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Last Updated     Sept 26 2022
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Surprises, Escapes And Endings

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     Mikah and Emkir were locked in separate "safe rooms" in the Imperial embassy, searching for anything that might help the escape.  Realizing the only people who would come to his door would be in battledress, and couldn't be fought, Emkir was on the terminal in the room looking for any possible pretext he could find to force the Ambassador to see him and treat him legally.  Mikah used her terminal hoping to find a way to contact any Imperial authorities in the system hoping for help.  Mikah wasn't able to reach anyone or find ways to extend her reach while Emkir was able to connect to other terminals inside the embassy, but nothing that helped him.  He didn't even manage to connect to Mikah.

In a borrowed police semi-truck(an SUV with an enclosed crew/cargo space in the rear and back-end cargo doors), one of the two men sent by a mysterious Yur drove Zimzod's team away from the Shaplu Eguuan Corrections Center.  Zimzod and the others had chosen to trust the man because they gotten a call from Jocelynn, who said she was with this person Yur, and could trust his people.  The driver promised to get them "someplace safe" after they'd failed to rescue Finerd's teammate Aasimar.  Still, she had told him she'd given the prosthetic eye that had belonged to Jase Pryante to a restaurant worker at the "The Flavored Flow Meal", located in the starport terminal.  She'd also told him the eye contained a data crystal with all the data the Arch Duke needed.  She'd then taken one of the injectors Sekea had prepared and killed herself rather than be left in the custody of the Ardenii.

Escaping the correctional facility, thanks largely to the fact the local police were scattered across the city responding to a large number of other events, Zimzod's team now had to organize a rescue of Mikah and Emkir from the Imperial Embassy before getting back to the starport to get the eye with the data crystal and somehow get back to the ship after that.  Then, they had to escape the system and get the data back to the Imperium and to the Arch Duke.  In the vehicle, Zimzod and Sekea combined their medical skills to work on both Fesic and Finerd.  Fesic had been shot during the flight from the exploded storefront and Finerd had been shot in the correctional facility.  Still, both could move on their own and hold a gun, which could become important for the still unaddressed rescue plan at the embassy.

While helping to treat the wounded, Sekea called to the driver asking where they were going?  The man said he'd been told to drive to a warehouse where another member of the Upgrade's crew was waiting.  Since Aali was still aboard the ship and Emkir and Mikah were in the embassy, they knew that had to be Jocelynn.  There, he said, the crew would have to decide what to do next and they would help with that because of Yur's orders.  Sekea then asked if Yur's people had a way to get them close to or into the embassy and was told they didn't have that.  He did say Yur had some people working in the embassy, but they couldn't get the crew into the facility.  This showed a deeper internal knowledge of Yur's organization those in the vehicle missed or ignored.

Sekea then asked Yur's two men if they thought it was possible to get into the embassy from either the bulkheads above or below the embassy, and was told that wasn't possible as far as they knew.  They agreed that all the bulkheads and walls were specifically secured and sealed by the Imperium when they built the facility into the city structure.  Accepting that, and while he worked on treating Finerd, Sekea asked the man what was behind the ambassador working with the Ardenii?  If the man had any idea why she would turn on Imperial agents?  Finerd said he didn't know but wished he did.  He said he assumed they bought her out somehow, with offers of money or power.

Hearing that, and despite the data they'd already been told, Sekea asked if Finerd was certain the ambassador was working with the local government.  Finerd could only repeat his description of the events leading to his team being killed off and Aasimar being captured.  He also said there was more evidence in the data on Aasimar's crystal that spoke to that.  Regardless of what Finerd said and the imperatives of the moment, Sekea pushed that it might have been a mole working in the embassy, even though that wouldn't change the situation they faced.  So, despite the fact it didn't really matter to their mission, Sekea pushed Finerd for proof specifically the ambassador was involved.  When Finerd said there was information on the crystal that would show that, especially since it wouldn't be just her but her entire team.  Still, unsure, Sekea asked Finerd three different ways to answer the same question despite the man's repeated response, before he accepted the what Finerd had said.

Sekea's memory of the embassy Moving on from that, Sekea described what he knew of the grounds of the embassy and asked Finerd if he could add to that?  What Sekea remembered, from his visit with Mikah, Emkir and Zimzod, had been arriving at the "box" which surrounded the visible two-level embassy.  There, two battledressed troopers manned a "guard booth" by the entrance through the box, which was made of thickened transparent steel.  They then crossed the ten meters distance between that entrance and the main entrance of the embassy.  Inside the building, they had passed through the lobby, passing service booths on the right and entrances to other rooms on the left.  Next, they went under a staircase which began closer to the door in the lobby and then turned to the right as it rose to the second floor.  They then went through some passages to the Ambassador's office.

Finerd recalled the same basic layout that Sekea gave him.  He did say he and his people had the same experience with the building.  Finerd added that they'd also been to the space behind the service window seen when people first entered the lobby.  That space was a small ball room for receptions, and his people had attended more than one function in that space. Along the walls of that space were storage closets and there was a second passage that got people from the ballroom to the rear passage that led to the ambassador's office.  But he couldn't add much more to what was known of the embassy interior.

Nodding, Sekea asked their allies if he knew of any services the embassy received, hoping they could pretend to be part of, like laundry or food services?  The first answer Finerd and Yur's people could give was that they didn't know what services the embassy regularly received.  Sekea then suggested they could look into cutting off air, power or other services to the embassy and was told that would have to involve a large amount of work.  They'd have to start blowing holes in the "floor" and "ceiling" until finding the right ducts, conduits, etc.  And that would call down on them a lot more response than they could hope to deal with not counting any force from the embassy itself.  So, that wasn't an idea they could follow up.

