, Terin said he would go with her and Emkir admitted he would do it against his better judgement.  Emkir also said that if they took the ship's cutter, they should leave one person inside it at all times, for security.  Jocelynn agreed with that and wondered if they needed someone else to come with her?  She quickly reconsidered that because she didn't really think she needed another person.  As for the cutter, Jocelynn really didn't want to bring their craft and even wondered if they could rent a landing craft?  That was until Emkir mentioned they'd be responsible for the cost of it if it was damaged.  Especially when a brand new "stock" cutter cost between MCr 1.5 and 2.5, not counting the "local market" markup.  And, Jocelynn was reminded there was no such thing as rental insurance.

They also talked about security at the port if they landed there, and they considered how secure it would be to leave the cutter there?  Based on the information they had, they guessed the port would try to defend it against significant attack if they didn't have to worry more about their own facilities.  Still, the question was how the port workers would react if they came running back for the cutter while being followed by angry people with guns?  They agreed it would suck being caught between "port security" and an angry armed group out for blood.  So, where to land and how to get down the gravity well were still an open question.

Changing topics, Aiden said they should try to hire some mercenaries to escort them in their search for the Nedyal or Borislav Orti.  While Terin joked about Aiden spending other people's money, Jocelynn really liked the idea.  Emkir liked it too as Jocelynn also said it would make sense to start with the merc hall.  There, they could ask about the Nedyal and try to hire an escort to go looking for Borislav Orti at the same time.  Next, Jocelynn decided to call the port and find out how much it would cost her to get where she wanted to go?  The first thing she learned was that they would not land her outside the grounds of the downport.  So, if she wanted to land there and fight her way across the ruins of the city, they could trudge through the place while watching for possible ambushes or collapse zones.

After that, Jocelynn told Mikah what she'd learned.  She explained the comment from the waitress and the uncertainty of everything she faced in her search.  Emkir chimed in that the mercenaries might know if the techs might still be there or not?  When Jocelynn finally came around to asking if she could use the cutter for her trip, Mikah first joked, "What'll you pay me for it?"  That caught Jocelynn so off guard, she actually stuttered, "What?" before Mikah smiled and said "You can take it, but don't scratch the paint job."  Zimzod joked, "Don't make more work for Terin and his toothbrush."  Aiden even suggested they could use the orbital re-entry kit they'd bought, even though it was only good for one person, and only one way.  Jocelynn wasn't impressed because of how conspicuous arriving like that would be.  It was certain no one was a fan of the idea.

Preparing For The Hunt
     Checking the clock, Jocelynn saw it was 4pm on a day which had already been long for some in the crew.  She considered going downwell that night, but wanted to do more research on rumors of the tunnels she'd learned of.  When Terin pointed out they didn't have a network connection, Jocelynn agreed they'd have to go to another 'so called' restaurant to rent a terminal.  When Zimzod added, "And, over pay for data charges", Jocelynn demanded, "Where would we not over pay on data charges?" and Terin quickly answered, "Another planet."  That got laughs from the crew.  Jocelynn did like Terin's idea when he suggested they find a place that was closer to the ship.  And with that, it was back out again to overpay for network access.

Deciding that, Jocelynn wanted Terin to come with her for his research skills.  She told Emkir he could come or he could stay and work with Aali, and it was up to him.  When she said he could stay and help Aali, Zimzod called out, "Aali needs muscle" and, without thinking, Jocelynn spat out, "Oh.  That's not you, so you can come along."  Everyone in the compartment except Emkir and Jocelynn burst out laughing as Jocelynn realized what she'd said. She was sorry, but knew that ship had flown.  Showing Jocelynn he'd ignored the slight, Emkir not only said he'd come along but also said he'd cover her drinks.  That meant she'd only have to pay for the network access.  With that, the three went for a walk.

Paying more attention this time, they realized they were in a section of the station they learned was called the "Berthing" section.  That part of the station had the best of the surviving or refurbished systems, and was used to berth visiting ships from out-system.  The service stalls, kiosks and other shops that had grown up in the area specialized in multi-role staffing.  So, almost all the people who worked there had other jobs and the shops and stalls were often unmanned and unstocked when there were no ships in port.  Since the shops had been stocked and manned, and the fact the "snack and caff" shops had numbers of civilian port workers in addition to the hard core workers, they guessed there were ships docked.  But, they admitted to themselves, they hadn't checked to see what other ships were docked at the port?  They hadn't seen other crews either, and everyone they met was interested in separating them from some valued item one way or another.

The outright mercantile attitude of the people around them had to make them wonder about the waitress earlier.  Perhaps, she was just in it for the tips?  Or, perhaps, she was told if she could lure the crew into continuing to come to that bar, she could get a slice off the top of profits from their visits?  The thought definitely took the luster off the gold-hearted help she'd seem to offer.  Walking along, the three found they could find a closer place to do research but no cheaper places.  Realizing that, the trio moved into a place, ordered drinks and a wireless terminal to their table.  Jocelynn wanted to hunt stories about the colony of techs while Terin suggested they check the news, just to get up to date.  Emkir suggested they check the number of ships docked at the station and where they were tied up?

