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Illuminating The Situation

Arden
Separations And Secrets
     On the ship, Aali and Jocelynn talked, in the engineering spaces, about Jocelynn's "job" because Jocelynn had decided to tell Aali what she'd been doing.  Zimzod and Aiden worked at their own pursuits while waiting for any news at all.  Thinking about the MS Tagund Edanse, Jocelynn privately continued worrying that she might've just sent a starship crew to their early graves.  Beyond that, she was waiting for Yur or Alef to call her for the next step in her dealings with them?  She hoped they'd call soon because hanging around the ship was annoying when others were out doing things.

In Arden's capital city, Mikah, Emkir, Fesic and Sekea were in the hotel, after having spoken to housekeeping.  They had learned that one of Norris's team had an artificial eye.  And, from the packaging, the eye had some electronic features.  They were waiting on answers from the Ardeni Government.  Like which office to check with for access to past travel data?  They also hope to get reports on arrests or John-doe bodies in the period the team disappeared.  Finally, they wanted to know what happened to the travel data collected by the police, and if they could get the travel permit data from the previous team's time in-system?

Zimzod planned to spend his morning doing physical therapy, stent-work and some gunnery training.  He also wanted to call Mikah to see what was happening with her team?  Aali was continuing to fold her stent-training into her engineering work while she supervised the engineers hired from the port.  To her surprise, the engineers seemed to really know their stuff.  Aali had spent a good deal of her morning checking their work while also getting her own tasks done, and she approved of their jobs.  Aiden planned to do his stent work and stand ready in case Aali needed extra hands in engineering.

In the hotel, Fesic accepted that Mikah said she had a reader on the ship that could handle the crystal they'd found.  Still, he asked if she was certain and Mikah said she was.  Turning to Nour, Mikah asked if he had any good indications where the team might have spent time?  Nour reminded her of the short list of market districts the embassy knew they'd frequented.  Anything outside of those would have been places they didn't report to the ambassador.  Fesic recommended they split the group so someone could return to the ship and check the data on the crystal.  While that person was away, the others could start working the market locations to check the hay stacks for a needle?

Mikah considered that and said she'd go back to the ship while the other three went to one of the markets.  That left Nour with a choice of who to stay with?  Still, Mikah wasn't concerned with making his life any easier.  She also told Emkir he was in charge and warned him not to hit anyone with a chair.  That confused Nour and Sekea but got a laugh from Emkir and Fesic.  Nour accepted Mikah's announcement and said he'd be staying with the men.  He did call an embassy car for her, which Mikah appreciated.  It would save her money even though she was sure he only did so they would know where she went.  While they waited, he told her she could always call the embassy for travel documents if she wanted to leave the ship again. after she was done with the crystal.

Considering his task, Emkir asked Nour about the data from the embassy and was told the team had frequently visited the Lila, Elrod and Hayley markets.  Nodding, Emkir decided the team would visit the Lila market and see what they could find?  He also called Mikah, who'd just left, to update her on their plans in case anything went wrong and a rescue was needed.  Emkir told Nour he wanted to spend up to four hours in the market and Nour went to make the arrangements.  In the car riding to the ship, Mikah got the call from Emkir and thanked him for the information.

When the driver didn't seem talkative, Mikah asked how long he'd been working for the embassy?  He said he'd worked there for nearly five years.  Mikah then asked if the man was native to the city and he said he was, and had lived there all his life.  Admitting her question would sound odd, Mikah said she didn't understand all the scrutiny they lived under despite the many invasions, and asked how they keep track of it all?  Adding to that, Mikah asked if they did keep track of it, or just tossed each document as a one-time thing?  Off handedly, the man said he was sure the government kept track of it but that wasn't his job.  His tone suggested he really didn't care at all about it.

After the small talk, Mikah asked the man if he'd ever had contact with the team her people were looking for when they were alive?  The driver asked her what made her think that team were not still alive?  Mikah said she assumed they weren't, since no one had heard from them in so long.  The driver nodded and said that was a valid option but it didn't mean they were dead.  He suggested they could be in a jail somewhere, or they could have even left the system without saying so, for some reason.  Mikah admitted she was assuming and then asked if the man knew of a way to check if they'd been arrested?  He said she could ask the police but doubted she'd get an answer.

Getting to the port, the embassy car was able to use diplomatic courtesy to drive onto the port and drop Mikah at the ship.  The first person Mikah checked in with was Zimzod, who was happy to see her.  Mikah was happy to see he was doing physical therapy exercises.  Mikah then asked Zimzod about the chip and crystal reader they'd bought in the Inthe system?  When Zimzod brought it out, Mikah checked and found it did have a port the crystal would fit to.  Connecting the crystal and checking what was on it, they found a database had been stored.  Launching that, the database opened to a default table which held columns for shops and names.  There were no definitions of what the data meant?

In the ship's engineering, Aali learned what Jocelynn had been up to and was disturbed.  She pointed out that things could have gone wrong and Jocelynn would've simply disappeared as far as they knew.  Especially with the heavy police presence on this particular world.  While she was happy Jocelynn had told her what she was up to, Aali made it clear she felt Jocelynn should tell Mikah what she was doing.  Just in case something went wrong.  She also mentioned to Jocelynn that the people she was dealing with could be very bad guys too.  Just because they had a 'sparkly toy' that would help didn't mean they might not just shoot her too.

Despite knowing she was right, Jocelynn told Aali, "The Captain's gonna yell at me" and Aali said, "That's her job."  Nodding, Jocelynn knew Mikah was in the city, at the hotel, so she decided to call Mikah.  Not wanting to do that in public, Jocelynn made her way up to the ship's lounge and planned to head aft, to her stateroom.  But when she got to the lounge, Mikah was there working with Zimzod on some device!  Surprised, Jocelynn said, "Oh!  Wow!  This is fortuitus." in a tone which started full of enthusiasm and quickly faded.  Jocelynn could feel the spotlight on her as she stood with both Mikah and Zimzod now looking at her.  Reacting to that, Mikah joked, "Who did you administer first aid to while I was gone?"

When Jocelynn answered, "Honestly, no one." Mikah asked, "OK, then, what did you do?" because she could tell by Jocelynn's expression that something had happened.  Taking a seat so she could look at both of them as she spoke, Jocelynn then started from the beginning and explained the whole thing.  How she'd been enlisted by Sir Makxel ia Kiin to deliver a crystal to a person named Yur Cooper, who was located on Arden.  She continued, explaining that she called the number connected to the address and got a call back from an associate of Yur's who she only knew as "Alef".  Jocelynn then told them of the meeting and the "job" she had to do to "prove herself".  She told them about attaching the device to the hull of the MS Tagund Edanse the evening before and said she was waiting for them to direct her to the next step.

During her explanation, Jocelynn did emphasize the chance this could lead to them getting one of the devices the police used to print out travel documents.  Of course, that ignored the fact this "Yur Cooper" and "Alef" could now burn her for attaching a destructive device to the ship and whatever other damage that action caused.  When Jocelynn also said Alef had given her KCr 20 in Ardeni currency, Mikah quickly held her hand out and said, "Well, good.  You can give that to me."  Hearing that, Jocelynn back pedaled and said she didn't know if she'd have to return it or not?  Jocelynn then had to explain how she'd been given the cash and was uncertain if Alef would expect it back or not, since she hadn't used it for a bribe.

When Jocelynn went on to say she planned to offer the cash back to Alef, Mikah indignantly said, "Don't do that!"  Jocelynn asked why not and Mikah told her to wait for Alef to ask for it first.  She further said, "If he doesn’t say he wants it back, you keep it.  And then give it to me."  Nodding, Jocelynn agreed and said, "Then, I'll give it to ship's funds." in a tone that said that was what she'd planned all along.  Mikah then said, "And, your punishment for keeping secrets from the captain is...  Cringing against what she knew had to be coming, Jocelynn asked, "What?"  Mikah said, "Your punishment is that if we get a printer to make travel documents, you're gonna be the one who has to test it.  So, if it doesn't work, you're the one who's gonna take the fall for it."

When Mikah asked about just how much Jocelynn was responsible for, Jocelynn said she was still trying to stay optimistic about the situation.  She was holding out hope that no Knight would intentionally put a sister Knight of their order into harm's way without a very good reason.  Stressing the word 'very', Jocelynn's comment set aside the fact she was already well beyond what Sir Makxel had asked.  He had, in fact, only asked her to deliver the crystal in the box.  Everything else she was doing was at the request of an obviously criminal organization.  And they could be the type of group that used and burned anyone they could get control of.  So, while Jocelynn had not finished her courier job, she'd already gone well above and beyond that with the MS Tagund Edanse job.  The fact that she could call herself a "made member" of Yur's organization only meant she couldn't turn on them without them telling the police what she'd done...

Nodding, Mikah said, "OK.  In the future..."  She then had to laugh at the possibility of any future under the circumstances before she continued.  Going on, Mikah said, "If any stranger, no matter what their affiliation, offers you a package to deliver, you are to talk to mom first."  As she said that, she pointed to herself to make sure she was being entirely clear.  Jocelynn just nodded and said "Yes Ma'am."  Mikah then cringed as she asked if Jocelynn had any other packages to deliver because she was worried about the answer she'd get.  Mikah was able to relax when Jocelynn said, "No.  Just the one."  Jocelynn then promised Mikah that she could take care of herself and anything she learned or found out would be brought back to Mikah as soon as she could.

Mikah then said "No Secrets from the Captain!" in a commanding tone.  Jocelynn went apologetic again, saying, "I know.  And the reason for that is that it happened really quick."  She then explained about meeting him in the Order House and visiting his very expensive residence with the secret alcove.  She also told them he was the person who gave her Borislav Orti's name as a possible contact in Tremous Dex.  And that Sir Makxel was Vice President of the financial services firm "Dealka, Rhaliidi and Lijkha", on Regina.  Hearing that, Mikah could only shake her head and mournfully say, "Most of the worst creeps in the universe are super rich like that."

Done with her own activities, Jocelynn asked what they knew about the Arch Duke's team?  Mikah pointed to the crystal and said, "We may know what we need after we check out this database."  Nodding, Jocelynn asked if she could join in and be there while they read the data?  Mikah shrugged and said she could before they all three turned back to look at the data in the database.  While they worked on that, Emkir and his team got the travel documents they needed to ride to the Lila marketplace.

Searching, Shopping And Screwing Up
     Arriving in the market space, they saw that the area was more open than sections of the city like the embassy or the hotel locations.  Like the starport, the spaces were sealed over but the ceilings were hundreds of feet above the base level.  And, that didn't include basement and sublevels which might go tens of levels down below the city to form an undercity.  Here, the causeways were broader, and even included periodic "islands" of structures rising three or more levels above the causeway.  But, it was still enclosed.  And this area was filled with food outlets, most serving paste-based options, and retail or service outlets.  Diving into the massive haystack, the team got on with the mission with Nour traveling with them.

Either one at a time or in groups of two or more, they went into the shops or approached the smaller number of stalls where they were present and asked about the prior team.  The tactic they used was to say they were crew of a merchant ship and had, from time to time, run into crew from another ship.  They then said they understood the ship might have been in port recently and were hoping to pick up their trail.  So, they were hoping someone remembered doing business with that crew and could help them out.  What 'really' helped them out was that they had names and pictures to present when asked.  That kept those they asked from shutting down when they couldn't give any details about someone they claimed to know.  Still, the market was huge and retail worker memories tended to be momentary at best.  So, they weren't getting any return for their effort after the first hour.