Picking up on one of Sekea's questions, Aiden started to suggest they try to find out what delivery or other services the embassy had?  He meant to suggest they could investigate some of those services and try to imitate them to get into the embassy, or ask questions to learn more about the interior of the embassy.  One of Yur's men reminded Aiden that Yur's people were out at threat moment creating many distractions pulling the police out and spreading them thin.  Even as he spoke, Aiden realized they didn't have the window of time needed for all that investigation and question asking.  So, his idea wasn't even possible and was not gonna happen.

Essentially along for the ride and up for the mission, Aiden mostly listened while Sekea asked Finerd questions and also worked on his gear.  Without the correct kit, he cleaned out his pistol as best he could, and noted how primitive it was.  That despite the fact it was the type of weapon the local police were armed with.  So, the government really didn't spend much on arming the police.  Zimzod said that the "ceiling" of the space in and around the embassy were two levels high.  He said that meant he could literally be a 'flying unit' giving them air support if the battledressed guards didn't have grav belts.  If they did, they would get air superiority very quickly.  Of course, he didn't know Jocelynn had been to the ship and brought back his battledress, so his plans were limited to what they knew.

Jocelynn waited in a warehouse with a few of Yur's people for the arrival of Zimzod's team.  While Fesic and Finerd were wounded and in need of further treatment, Jocelynn had her battledress on and Zimzod's in a bag.  Not knowing what was happening with Zimzod's team, Jocelynn had asked some of the same basic questions Sekea did to get an understanding of the embassy "building" and its surrounding environment.  While answering her questions, Neff also told Jocelynn the vehicle with Zimzod, Aiden, Sekea, Fesic and Finerd were on their way with some wounded.  He also let her know they had been unsuccessful in releasing Aasimar.  Hearing that, she sighed and put her head in her hands while muttering, "Every fucking planet."  After that, she acknowledged what he'd told her and then said she was going to need his help with some information.  Neff was able to get her basic maps of the embassy layout.

          Embassy Sublevel Embassy Main Floor Embassy Second Floor

Getting those maps, Jocelynn saw the embassy had an entire sublevel she never knew about, including a garage and troops barracks.  She also saw, for the first time, the descending drive which led down from the main floor level along the embassy's right wall to the below level garage vehicle entrance.  The data also showed pairs of ground cars, wheeled busses, grav-vehicles and even armored fighting vehicles!  Jocelynn considered the possible need to get to and steal one of those if they were forced to.

Jocelynn also noticed the sealable panic room and armory on the embassy's second level.  Strategically, that meant everyone in the embassy would react to an obvious attack by flooding up the central stairs to the second floor and hide there.  So, if she set off alarms before she got to the second floor, that stairway would be flooded when, or before, she got there.  Still, depending on what happened during their operation, getting there first was very tempting too.  Neff also told Jocelynn there would generally be two battledressed marines at the embassy's guard station.  Another one would be stationed at the garage entrance, and two would be "on patrol" around the structure but inside the transparent steel box.  Two more would likely be in the lobby area but not in battledress, to prevent visitors from becoming disorderly.

On the embassy's second floor, there might be marines in armor near the secure communications and computer rooms and there was a day room for the rest of the on-duty security team.  That was almost opposite the doors for the rooms Mikah and Emkir were being held in.  Neff pointed those out too.  When she asked, she was told there would be two fire teams on duty at all times, so ten troopers.  With the positions they would have to man, that meant there could be as many as five in the day room.  Hearing that, Jocelynn asked if Neff's people could give her any explosives which could slow down or stop heavily armored people from pursuing or attacking them?  Neff thought and told her he could get her some satchel charges, and asked what kind of explosives she'd like to be in them?

Asking a few questions where Jocelynn figured the rooms and passages could become choaking points, Jocelynn asked for incendiary charges.  Because the walls and flooring wouldn't likely melt, she wanted bombs that would burn hot enough to stop battledressed troopers and fill a small but blocking space in a passage.  After that, Neff offered her three satchel charges he said would do what she wanted, or close enough.  Jocelynn accepted all three of those and then asked if the Ardenii used battledress, and if there was any way they could help make them look like Ardenii forces?

Neff nodded and told her the forces of Arden had battledress which was usually captured from those forces passing through their system during the various wars.  That meant there are few formations that use a mix of either Imperial or Zhodani battledress.  The senior of those formations was the "Captain's Guard", who managed security for the ruling Captain's Council.  Like any other uniform, painted on insignia and adhesive-connected iconography were generally attached to the battledress of that unit.  That said, Neff said he could certainly make them look like members of the Captain's Guard.  He also said he could also create fake documents for herself and Zimzod.

When Neff asked why Jocelynn wanted that, she told him she planned to use some of the people on Zimzod's team as prisoners and pretend to be delivering them to the embassy.  So, she wanted to visually look like an Ardenii soldier.  Jocelynn's first thought was to "borrow" a vehicle and arrive at the embassy in that.  Then, to move the vehicle down into the embassy's garage and deploy from there to rescue Emkir and Mikah, because that would get them through the immediate layer of security.  But, to do that, they'd have to deal with the marine guard assigned to the security point in the garage.

Neff asked why she wanted to start her operation in the garage?  When Jocelynn said they had to have a vehicle to get away from the embassy, he said Yur's people had the vehicles to move them.  He also reminded Jocelynn that starting her "fight" from the garage meant having to fight up two flights of stairs instead of one.  And, if they set off any alarms taking out the guard there, then that would be much harder with troops in the barracks right next to the garage.  So, she could find herself and the others swarmed before even getting to the main level of the embassy.