Despite Jocelynn agreeing with Emkir, Terin pushed to check the news first, and when they did, they found the "news" was no more than the port bulletins.  The news was not only in-system only, but also mostly and closely related to the port's business.  Ironically enough, as they accessed the pages, they found their activities in-system and news of their arrival were a top ranked story of the day!

    Tremous Dex ( B511411-C  Ni Ic  G  201  Na  K8 V  M5 D)                            Date: 360-1113
    Arriving in system, a shipload of Imperial tourists seem to have stirred up a nest of ships led
    by Draga Smiljan.  It is reported the group used a well-known tactic, sending a bait ship out to
    provoke a response.  Station officers stated that, per all sensor data, the Imperial crew allowed
    the pirate craft to approach and dock before mauling and disabling her.  It is also expected the
    Imperial crew killed or wounded those pirates who had boarded their ship.

    The arriving ship, the IMV Upgrade is reportedly crewed entirely with Imperial nobility of varying
    levels, which makes their reaction both more understandable and more predictable.  While Station
    Manager Nedelj Vojtikhas said the violence was regrettable, he also moved to limit additional violence
    when he received a demand from Smiljan to open the port for what he was told would be negotiations.
    A meeting did take place between Smiljan and a woman who was identified as a "Lady Mikah Kirlim",
    and it was suggested she was also the Captain of the Imperial ship.  All reports suggest that
    meeting was amicable and it was verified there had been no overt violence.

    Based on the perceived entitlement of these visitors as Imperial Nobility, it is recommended all
    port staff take care during encounters with the crew.  It is also not yet known how this new set
    of events will play out so the port administration is conservatively preparing for future violence
    or weapon-play.  Especially since Draga Smiljan and his people are not known to be forgiving types.
    The port also warns the Imperials should be considered belligerent.

    Tremous Dex ( B511411-C  Ni Ic  G  201  Na  K8 V  M5 D)                            Date: 360-1113
    Following the battle with the IMV Upgrade, it is reported a Lieutenant of Smiljan's drove his ship,
    the Rumen to recover the wreck of the Krama Vjera and her survivors.  It is expected the
    ship will be either repaired or stripped before being broken up for materials.  Port control warns
    the Smiljan fleet has been more active since the battle, maintaining patrol patterns as if conflict
    was expected.  With the Imperial ship which provoked the encounter docked at the station,
    it is unknown what is planned?  Nor is it known if the activity is related to the meeting which
    was held by the pirate leader and the other captain, Lady Mikah?  Thanks to these activities, the
    Station Master has raised caution levels until such time as the pirates return to their station
    and/or the Imperial ship leaves port space.

    Tremous Dex ( B511411-C  Ni Ic  G  201  Na  K8 V  M5 D)                            Date: 356-1113
    The casualties list has been updated by Port Master Sobena following additional recovery and
    medical treatment of crews involved in the recent exchange of fire between port craft and the
    armed ship Lapurdi Zorka.  The Zorka, a 75 dTon tug retrofitted with fixed weapons mounts,
    claimed to have "Strayed" into port space after crossing the designated "demi-orbit".  When
    reached for comment, Station Manager Vojtikhas simply stated such a navigational error was,
    "Unlikely".  The Port Master admitted it was regrettable there were only a handful of work-
    sleds enforcing the port's secure space.  Still, he stands by his satisfaction of the
    projected damage done to the tug as it was forced out of port space.

    In his remarks, Port Master Sobena confirmed three of the five sleds involved were damaged
    or destroyed outright.  There were updates on the casualties as another of the sled crew
    succumbed to her wounds.  This brings the death toll to eight, with another three wounded
    and under care.  Media members continue to follow the treatment of sled driver Perran Chitta
    after he survived the spectacular blasts that tore his sled apart during the battle.  Little
    was found of the rest of his crew in post-battle recovery.

    In a follow up comment, Station Manager Vojtikhas stated that discussions with leadership
    from the Sarvalan shipyard fleet were understandably tense.  The port has moved additional
    assets into that section of space, reportedly to prevent further "accidental" transgressions.
    Port management have also denied the claim made regarding the death benefits for the tug
    crew member killed in the exchange.  While further casualties have not been reported from
    the Sarvalan fleet, this should not be considered as confirmation there were no additional
    casualties.  Additional reports will be provided as they come on-line.

    Tremous Dex ( B511411-C  Ni Ic  G  201  Na  K8 V  M5 D)                            Date: 353-1113
    In reaction to restrictions on near-space activities around the port, Port Flight Control
    announced that a number of military and transport vessels left the system today.  Following
    an agreed on news blackout, it can now be stated the mercenary battalion, Milanko's Lions
    have shifted out-system on a ticket.  Following their usual protocol, the Hiring Hall
    management have refused to divulge the system to which the unit has been deployed or the
    nature of the action.  Since returning soldiers carrying post-combat payments are some of
    the port's best customers, we wish them well.  All non-port flight operations which had
    been restricted can now resume.

The rest of the bulletins covered activities like port hirings.  There seemed to be a lot of effort by the port to hire dirtside scroungers as part hunters for specific component types.  Reading the wanted ads, the three saw the port used some of its income in both material and "cash converted into materials" to support groups dirtside that provided housing to their scroungers.  This was a more humane interaction with the housiers than they'd heard rumors of.  Most such spaces they'd heard of had groups moving in at gunpoint to force the housiers to let them in.  The more common stories from the system suggested the housiers were more like hostages in their own compartments.  Still, when Emkir looked for the locations of these places, they were all closer to the port and further from where Jocelynn felt she needed to go.