On the ship, Mikah, Zimzod and Jocelynn found the patterns in the database in the first hour.  They were rows including a shop name, a personal name and then a number of rows of other personal names or other addresses.  What frustrated them was that there was no internal documentation which explained what the data patterns meant?  More annoying, the person who was their computer officer was leading the team on the ground so they couldn't get him to directly massage the data.  Still, they did have a list of shops which they could look up on the local network to see if they were in the Lila Market place where Emkir's team were working at the moment?

Since neither Zimzod or Jocelynn had any real skill with computers, it was up to Mikah's basic computer training to get them the data they needed and check it against locations.  Finally, they had three locations to call Emkir and point his team at:

    Lila Market:
        Signwheels Signage                    Kuagmii
        Fixex Appliance Repair                Shipa
        Sologreen's Mechanical Repair.   Khudi

After an hour facing failure after failure, Emkir's team were pleased to actually have targeted data to use and hoped for any kind of reward.  Looking at the three shops, they checked their location and decided to try "Signwheels" first.  Moving up on the shop, they could see the place not only sold pre-made and custom signage, but also sold all manner of advertising materials.  Having been given the name "Kuagmii"(Kh-oo-ah-gh-me), Emkir said they should all go in but he would take the lead.  Walking into the shop, Emkir approached a man standing behind the main counter saying, "Hello, I'm visiting the area and have a few questions."  The man behind the counter nodded and legitimately expected this possible customer to ask about Signwheels and their products.

Emkir first asked, "Do you do much work for people from off world?" which was in the target zone.  The staffer asked him what kind of work he meant?  Emkir suggested basic advertisements and products to improve name recognition along with similar campaigns.  Emkir also suggested items which would be put into Tri-vids and other video productions.  The staffer quickly pointed out they were not a tri-vid company and didn't do video work.  Anything they made could be filmed as part of a tri-vid set, but their work was not specifically for that use.

Switching rails in as harsh a manner as possible, Emkir then said, "Well, I'm trying to find some associates of mine, fellow off-worlders.  They run around in their own ship, we have our ship, and I'm trying to find out, because I thought they might be around here...  I was wondering if you could look and see if you recognized them?  If you've seen them around here?  Despite the tortured logic of Emkir's request, the man behind the counter - who Emkir had not bothered to identify yet - shrugged and said he would look at the pictures.  As he showed the man the images, Emkir also said, "I understand someone named Kuagmii might have done some work for them.

While the man's attitude was generally helpful and he was willing, he didn't recognize any of the images.  He did tell Emkir that Kuagmii was not in, and would be in the shop later that night.  When Emkir thanked him and said he'd come back later, the shop man said the store was open until ten in the evening that night.  Throughout the conversation, the man's attitude was open and inviting.  Leaving that shop, the three, along with Nour, had to consider if they wanted to go to Fixex next or Sologreens?  Nour didn't seem surprised at the results they'd gotten because retail memories of customers were short, so he felt the missing team members could've come in ten or more times six months before, and would still have been completely forgotten less than a day after they'd last left the shop.

Done with Signwheels until that evening, the group stood outside to decide what to do next?  Emkir decided they'd go to Fixex next and see if they could find "Shipa"?  When Fesic asked if they should all go in, Emkir asked for their opinions to decide who went in?  Hearing that, Fesic said he wanted to take the lead in that shop.  Emkir agreed, and they started making their way toward that shop.  While they walked, Emkir noticed movement from the corner of his eye and looked to see a person seeming to push their way through the others on the concourse.  And, if they kept up as they were moving, there was a good chance that person would intercept his team!  Getting the other's attentions, he directed them to a spot outside the crowd in hopes to evade, but the on-coming man seemed to angle his moves to intercept them.

Seeing that, Emkir pointed the guy out and let the others know what was happening.  The lean man they saw had dark hair and wore a dark skin-tight suit of some sort.  When they turned to look, the man put on a burst of speed and came at them even while Emkir stood pointing at him.  Fesic quickly tapped the ground with his cane, which pushed it up so he could catch the top of the cane's shaft with his left hand and grab the pommel with his right.  That put him in position to draw the hidden sword just as the man hit Emkir.  Sekea braced as the man came at them, in case he was the person hit.  Nour only cried out and jumped out of the way.

Not only did the man's tight-fitting outfit work against grabbing him, but Emkir realized after the fact that the man had hit him in a way that reduced any chance he might get grabbed.  That meant this man had some training.  What Emkir had been reacting to while he was being hit was that the man had been grabbing at Emkir's hand computer!  It was a logical move, because an off-world tech hand-comp would sell well in-system and it was on an extremity.  So, the thief didn't have to fight his way close in to Emkir to steal it and could even drag Emkir by the arm as he pried it away.  That would even reduce Emkir's ability to fight him off.

Because Emkir had seen the man coming on, he was able to dance to the side enough to try and trip the man.  This kept Emkir from being bowled over and even helped Emkir keep the man from stealing his computer.  Sadly, it also meant Emkir was not in a firm stance he could have used to propel him as Sekea 'braced in place' and Fesic assumed a pre-draw stance so he could draw and use his weapon.  To everyone who looked on, Fesic's stance looked like he planned to use his cane as a defensive bar, so there were no unfortunate questions.  But, that also meant neither of them were prepared to sprint after the man.  Nour was already calling for police, who would very quickly be on the scene.

There were a few heartbeats before they all realized this had been a high-speed one-shot hit and run, and the man was already driving himself towards a crowd in the causeway.  In the next few heartbeats, Sekea and Fesic both realized the man looked familiar enough he just might have been Finerd Talthan, a member of the team they were looking for!  Reacting first, Sekea yelled, "Finerd, we are your allies, we are here to help you!"  Realizing what he was doing, Emkir wanted to stop Sekea but realized he couldn't.  If anything, that cause the man to possibly run faster.

Now only seeing a level of disturbance from where the man had plunged into the crowd, Emkir said, "Well' let's try and follow him and see what happens?"  As the three began to run, Nour, who had been calling for the now-approaching police, started calling for them to stop and wait for assistance.  When the three only continued to run, with Fesic out in the lead, Nour started walking in their path while still flagging down the approaching police officers.  The three quickly left Nour behind as they drove into thicker crowds themselves and ended up coming to a stop when they realized they were having to push people out of their way.

By that point, they had lost all reference with where they'd last seen any sign of the fleeing man as the crowd swarmed around them.  They stood and cast about hoping to see any sign while getting a few glares from passersby who'd been shoved.  Soon, Nour reached them with a small cluster of police in tow.  The three very quickly found themselves encircled by police as the questions started and Emkir led off with an apology.  He shrugged and said they'd been attacked by a sneak thief and gave chase, but lost him.  Shaking his head, the lead officer reminded them they were off worlders and had no authority there.  He then reminded them how badly things could have gone if the thief had led them into a trap.

Nour entirely agreed with the police and firmly stated any member of their team who is accosted should stand pat and call for police and help.  He was emphatic they should not chase or try to take the law into their own hands.  After that was sorted, the officers started asking about the incident and for a description of the thief.  Again, Emkir led off, loudly describing the man in only the most general of terms and claiming it had all happened so fast he couldn't do better.  Following his lead, Sekea and Fesic did the same and none of them showed the police the image they had of Finerd.

After twenty minutes, the police had all they felt they could get from the three and started returning to their patrol patterns.  The lead officer said they would check the cameras in the area for any information they could get and would update the three with anything they came up with.  While the police dispersed, they didn't entirely leave the area so there were more officers watching the area than had been beforehand.  Seeing that, Emkir's biggest concern was that the police might use the security camera footage and manage to capture Finerd before they knew if that would be a good thing or bad?  And, Emkir had a growing feeling they might not know enough to say that.

Emkir also thought it might be time to return to the hotel and consider things, but Fesic and Sekea argued they should at least visit Fixex and Sologreens.  For some reason he had no evidence to base it on, Sekea suggested the man was trying to stop them from getting to the next store.  Facing a united front, Emkir shrugged and agreed to move on to Fixex.  When they reached the shop front, Fesic said he would take the lead and Sekea said he wanted to go in too.  Emkir waited outside, and scanned the crowds in case their sneak thief made another appearance.  Entering the shop, Fesic and Sekea saw it was a repair shop, fixing smaller appliances and mechanical or electronic consumer goods.

Seeing a man behind the shop's main counter, Fesic greeted him and he welcomed them and asked what they needed fixed?  Fesic explained that a friend of his had recommended the shop and a person named "Shipa".  The man answered in a gruff voice, "Well, you must not know this friend of yours well because I'm Shipa.  What can I do for you?"  The man's smile made it clear he was joking and Fesic said, "Oh!  Great!  Well, he was an off-world friend of mine and from the Imperium, like myself, and he was here six months ago or so."  As he finished his introduction, Fesic brought up the screen of his handcomp to show the man pictures of the team they were looking for.

As he watched, Sekea could see the man behind the counter stiffen slightly as Fesic raised his screen to show him the pictures.  Barely even looking in the direction of the screen, the man said, "Nope, I don't recognize them.  Sorry.  Have a good day."  His tone obviously made it clear he wanted them to leave "now".  Apparently deciding he deserved an answer regardless of the man's statement and attitude, Fesic said, "Hold on.  Hold On.  It seems you know more than you're letting on."  So, Fesic had decided to call the man a liar to his face in his own shop despite the fact the man had already sounded upset.

Fesic tried to explain his reasons, and that they were not authorities, but the man simply and angrily leaned across the counter and demanded, "Are you calling me a liar?"  And Fesic was, only he didn't realize it himself because Fesic could only see how he meant his words.  Not how they would sound to another person.  Fesic did stop on a dime, and claim he had not called the man a liar.  But Shipa said, "Well, you said I know more than I'm telling you, and I said I don't know nothing.  So, you must be calling me a liar."  Fesic desperately tried to make it clear he was trying to say he wasn't with the authorities, even though he'd completely missed the boat on what he had done.  And Shipa didn't give a damn what excuses Fesic was trying to feed him.

Despite this, Fesic continued to blather on and even offered to compensate the man for any information.  Not having any of it, the man leaned further forward to look Fesic in the eyes and said, "You are calling me a liar.  You are not welcome in my shop." and then loudly demanded, "Leave my shop!"  Raising his hands in surrender, Fesic said, "OK" as he and Sekea left.  And as they moved, he followed them like he'd physically kick them out if they didn't.  After the door was closed, the man locked the door and flipped the "Open" sign to "Closed".

Outside the shop, Fesic and Sekea explain to Emkir what had happened in the shop and they talked about leaving or going on to the last local shop noted in the database: Sologreen's Mechanical Repair.  When Fesic explained what he'd said, Emkir pointed out that Fesic "had" called him a liar.  Fesic again defended himself saying he'd done his best to tell the man they were not from the authorities.  What Fesic could not see was, 'Once you call someone a liar, they were not likely to listen to anything else you say'.  At that point, Nour leaned in and said, "Congratulations.  You got him to shut his shop down." and pointed at the closed sign.  They could also see the shop lights had been turned off.

Still defensive, Fesic complained the man had taken a dislike to the situation from the start, so nothing he did made anything worse.  But that wasn't true since the man had smiled and asked "What can I do for you?"  The others just shook their heads and Nour congratulated Fesic on his people skills.  When Sekea said he'd noticed that the man had gone rigid as soon as Fesic mentioned the other team, Fesic said that supported his claims.  He said he felt the man knew something and was shutting them down, which didn't help him telling the man he knew more than he was saying.  And while they talked, it took some minutes for them to realize their foursome had gained a fifth member.