Nodding, Jocelynn accepted that marching their "prisoners" in through the front entrance to the main level was best.  Still, she worried the embassy security would tell them to wait there while they took custody of the prisoners and led them off.  Planning to arm them too, if that happened, she'd have to start shooting and pass out weapons there and then.  Expecting the driver Yur provided to high-tail it after dropping them off, Jocelynn then said she and Zimzod could force their way upstairs to rescue Mikah and Emkir before driving her force down into the garage to steal one of their vehicles and escape.  Hearing that, Neff said his orders from Yur included moving them both to and from the embassy, so she wouldn't have to steal a vehicle from them.

When Jocelynn asked if the driver would be safe waiting outside the embassy, Neff told her the driver would also have the job of creating some kind of distraction after they went into the embassy.  That was to get and keep the embassy guards attention, and keep them from coming in behind the group.  Knowing about the many distraction events happening across the city, Jocelynn realized Yur's people knew what they were doing and was pleased with the idea.  Jocelynn smiled at him and said, "You guys are the best!"

Still looking for options, Jocelynn asked Neff if there was any chance they could hack into the embassy's security camera system, to either disrupt the system or to re-direct the video to her and Zimzod's HUDs?  Neff admitted he and Yur's officers would love that but there was no way to hack into the embassy's computer system.  Those who worked for Yur and had investigated found the Imperials had a double-DMZ system which was heavily and actively defended.  That answer only reminded her their hacker, Emkir, was being held prisoner in the embassy.  So, he wasn't an asset.

Wondering, Jocelynn asked about the night-staffing of the embassy and was told they had enough troops on-site to provide constant security day and night.  So, making their attack overnight wouldn't help them.  Jocelynn then asked if they would need papers to get in and out, Neff admitted they might need papers to get in but was willing to bet that, no matter how things went, they'd likely have to shoot their way out of the embassy.  Jocelynn only nodded at that.  She then suggested they could hit the armory in the embassy to arm the others, because it would mean they carried less into the place.  Neff pointed out they could also be trapped there if the whole team went to the second floor and embassy guards came up behind them.

Nodding, Jocelynn thanked Neff but hoped that would be a plus instead of a pitfall, then moved off to consider her plan now she knew what pieces he was offering her.  Neff also started setting up what he had to so he could deliver what he promised.  Jocelynn did get a laugh when they had her stand to, so they could paint on some insignia and take pictures of her for their work.  The laugh came when they said they were creating papers making her a Captain and Zimzod a Lieutenant in the Captain's Guard.  They also asked questions how Jocelynn wanted the others to be dressed and disguised?

Jocelynn first said she needed to know who was injured before she could decide that?  She was told Fesic had been shot as well as someone named "Finerd".  Jocelynn also knew Zimzod was a mess, but he would be in battledress, so he wasn't gonna need more than the decals and markings of a Captain's Guard.  Jocelynn said she wanted Fesic and Finerd to look like prisoners and asked how they could disguise Aiden and Sekea?  Neff said they could put them in police uniforms to make it seem the city police had captured the prisoners.  Jocelynn thought that would be perfect.  Soon enough, people in the building's vehicle bay moved out of the way before the door opened and a police transport truck arrived.

Zimzod and the others in the back of the truck were warned they were about to arrive where they were going.  They got their gear ready while the driver slowed the vehicle and paused but told them not to open any doors just yet.  Soon, they moved again for a very short bit before finally coming to a stop.  The driver then told them it was OK to open the doors while people in the bay around them came to help them out of the truck and clean it out.  Jocelynn was also there in her battledress, and with her helmet off.  Still, it took a minute for some to realize her armor had been "redecorated".

After getting out of the truck, Sekea moved over to Jocelynn and started telling her what they'd learned about the embassy and the "eye containing the data" without bothering to tell her about what happened at the corrections facility?  Or bothering to explain how Fesic got shot?  Or who the other guy was?  He also told her about the restaurant at the port, and having to go there after the escape at the embassy, to get the data they had to get to the Arch Duke.

In a scene out of 'dumb and dumber', Sekea started telling Jocelynn how the data on the crystal proved the ambassador was working with the local government, even though it had nothing to do with the rescue mission.  So, not at all important at the moment or in the situation.  Then, 'dumber' stepped in when Aiden started to argue that they only knew "someone" was a turncoat, not who.  That was because he had not been listening to Sekea's conversation with Finerd.  And despite the fact the data was entirely meaningless in the moment, and had nothing to do with the rescue, they started an argument while the others simply looked at them and shook their heads.

Jocelynn only turned away from the waste of time and started talking to Zimzod.  He approve of her weaponry, seeing her gauss rifle hanging from her shoulder and her gauss and snub pistols holstered.  She told him she had his battledress and some of his weapons, and he'd have to dress up and let the locals make him look like a member of the Captain's Guard like they'd done with her armor.  She did point out that her rank insignia made her a Captain and his will make him a Lieutenant.  She couldn't hide the smirk when she said that.  Still, Zimzod was happy when she told him she'd grabbed his gauss rifle, the .45 pistols he'd named 'Pain' and 'Misery' and his k-bar.

After she handed off his gear and Zimzod started getting into his armor, Sekea stepped up to Jocelynn and said, "I expect you will fill me in on your plan?"  She stopped and gave him a brief glare which meant 'wait your turn' and told him, "Hold on and I will tell everyone when I am ready."  Jocelynn also got Zimzod into "makeup" with the Ardenii changing the colors and insignia on his battledress before she asked everyone to sit down so she could fill them all in.  During that pause, she also looked over Fesic and Finerd to see how well they might or might not be able to handle the roles she wanted them to play?  She was told they could walk and carry weapons, but worried how well they might tolerate any beatings or other potential violence prisoners could receive.