After checking the news, they looked at the port page to see what ships were in port?  The first was a Zhodani trader named the ZMV Chatstoshe, which was a 200 dTon Yetsabl Class Courier.  The next was a much older 300 dTon trading design that had been built in the Imperium, but was listed as the MV Takouhe from the Arden system.  And the last was listed as the MV Scarlett Tree!  Immediately, Jocelynn asked about the Tree, having remembered stories the crew told mentioning the ship.  Terin remembered hearing about the ship too, and thought they might want to ask Mikah later on, when they had time to talk to her.

After the easy stuff, they got into looking to see if they could find anything out about this rumored colony of techs living in the tunnels under the city?  Jocelynn wanted to see if they could find any stories or information suggesting the group actually existed, along with anything suggesting where they might have been located.  Or, if the story was just a well-known urban myth within the city of NariiKalak?  Of course, even myths have origins which have grown from a grain of truth.  But another question was how long it would take to research the city's centuries-long history to find an answer?  Especially at Cr 100 per hour.

After two hours, they'd found a note that came from before the Imperial withdrawal.  Even at that time, before the retreat, there had apparently been an esthetic group that had either been called 'hermits', 'technicians' or other names.  In some of those stories, the group had lived in a sort of natural cave system below the north-west quadrant of the city.  The frustrating thing about the stories they found was that none of them came with any basis in fact.  They suggested the existence of a group, but could simply have been a long standing legend from the past.

There was also almost nothing suggesting where to start, except for a vast part of a city whose core was ten miles in diameter.  And there could be many under-city levels containing the remains of utilities, transport systems and the private basement levels of surface structures.  Literally thousands of square miles of space to search, with no easier way to do that but to put on a vacc suit and mount an expedition on foot.  And if they had to search even a quarter of the space beneath the city, it could take years with no idea what dangers they'd face?  So, they could see they needed more information.

Another item they uncovered was the "IMV Kirdeke Marpumi incident", which explained the small area of bombed out loading docks located on the city's north-west periphery.  Some time after 1010 TI (or 100 years ago), a faction had decided they wanted to get their own starship.  Until then, starships which still chose to come to the system were treated very well because no one wanted them to stop coming.  That would lead to a slow and dwindling death for everyone without the supplies brought in.  Still, this faction wanted their own ship and figured the best way to get one would be to "take" a small merchanter when it visited the system.

The first part of their plan was to send a man out to order a cargo and sign a contract to deliver it.  Next, the captain of the ship was told they the cargo "snuck" into the city, and the group had the ship land near old disused loading facilities on the far side of the city from the downport.  While the port would see what they were doing, they couldn't interfere without risking their small fleet.  Once the ship was down and in position, with the hull opened to deliver the cargo, the group would attack in force.  They wanted their man to hire a small ship because that meant it had a small crew and would be easyer to take.  Things went sideways because the ship's captain was well aware of the dangers building in the Tremous Dex system.

Because of that, he'd hired extra muscle in the form of hired guns, to come along as security.  It cut into his profits, but not as much as losing his ship.  So, they were ready and watchful from the moment they arrived in-system.  When the mudballers (Term for people who living on planets) attacked, the hired guns were ready and a battle sprang up.  Responding quickly, the crew of the ship pulled back into the hull, buttoned up the ship and activated the ship's gunnery systems.  With the attackers from the city still trying to crack the hull, the ship's gunners opened fire with ship to ship weapons, devastating the loading dock spaces and blowing more of the city's compartments open to the elements.

That was now commonly known as the "Kirdeke Marpumi incident", and it drove a number of ship crews that dealt with the locals, or even still operated in the system to consider banding together for protection.  And that was the move that led to the forming of the pirate bands, and the pirate guild.  So, this was obviously a case of unintended consequences leading to massive repercussions for everyone in the system.  The data also told them how the pirate groups had begun to form.  At first, they formed for mutual defense.  But, they had already been considered as potential smugglers by authorities for even continuing to trade with "the Dexers".

When they formed what appeared to be "packs" of ships, and when some of the captains started working to add arms and defenses to those ships, many suggested they were turning to piracy.  A result of that was that a number of ports and firms started refusing to deal with them, or even allow them entry into local space in other systems!  That was the push that sent some of the captains over the edge, into actual piracy.  Others were dragged along because they had published associations with the first group.  Being prevented from making what they saw as an honest living, a number of the captains chose to make a dishonest living rather than move on to new trading ports.

Focusing on the 'colony of technicians', Terin considered what they had read or been told and chose to view the rumored shaft collapse as a news item.  That meant he assumed the event had happened when the city was still Imperial, and functional.  A time when such events would be news worthy.  He suggested spending more time looking for news items that would give them facts and help them lock down exactly where the collapse had been?  Jocelynn said she thought the waitress' information had been more recent than that.  Still, it was pretty much dinner time and Jocelynn asked Terin how much more time he thought they should searching?