The newcomer was a tallish, thin, red-haired gentleman who was wearing a shipsuit.  When Emkir turned and said, "Hello", the man answered, "Interesting to make your acquaintance." with the nod of his head.  Nodding back, Emkir said, "Well, it's good to meet you too.  Who are you?"  With a smile, the man said, "My name is Quif, and I'll bump you my information."  When he did, Emkir checked and saw the man was from an Imperial Import/Export agency in the local market grid named 'Ghous, Velzuma and Holilge'.  Emkir checked that and said, "Interesting.  Are you looking to do some business?"

Quif answered, "If I were, you show a unique talent for shutting businesses down."  Hearing that, Fesic challenged, "Oh really?  How many shops have we shut down?"  Nodding towards the Fixex shop, Quif smiled and said, "At least one."  Nodding, Fesic said, "I wasn't sure if we had shut down more than one." and Quif answered, "The day is young.  Smiling, Emkir spread his arms in a welcoming fashion as he said, "It is certainly true that our crew are very good at interpersonal relations."  Smiling, Quif said, "I noticed that.  But If I were you, I would have gone looking for a back entrance as soon as that man shut down his shop.  To see where he went?  That may have gotten you more information than his answers."

With that, the man smiled and tipped a hat he wasn't wearing before he turned and started to wander off.  Watching him leave, Emkir said, "huh" and then turned to the others.  He then said, I think we've just gotten a bit of a lead here."  When Fesic grunted an agreement, Emkir asked, "Shall we take a look?"  After Fesic said, "Yeah, why not", they started off for the next shop.  On the way, they also agreed they should try and get someone posted by the shop's back door, just in case.  When it came to finding access corridors which would lead back to the support corridors behind the shops, they needed information.  Thanks to Sekea's background, he was able to pick out the right people to point them in the right direction.

When they found a hatch leading to a corridor they could take to the service corridors behind the shops, the hatch was locked.  Despite that, the hatch was also in less than perfect repair and they were able to just push it open.  Moving down the access passage, they finally came to a tee-intersection with a larger corridor.  That corridor was large enough to allow small vehicles to move through it, with stacks of packages and containers in some locations.  To either side, they could see a few people working at their various tasks and periodic doors marked with the names of shops.  Obviously, each labeled door led to a specific shop.  Moving down the corridor in the direction of the shop, they finally came to a door marked "Fixex" and checked it.

Finding the door locked, they realized Quif had been right and they'd missed their chance.  Shipa was already gone and there was no sign if he'd gone left or right to leave?  Accepting they were too late to catch the man, Fesic suggested they post someone at the back entrance to the next shop they visited.  Emkir and Sekea agreed and Emkir suggested Fesic could be the "back-door man" when they visited the next shop.  As they talked, Emkir did joke that they could get Nour to do it but he wasn't very happy with them being in the "workers only" part of the market to begin with.

When Nour made it clear he wasn't planning on raising alarms, they decided to make their way to Sologreens next.  Back out in the main causeway, they checked their directions and moved off towards Sologreens.  Getting close, Sekea did his best to find an access point to the corridors behind that shop.  When they did, Fesic pushed his way through doors not even closed and made his way to the corridor to be in position before the others went into the shop.  When it came to that, Sekea said he wanted to take the lead and Emkir agreed.  Especially after he and Fesic had already taken a shot at it.

Stepping into the shop, they were greeted by a man behind the counter.  Despite the critiques made of the earlier attempts, Sekea tried almost the exact same thing in his own words.  He mentioned that another spacer had recommended the shop because that had worked so well in their previous encounters.  Following the same script that had so terribly failed in the last shop, he also said he was trying to make contact with them again and wound up saying, "I have a picture if I can show it to you."  Leading with 'one person', Sekea brought up the image of Finerd Talthan first.  Looking the picture up and down, the man behind this counter said he was only part time, but he'd never seen the man before.

Accepting that, Sekea said, "Well, he had some associates and perhaps one of them had a repair they needed taken care of.  Let me show you their pictures."  With that, he switched through each of the pictures as the worker took the time to examine each one.  While Sekea chattered on about how helpful it would be if the man could help him, there was no evidence the man knew anything?  Sekea could see the man was honestly checking each image, but he again said he was only a part timer.  So, the worker said he may well not have seen all the customers.

Sekea next asked when the man's boss would be back and was told, "Oh, he'll be back in a couple of hours.  He's takin' one of them businessman's lunches."  Sekea nodded and said, "Oh, I see."  Sekea thanked the man for his help and said they'd come back later to see if his boss could help them.  The man asked Sekea, "In the meantime, is there anything you need to be fixed?" and Sekea looked around at pictures showing large devices.  The worker said they worked on larger devices they usually had to go on site to fix.  When he asked, Sekea was told they didn't work on ship-based equipment, but would be anything from large residential appliances to factory-based machinery.

Both Emkir and Sekea thanked the man and left the shop before calling Fesic to come join them.  So, after one group of markets, they hadn't found the person they were asking for in two shops and were no longer allowed near the third.  Still, they thought they may have encountered Finerd Talthan, so they were hopeful.  After they summed up the time there, Sekea asked what was next?  Talking about the day's events so far, they then called Mikah and asked for more direction, because the market space they were in had hundreds of stores.  When her comms buzzed, Mikah answered to hear Emkir say, "Hello, oh great one."  Hearing that, Mikah had to laugh at the accolade.

Mixing And More Mistakes
     After thanking Emkir for the laugh, she asked what was up and Emkir explained to her what they'd learned and encountered.  When he told her about the Imperial man, Quif, Mikah suggested they get him to join the team so they didn't miss the next guy.  Emkir said he didn't think the man planned to stay around.  Mikah nodded and asked for them to have Nour call the embassy and get them information on the shop and the man but Nour pushed back that he worked for the embassy, not the police or local government.  Mikah pointed out that the embassy could get more cooperation from the police than they could but Mikah still wanted him to try.  That said, they moved a bit away from Nour to continue talking.

Sekea next said they should tell the embassy about the encounter with Finerd Talthan, Zimzod jumped in and told them that wouldn't happen.  When Sekea asked why, Zimzod told him they shouldn't tip the authorities off on the people they were looking for because the authorities might be looking for them too.  Entirely missing the point, Sekea pointed out the embassy was already looking into it because they'd asked the ambassador about the team and said they were looking for them.  He was single-mindedly certain that if it was made clear the persons involved were Imperials, the government would help.  He didn't seem to be able to understand that what "should happen" might not be happening in reality.  Waving Sekea's insistence away, Zimzod said, "Still, don't tell anyone you might have seen him."

Emkir said he only hoped the police didn't get enough data to figure that out from the camera data in the market.  Fesic reminded them Nour had been there and heard it.  Emkir pointed out it didn't seem Nour had caught and understood that Sekea had been yelling at the time.  He was more concerned about the police having the data and how they would react?  Fesic wondered what path of events led a team of Imperials working in the markets to being so desperate they had to steal and sell things just to survive?  Of course, that appeared to be the only explanation Fesic could see for the events.  So, he had a different set of blinders on than those Sekea had on.

Mikah instantly asked Fesic how he knew that was the motive, and challenged that he could have been trying to steal the device to get information.  Hearing that, Sekea responded by saying , "No" to Mikah while Fesic admitted that was a reasonable answer.  Pushing forward, mentioned that Finerd couldn't have known who they were when he made his attack and Mikah answered, "Of course not!" as if he were an annoyingly slow child.  When they said that, Sekea pointed out they had just come out of a store where they'd dropped his name, although that was incorrect.  No one pointed out that they had gone in the store and shown pictures, but not mentioned the team's names.  Following that mistake down a rabbit hole, they started suggesting relationships between their visit to the shop and the attack on Emkir.  Even though they had been inside a store and he had not been inside with them.

Still, they wasted time on that chatter before Mikah finally summed up their situation and suggested they start hitting other shops.  Then, she said they could come back later that evening to the first and third shops.  Before they moved on to another market area, Emkir suggested they keep canvassing the area to make it less obvious they had targeted those three shops.  This ignored the fact that Nour had been with them the whole time and he knew where they were going, if not exactly why?  He had heard quite a bit both from the encounters and the conversation Emkir and his people had been having.  And, he'd been there when they'd talked to the hotel house keeping people.  So, since they'd told the ambassador why they were in-system, it was likely he had sewn most of the pieces together.  The only thing he didn't seem to know yet was that they might have encountered Finerd.

Not happy at all with what he was hearing, Zimzod tried to get in the faces of Emkir, Fesic and Sekea but couldn't over the comms.  So, when Mikah pointed out he could take the hoverChair, Zimzod decided to take a field trip.  He told them all he'd do that, and Aiden decided to go with Zimzod, given the XO's condition.  All Jocelynn could do was say, "Ooooh!  You're in trouble.  You made Aiden volunteer to come out there!"  Zimzod then called the embassy saying he and Aiden wanted to go out and join the three others in the market place, and then had a quick meal.  When the people at the embassy heard that, they agreed to send a car to help the two groups meet.  When it arrived, it came with another chaperon, a lady named Biangud (Be-ann-gud). 

After lunch, Mikah and Jocelynn decided to spend two more hours working to find anything in the database.  Aali had come up from engineering to have lunch with them and told Mikah the engineers were working out very well.  While both of them were surprised, Aali said they'd be able to lift by the end of the next day.  That made Mikah happier because it added flexibility to what they could do.  It also meant Aali could also be available to help with the crew's other work.

And, if things seriously went down a sewer pipe, they could blow their way out of the port and run for a la grange point thanks to Sekea's nav skills.  Aali also made sure Jocelynn had told Mikah about her adventures.  With that, they talked about possibly needing to bolt from the port fast and Jocelynn said, "We only need us three anyway" with a smile.  Aali got serious for a second, saying, "If we're going anywhere, we're stopping to get my husband."  Seeing the look on Aali's face, Mikah agreed and said Emkir had his uses.  Jocelynn just laughed at Mikah being ready to bolt from port without Zimzod, even though she knew that wouldn't happen.  Jocelynn did say that if they had to run for it, they had some data with the crystal.

On the road, Biangud asked Zimzod what was so important he felt he needed to leave the ship in his condition?  Zimzod shrugged and said, "I have idiots in the field."  When Biangud asked, "Why are they idiots?" he told her, "You obviously haven't met them yet, have you?"  Admitting she hadn't, Zimzod told her she should reach her own conclusions.  Nodding, Biangud asked, "What are these idiots doing out in the field that you now have to go out and do yourself?" and Zimzod only said, "A little of this and a little of that."  Then he added, "Nothing illegal." with a smile.  When she asked, "Care to explain?" Zimzod answered, "No, I prefer not to."  That set the tone for the rest of the ride until Zimzod called Emkir to say he was getting close.

They set a meeting point and Emkir moved his team over to connect up with Zimzod and Aiden.  After they all joined up, Nour exchanged notes with Biangud while Emkir asked Zimzod, "What're your orders boss?"  Zimzod first called Emkir and Sekea to step forward and, when they were not close enough, asked them to step a bit closer.  When they were right in front of where he hovered in his chair, Zimzod swung his right arm intending to swing a slap across both their faces.  But, because he was sitting, he had to lean forward and reach further than usual.  While Emkir took the hit, Sekea was able to dance clear of the slap.

Emkir stepped back asking, "What was that for?" while Sekea demanded, "Do we really have time to waste with your nonsense?"  Zimzod started saying, "Now, listen up guys..." but Sekea cut him off angrily saying, "Hitting someone on your team is not appropriate.  You're quite qualified in verbalizing any discontent with what we have done but certainly hitting us is beyond the pale of any professional person."  Zimzod only laughed and said, "Alright, you haven't been around many professional people have you?"  And by 'Professional people', Zimzod meant combat-active ground pounders.  Sekea answered, "I have been around quite a bit in my naval career, and certainly hitting a subordinate or officer...  That's not allowed."  Sadly, Sekea's definition of 'professional' was a naval sense of people standing firm and ready at their stations.  So, this was two entirely different worlds coming together.