When she asked them each for their opinions about their abilities, Sekea stepped in uninvited and started filling her in on his medical opinion of their conditions.  Which was not what she wanted or asked for.  She assured Sekea not to worry about it while saying she wanted their feelings but Sekea ignored that and again asked about her plan.  Jocelynn then pointedly looked him in the eyes and said, "I was about to tell you all when you interrupted me.  She waited to see if he noticed the word "all" had been stressed, but he didn't notice before thanking her and sitting down and watching her expectantly as if she should start immediately because he was ready.

After Jocelynn got everyone sitting and listening to her, Jocelynn also called Aali so she would know what was happening.  When Aali joined in, Jocelynn said they had to be ready to "get the hell off this planet" when they were done, so she wanted Aali to stay where she was and be ready for them to come running for the ship.  Then, she told the others she had a plan to rescue Emkir and Mikah and run for the port.  Zimzod reminded her they also had to find the restaurant and get the eye too, and Jocelynn added that in.

Continuing, Jocelynn smiled and said, "Fesic and Finerd, I need you to be bandaged people.  Just like you are.  You are going to be our prisoners.  Zimzod and I, with Sekea and Aiden, are going to be disguised as Ardenii Captain's Guard and police officers, and we're going to make it look like we captured you and we're bringing you back to the embassy."  Turning, Jocelynn said, "Sekea and Aiden, armor yourselves as well as you think you can and arm yourself with whatever weapons you shoot best with because we'll be shooting our way out of there."  Zimzod laughed and said, "The gear they're gonna have is what the locals give them, because we can't get back to the ship."

Hearing that plan, Sekea asked if he could suggest an add on.  When Jocelynn let him, Sekea said, "Since we'll have to get out of dodge very quickly, and we also need to retrieve the eye from the restaurant so, would it make sense to have part of the team go back to the ship while retrieving the eye, and then get ready to get the ship moving as quickly as possible?"  Sekea continued, "And since I am the navigator, it would make sense for me to be part of that party."  Jocelynn snapped, "You mean, not go to the embassy?" and Sekea nodded and said, "After we escape from the embassy, we'll be in the middle of a hornet's nest and it will be difficult to get the eye from the restaurant, so it might be hard to get to the restaurant."

After a pause, Sekea added, "And while I'm not adverse to going into combat, if I get shot up, being the ship's navigator, it could make it hard for us to escape the system."  Jocelynn eyed him and said, "I'm going to need all the fire power I can muster to get out of there."  She then paused and Aiden said, "That does beg the question if we should retrieve the data first?"  Sekea agreed with that, but Zimzod reminded them time was running low.  He said people were out there creating disturbances and getting arrested and that couldn't last forever, and soon more police will be free to cover the city better.  And it was hard enough to just get to the port where they were now talking about going to the port, then back to the embassy before going to the port again.  His tone suggested that was asking to be caught.

Nodding, Fesic agreed with Zimzod and also said, "it would be harder because they are looking for us at the port.  So, just going there once would be dangerous."  That reminded Jocelynn of the challenges ahead of them and realized they'd likely have to fight their way onto the port!"  Jocelynn thought about the underground passage she'd used to get to the ship but realized Fesic and Finerd wouldn't be able to do that with their wounds.  And she'd have to add to that anyone who got shot attacking the embassy.  So, that answer was out.

With challenges seeming to mount, Sekea asked if calling on officers of the Imperial naval element in orbit for help was possible?  Zimzod shook his head and said that wouldn't work.  He reminded them all that they were considered criminals and on the run.  Any naval officer they reached would trust his chain of command and the authorities he knew.  So, the risk was that they'd only call down to the embassy and turn the group in.  Sekea suggested they could say they were under the Arch Duke's orders but Zimzod reminded him they were just random criminals claiming to work for the Arch Duke without evidence.  So, that wouldn't save them.

Despite the need to have every gun possible in the embassy, Jocelynn realized her plan also had to get them onto the port, into the ship, into orbit and out of the system.  And, the shooting was likely to start even sooner.  So, "if they got out of the embassy, they might be under fire all the rest of the way, which meant having to jump as quickly as possible after getting off planet.  And that meant Sekea was going to have to work extra hard to find any transient point close to them where the positions of the worlds in-system nullified gravity.  That way, they wouldn't have to spend twenty hours fleeing naval weapons while burning out of the world's jump shadow.  So, she made the decision to send Sekea back to the port to get the eye and then get back to the ship on his own.

After that decision, Jocelynn had to decide how to send Sekea back, or if she had to send other people with him?  When she called Neff over to ask if they could disguise Sekea, he said he could send a man with the navigator to get him to the port.  Having been in the same position when Yur said they'd get her to the ship before, Jocelynn thanked Neff and told Sekea they would get him to the port.  After doing that, Jocelynn told Sekea, "Please don't get caught because if you do I'm gonna shoot you."  Sekea told her not to worry because he was sure he'd get very dead if he got caught.  Hearing that, they all laughed at the moment of dark humor.

Turning to Aiden as Sekea walked away with Neff, Jocelynn put her hand on his shoulder and said, "OK buddy.  We need you."  Gesturing to Zimzod, Fesic and Finerd, she said, "It's all us."  Aiden nodded and asked, "OK, what is the plan?" hoping she was ready to let them all know how they'd die?  before she was ready, Jocelynn wanted to call Aali to let her know Sekea would be coming back to the ship on her own.  After she did that, she turned to the others and said, "Zimzod and my battledress have been made to look like members of the Captain's Guard.  Aiden will be disguised as a police officer.  We will be bringing in Fesic and Finerd as prisoners we've captured."