When Terin suggested two more hours, they figured they should consider ordering dinner where they were working?  To that point, Emkir had covered Cr 120 in drinks.  When they decided to do that, Jocelynn also called the ship to see if they wanted to come out and join in eating crappy overpriced food too?  In the bay, the rest of the crew had been helping Aali with disassembly of the outer airlock valve.  The facing and some significant parts had been removed, some with the help of Zimzod in his battledress thanks to the augmented strength and the exoskeleton's increased structure.  When Jocelynn called, they also told Mikah about the Scarlett Tree too.

Mikah remembered that ship right away, and had to wonder what the smuggler was doing there in Tremous Dex?  Though, she thought, a system rife with pirates and smugglers might just be the perfect home for him too.  Checking herself, she noted the ship was listed as the "MV" Scarlett Tree, not the "IMV", so they weren't claiming Imperial registry with their current transponder settings.  Mikah had to wonder how many alias names the ship had beyond the three they'd learned in the Risek system?  But when Jocelynn asked if they wanted to come eat, Mikah said she did, and Zimzod joined her.

Aali took the invitation as a chance to prove how much smarter she was than her husband.  She stayed on the ship, eating wholesome food and left the self-poisoning to Emkir.  That way, she could keep working on the valve.  She was the first to say "No thanks" and was joined by everyone else, other than Mikah and Zimzod.  So, the couple got directions to where the others were and started walking while the trio asked for a larger table with more chairs and some menus.  Joining in on Cr 75 dinners, Mikah and Zimzod shared in some of the ideas for research.  And while they didn't find more information about the techs, or events where vents or tubes collapsed, they did find out about the day the top of the Imperial spire had collapsed and fallen to shatter parts of the city below.

Reading up on that, they saw it had apparently been caused by several factions who fought to take over the remains of some high-end "penthouse" living spaces.  At some point, it was presumed one of the factions had unwisely chosen to use heavier weapons and explosives than was good for the structure.  That apparently followed on some damage already done to the top of the spire, when the Imperium had left.  A vaguely described group had lofted several aircraft and strafed the tower peak in a sign of disrespect.  As a result of the new damage, existing damage and time's degradation, the top seven to ten levels of the spire, along with several levels of tech facilities they were under, "slid off" the spire and fell to the city below.  That, of course, crushed many compartments and left a large amount of space open to the trace atmosphere, killing many innocents.

Still, one of the off comments had mentioned an elaborate computer laboratory which had been in one of the lower levels under the Imperial Spire.  The comment came in speculation what might have been damaged by the collapse.  And that suggested the lab had still been there after the retreat.  Terin muttered that if he were a bunch of hermit technicians, he'd have tried to get that lab for his group even if the Imperials had pulled all their gear out of it.  Thinking that thread of research might actually be something real, they pushed to follow it up and came on another nugget which was similar but separate from the first.

They found rumors of a "hidden Imperial stardrive lab" studying jump drives somewhere in the city before the collapse.  And they agreed that if only the basis of the rumors could be considered truth, Tremous Dex was turning into a system with quite the interesting past!  Terin suggested the Imperium would have emptied out a lab like that, but still might have left something of value behind too.  So, going hunting for Borislav in the levels below the spire didn't seem like a bad treasure hunt after all.  By just after 8pm, they had done all the research they thought they could and Jocelynn wanted her team to get a good night's sleep before going down to the city the next day, so they returned to the ship.

In the bay, Aali had gotten a good start on the work on the valve, having removed the facings and plate covers, etc.  She had even gotten the main mechanisms open and was disabling the workings so she could start removing the inner parts early in the morning.  That went along with laying out mats on which to put sensitive parts and covering those over after they were laid out, so no dirt, dust or other contaminants got on them to muck up the works when she reassembled the valve.  While they relaxed, Jocelynn planned for the trip the next day.

Jocelynn assumed the Nedyal group were mercenaries.  She hoped to go to the hiring hall and see if she couldn't link up with them, using her letter of introduction.  She's hire some of them as guides and escorts, and then mine them for information during the hunt deeper into the city looking for Borislav Orti.  Emkir and Terin agreed on that, but Terin pushed for the idea they should use their cutter and land at the downport.  He did that because he felt sure they had secure facilities, where the cutter would be safe.  That ended when Emkir reminded Terin they'd looked at how hard it would be to cross through the city and realized it was much too hard and would take them much too long to do.  So, they'd earlier thought the best answer was to land just outside the mercenary "district" of the city and say they were hiring.  That would get them free and protected passage in and out of places the mercs controlled.

One thing they agreed on after that was settled, was that Emkir would stay in the cutter while Terin and Jocelynn went into the city.  For security.  Jocelynn again made it very clear that Terin and Emkir could say 'No thanks' and not go with her.  She knew people could get hurt and she didn't want it to be her fault if they did.  Emkir only pointed out, "We pulled your ass out of one 'ends in death' situation already,  Are you sure you really want to go in there by yourself?"  Terin agreed with Emkir and told Jocelynn she needed backup in a tone which ended that debate once and for all.  Eventually, the crew planned or worked until it was time to hit the rack to get sleep before the next day's adventures.