Still, Sekea wasn't done as he angrily continued, "If you have any better suggestions on how to proceed, you're very welcomed to make them.  But let's proceed with the mission as quickly as we can."  As Sekea ranted, Zimzod sat and watched him until he ran out of steam.  When Zimzod figured he'd run out of steam, he started speaking to all of them.  Zimzod reviewed the first stop the three had made at Signwheels and the "attack" that followed.  Despite the fact Nour and Biangud were there watching, Zimzod then brought up the theory someone in the first shop may have alerted "their attacker" about them and caused the attack to happen.  When Emkir agreed that was what they thought, Zimzod said, "So, someone in that shop knows how to contact our man?" and all three agreed.  Nodding, Zimzod said, "OK, let's go back there and talk to them."

Heading back to Signwheels, Fesic asked Zimzod if he should take a position in the back of the shop?  When Zimzod said no, Sekea protested with a hint of anger still heating his words.  Fesic cut Sekea off and said, "I already suggested it and he said no.  He's in command, so that's it."  They then asked who many of them Zimzod wanted to go into the shop and Zimzod answered, "Just me."  When they asked where they should be, Zimzod backed off his earlier position and said, "If you want to watch around the back, you can do that."  Sekea suggested that anyone who was going to be back there should have the skills for a physical fight, but that was something they were lacking with Zimzod in his condition.

The first thing they did was to find an access hatch to the rear corridors, but when they did they found it was locked.  When Sekea suggested they find another entrance, Fesic suggested trying to force the hatch open.  The others objected, worried any obvious physical effort might well bring the police over if they noticed the activity.  And both Nour and Biangud were very much against the idea.  Eventually, Fesic agreed and they went looking for another hatch.  At the same time, Fesic said he'd go into the back passage, but asked if anyone was going with him?  Eventually, Aiden agreed to go with Fesic once they found a hatch they could open.

When Aiden and Fesic got into position, they called to let Zimzod know so he could go ahead into the shop.  Emkir and Sekea waited outside with Nour and Biangud.  When he walked in, the man behind the counter asked how he could help?  Zimzod leapt directly into his prepared speech saying, "A couple of my colleagues came in here earlier" while he started showing the man some of the pictures.  Zimzod then accused, "Obviously, you know who these people are and we've seen one of them outside."  He quickly continued, "And I'm not here for any kind of fight or anything like that.  I just need to know if they're alive or dead?  That is my only purpose here.  Obviously, one of them is still alive.  We just need to know what happened?"

Despite the fact Zimzod had started by calling the man a liar, like Fesic had done in the other shop, the guy behind the counter only shrugged and said, "Well, Kuagmii will be in later and, as I told your friends who were in earlier, I don't know anything."  Zimzod pushed, "Obviously, you do because one came out after they visited you."  This despite the fact he had no evidence the two events were related.  The shop worker only said, "That has nothing to do with me." and showed incredible restraint in not ordering Zimzod out of the shop.  Then again, he wasn't the shop owner so he didn't really have that authority unless he was also calling the police.

Without a lot more he could do, Zimzod said, "Alright, can you call Kuagmii?" and the man confirmed, "you want me to call him now?"  Zimzod said, "Yes, please." and the man said "Sure.  What do you want me to call him and tell him?"  Zimzod said to tell the man someone wanted to speak with him.  Nodding as he said "OK", the man grabbed the shop's comms, set it on speaker mode and called Kuagmii.  When the boss answered, he said, "Hey, I got a guy in the shop who's asking some questions and says he needs to talk to you."  Then he added, "And it's not my fault."  Hearing that, Kuagmii said "Ok" and then asked, "What do you want?"

Zimzod told the man who he was and Kuagmii said, "That will get you half a credit's worth of garbage in a diner." in a tone that suggested he only wanted to know why he was being bothered?  Diving in, Zimzod gave him the list of names from the Arch Duke's team and said, "I just wanna know if they're alive or dead.  They disappeared and I just want to know why?"  When Kuagmii said he had no idea what Zimzod was talking about, Zimzod charged back, "Umm, I believe you do."  Hearing that, Kuagmii said, "Well, I don't like being called a liar so this conversation's over."  After that, the line went dead so the guy behind the counter turned the comms off. Leaving the shop after that, Zimzod got on his comms and called the others to meet him out front.  Leaving the shop after that, Zimzod got on his comms and called the others to meet him out in front of the shop.

When Aiden suggested he and Fesic wait for a while to see if anything happened, Zimzod said they should hold their positions for ten more minutes and then rejoin the rest.  Emkir then asked, "How'd it go, boss?" Zimzod answered, "It went badly because they're pretty much screws."  Zimzod then asked if they had any other names on the list?  Emkir reminded Zimzod of the two other shops in that area, and what had happened when they went into each earlier.  Sekea then reminded Zimzod of his observations in the second shop and stiffly recommended Zimzod consider making use of his interrogation skills going forward.  Zimzod brushed off Sekea's comment, saying, "I ain't interrogating anybody.  I'm just asking questions."

Emkir then said the only shop in that area they "could" go back to was Sologreens, and they'd said the man they'd asked for wouldn't be back until later.  Zimzod agreed they should wait until later to go back to Sologreens, and wasn't excited about canvassing the area randomly.  Sekea pointed out there were shops in other market areas which were named in the database and they could go to those shops.  Zimzod agreed with that but pointed out they'd have to get their travel permits updated to go check out the shop named "Kintanlux".  Sekea then reminded Zimzod they had two "escorts" from the embassy and they should be able to get the paperwork done.

Agreeing that was a good idea, Zimzod told Nour and Biangud where they wanted to go and asked them to get the paperwork updated.  When those two went to get things done, the five looked at the other data Mikah'd gotten them from the database.  There was another market where two shops were listed and a third market where one shop was listed.  They were:
    The Elrod Market:
        Rootshow             Rashla               Video/Audio
        Inchcane               Giimla               Aromatics and Environmentals

    The Hayley Market:
        Kintanlux               Lerken               Antiquities Dealer

Making a choice, they decided to hit the Hayley market first and see what they could find at the shop named "Kintanlux"?  By the time the paperwork was done, Fesic and Aiden had returned from the back corridors with nothing to report.  So, they updated the two on the group's decision and everyone hopped into the embassy cars and got moving.  They had to divide between the cars because their group had gotten too large for a single vehicle.  Still, they arrived at the Hayley market and quickly located the antiquities shop.  Sekea pushed to check and see if they could get people behind the shop again, but all the entrances they found were properly secured and locked.  Seeing that, Zimzod said he felt it wouldn't be needed anyway.

Misinterpreted Discoveries
     Zimzod said he wanted to go in and didn't want everyone else also coming in with him like a flood.  Sekea pushed to go in, hoping his observations would be helpful.  Emkir planned on doing his best to appear to be people watching outside the shop, in case things went south and he was needed.  Fesic wanted to find a position by one of the doors leading to the rear-access corridors.  That way, if anyone came out of the door, he could try and grab it before it closed, then get into the concourse behind the shop.  Aiden said he'd go with Fesic.  That decided, the others took up their positions before Zimzod and Sekea casually entered the shop.

Doing their best to appear to be two separate people who came into the shop to browse, both Zimzod and Sekea first move to check the store's stock out and see what they had?  Since they'd been told the Arden system was somewhat of a catch all for trade traffic from all over the region, they were not surprised when they saw Imperial, Zhodani and Darrian objects along with items from various of the Sword World systems.  Some of it was truly old, and dating from the early or late Imperial periods, being the periods when Arden had been growing as opposed to the time centering around the Third Frontier War.  Some items were newer but 'of a style', or were rare enough to be seen on interstellar markets.

Zimzod saw a small stack of old books and was reminded of Brian's collection awaiting auction in Rhylanor.  But he also knew the Arden system technology and raw materials allowed for mass production of paper-based books.  So, they were immediately of less value than Brian's books in a system where paper was a rare material.  That meant the value of any of the books would be based on their actual content and rarity.  And Zimzod steered clear of them since he had no knowledge that would help him at all.  The shop had several displays of instruments which had certainly come from ships made in previous centuries.  Some were only valued for their age while others were priced because they appeared to come from systems like Capital or distant Terra.  The only "decor" the crew of the Upgrade tended towards were the name plates of ships they'd killed.

On a similar vein, the shop did have a display wall of ship name plates.  Looking those over, these plates appeared to have been casually removed from decommissioned ships rather than battlefield souvenirs.  There were also displays of personal items from early-industrial "metal-based" societies all the way up to compact-fusion tech goods which had been collected from many systems and cultures.  While there was nothing that struck Zimzod as worth buying, Sekea noticed a nice compact pocket electronic tool kit sitting on one of the shelves.  The kit was just so efficiently organized, and appeared to be able to be kept so as tools were withdrawn and returned, that Sekea picked it up to check it out.

The kit was clean and complete, and it appeared to be laid out with other items as if the seller wasn't certain what it was?  Sekea thought it would be the perfect gear for a crewperson who had a regular job but would also be assigned to damage control teams at need.  The price on the kit was ImpCr 500.  With the kit in hand, Sekea went to the counter to ask about buying it and the man said, "If you have five-hundred Imperial credits you can buy it."  Hearing that, Sekea decided to try and haggle since he'd bet good money the shop hadn't paid half that to put the thing on their shelves.  The place it had sat was almost an amalgam of things pulled off a ship and dumped.

The two men amicably traded numbers and comments back and forth and soon Sekea got the man to settle on Ardeni Cr 350.  While the man prepared the sale, Sekea noticed Zimzod looking at some of the books again and wandered closer to quietly whisper, "You may want to buy a book as an entry point to start a conversation."  He hoped that made it clear he wanted to let Zimzod ask the important questions while he stood back and observed.  After Sekea made his buy, an empty-handed Zimzod stepped up to the counter and asked if Lerken was there, because that was the name they had from the database.  The man said he was Lerken and asked if they knew each other?

Zimzod admitted they didn't know each other and introduced himself using his basic titles, despite the fact they weren't in the Imperium.  He then continued, "I am enquiring about some colleagues of mine." and showed the man the pictures he had.  The man willingly looked the pictures over and said, "They look like a very interesting crew.  I'm sorry for your loss."  Nodding, Zimzod asked if he'd known any of them?  Lerken simply said "No", and didn't give any sign of any personal reaction other than honestly answering a question.  Nodding, Zimzod apologized for wasting the man's time.

After the conversation, both Zimzod and Sekea left the shop and met up with the others.  While they were telling the others about what had happened, Fesic said, "That looks like an Imperial belt pouch." and asked Sekea if he could see the tool kit Sekea had bought?  Checking out the parts of the kit, it did have a compact belt-loop holster which appeared to be in excellent condition.  In the kit, they saw a number of interesting items:
      The most interesting was a high-tech "grav-gripper", which could grab and manipulate nuts, bolts, wires and more
      Next was a multi-screwdriver/allen wrench/torques wrench where variable tool heads inside the devices were selected
            and exposed using a small screen
      Next was a multi-current tester able to be used in a wide spectrum of power service environments
      A small case including 10 splice connecters and 5 each of small electronic components to install in a power feed to split, enhance
            or block power flow.
      Isolation gloves in kit pocket
      Fold-out safety glasses

Looking over the tools, Fesic noticed the gripper had something etched into the wand portion of the device.  Looking closer, he saw it was the word, "Umbrafin"!  As in "Thainarv Umbrafin", one of the members of the Arch Duke's team.  Realizing that, Fesic told the others and immediately jumped on the idea that Thainarv Umbrafin had come to that shop and sold them the kit!  When it was pointed out that someone could have stolen it and sold it to the shop, Fesic admitted that "could be" another reason, but then went on to defend his idea without any evidence one way or the other.  He even added that "they" were getting desperate for cash without any evidence they had been involved, except that the item might have been taken from some member of that team.