Then, Jocelynn activated a view screen and showed them the layouts Neff had given her of the embassy.  Pointing at the main entrance, Jocelynn said, "We will go in here and have papers saying we are part of the Captain's guard.  Hopefully, that will let us get into the embassy without trouble.  Fesic and Finerd will go in as prisoners, and their bandaging will make that more believable.  If they ask, we'll say the others are dead."  Pointing out the stairs, Jocelynn said, "We have to get upstairs, because Mikah and Emkir are in two rooms pretty much right next to the stair case.  We get up the stairs, they will be right there.  We're not gonna take the elevator because they could just turn that off and we'd be caught in a box."

After letting that sink in, Jocelynn continued, "I don't know if we're gonna have to shoot the guards right off the bat or not?  or, if we can get upstairs and shut down the active security there."  Pointing to the room listed as the "Active Security Unit Housing", Jocelynn said she'd have to throw one of the satchel charges in there to kill everyone in there.  Next, Jocelynn said they'd have to find a way to break Mikah and Emkir out of their rooms but Zimzod just said they could kick in the doors or shoot the locks apart unless they were armored."

Hearing that, Aiden asked about opposition and Jocelynn pointed to the guard station saying there'd be two guards there.  Aiden asked how they were armed and Jocelynn said they would be standard battledressed troopers, which generally meant they had gauss weapons.  Aiden didn't like that and said it would be a problem.  Ignoring the obvious, Jocelynn also said there would be two more troopers on active patrol outside the embassy but within the trans-steel walls.  Jocelynn said there was also one other guard near the sublevel garage entry, but he wasn't their problem.  Pointing to the Active Security Unit Housing room, Jocelynn said any troopers not actively working would be in that room.  Giving a count, she said Neff told her there would be ten troopers on duty, so there might be five troopers there.

Jocelynn did say there might be one or more troopers in the corridor outside the secure comms and computer rooms on the opposite side of the floor.  Jocelynn did say she had three satchel charges from Neff, which would help her knock down the opposition.  Zimzod suggested they use one of the charges to throw down into the staircase rising up from the sublevel, to trap any troops coming up from the barracks in the sublevel.  When Jocelynn started talking about looting the armory, to arm and armor people up, Zimzod said that could be a problem.  Jocelynn asked how that was and Zimzod explained with a simple diagram.

Stairs diagram First, he drew the two stair cases, one over the other.  Next, he said Jocelynn would throw one of the charges down the lower set of stairs and she nodded.  He also said the charge was incendiary, and would burn hot enough to stop battledressed troopers, and Jocelynn agreed with that.  So, he marked flames and marked a point as "1" on the lower stair case.  He then marked a point on the upper stair case, above where the flames would be.  Zimzod then said that the flames would be hot enough to start burning up and through the upper stairs where he'd marked the point #2.  So, he said, they had to move quickly before the very hot flames from below stopped them using the stairs to get back down to the main floor.

Jocelynn realized they had to move fast.  Getting all five of them up the stairs, with two wounded, would take some time.  Then, they had to deal with the troopers on that level, where Jocelynn planned to throw a second charge into the room with the troopers.  After then getting Emkir and Mikah free, they could flee downstairs or go to loot the armory...if that space didn't have a guard to fight.  And the more time they spent after the first charge was thrown, the more chance there was the fire would burn up and through the stairs.  Realizing that, Jocelynn began to figure the armory was bait, and a very bad idea.  When Aiden asked questions, Jocelynn told him she hoped their appearance and paperwork would get them past the front guards, but if not, they'd have to do some killing.

Listening in, Sekea stepped over and offered Jocelynn the remaining injector he had prepared, because it had a quick-acting poison.  So, if she could get in the right position, she could try to inject someone and kill them quietly.  Seeing that, Jocelynn thanked Sekea and stowed it in a hip compartment on her armor.  Aiden asked if they should try to use non-lethals and they talked about ways of getting those until Neff told Jocelynn he could get them tranq rounds.  If they weren't gonna kill people, Sekea recommended they use his injector on the traitorous ambassador.  Aiden also reminded them of the two patrolling troopers in addition to the guards in the shack.  Aiden said they should wait until that patrol was furthest from the entrance.  Jocelynn agreed, and they then talked about how to watch for that without being spotted sitting outside the embassy?

Eyeballing The Hazards
     They talked while Sekea asked about getting ready to go to the port to get the eye.  Neff took Sekea to a man who had a smirk on his face and said, "So, you want to get to the starport."  Sekea started to explain what he had to do in detail but the man held up a hand.  He told Sekea everyone in the building was there, at the moment, to support his crew.  He said he'd have to have been completely out of it not to know this was all about how they could better help the crew.  Nodding, Sekea asked how the man planned to help him?  The man said he planned to get Sekea to the port and the ship, and Sekea interrupted saying he had to get an item from a restaurant.  The man nodded and said that was part of what he said.  He then brought Sekea to an SUV and told him to put a coat and hat on.

That seemed to be all the driver wanted before he had Sekea get into the passenger front seat of the SUV.  Then, they drove out into the city.  While he rode, Sekea watched out the windows whenever they came across one of the check points where police stopped them and checked documentation.  Along with police stops, Sekea also saw signs of criminals, distractions or police trying to stop them.  When they reached the area of the port, the driver passed each of those and it looked like he was ignoring the port all together.  He finally got to what looked like a service area and pulled up into the drive of a structure.

Hitting a control on his vehicle dashboard, Sekea watched when a vehicle bay door rolled up and the driver moved them into the building.  There, he said "come with me" while he got out of the SUV.  Looking around, Sekea saw he was in what looked like a vehicle service bay.  Unaware Jocelynn had been through the same thing, Sekea followed the driver to a room off the service bay where he saw a hatch on the ground in that room.  The driver opened the hatch to reveal a ladder descending below the opening.