Plans Meeting Foes
     As the morning broke, Aiden was still tied to the ship because Mikah wanted to be able to blast out and escape the minute anything went wrong.  He did spend some time checking his nav charts looking for his options.  One parsec away, Aiden saw they could reach the Rangent or Pequan systems.  Aiden remembered recent news stories over the past months that said Pequan had officially joined the Federation of Arden.  He wondered how much of a good idea it would be to go there?  Especially since they'd have to come up with a good cover story why a ship without cargo in the hold was making the trip all the way out to Arden?  Intelligence types would certainly know it wasn't for the vacation opportunities.

Aiden also knew they could jump to the Denotam system, back in Imperial space, if they had to flee.  But, he also knew that would screw the pooch with Jocelynn's battledress too.  So, that wasn't a decision to make very lightly at all.  If they had to avoid Denotam for some reason, they could also reach the Phlume system or return to Extolay now that they'd been refueled.  But those had the same issue or even more in the case of Extolay, if they chose that path.  Still, he had options if he thought the pirates might try to follow them to the Arden system and they had to flee Tremous Dex.  So, it would cost them an extra three weeks if they had to, but they could spent a week "elsewhere" while the pirates arrived in the Arden system to find the Upgrade wasn't there.

That also reminded Aiden they were now three weeks and one day into a four month time limit imposed by the Arch Duke himself.  So, they had almost burned through a third of their time limit without unexpected delays.  If things went as expected and they only spent a week on Arden itself, they'd only get back to Regina with one week to spare.  And there was no guarantee they'd find what they needed to on Arden in just one week.  So, extra delays to avoid pirates would likely only get them out of one fire to be put into a different fire.  As was the usual case, Aiden was not happy with the situation.

As things got started, they divided into the teams with Emkir and Terin going with Jocelynn and all the others working for Aali.  That begged the question who would send Smiljan the manual for the sensor drone, since Jocelynn had asked to do that so she could also try and get any information from him.  Mikah said she'd have Fesic do that instead.  Fesic nodded and said he'd send the man an e-copy of the manual since they had it in their computers already.  Fesic also said he'd send it midway through the morning.  After Jocelynn said she planned to leave at 10am, Emkir remembered the chameleon displays and presets installed in the cutter's hull and decided to check them out.  He hoped to find a preset that would make the cutter an unappealing target in case any scroungers noticed it sitting on the ground.  Of course, old wrecks actually lured scroungers, in case there was that one last treasure inside it.

He also loaded up his hand computer with various games and other distractions to while away the time.  Digging into the files, Emkir found there were thirty separate hull presets including jungle and forest camouflage.  Blue and black sky hull settings to diminish the cutter as a target while flying into a combat landing zone.  The closest setting to what Emkir hoped for was referred to as a "Cross-Mirror" display.  That setting did it's best to make the hull look like what cameras saw on the directly opposite surfaces.  It was the best try to make the craft invisible.  While Emkir worked in the cutter, Fesic went to check on the sensor drone.  Having read enough of the manual to do what he intended, Fesic spent some time opening up access panels until he could do what he planned.  Then, he closed up the device and re-sealed it in its cargo pod.

Satisfied he'd found the best possible setting for their needs, Emkir checked the system and power requirements to find he could run it all day for weeks before he'd have to worry about more fuel.  If he used only the battery and powered the craft down, he could last a day on that and be even less noticable.  When Jocelynn and Terin joined him, Emkir explained his findings and told her they could remain under camouflage for twenty-four hours with the cutter's systems turned off, which would make the cutter even less detectable.  Emkir continued that he could promise twenty-four hour of "instant pick up", because Jocelynn might need that, even if events might force him to break the promise.

When it came time for them to get ready, Jocelynn reminded them all the excuse the world had for an atmosphere was the near-vacuum called "Trace", and they had to wear vacc suits or more.  When Aiden butted in and said they should wear face masks, Terin said he'd wear his combat armor.  Aiden then asked Terin if he had a face mask and Terin said he did.  Then, Terin told Aiden, "Put one on while you're in the ship" and, when Aiden asked why, Terin continued, "Because then we can't hear you talk."  Jocelynn said she'd be wearing executive armor and her vacc suit, because she was concerned about causing bad reactions.  Emkir went in his combat armor because he'd be in the cutter unless things went wrong.  So, he'd only activate in a combat role and would need the armor if that happened.

After everything was ready and they were set to go, Emkir threw the switches and fed power to the cutter's systems as he guided the craft out of the ship and into their rented bay.  Then, after a warning to button up the ship and for everyone to get into an 'atmosphere-secure' spaces or vacc suits, the bay was depressurized and the hatch opened to space.  Upthrusting, Emkir was greeted as port control gave him his out-bound flight data.  Recognizing he wasn't dropping to the downport, they didn't offer him a flight beacon.  After Emkir used the SMS thrusters to get clear of the bay and station, the hatch closed and the bay repressurized.

Giving his systems time to acquire the environment around him, Emkir thrust out over the planet as he rolled the craft so "looking up" for him was also "looking down at the world's surface.  After he had the needed readings, Emkir locked his nav-controls onto a point near the south-west crescent of the city, close enough to where the mercenary's had their hall.  Emkir then began to fire his retro-burn causing them and the craft to fall downward toward the world's surface.  They fell nearly halfway down before their velocity seriously started to edge up enough to be a concern.  Reacting to that, Emkir rolled the craft belly-down and fed power to the cutter's grav-systems.