Deciding to accept Fesic's theory without asking for evidence, Sekea suggested he go back into the shop and ask direct questions about Thainarv Umbrafin having been in the shop and sold the item.  This ignored the fact they had no evidence the object wasn't stolen, or taken from 'lost and found' by someone at the hotel and sold, or 'dropped and found' and sold.  Nor did it consider that Lerken would not have been at the counter, or in the shop, when it was sold to the shop.  When Zimzod said, "OK, wait a second..." he only added to the assumptions.  Zimzod suggested that the crystal they'd found might hold a list of items they'd sold off so they could get them back later.  That ignored the fact the crystal had to have been sewn into the garment "before" they had to leave.  So, they very likely would have had no cash problems when the crystal was hidden.

The group then discussed the situation and decided it would be best for Sekea to go back in and point out the kit did belong to someone they were looking for.  And after that, it was suggested Sekea should ask the man if he had any information on when it was sold to the shop, or who sold it?  That scaled back from a direct accusation.  Returning to the shop, Sekea held up the kit and said, "I thought this kit had looked familiar and I just noticed it belonged to my friend, who had been in-system six months ago.  I was trying to connect with him and I was wondering if you had any more information on it?"  At the same time, Fesic came into the shop and browsed for other items that might have been pawned by the shop without even asking if the shop accepted items for loan?

When Lerken told Sekea it was not his policy for his shop to give out information on his customers to other customers, Sekea considered trying to bribe the man.  This was despite the fact he had no idea what Lerken valued?  Sekea thought about trying using money as a lure to get Lerken to potentially burn his sources.  Of course, that was based on the fact Sekea had already accepted Fesic's theory that Thainarv Umbrafin had sold the item, which was very shakey ground at the least.  And, not only was Sekea considering asking the man to burn sources, but he also ignored the fact the item could well have been stolen.  So, Sekea would be asking the man to out thieves he made a profit from.  And he didn't realize Money was just not gonna cut it, and Sekea'd spent no time trying to learn what might?

Backing out on offering money, Sekea still decided to ask, "Is there anything I can provide to you as compensation for any damage that might be done if you gave me the information?  Monetary or otherwise?"  Lerken leaned back and said, "Not unless you're from the police.  And Sekea could see he was hitting a brick wall.  He was not concerned, upset or anything other than simply refusing to violate his own confidentiality policy.  When Sekea pushed by mentioning it had certainly belonged to one of the people he was looking for, Lerken shrugged and said that person may have sold the piece to the shop.  He went on to say he could have sold them one thing or many things, but he wasn't releasing any information.

Sekea then pushed, saying, "Surely, you have a record of what items were sold, because I'm trying to recover these objects and I'm willing to compensate you for them at a fair price."  Getting slightly annoyed, Lerken said, "You know what?  Hold on."  He then moved to a computer and started typing something in.  Sekea craned his neck and tried to get a view of the computer screen but it was set up so no one on his side of the counter could see it.  After securing the computer, the man stepped out from behind the counter and told Sekea, "Come with me."  Lerken led Sekea past where Fesic was browsing, to a another section of the shop.  There, Lerken showed Sekea a canvas cigar-shaped sack just more than four feet long and half a foot thick.

When Sekea asked what it was, Lerken told him it was a camping tent.  Looking the tent over, Sekea asked if he could buy it and Lerken said, "Sure.  It came in with that tool kit."  Sekea was pleased and said "Great!"  He then asked if anything else had come in at the same time and Lerken said those had been the only items in the lot.  When Sekea asked how much Lerken was asking, he was told Cr 500.  Sekea considered trying to haggle but something in Lerken's expression gave him the feeling he likely couldn't with this item.  Hoping this belonged to the team, Sekea thanked Lerken for helping him out and bought the tent.  Ignoring Fesic, Sekea then took the tent and left the shop to open it up and check it out for any clues.

After Sekea left the shop, Fesic carefully watched as Lerken moved back behind the counter and over to the shop's comms.  Lerken connected with someone on the device, and Fesic heard Lerken say, "You're never gonna believe this, but I finally sold that stupid tend.  And for Cr 500!"  There was then some shared laughter before Lerken told the other party, "Yeah.  You can pick up your share later on tonight."  After then, he disconnected and Fesic couldn't help but notice the smug smile on Lerken's face which suggested Sekea just got cheated.  Still, Fesic didn't find anything that jumped out at him as something from an Imperial system so he waived at Lerken and wished him a good day while leaving to rejoin the others.

Out on the concourse, the others had either participated in or watched as Sekea and others pulled the tent apart.  They found it was a very standard canvas tent.  There was nothing special about it or hidden inside except for a note pad sheet.  Still, that had an address written on it!  Emkir was asking Sekea if he was certain the address was even on Arden when Fesic came up and started telling them all about the conversation he'd partly overheard.  Sekea admitted, "I'd be happy too if I sold a tent for that much.  But this address might be important."  Turning to Emkir, he showed the man the format of the address, which matched other Ardeni addresses they'd seen.  So, he was very certain the address was on-world and in the capital city.  That meant it was close enough to get to.  Sekea was disappointed there was no name on the address.

Fesic nodded and said he thought it would be worth their while to investigate the address.  He also suggested it might be good to watch and see who came to pick up 'their share' of the tent deal.  Of course, without knowing anything about that party, they would have to see the money exchange hands or over-hear comments about it to know which single person of all the people who entered the shop was "that person".  Sekea mentioned it might be a member of the team, which ignored the fact their theory suggested the team was so desperate they were selling off their gear.  Anyone so desperate would not likely have the cash to pay for on-world communications permits.

Checking the address, Emkir did his best to see what he could learn on the Ardeni network?  He found he could lock down the police compartment but not see any real detail on the area.  What he saw was that the location was something like fifteen miles distant.  Easy to get to after getting travel documents for the location.  Considering the events, Zimzod suggested they grab seats at a café nearby and wait, watching the shop to see who showed up?  Of course, if ten people went in, they would have no idea how to tell which was the person they thought they'd see.  And, if one person showed up before they left, there was no way to guarantee that person was the other side of the deal.  So, they were wasting time more than anything else.

While some went to sit and wait, Sekea said they should go to the address with the tent and see what they learned?  Fesic decided to go with him and the two asked Nour to get them travel permits to reach the address and come back to that market.  The others sat with Biangud joining them.  When Nour asked why they wanted to go to that specific address, Fesic joked, "Because we want to buy more camping equipment."  Sekea told Nour they'd found an item belonging to one of the people they were looking for in the shop and it came with an address.  So they were following up that lead to see if it led to anything?  Eventually, it was Biangud who got into the embassy car with Sekea and Fesic after getting the documents.

The ride to the address was a twenty minute ride, and the place was in a residential block of apartments.  Overcrowding on Arden was such that there were no really rural or suburban areas but this area didn't seen as "piled on" as others.  Still, they spent some time finding the correct unit before stepping up to the door.  Before ringing the call bell, Fesic tried to have a conversation about keeping any information given to a minimum, since the people there might be a false lead.  But Sekea shut him down because he thought Fesic was possibly suggesting not ringing the bell and returning to the market.  So, they had a failure to communicate before Fesic suggested he do the talking while Sekea observed for any tells.

Sekea pointed out they would have to show whoever they talked to the pictures, starting off with the image of Thainarv Umbrafin, to see if they reacted.  When Fesic said he understood that, Sekea was happy enough to even offer to let Fesic have the honor of ringing the doorbell.  Before that happened, Sekea also did his best to feed Fesic a script of what to say when anyone answered the door.  After a pause, a man answered the door and gave them an expectant look while asking, "Can I help you?" in a confused tone.  Looking the man up and down, Fesic saw the man appeared to be about 5'7 with a rough build and dark hair.  Before they could answer him, his expression changed to a surprised one as the man pointed and asked in near-amazement, "Is that my tent?"

Nodding, Fesic got the first word in as he said, "Yeah, it is.  We bought it...  He was interrupted as the man asked, "Where did you buy it?" in a tone of continued surprise.  Again, Fesic started saying, "So, we found it in this antiquities shop and..." before the man demanded "Seriously?" in disbelief.  Fesic again answered, "Yeah.  We found this address in it and we were wondering if it was stolen from you, or it was pawned, or something like that?  The man firmly said, "Yeah, it was stolen."  That stomped on Fesic and Sekea's hopes and Fesic said "OK."  He then said, "We're trying to follow up on leads, maybe you've seen one of these people?"

Fesic showed the man the images and the man's only reaction was to ask if any one of them might be the person or persons that broke into his house and stole things?  Fesic first said "no" but then admitted he seriously doubted it because he couldn't see a scenario where the team might be lurking about in upper-middle class apartment blocks carrying out break and entry operations.  The man patently looked at the pictures and recognized no one before asking if they were gonna give him back his tent?  Both Fesic and Sekea were good with giving the man back the tent, and the man even gave them an ACr 10 reward.

Before they left, the man asked about the shop and Sekea not only gave the man the name and address of the shop but also suggested, "it looks like they may be taking in stolen goods so you may want to report them to the police."  The man nodded and said, "That's exactly what I was thinking." and Sekea nodded without considering that telling him that in a city so heavily covered by police "everywhere" might prompt a 'very fast response'.  And that could affect their plans.  They and Biangud then returned to the car while comparing notes and agreeing they didn't see anything suspicious.  Back in the car, they started the twenty minute drive back to the market to connect with the others.

During the ride, Sekea suggested they use the knowledge they had about him dealing in stolen goods to threaten Lerken into giving them more information.  By the time they'd arrived, Sekea and Fesic had agreed blackmailing the man was a great idea.  They also looked forward to watching for whoever came to pick up payment for the tent?  All, while not considering the extreme law enforcement presence in the city or lack of information one who the party coming for the cash was?  Back at the café, Zimzod, Emkir and Aiden had been watching the shop for any customers who might likely be the person coming to pick up their half of the tent money.  While they did, three police vehicles pulled up outside the shop!

Connecting two plus two, they decided that reaction was surprisingly fast.  This despite the fact there were teams of police "everywhere" in this city.  They could expect a scream on any given street to bring ten officers on the run.  The officers deployed from the groundcars to troop into the shop except for the last officer.  He took a stance outside the shop's entrance which firmly said, 'This shop is Closed!'  The car Fesic and Sekea rode in had to maneuver to avoid the official cars.  Given that, it didn't take long for Sekea and Fesic to realize their blackmail plans had fallen victim to actual events.  For reasons which couldn't be explained, they were also surprised by the swift police action.

Despite events raining on their plans, they talked about watching for "the person" who might be walking towards the shop and turn away when they saw the police.  That was until Emkir reminded them that "Everyone" moving along the concourse would be doing that.  There was some disagreement about that point of view before they finally agreed and started talking about what to do next?  Soon enough, they all agreed the best idea would be to move on to the last market space they'd identified shops in.  When Fesic said he hated to let the lead they had become a dead end, Sekea suggested they could possibly use the quick police reaction as a diversion in the future.

While Fesic agreed with Sekea's comment, Emkir was quick to remind them the police were a weapon which could be used against them as easily as they hoped to use them.  Before they went much further, Zimzod interrupted to mentioned they'd only uncovered a theft ring.  He pointed out they had no information on how the ring fit in with the team they were looking for at all.  After they agreed with Zimzod, they asked Nour and Biangud to get them travel permits for the third market location.  Still, the two embassy cars were too small for the whole group so they split between those who rode with Nour or Biangud.