The climb down took quite some time, and the driver passed a number of hatches off to the side of the ladder before opening one.  Leading Sekea through that passage, they came to another hatch which opened into a shaft with another ladder which the driver said they had to climb.  At the end of that climb was another hatch which opened into what seemed to be a disused workroom.  It had the feel of something that had been important once but had been left behind.  While Sekea finished climbing out of the shaft, the man had picked up some kind of garment and put it on.  When Sekea looked, he noticed the coveralls had Some sort of insignia on it.

Cracking and checking the door before opening it, the driver then led Sekea out of the room and the spacer realized they were in the port terminal!  Turning to Sekea, the man asked, "Do you know where this restaurant is or do you need me to guide you?"  Sekea said he had the address but had never been there and the man took the information and said Sekea should follow him.  Walking through the terminal, the police stepped up to Sekea often.  Each time, the driver stepped in the way, pointed to something on the duty badge on his coveralls and said he was "escorting this traveler where he had to be".  Accepting that, each officer nodded and let them move on.

Soon enough, they came to a vat-foots restaurant which Sekea knew meant they served what they claimed were the best flavors of vat-extruded goo.  Stepping up to the counter, Sekea asked for Ketswme, which had been the name Aasimar gave them.  A man came forward and he turned out to be the shift manager.  When he asked how he could help, Sekea said a member of his crew had given him something special to hold and also repeated the "code phrase" he'd been given.  Nodding, the man said, "No problem.  Let me get that order." and moved off.

After the man came back with a small food box, Sekea took the box and thanked him before turning back to the driver.  Before completely leaving the area, Sekea cracked the box to look in and see the eye couched in a protective bed of napkins.  Sekea then asked the man if they could get to his ship and the driver told him to just follow him as they walked towards an exit to the harbor.  Unlike Jocelynn, this man didn't have a printer to make travel tokens.  Still, Sekea never once asked how the man could get them past all the police check points and simply followed him.  Sekea did take notice of how much less the police encounters were in the harbor, and guessed that was because the security troops were likely watching the port's borders expecting anything to come from outside the port.

While the Arden port harbor was much smaller than ports in Rhylanor and other major Imperial worlds, it was still large and busy.  So, it took some time walking before they stopped in the cover of a building.  Pointing at a parkbay berth, the driver told Sekea, "That berth is your ship's berth.  Still, it is surrounded by security forces and you can't just walk up without a distraction.  So, I want you to wait here until I give you the signal.  Then, I want you to charge into the berth.  I assume you have a code to get into the locked airlock?"  When Sekea said he did, the man said "Wait for my signal" and moved off.

Sekea waited for something like ten minutes before there was a sudden explosion on the far side of the berth from where he was.  Thinking the signal would be an actual message of some sort, Sekea thought the explosion was an incredible coincidence, but waited to hear from the driver.  After some time waiting, Sekea finally decided to make a run for the berth entrance.  While the distraction created by the blast had started to fade, the security ring around the Upgrade's berth were not one hundred percent back on their task.  So, when Sekea started to run, someone yelled "FREEZE!" and fire that broke out which wasn't as accurate as it should have been.

Sekea was lucky to make the cover of the berth entry cowling, which provided some cover from most directions.  Still, rounds fired by port security struck the tarmac close to him as he ran.  When he reached the berth entry, he entered the crew passcode into a panel and opened the outer lock from the berth letting him in to reach the ship.  Bolting to the ship's lock, Sekea again entered his code and rushed into the airlock as soon as it opened wide enough to let his body in.  Immediately, he slapped the control to close the outer lock door.

Sitting in the ship's bridge, and expecting Sekea to return "some time", Aali saw a light spark up when the ship's airlock was activated.  Checking the security camera just inside of the lock, Aali saw Sekea when the inner lock door opened, and hit the all ship to say, "Welcome navigator!"  Ignoring that, Sekea rushed to the ship's bridge.  There, he first went through the steps to heat the ship's flight systems up before he started working to gather the data needed for his nav-plot.  Knowing they had a nearly twenty-hour jump shadow to get out from under, Sekea hoped he could find a point where gravity was nullified and they could make a quick jump out-system.  He also hit the comms to call Jocelynn and let her know he made it with the eye.

Layers Of Surprise
     After the driver took Sekea off to the port, and with Zimzod and Jocelynn's battledress made up as Captain's Council guards and Aiden as a police officer, they were led to and loaded into a panel van.  While they'd played dress up, Aiden noticed he had been dressed as a Captain of the city police force.  The good news was that a person of that rank rated a machine pistol.  They gave him the new weapon, which was a good step up in quality above what he'd had.  They also gave him three spare twenty-round magazines.

After everyone was boarded and the truck closed up, the ride to the embassy was a fairly short one.  Arriving close to the embassy, they then led the group to a screened area where they could watch the embassy entrance and front grounds.  It seemed this and many other "hides" had been built by the local government so they could watch activity at the embassy at need.  That let them watch the patrols leave the front of the building and count off the seconds before they returned.  That told them how much time they had to get to the gate and get their business done before the patrol came back into range.

With that measured, Jocelynn also knew they wouldn't just be allowed to walk into the embassy.  There would be some time taking care of procedures at the gate before they went in, and the patrol would keep moving while that happened.  So, she didn't want to wait until they were dead at the back of the embassy.  Figuring out her delay, Jocelynn waited until the right moment and got the group moving.  Moving up in a vehicle, Jocelynn, Zimzod and Aiden helped Fesic and Finerd out of the vehicle because they were in shackles and bandaged.  Despite their armor and appearance, only one of the battledressed troopers paid them attention, asking how he could help them?