Now, having control over the speed, angle and other factors of their descent, Emkir half-watched the other instruments while tracking his course to the point indicated on his nav-beacon.  The drop to the world's surface remained a negotiation between the space thrust and control systems and the grav-modules.  Then, finally they were fully into what passed for an atmospheric envelope over a world with a trace atmo.  Emkir then vectored for a "low level" cruising altitude as he pushed power to the grav-systems, and turned off all other thrusters and engines.  They were now floating as Emkir continued to close on, and lower down to, the point he'd marked from orbit.  When he got close enough, Emkir also switched off the nav-beacon while adjusting their point of landing visually.  Then, he got a call on the cutter's comms from Mikah.

In orbit, perhaps half an hour after Jocelynn and the others had left, Fesic queued up the electronic copy of the manual for the sensor drone and then made his called to Smiljan.  Instead of getting the pirate leader, he got one of the man's minions and that person said to send the manual over and his boss would get it.  Just as Emkir was skimming along and preparing to land, Mikah was working in the bay, helping Aali with the airlock when her comms went off.  Answering it, Mikah found it was Smiljan, and he seemed very eager.  After Mikah greeted him, Smiljan said he very much wanted to complete the deal for the drone and that meant that she and whoever she brought with her needed to come out and take part in the 'Exchange of blood'.

Mikah considered that requirement of his before saying, "Alright.  When and where?"  Smiljan first gave Mikah the coordinates and said his people would give her a flight plan to a location on the former shipyard which served as the pirate base.  When Mikah responded, "Uh huh" in a less than enthusiastic tone, he continued, "And then, you and your people will be escorted to the location where the ceremony will take place."  When he finished, Mikah responded, "Uh.  You know, I just don't think so.  Um.  I think you can find a more reasonable place for this.  That's not...one hundred percent your territory?"  Smiljan quickly countered, "No.  Because nobody else will let us do it in their territory."  To Mikah's surprise, the man actually seemed to have a pout on his face.

Mikah shrugged and said, "Um, I kinda think.  Maybe not on the station or in the city, but out on the world somewhere would be a good place to do that."  After considering the idea, Smiljan said they could do that, but had to have his people find a pair of vacc suits he was willing to throw away.  Smiljan didn't seem pleased that he'd have to have two vacc suits shot up to kill those who'd failed him, because it cost him extra.  But, it did seem he wanted the drone.  After Smiljan told Mikah he'd update her on the 'when and where', the call ended and Mikah looked up at the partly disassembled airlock of the Upgrade and remembered she couldn't use the ship to get to whatever meeting the pirate chose.

Making a decision, Mikah sparked up her comms and called Emkir on the cutter.  With Jocelynn next to Emkir as she spoke, Mikah told Emkir he was to drop Jocelynn and Terin off on-world and return to the station to pick her and Fesic up.  When Emkir asked if the trip could be delayed until Jocelynn made contact with the mercenaries, Mikah said it couldn't.  So, Emkir continued the flight and then told Jocelynn and Terin he would mark the spot on the ship's nav-computer so he could return to get them at that location.  Finally, down and grounded, Emkir marked the spot in the craft's nav-computer so he could automatically return to that specific point.

Before Emkir lifted, he asked Jocelynn for an estimate how long she thought she'd need but Jocelynn had no guess.  They agreed she'd spark up her comms and let Emkir know when she'd need a lift back to the ship.  She figured she could let him know as she was heading out of the city, and that would give him time to make his descent if he hadn't already returned.  Emkir then lifted back for the port, while Jocelynn was happier because she'd not liked the idea of Emkir sitting there by himself in the cutter. 

After Emkir lifted, Jocelynn and Terin started moving towards the outer shell of the sealed city in a bit of role reversal.  In her vacc suit, Jocelynn was the "Buyer", coming to hire mercenaries and Terin was playing the role of her body guard.  It would have made them laugh if they were more sure they'd not have to test their combat skills in the current situation.  When they finally got to an airlock, they realized they had to ask for entry.  Not having any comms links to those inside the city, Jocelynn unsecured the wiring bundle which normally was velcro'd down to her suit.  She separated out the one cable which looked to have a connector that matched the marked port on the panel next to the airlock.

After considering what she'd say, Jocelynn simply said, "Hello.  I am looking to hire mercenaries."  To her surprise, it was that easy and the airlock valve cycled open.  After Terin and she stepped in, the outer valve cycled again and the lock repressurized before the inner valve cycled.  As that opened, they saw a man who appeared to be a young adjutant officer in a crisp clean uniform.  Seeing the man was in a plain cloth uniform, Jocelynn and Terin popped their helmets and answered the officer's greetings.  As the officer led them towards the hiring hall, he asked some basic questions like the nature of the scrape Jocelynn was looking to hire troops to deal with?  When Terin overstepped his role as a bodyguard to say, "Personal bodyguards", Jocelynn added, "And a guide, and information."  After a pause, Jocelynn then added, "I'm looking to hire members of a specific group."

After an odd look at Jocelynn and Terin, the officer asked, "Are you certain you're looking for mercenaries?"  He then added, "I mean, we're combat troops."  Jocelynn nodded and said, "Well, yes.  Because we'll need someone who can protect us."  Hearing that, the officer considered this just might be some world government fighting a revolt, revolution or insurgency but neither of the two he was escorting seemed the type.  And, they hadn't announced any government connection, which such people usually do right away.  Nodding, the officer considered what question he'd ask next when Jocelynn added, "Of course, we'll need people who are familiar with this quadrant of the city.  But who can protect us and guide us as we move."  That blew away his 'government agents seeking protection from revolting citizens' theory.