Before they left, Sekea asked if they'd seen the police drag out anyone from the shop, but the group who'd been watching said they'd not seen anyone brought out.  Telling Nour they'd wait a bit before leaving, Zimzod said they could wait and watch until the police started bringing people out.  While Zimzod had planned to wait thirty minutes, it didn't take that long for more police to arrive, including a cargo van.  Shortly after, police brought Lerken and two other workers out of the shop and loaded them one-each into a car before each of the three cars drove off.  The remaining officers then started loading everything in the shop into the van, which had been moved so its open back doors faced the shop entrance.  It was clear they planned to strip the shop into the van.

Evening Plans And Meetings
     At the ship, after Zimzod and Aiden had left, Mikah and Jocelynn continued working on the database.  After some time working, they suddenly hit a block of fields which had been encrypted.  Mikah was pleased, because that suggested they might have hit on data which was important.  When the database continued to demand a keyword or password, Mikah realized they didn't have the skills to crack it.  Since Emkir was the member of the crew most skilled in computer hacking, she decided to table the encryption for the time being.  She planned to bring the crystal and reader with her when she went back to the hotel.  Not long after that, Jocelynn got a call on her comms.

When she answered, it was Alef and he said he wanted her to come to a dinner party that night.  At first, Jocelynn was pleased and she asked how formal it was?  Alef said, "Not very, you just have to make a delivery during the meal."  That annoyed Jocelynn since it looked like she was being volun-told to do another "favor" for Alef or Yur.  Jocelynn was just beginning to ask herself how many favors she would have to do before she could deliver the box while asking for the details.  When Alef said, "You'll need me to pick you up." she asked where she should meet him?  Alef told her to be on the local side of the terminal building, which was on the other side of the extrality line.  He then added, "We'll be going to have dinner with Yur." in a very satisfied tone.

Hearing that, Jocelynn was very pleased.  She realized she was done jumping through hoops to prove herself.  Saying "Oh!  Wow!" as she organized her thoughts, Jocelynn agreed to meet him when and where he told her to be and the call ended.  After the call was done, Jocelynn told Mikah what was up and said, "Cross your fingers Mikah.  We may be getting close to getting ourselves a printer for travel documents."  Mikah only nodded and said, "Well.  We'll see what happens.  Keep your comms open."  Jocelynn nodded back and said she would.  When Jocelynn considered what she should wear to the party, she also reminded herself she'd have to bring the box because she'd get a chance to deliver it.  Considering that, she went to her stateroom to look through her wardrobe.

Mikah continued working on the database while Jocelynn had gone to her stateroom.  She was also pleased by Aali's report earlier that they'd likely be able to jump out of the system after the next day if things went south.  She was considering what little they had learned so far, and hoping for more soon, when her comms began to buzz.  Answering the call, Mikah found it was Ambassador Zugoukh, and the ambassador was very annoyed!  When Mikah asked, she was told Zimzod and he team had apparently created an incident in the Lila market and the police had had to respond!  In addition to that, they'd been forced from one shop and caused another to close down!

When the Ambassador demanded to know exactly what Mikah thought they were doing, Mikah said, "I've had no reports on any of this so I will connect us with Sir Zimzod.  He's on scene."  Sitting across from the antiquities shop watching the police move goods into the van, Zimzod realized his comms were buzzing and answered the call.  When he answered, Mikah told Zimzod she had the Ambassador on the line and he learned first-hand that she was upset.  When she demanded he explain what they were doing, Zimzod explained the events in the antiquities store and pointed out his team didn't make the call to the police.  He told the ambassador a concerned citizen called them after his team returned a stolen item to the man.

When Zimzod said the second shop closed because the shop owner decided to take a long lunch, she asked Zimzod for any evidence of what he was saying.  Zimzod had Emkir step forward and used the camera on his Ident to show her the etched name on the tool kit and then explained how they'd returned the tent to its owner.  Zimzod went on to say it was the tent owner who called the police.  Nodding, the ambassador said she would appreciate it if he would bring these matters to her staff first, instead of investigating possible stolen goods themselves.  Zimzod agreed to follow those instructions and apologized for overstepping, though he couldn't understand what her issue was since everything had worked out well in the end.

When Zimzod tried to explain how the situation developed from a lead, she said, "If you get any further leads to follow, bring them to my staff first.  If you recall, when you first entered the system, I told your captain you were to have no contact with the local authorities which was not approved by me."  Zimzod nodded and promised to do that the next time they encountered anything questionable.  Nodding, the ambassador firmly said, "Be sure that you do." and cut the line leaving Mikah and Zimzod alone on the connection.  Smiling, Zimzod happily told Mikah, "Well, she likes me even less now!"  Listening in from the side, Emkir joked, "Just wait til after the next shop we knock over."  The others laughed except Nour and Biangud.

Now that the ambassador was off the line, Mikah asked for a more detailed explanation of what he and his team had been up to?  Zimzod happily did that, including telling Mikah they thought they had a lead.  He also said he apparently rattled a few cages and Mikah shrugged, said "Oh well" and asked if Zimzod had killed anyone?  When Zimzod said he hadn't in a defensive tone, Mikah said "Don't worry about it.  She'll get over it." referring to the ambassador.  Mikah also reminded Zimzod Nour and Biangud were there to accurately report on what they were doing so she felt they were not doing their jobs right if the ambassador had to ask them for information.

After that, Mikah asked Zimzod to bring Emkir into the conversation.  When he joined the conversation, Mikah said, "When I see you next, I'm going to bring the crystal reader and crystal with me.  We've come across an encrypted section in the database.  So, I'm gonna need you to work on it when I see you."  After Emkir nodded and said he'd be ready, Mikah cut the line and went back to considering Jocelynn's "situation".

Going to Jocelynn's stateroom while she was considering what to wear that night, Mikah said, "Well, I know you can handle yourself but I want you to take an extra set of comms with you when you go to this dinner tonight."  Hearing that, Jocelynn agreed, but wondered where she's hide the extra set?  When Mikah said she wanted Jocelynn to hide the set somewhere they wouldn't look, Jocelynn had no idea where that could be?  Anyone who was seriously interested in security was gonna check every part of her body they felt they had to in order to confirm she was safe to let pass.  Jocelynn didn't expect orifice searches but x-ray searches were entirely possible.

At the markets, Fesic suggested they scan the now-growing crowd of gawkers to see if they noticed anyone who might be especially concerned about what the police were doing.  But the sheer size of the crowd had become large enough that no one stood out no matter how many faces they searched.  Now ready to admit that shop was a dead end, they agreed to get moving to the next market location and the two shops identified there.  When Aiden joked, "We haven't caused any mayhem there." Sekea laughed and said, "Maybe we can burn those shops down." and they shared a grim laugh.

On the way to the next market location, they talked about the shops there.  Rootshow sold video and audio products while Inchcane sold aromatics and environmentals.  Zimzod, Emkir and Aiden said they'd check out Rootshow while Fesic said he wanted to position himself at the shop's back door.  Sekea said he would do his best to seek out doors leading to the back-access after they'd gotten to the market.  After that, Sekea said he could go in with the others and watch for reactions or wait outside as Zimzod preferred.

Unfortunately, when they did arrive, they found much of the area in better repair than the other markets.  They even noticed a larger general police presence in the area.  So, they couldn't even try to force a door.  Accepting that, Fesic decided to wait by one of the entrances, from which he could see the shop front, and wait in case anyone opened the door to allow him to slip inside.  Zimzod told the others also planning to go into the store with him to wait until he was inside before following him.  He then went in on his own.  Inside the shop, Zimzod started browsing to see what they had before taking any other action.

Outside the shop, the others decided on which order they'd individually follow Zimzod before they went in and began browsing themselves.  Emkir and Aiden were most interested in the electronics.  Sekea was more interested in the source technology the electronics came from than even the electronics themselves.  Nothing in the shop seriously called out to Zimzod, so he went to the counter and asked if he could speak to Rashla, the name they'd gotten from the database.  The man behind the counter said Rashla wasn't in until the end of the month.

The man next asked if Zimzod was a bill collector and, when Zimzod said he wasn't, repeated that she would be in at the end of the month to take care of all the bills and paperwork.  Considering it was the ninth of the month, Zimzod realized he wasn't gonna be able to wait for her.  Zimzod then dove in and asked if he could call Rashla to ask about some friends of his?  Hearing that, the guy behind the counter asked if he was one of the contractors?  Not sure what that meant, Zimzod only said, "No."  When the man behind the counter then told him, "Well, come back at the end of the month." Zimzod thanked him and moved on.

While he browsed, Aiden noticed a set of boxes containing sets of network-capable palm-sized cameras that could be "stuck" anywhere.  Looking closer, Aiden saw they could be attached to any surface by adhesive backings on the soft-plastic web which held each camera.  The camera was a very small device within a larger circular lens almost like a single bulging eye.  Aiden could see six containers of five cameras each, and each box was listed as Cr 350.  Aiden first grabbed two boxes and then changed his mind and grabbed a third.  Now having most of a plan, Aiden then searched the shelves for replacements for the adhesive patches, but didn't find any.

Soon, they had all left Rootshow and were headed to Inchcane.  When Sekea said he wanted to take the lead into Inchcane, Zimzod said he'd also go in.  Aiden made it clear he wouldn't go into the shop because he was afraid he'd be hit by the combined scent of lemon and vanilla.  Sekea's excuse for being in the shop was that he wanted to see if they had items that might be useful on a starship?  What he saw was a large display of aromatics that could be used to scent the air in a ship stateroom.  Sekea could see they had single-use and multi-use containers and checked them for pricing.  the single-use item cost Cr 25 and the multi-use set cost Cr 100 for three uses.

After checking the items, Sekea moved over to the counter and mentioned he had a friend who'd recommended the shop to him.  While Sekea said he was going to buy some scent dispersers from the shop, because of that recommendation, he also said he'd lost track of his friend and hoped the woman behind the counter could help him.  And while it was known that crew from various ships kept in touch in their travels, the woman had to wonder what was really going on?  She knew they didn't tend to leave messages in random shops.  So, when Sekea started showing the woman images and asking if she had any idea where they were, she backed off.  She didn't want to become involved because his questions didn't make sense to her.

Trying to put a stop to things, she told Sekea, "While we are appreciative of your business, we are not selling social services.  So, if we can sell you any of our stock, I am pleased to help you.  Otherwise, we do not keep track of people or friends of people, or anything like that."  Trying to remain pleasant, Sekea asked, "Would you take a look at the pictures?" and she answered, "I'll look but I'm certain I don't know any of them." despite the fact it was obvious she didn't want to.  And that was only to get rid of him.  Ignoring her mood, Sekea thanked her and mentioned again that he really wanted to get back in contact with the people.  But while Sekea tried his best to carefully show her each of the images, he could tell she was barely paying attention to them and may not have been looking at them at all.

Realizing she might only be humoring him, Sekea took her to task saying, "I notice that you don't seem to be paying attention."  And Sekea shouldn't have been a surprise since she had already told him she they were not a social agency despite him pushing her to do something she didn't want to.  So, after presuming to take her to task, Sekea continued, "I understand your time is valuable, and I really would appreciate it if you carefully looked and I can compensate you."  Her response was to cross her arms and say, "As I told you, we are not a social services agency, and if you really want people to look at pictures, go talk to the police."  Sekea was so surprised he couldn't force a horse to drink after leading it to water that he almost didn't realize she'd reached the 'Buy something and leave before I call the police' stage.