Jocelynn identified herself and both she and Zimzod provided the faked electronic papers they'd gotten from Yur's people.  While handing those over, she said, "We have apprehended and brought two of the persons of interest you were looking for."  Hearing that, the other Imperial trooper turned to observe what was happening because it rated a higher level of alertness.  The procedures were taken care of before the first trooper said, "Hold on.  We'll get someone to escort you."  Jocelynn wasn't very happy with that because it suggested more troopers would be called, to add to those at the check point and the patrol.

When the person called did arrive, it was the same junior undersecretary to the Ambassador who had arrived at the ship's berth after they'd landed to take charge of the survivors from the IMS King George.  Of course, she couldn't even see Zimzod or Jocelynn because they were both in battledress.  And Aiden had never dealt with her, so his face meant nothing to her.  Turning to the woman, Jocelynn gave her report as if she were a trooper delivering prisoner and the undersecretary answered, "Thank you very very much." in a very happy tone and with a full smile.  She then said, "Come with me" and turned to lead them into the embassy main entrance.

Turning to follow the woman, Jocelynn did her best to give both Zimzod and Aiden a discreet nod and said, "Follow her lead."  After they followed her into the lobby of the embassy, the undersecretary told them, "Wait here and I'll get the officer of the guard to take custody of these prisoners."  Leaving them there, she went deeper into the embassy.  Not long after they were left alone in the lobby, alerts on Jocelynn and Zimzod's HUD's warned of a large number of threats when every exit from the lobby was filled with battledressed troopers holding leveled and ready weapons.  At the same time, an officer screamed, "FREEZE!"  Jocelynn's heart sank.

Checking her HUD to figure out how many guards they'd have to fight, she saw it wasn't just all the guards expected to be "actively on duty".  It was all of them!  Every trooper from both platoons assigned to the embassy.  Which had to mean they had time to call in any troopers outside the embassy and get them all geared up.  Which had to mean they were waiting for Jocelynn's team to arrive, which meant they'd been betrayed!  And while she made that connection, some of the troopers crowded in openings filtered in to increase the envelopment surrounding her team.  So, she knew that if they started shooting they were all dead.

Shrugging, Jocelynn gave the order to drop their weapons and set hers down.  When they'd done that, the Ambassador stepped into the gap between them and the troops but not too close.  She said, "Thank you for making the intelligent choice."  She then looked at Zimzod and Jocelynn and said, "Please remove your helmets."  After Jocelynn and Zimzod did as asked, the five were led out of the lobby to a ballroom which was behind the service desk.  There, they were told to sit in chairs already set out for them, and they saw there were two spare seats waiting.  Of course, they were kept under threat the entire time, to insure they behaved and followed instructions.

They were moved and sat down while four battledressed troopers went upstairs.  Two each opened the doors to the rooms Mikah and Emkir were being held in.  One stepped into each room and ordered, "Move this way."  While Emkir got up and did as he was told, Mikah claimed she'd hurt her ankle.  Not missing a beat, the lead trooper in Mikah's room handed off his weapons to the second trooper and stepped in to pick Mikah up over the shoulder like a sack of grain.  The trooper then carried her as the rest moved down stairs.  While she rode, Mikah decided to start a bongo drum solo on the trooper's back armor.

When the troopers delivered Mikah and Emkir to the ballroom, the two saw Zimzod and Jocelynn in battledress and Aiden in a police officer's uniform.  Fesic had obviously been wounded and was bandaged, and there was another man Mikah didn't recognize.  Seeing them, Emkir happily waved his cuffed hands and said, "Hey guys!" in a cheery voice.  When they looked up, he continued, "You've come here to rescue us.  Right?"  Despite the situation, that got laughs from all of them.  Aiden then asked, "Aren't you a little under-armored for a stormtrooper?" and got some giggles.

They then got Mikah and Emkir seated before the ambassador stepped in again and said, "It is time for us to have a talk."  She then addressed Mikah and asked, "What is it you think your people were doing?"  Mikah answered, "We came here, following the Arch Duke's orders as we said, to find out what happened...  While she said that, Mikah was interrupted when the embassy shook violently to the sound of a truly massive explosion!  Certain it was some kind of rescue, Mikah let out a cheer and yelled "Alright!"

When there was no follow up attack or action, everyone froze and waited until some authority told them what had happened or what to do?  Mikah suddenly announced, "I didn't do it.  I'm sitting here right in front of you."  Jocelynn joked, "Sorry, it must be my dinner repeating on me."  Again, that got laughs despite the situation.  Immediately after she said that, the large viewscreen on the ballroom wall suddenly activated, though no one yet realized it had done so because of an automated signal from an Ardenii government center.  When it came to focus, they saw a man standing in the focus, wearing a Fancy well-decorated Ardenii uniform.  And Jocelynn recognized him!

Broadcasting to every video device in-system, the man then started speaking, saying, "Hello.  Some of you may recognize me, but for those who don't, I am Captain Yur Cooper.  Those of you who may not remember me I was one of the Captains in your Council of Captains.  That is, until I was forced out of the Council.  Many of you don't understand the machinations that happen behind the scenes with your government.  Sadly, Zhodani sympathizers recently managed to form a coalition with some of my former Co-Captains.  They then forced me out of the Council.  That was a bad choice."  Unable to help himself, Zimzod called out, "He musta been using brand X!" and the others from the crew laughed.