Now totally uncertain what these two self-proclaimed hiring agents were up to, the officer decided to cut directly to the core of the issue.  He asked them, "Exactly what are you hiring troops for?  What mission?"  When Jocelynn simply answered, "Just what I said." the officer pointed out, "Most hiring agents come here because there is a combat situation on some world they need help resolving, and they need military forces to either intervene or help them resolve their issue.  What you've said does not sound like that."  Terin again jumped in, making the man wonder who was in charge here as the navigator said, "We're looking for a much smaller scale, for local operations."  When the officer asked, "Local operations where?" Terin said, "Here in this city."  And that changed the entire complexion of the situation!

Nodding, the Officer admitted, "That is unusual." and Jocelynn replied, "We're an unusual bunch."  The officer held his tongue on that comment.  After a pause to again consider his verbal path forward, the officer asked, "You said you came here to hire troops from a specific group.  What unit are you looking to hire?"  Figuring it was time to risk an 'all or nothing' roll of the dice, Jocelynn said, "We're looking to hire members of the Nedyal group."  Despite himself, the officer laughed and then explained his outburst by saying, "They're not mercenaries or for hire."  What he didn't say was that he was now furiously wondering who these people were?  How they'd heard the name of the Nedyal?  And, what unknown avenues of information existed that this conversation had exposed?  Not to mention what security risks those avenues of information represented to his unit or others?

Terin tried to get back on track by saying, "Yes.  We need the mercenaries to help get us to them."  But the officer assured them they didn't need mercenaries to lead them to that group, because the Nedyal were housiers.  Both Terin and Jocelynn reflected on what they'd learned of factions in-system and realized these were people who created and maintained safe sections in which to live.  But, they usually ended up as servants to those with more power, who moved in and forced them to serve in their own homes.  Realizing the situation, Jocelynn actually stopped walking to look at Terin and gripe, "You've gotta be kidding me."

Again, trying to get the train back on the rails, Terin suggested, "Well, like I said, there's a couple of other things we need to deal with and we'd like to have some extra firepower behind us in case we run into trouble while we're looking."  The officer nodded again, and asked, "Well, as far as these 'other issues' and the firepower, can you be more specific?"  Again, throwing the dice, Jocelynn said, "We're looking for a man named Borislav Orti or I'm looking for a group of secretive technicians rumored to live in the levels under the Imperial spire."  In for a credit himself, the officer said, "Well, Borislav Orti is an information broker.  So, he's not necessarily someone you need mercenaries to contact or deal with.

Terin answered, "We don't need mercenaries to deal with him.  We need them to deal with the people who might try to stop us from getting to him."  Nodding at that, and feeling he had a firm handle on what he was getting up front, the officer said, "I'll escort you in" and became much less talkative as they walked.  When they arrived among the first obvious troops in varying uniforms, Terin and Jocelynn were surprised as apparently mid-grade officers came to attention and snapped out salutes.  They were even more surprise when the young junior officer returned them.  Still more of a surprise, an NCO stepped up as they arrived, saluted the officer and then handed him a small amount of gear.

After a quick change of rank and uniform jacket, they realized the "young junior officer" had actually been a young-looking man who'd reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel!  It also became obvious the officer had been sent to covertly pump them for information before they realized it.  And he was disturbed for more reasons than the fact they were looking for a man who they didn't know was an information broker as well as a group in a role they didn't understand.  In his ear, his intel boys had come up with the fact these two were from an Imperial ship in port and he now had to ask who in the Imperium was talking to the Nedyal?  And, about what?  As well, they wanted to hire combat troops to be city guides.

Now wearing his correct uniform and rank, the officer explained his, and most, units didn't hire out in groups less than a platoon of troops.  And those could be a two-squad platoon of 50 to 60 troopers to four squads with assets and numbering as many as nearly 200 troopers.  The Colonel suggested they try to hire actual body guards, hunters or a security firm.  While he was direct in what he said, he also held back quite a bit he wasn't saying, which were mostly based on his questions about the connection between these two and their friends in the Imperium and the Nedyal.  Especially since he'd not yet told the pair that the Nedyal serviced mercenary quarters.  That, alone, made it important to understand who the Nedyal were talking to, and just exactly about what?

The Colonel then explained that hiring a platoon, minimum, for as little as a month-long ticket, again - minimum, could cost anywhere from KCr 50 to MCr 2.5 depending on the platoon and its attached assets and specialized members(like medical teams).  The more the Colonel explained, the more certain he was that these people were nothing more than tourists.  And nothing could cause more unnecessary carnage and loss on the field than a tourist with authority.  Some of the other officers were amused by what they were overhearing, but all of them wanted little to do with these visitors.  Still, they all wanted to know more about their link with the Nedyal, and they had ways to advance that.