Deciding to buy something, if only to see if he could salvage a situation he had wrecked, Sekea asked her what scent she'd recommend?  That was so obviously the sort of comment someone made when they had no real interest in what they were buying that she rolled her eyes in derision.  Despite that, she recommended Sage and Citrus.  Sekea said, "Fine" and bought four single-use dispensers.  Each would keep an enclosed space like a stateroom 'scented' for up to a month.  After he'd paid and she bagged the dispensers, she stuck a huge smile on her face and thanked him very much before wishing him a good day.  And Sekea could be certain the smile was huge because he would be leaving!

Sekea pasted a plastic smile on his face and said, "Thank you very much!  It was great doing business with you." in mock cheer.  On his way out of the shop, Sekea passed close to Zimzod and whispered, "You handle this bitch", blaming her.  He'd ignored each time she had politely told him 'No', so Sekea had refused to accept that 'No' meant 'No'.  When Zimzod only asked if Sekea wanted him to kill her, Sekea waved that off, not realizing it was a joke.  Sekea said that was excessive and Zimzod protested, "Pain is scary." with a smile.  Sekea just turned and hit the door.  When he got out of the shop and rejoined the others, Sekea immediately jumped onto the local network looking for some way to give the shop a very negative review. 

After watching Sekea go down in flaming glory, Zimzod went to the display and picked up eight single-shot lavender dispensers, four rose-petal scent dispensers and four of dragon's blood before he hit the directory.  Finding what he wanted, Zimzod ordered up for "Frankincense and Myrrh" scented dispensers before bringing all that to the counter.  Before the woman started ringing the items up, Zimzod asked, "Is Giimla here?"  Looking up at him, the woman said, "no.  He's not here until tomorrow."  Hearing that, Zimzod shrugged and said, "OK.  Then I guess I'll buy all this stuff tomorrow." with a big smile on his face.  She first squeaked, "What?" and then firmly suggested he put all the dispensers back on the shelves.  Zimzod only said, "You do it."  When she snapped, "I'm not putting all this stuff back if you only brought it up here to leave here." Zimzod only said, "OK.  Fuck you too." and left.  He smiled because he had 'dealt with the bitch' for Sekea.

The woman angrily yelled to Zimzod's back, "See if you're allowed back in the store tomorrow!"  Hitting the door, Zimzod only called back, "Suck my ass!"  Hearing that while outside the shop, Aiden chided, "Stop flirting, Zimzod." in a disapproving tone.  With a mock-hang dog look on his face, Zimzod looked at Aiden and asked, "Was it that obvious?" before he busted out laughing.  Aiden could only shake his head, and they all had to accept that they'd flamed out yet again.  Even if Zimzod had enjoyed doing so on his terms.  After confirming they'd hit both shops in the market area mentioned in the database, the group discussed what their next options were?

There were a few shops they'd left behind where they knew they were not welcomed anymore, so they could only return to Signwheels, in the first market space.  There, they knew Kuagmii would be back later that evening despite the words Zimzod had with him on the comms.  On top of what to do next, Sekea joked about going back to the ship to get the worst smelling thing they could find and returning to "add that scent" to the shop they'd just left.  When they turned to Nour and Biangud to say they wanted to return to the Lila market area, Biangud quipped, "Not yet done leaving a line of carnage behind you?"  Zimzod smiled at her and happily said, "No.  Not at all."

When she and Nour only stood there looking at Zimzod, he said, "Maybe that one shop that was selling stolen goods, but I don't consider that carnage." making it clear he felt she was wrong.  Nodding, she went to update their documents while Nour called the cars.  Then, they were returning to Signwheels, to see if Kuagmii had arrived?  They certainly couldn't go back to Sologreen's after the accusations of lies had made that shop off limits.  And the owner of Fixex had shut down after their arrival.  Checking when they got back to the Lila markets, they saw it was still closed, so they could only sit and wait for Kuagmii at Signwheels.

Looking around, they saw a café where they could sit and watch the shop's front door.  Checking the menus, Emkir looked for wines while Zimzod looked for harder drinks.  The place didn't sell either and, when Emkir made a comment, Sekea said he didn't think it was wise to get drunk before going into action.  Emkir answered him, saying, "Well, that's a matter of opinion." and Zimzod followed that, saying, "Yeah, we do our best when we're fucked up."  Sekea could only answer, "OK" in a very tentative tone.  Zimzod went further, saying, "We've even trained that way.  You never know when the shit's gonna hit the fan."

While they sat and waited, Fesic brought up cutting back behind the shops, if they could, and everyone agreed that was a good idea.  Fesic also suggested they do some more canvassing in the area before dinner and then eat before looking to see if the shop owner was there?  When everyone else planned to sit and drink while Fesic went out canvassing, Aiden said they shouldn't go off alone and said he'd go with Fesic.  So, until it was time to eat or they felt Kuagmii might be there, Aiden and Fesic canvassed, trailed by Nour, and the others sat and watched the store front.

While they canvassed, a figure suddenly rushed at Aiden and Fesic so quickly they didn't get a chance to react.  Hitting Aiden first, he collided so hard Aiden had to struggle to keep standing.  After hitting Aiden, the sprinting man hit Fesic full on.  While both of them went down, the sprinter expected that to happen and was ready for it.  So, while Aiden stabilized himself and Fesic was knocked flat, the man managed to land his knee in Fesic's crotch while also catching himself and springing back up.  Aiden wasn't quite ready to chase when the man took off in a sprint.  While he did try, Aiden very quickly realized he had no chance and only watched the man disappear into the crowd.  The one thing he was sure of was that the retreating figure looked like Finerd Talthan again!

By the time Aiden had given up and returned to Fesic, the gunner was recovering from his personal pain and starting to unwind from the embryonic ball he'd shrunken into.  And while Aiden wanted to tell Fesic about what he'd discovered, Fesic was just realizing that the man who hit him had stolen his comms!  Fesic got the first word in as Aiden stepped up and that pushed the pilot back a bit.  As the facts mixed in his head, Aiden had a realization.  He thought to himself, and then told Fesic, "He didn't steal it.  He wants to contact us and he wanted that to get a secure line."  Stopping, Fesic considered what Aiden said and admitted the theory made sense.  About that time, the two of them were swarmed as police moved in.  Some of them had seen the attack and others had been called in by Nour.

Moving in fast, the officers were in 'full investigation' mode as others locked off the area around them.  Then, the questions began.  Fesic was up front that his comms were stolen.  Sitting at the café, Zimzod and the others first started to see police start moving.  Paying more attention, Zimzod realized the commotion was happening in the same direction Fesic and Aiden had gone in.  And, they'd been gone for over twenty minutes.  When Zimzod sparked his comms and called them, Aiden answered and said, "There's been a small incident, I'll get back to you." before cutting Zimzod off.  When Zimzod asked what happened, Aiden told him Fesic's comms was stolen, then shut the comms down and went back to answering questions for the police around them.

When they eventually returned to the café, Aiden let them know the thief was the same person who'd tried to steal Emkir's hand-comp that morning.  Aiden then said he thought the man was looking for a secure way to get in contact with the team.  Until then, Aiden asked how they would go about re-securing their comms network, in case he was wrong?  Talking about that, Aiden learned they could return to the ship and reset all the channels to new frequencies.  That way, the channels they used would be secure.  And, they could monitor the old frequencies for activity in case Aiden's theory was correct.  So, they only had to worry about someone potentially listening in until they got back to the ship.  When Aiden suggested Mikah call Fesic's comms, introduce herself and see if the thief needed help, that was shot down.

Eventually, when it neared dinner time, those listening to their comms hear what sounded like a single long scratch along a microphone.  When Zimzod heard that, he ran a finger-nail along his mic and sent back two scratches.  Then, as he listened, Zimzod heard four scratches.  Not realizing this was a simple doubling pattern, Zimzod scratched his mic six times and the line went dead.  Finally, Zimzod realized the chance to contact went dead and looked at the shop again.  While it wasn't yet dinner time, Zimzod had been watching to see if there had been a change of shop staff, but realized they could have come and gone through the rear entrance.  Accepting that, Zimzod said he was going to go in and check to see if Kuagmii had come to the shop yet?  When he began standing, Fesic asked if he would wait until he and Aiden got to the shop's back door and Zimzod said "no", but also said he wanted Sekea to come with him.

When Fesic argued, "Why wouldn't you want someone around back?" Zimzod answered, "If somebody wants to jet, they can jet."  When Sekea pointed out they could follow the fleeing person, Zimzod said, "Apparently, we're not very good at following people."  When the others protested they could try, Zimzod reminded them of all the police around and said they didn't really want to draw attention to themselves or the person they wanted to catch for information.  Realizing Zimzod was right, Aiden mentioned the cameras he'd just bought and asked if Zimzod wanted to have him stick a camera to the wall near the door?

Zimzod thought that was a great idea and said he'd wait ten minutes for them to set it up.  Then, they would connect it to everyone's hand computers except Zimzod's.  Zimzod felt he wouldn't need it because he'd be talking to the shop keeper.  Fesic and Aiden planned to post themselves in the back passage in opposite directions from the door.  That would leave Fesic alone and isolated because he didn't have comms.  While Fesic and Aiden were setting the camera up, Zimzod said he wanted Sekea to wait before following him into the shop.  Emkir would wait at the café with Nour and Biangud, who wanted to stay clear of any possible disaster so they could call in the police.

When Zimzod entered the shop, he could see two people behind the counter and they appeared to be going over the till, so they didn't look up.  If they had, the one man might have recognized Zimzod because he'd come into the shop earlier and demanded they call Kuagmii.  Then again, it was hours past that time and he likely forgot Zimzod in the rush of business over the day.  When he started to approach them, Zimzod could see them quickly start gathering the currency to put the till away and made sure his hands were visible and open as he said, "Easy guys" in a comforting tone.  Coming closer, Zimzod said, "I guess you're the guy I spoke to earlier?"

While Kuagmii didn't recognize him from Adam, the other worker seemed to be working to try and remember where he'd seen Zimzod before, despite Zimzod having pushed him to call his boss.  Seeing their confusion, Zimzod said, "I spoke to Kuagmii."  Just as Kuagmii said, "That's me.  What do you need?" Sekea walked into the shop and started moving closer to the counter so he could fake shopping while trying to observe what happened.  Zimzod told Kuagmii, "I'm just looking for some friends of mine and I know you had contact with them."  After Kuagmii asked, "And who would these friends be?" Zimzod started to show him the images.  That was when the clerk realized who Zimzod was and whispered something to Kuagmii.  Nodding in answer, Kuagmii told the man, "We're going to need the room.  Go into the back."

After the other man left, Kuagmii appeared to seriously consider the pictures Zimzod was showing him.  Sekea also didn't notice any reactions at all.  That was, until they heard a click and looked up.  Sekea looked around before noticing the door discreet had changed from green to red, meaning the door was locked.  With Sekea's back turned for the moment, Zimzod saw Kuagmii raise a hand from below the level of the counter and it held a revolver!  Kuagmii then calmly asked, "Now, what is this all about?" and Zimzod explained, "They're friends of mine.  I was sent out from the Imperium to this planet, to find out their whereabouts and their wellbeing."  Nodding, Kuagmii seemed to ask the air, "Are you there?"

To the side, they heard the clerk say, "I'm here." and to their right, to see the man holding a shotgun!  At that, the clerk said, "I recognized your friend by the door from earlier, so why don't you come forward and join the party?"  When Sekea came forward, he joined Zimzod in the kill box of a cross fire.  With them under the cover of the shotgun, Kuagmii set the revolver on the counter top and hit a button before asking, "Are you there?" and they barely heard a whisper, "Yes."  Kuagmii then asked, "Do you know what's happening here?"  When the voice again whispered, "Yes" Kuagmii asked, "So what do you want me to do with these two people." in a tone of muted frustration.  When they heard the whisper say, "Hold them", Kuagmii said "OK." and seemed to settle in and wait.