Terin stepped in at that point, and said he accepted that they wouldn't hire out so few troopers but asked if the mercs could point them in the right direction or give them locations?  Especially since they knew who both the man and group were?  The Colonel then said they could bring them to the leaders of the Nedyal, but suggested they might not be who the pair expected.  As for Borislav Orti, they said he lived in some of the upper-most levels of the central part of the city.  When Jocelynn and Terin nodded, the Colonel added, "And, he is well protected."

After that comment led to a pause, the Colonel then said he'd take them to meet with the contact team for the Nedyal.  They turned out to be a group of three people who made themselves available to the mercenaries to hear their orders, complaints, demands and - rarely - compliments.  When the Colonel left the group, he was certain he'd get a report on what was discussed later on.  The three waited with concern and wondered what fresh hell this was until Jocelynn handed over her letter of introduction.  Two of the three read the letter through twice while they worked to understand it.  And while the third person's jaw dropped after reading it only once.  That one man suggested they step into a more secluded space to talk.

After they stepped into the compartment, the man asked, "What is it your Order would ask of us?" while even the other two members of his group tried to understand what was happening?  Jocelynn confirmed they were both members of the Order and said they'd given her the group's name in case she needed help while on the world.  Jocelynn then went as far as to explain she was looking for technicians who might be able to create forged electronic documents with a quality good enough to defeat auditors from the Imperial Navy.  Jocelynn made sure not to even suggest what she needed the forgery for?  Realizing how difficult a task Jocelynn was asking about, the three talked among themselves for a bit before they asked her to wait for half an hour or so.  They said they'd be back and be able to tell her what help they might be able to provide.  Jocelynn thanked them and, as the three left, turned to Terin and mumbled, "Keep your eyes open."

In orbit, Emkir docked with one of the access locks to the bay the crew had rented so Mikah and Fesic could board.  Mikah moved into the second seat on the flight deck and gave Emkir the coordinates for the meeting.  She told Emkir the pirate leader seemed very eager to complete the deal and get his hands on the drone.  Mikah then explained the sequence of events to Emkir and brought him up to date.  So, they were off to meet for the so called blood-letting ceremony.  While that happened, Mikah told Emkir she expected him to stay in the cutter just in case.  So, for the second time that day, Emkir was flying the cutter down to a location dirtside to sit and wait.  The one thing that bothered him the most was that he didn't see anything or anyone down there waiting for them.

When Emkir reported that, Mikah simply told him to land without concern.  Accepting that, Emkir did send the coordinates back to Aali and update her what they were doing.  After they'd set down, Mikah and Fesic stepped out of the cutter to wait while Emkir watched the cutter's sensors.  Very soon, he saw two ships inbound and reported that to Mikah but she gave him no instructions back.  Emkir could see one of the ships was small while the other was rather large, and he worked the sensors to get more information.  Soon, he confirmed they were the Cedna and Xefe and he reported that to Mikah.  He also updated Aali on the ship.

Something in Emkir's gut sank when his console lit up and he realized the cutter was being targeted by active weapon systems!  Making sure his personal comms were on and open, Emkir sent out a burst to everyone in the crew when he got an open broadcast comms ordering "everyone in the cutter to power the craft down and leave it with their hands raised."  When Emkir waited for Mikah's confirmation, she knew they had no ship to ship weapons, so she told Emkir to comply.  Before he did that, Emkir sent out a final blast from the cutter's systems before their comms were cut by a wash of white noise.  On the ship and in the mercenary hall, everyone on the crew was now aware something had gone very wrong with Mikah's meeting with Smiljan.  Especially when no one could reach Mikah, Fesic or Emkir even on the team comms.

While Emkir stepped down from the cutter to join Mikah and Fesic, a cover was pulled off what looked like a foxhole.  They all realized it had to have been sensor-resistant to have not been picked up by the cutter.  That understanding came as two armed people in vacc suits climbed out of the foxhole with weapons trained on Mikah and the two men.  And, they realized one was the woman they'd captured during the boarding.  Mikah's first instinct was to draw her weapon if they were going to raise weapons too.  But, as she began to reach for her laser pistol, the woman fired a round into the dirt at Mikah's feet and the man with the woman ordered, "Don't reach for your weapons!"

Realizing they were being double crossed, Mikah growled, "What the fuck do you want?"  The man answered, "Right now?  Very slowly and very carefully, each of you will disarm."  With the pirates holding guns on them, they had no options at the moment, and Mikah said "Alright".  As an aside, she muttered, "I should have rammed the station".  One by one, the pirates had each of the three drop their weapons and gear before stepping away from the piles.  After that, the man told the three they were now prisoners of Smiljan's crew and, if the rest of the crew handed over the sensor drone, they might see their ship again.  Oddly, while Mikah's anger was near boiling over, and Emkir was looking for opportunities to act, Fesic considered the small number of electronic components he had in his pocket.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Zimzod: Working with Aali and Aiden on the ship's airlock
     Mikah: Being held prisoner with Emkir and Fesic
     Aali: Working with Zimzod and Aiden on the ship's airlock
     Emkir: Being held prisoner with Mikah and Fesic
     Aiden: Working with Zimzod and Aali on the ship's airlock
     Fesic: Being held prisoner with Emkir and Mikah
     Terin: In the Mercenary hiring hall with Jocelynn
     Rol: In the 6th week of gestation (12 weeks to go)
     Jocelynn: In the Mercenary hiring hall with Terin

Next: A Month-Long Afternoon