Kuagmii then looked at both of them and said, "Why don't you boys have a seat on the floor and we'll wait."  Zimzod looked at him and said, "I'm in a hoverChair" in an annoyed voice.  Kuagmii simply advised him to land the chair on the floor.  Unable to see the man's hands, Kuagmii asked who they were and Zimzod said "I'm Sir Zimzod Egosion.  I was sent here by Arch-Duke Norris, to find out what happened to the team that came here?"  Kuagmii then asked, "What world did you come here from?" and Zimzod said they came from Regina.  Nodding, Kuagmii asked, "Can you prove any of this?"

Zimzod looked through the pictures on his Ident for images from the elevation to the Order of Caranda's Sword because some of them had Zimzod in them along with the Arch Duke.  While he looked, Sekea suggested the Imperial Embassy could confirm they were there even though he should've realized the embassy would never release information to a random shop keeper calling to ask about Imperial nobility in-system.  Kuagmii only waived Sekea's comment off and said, "We don't care about the Imperial Embassy, they're half the problem."  Missing that very important comment, Zimzod said, "I just need to talk to Finerd Talthan, find out what happened with his team and then leave."  Hearing that, Kuagmii nodded and said, "OK.  We'll see what happens."

Meanwhile, those looking at the video on their hand computers saw a male figure in dark clothing step up to, and open the rear door to slip inside.  Sadly, the camera was not wide enough an angle to see how he got into the passage.  Fesic wondered how the figure had gotten past him and Aiden, despite having never confirmedthey knew every way in or out of that part of the corridor?  Aiden, Fesic and Emkir all recognized the figure but there was little Aiden or Emkir could do and nothing Fesic could do without a comms.  Fesic decided to go looking for Aiden so they could find a way to get into the shop because a member of the Arch Duke's team was in the shop right then!  At the same time, Emkir tried to call Zimzod and Zimzod gave him the clik codes 'Not Now' and 'Hold On'.

Getting that back, Aiden sent the whole team the clik code "Alert" and "Rear".  When Fesic came up to Aiden, he asked if Aiden had seen the same thing?  Aiden said he did but said, "We were told to hold back and observe."  Fesic accepted that because he'd not had a comms to hear anything, and said he'd go back to his side of the passage and look for some cover to watch from.  While Fesic moved off, Aiden called Mikah to update her about what he'd seen throughout the day so she could tell him if he should push the panic button or not?  Hearing that, she asked Aiden, "Where are your handlers?" meaning the embassy chaperones.  Aiden said they were around front, in the café with Emkir.

After considering that information, she told Aiden to call Emkir and tell him "something was going down" in the shop and that "they could do with that data whatever they wanted.  But, she reminded Aiden their crew may be in danger or may not be.  There was no way to be sure.  Aiden told Mikah he would update Emkir.  Calling Emkir after the call with Mikah ended, Aiden told him everything Mikah said and told him what to tell the folks from the embassy.  After Emkir told Nour and Biangud what Mikah wanted them to hear, he suggested they have another drink and see what happened next?  Both Nour and Biangud were shocked and said they'd prefer to call the police.  Emkir said he didn't think they should do that, but the couple didn't care and were already pulling their comms.

Blasting The Lead
     Emkir couldn't stop Nour from calling the police, or Biangud calling the embassy.  Inside the shop, Zimzod and Sekea sat and listened as a door opened and someone came into the place.  Very quickly after that, they saw another figure step into the shop's main floor and he was also holding a pistol.  The new arrival looked them over and then asked Zimzod, "Can I see your Ident?"  After checking Zimzod's Ident, the man returned the device to Zimzod and said, "OK.  Here's my Ident."  Saying that while he withdrew something from his clothes, he handed Zimzod what appeared to be a standard Imperial Ident.  The man then holstered his pistol while the clerk lowered his shotgun and went to put it away.  When Zimzod checked the Ident, he confirmed the man before him was Finerd Talthan.

Handing Finerd his Ident back, Zimzod asked if the rest of the team were alive?  Finerd said, "One other member of the team is, but she's in custody."  When Zimzod asked what happened, Finerd asked "Where can we talk?"  That suggested they couldn't keep the shop closed all that long.  Zimzod shrugged and said, "Wherever you want to.  Preferably out the back." and pointed to the shop's rear exit.  When Finerd asked, "Why out back?" Zimzod told him they had chaperones out front.  Nodding, Finerd said, "Follow me" and Zimzod activated the controls of his chair while Sekea rose from the floor.

Since they were both on their comms, Nour and Biangud didn't notice as Emkir broadcast, "Our shadows are calling the embassy and the police, so it might be best to vacate."  When Zimzod heard that, he told the others.  Both Finerd and Kuagmii said, "Well Fuck" at the same time.  Kuagmii then looked around at the others and said, "OK.  Everyone out the back."  Hearing that, Zimzod let Aiden and Emkir know they were on the move and Aiden went to tell Fesic.  Emkir called Mikah, to update her, and she told Emkir to sit tight and see what happens.  Getting out the back exit, Zimzod and Sekea went to look for Aiden while they presumed Kuagmii locked up the shop and turned off the lights.

In the café, Emkir sat and watched while the two embassy workers talked on their comms.  He'd just begun hearing the sounds of closing police reaction when the front portion of the Signwheels shop exploded out all over the concourse!  The surprise and shock wave from the blast knocked everyone down and most people lost hold of anything in their hands, with many things taking flight along with the debris.  Rolling into a ball behind some larger debris, Emkir could hear screaming, crying and other sounds of panic join the fading echo of the blast.  Everything behind the shop shook, except the walls, which were not affected by the blast.  To Zimzod, that suggested they'd used prepared and pre-placed shaped charges, just like the coin shop on Regina.  Everyone around him was shaken but no one fell over.

Because they were already coming, waves of police started arriving quickly to secure the area and try to figure out what had just happened?  Emkir could hear those arriving on site calling for even more backup as they realized this had converted to a major incident.  Emkir could also hear an increase in the power of the ventilation systems, and assumed they'd ordered that to help clear the air and possibly remove any hazardous gasses released in what appeared to be a premeditated attack.  Calling as soon as he could, Emkir told Mikah about the explosion and that he could only guess Zimzod, Fesic, Aiden and Sekea had been in the blast area when it happened.  Listening to Emkir's update, Mikah was trying to get a handle on what she was being told when the ship's comms started going off urgently.

Answering the call, Mikah heard the Ambassador's voice as she told Mikah she was sending a car and angrily ordered, "You will get into the car and you will be in her office as soon as possible.  In the meantime, Zimzod's group linked up with Aiden and Fesic and Finerd gave Fesic back his comms.  Then, Finerd began leading them down a bit of labyrinth.  At the first turn, both Fesic and Aiden realized Finerd was using 'very hard to see' doors they hadn't noticed, which explained how Finerd had gotten to the shop without passing them directly.  They had to accept that such constructs were often rat-warrens and older necessary doors were often covered up or even forgotten when they were no longer needed or convenient.

Moving as they did, they bypassed some of the automatically closing doors and got to others before they'd closed thanks to the path Finerd led them along.  Of course, this led below ground level, into the undercity of structures and support systems built as a foundation for the every-day city above.  Eventually, they made their way to a place where Finerd felt they could stop and talk.  Finerd then turned to Zimzod and said, "OK.  You've proven yourself to me and I'm sure I've proven myself to you."  Looking around, the clerk and Kuagmii still had their weapons and were guarding the trail behind them.  Zimzod nodded to Finerd and said he only wished they could have connected up sooner, and without all the destruction.

Zimzod did say he could have just called them after he'd stolen Fesic's comms and Finerd said he had tried.  Zimzod was only able to consider the series of scratches he'd responded to while Sekea said he'd considered going out the shop's front to let Emkir know what was happening and was very glad he hadn't.  To that, Sekea was told they would have stopped him because he never would have reached the door before they knew the police were coming.  So, they wouldn't have let him leave that way.  Hearing that, Sekea thanked them for that information.

Over the next half hour, Finerd told them his team had learned the data they were sending through the embassy to the Arch Duke was being given to the local authorities.  While Finerd didn't say what data his team were gathering, he made it clear this had been a bad thing.  Reacting to that, they started restricting the data they sent and looking for other ways while still passing some communications through the embassy.  Not long after that, Finerd told them the Ardeni authorities finally came for them, and may have guessed the game was up.  Finerd continued, "Lucky for me, our friends here", at which point he pointed at Kuagmii, "got wind of that just before it was set to happen.  So, he reached out to us using an emergency signal.  About the same time, the embassy called and said the ambassador was demanding to see the team."

Zimzod and the others could almost guess what was next as Finerd continued, "While the others went to meet with the ambassador, I didn't have a driving permit so Aasimar Flore drove me to meet up with Kuagmii's people.  When the police came for us, Aasimar drove off and led them on a chase to draw them away from me.  So, she was arrested while Kuagmii's people got me safe and underground.  I'm guessing they're only keeping her alive because they hope she can help them find me.  Then, you people showed up and we had no idea what your story was?  We figured you were likely more of the embassy's people because finding our team mixed in eight billion locals wasn't likely possible."

After a pause, Finerd told them they knew where Aasimar was being held and that things were even worse.  That was because she knew where they'd hidden their gear along with all the other data they'd collected.  So, even if it never got to the Arch Duke, it could get to the locals and that would lead to a lot of people dying.  Finerd gave them a look that said he wasn't going to cooperate with Zimzod's people unless they were willing to help him recover or even kill Aasimar.  And, before they could kill her, they had to learn if she'd given the locals enough information to find the data cache?  That said, he guessed Arch Duke Norris' people sent them because he wanted the information they were no longer sending.

Even before Zimzod's team had reached a place to talk, the car sent from the embassy arrived at the ship and Mikah got in and was driven away.  While she rode, Mikah pulled her comms out to call any of the others and let them know what she was doing.  It was then she realized the car was shielded, so nothing was getting in or out if it didn't come in through the specially installed antennae built into the car.  And her comms couldn't use that without serious skill to re-engineer how it worked.  Something, ironically, that Rol had been trained in, but not Mikah.  So, Mikah realized she was along for the ride until she got where they were taking her.

While learning what Finerd had to say, Sekea tried to call Mikah and let her know there might be a traitor or spy in the embassy staff.  When he didn't get through to her, he had to assume she was busy.  Sekea also decided to call Emkir, but by that time, Nour and Biangud had pulled things together in the remains of the café, and told Emkir they should move to the embassy.  When Emkir said he'd prefer to return to his ship if he couldn't stay there and learn what had happened to his crewmates in the shop, they made certain he understood that was not a request.  Shrugging, Emkir could only ask, "Will there be cookies?" which neither Nour nor Biangud understood.  Still, they didn't stop him from pulling his comms and saying he was on the way to the embassy because they didn't feel there were many people for him to communicate with.


Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Aali: Finishing up resets for the day and preparing for dinner
     Mikah: Riding from the ship to the Imperial Embassy in a fully shielded car and unaware most of her crew were still alive
     Emkir: Riding from the market to the Imperial Embassy in an unshielded car, knowing he got his message out but not who heard?
     Jocelynn: Just finishing preparing to leave for dinner with Alef and Yur
     Zimzod, Aiden, Fesic and Sekea: With Finerd, Kuagmii and his shop man in a hidden location under the city, having heard Emkir's message
     Rol: 10 Weeks, 6 days from being decanted

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Next: Pending