On the screen, Yur then continued, "Captain Atwhoulwar of the MS Focibiez Ta made common cause with the Zhodani and invited them in to our table.  It was he that formed the group to force me out, and bring back the former government of the Federation of Arden."  Some of those hearing that knew that the Ardenii government had been pro-Zhodani until the first days of the year 1110.  On 004-1110, a bloodless coup forced out the old government and installed a more Pro-Imperial government.  So, this maneuver appeared to try and regain influence over the system.  Not that it would matter, but Yur had lost points for style because his actions had not quite been bloodless.

Since my ouster, my people have been working to help me prepare.  That work had been slow and careful until I was recently able to take advantage of an opportunity.  That was to smuggle weapons to my agents in the high port.  With help, I got a box of weapons attached to the hull of a ship lifting to orbit, which let them take control of the entire platform."  When he said this, Jocelynn realized what had been in the box she'd attached to the hull of the MS Tagund Edanse!  She'd delivered the weapons needed to launch a coup dé́tat!

While Jocelynn cheered, "That was me!" and the Ambassador frowned even deeper, Yur continued, "To demonstrate that, the explosion the capital city just experienced was the result of a kinetic energy weapon fired from the high port.  The strike minimized collateral damage but targeted the residence of the late Captain Atwhoulwar."  While he spoke, Mikah enthusiastically said, "I like this guy.  Jocelynn, you know him?"  Jocelynn nodded and said, "I do."  Meanwhile, Yur had continued, "I am now reinstating my position on the Captain's Council.  And, to replace the late Captain Atwhoulwar, I would like to introduce you to Captain Truko Ienerso, who had used the code name 'Alef' while working in my organization."

That new revelation again surprised Jocelynn, and she cheered, "I finally did something right."  Aiden joked, "You owe both of them a date." while ignoring the fact they were still in custody and at gun point.  On the screen, Yur continued, "At this time, I have reached out to the Council and especially the Captains sympathetic to my cause, and I would now like to ask the citizens of Arden to bear with a brief period of martial law, during which time we will move against any further illegal Zhodani activities along with those in the government known to be working with them."  Hearing that, Mikah wondered how the citizens would know the difference between normal life and martial law?

Yur then said, "To the Imperial Ambassador on-world, I understand you have taken into custody some people who have become my associates.  You are to release them from your custody, and we now consider them honored guests of the Government of Arden.  So, we expect you to treat them as such.  At the same time, we would also like to state that we understand exactly what happened, and how you were duped by Zhodani sympathizers who led you to believe that I was working with the Zhodani element.  So your crimes will also be forgiven under a general amnesty so long as you free those guests of the Arden government you are holding in custody."

Hearing that, the crew were pleased this guy seemed to remember his friends and allies.  Yur continued, "If we do not hear from you in twenty minutes, we will have to assume you intend to interfere with the lawful orders of our government in contravention of interstellar diplomacy, and are ceding your diplomatic status.  We will then have to activate those forces we have positioned outside the embassy grounds to take those actions that are necessary.  Beyond that, Yur continued to tell the Ardenii people life would continue as they expected, and there would only be minimal changes to the government to remove Zhodani manipulations and erosions.

Few in the embassy were listening to the broadcast any longer while the troopers looked to the ambassador for guidance.  Emkir smiled up at Ambassador Baroness Dame Zugoukh and said, "I, for one, welcome our new overlords."  Still, the die had been cast and the ambassador now had to make hard decisions herself.  Adding annoyances, Mikah addressed her, "So, furry face, next time, and I am sure there will not be a next time, you're an ambassador somewhere and a group of people come to you saying they're from the Arch Duke and want to do something?  You should let them do it."

Ignoring the crew, the ambassador turned to what was likely the ranking trooper and said, "Return them to their ship." in an angry flat voice.  Then, she turned on her heel and left the ballroom for some space they couldn't see.  Despite that, Mikah called out to her retreating back, "The Arch Duke's gonna hear about this!"  After they were freed, Mikah stepped over to Jocelynn and hugged her and said, "Good job!" in a tone of absolute approval.  Jocelynn said, "I didn't actually do anything." but Mikah announced, "I will now teach you more than basic first aid." as if bestowing a huge reward.  Members of the crew there who remembered her antics laughed except for the groaning from Fesic.

Jocelynn did say she was making good contacts across space, and Zimzod told her, "Yeah, but now your Yur's bitch!" with a laugh.  Jocelynn admitted that but said he was probably very happy because he just pulled off a coup.  Zimzod nodded and said, "Yup.  He used you like the tool you were."  Still, he was smiling so she knew it wasn't an insult.  Standing and talking after they were allowed to, the crew soon realized the broadcast they'd seen had been pushed to "every screen on-world"!  So, this was a very public event.  When they asked, they were told the authorities wouldn't have been able to push this to the systems on their ship so those on the Upgrade were likely still feverishly working to make sure they could flee the system.

While an officer of the guard signaled that the crew of the Upgrade were being released, they returned to the crew any personally owned weapons, but required those be holstered.  They then moved the crew to the garage in the sublevel and boarded them onto one of their larger vehicles.  From there, the crew were returned to the starport and looked out the vehicle windows at a city which was suddenly much quieter and settled down.  Few signs could be seen of any disruption and those they saw were being cleaned up by combined teams of police and civilians working in harmony.  On the way, Jocelynn called Aali and told her they were returning but it was no longer an emergency.  She also told Aali to turn on the local news and said, "We're famous again", which didn't sound like a good thing to Aali, and she only said, "Isn't that special."

Connecting with his comms, Emkir told Aali, "Honey.  We did it again." with a smile on his face.  Aali asked, "Did anyone get shot?" and Emkir said, "Yes.  Fesic, but that's old news."  While Jocelynn and Emkir talked with those on the ship, Mikah began what she could of her work to investigate Fesic and Finerd's wounds.  Getting to the ship, she wanted them both in the med-bay so she could properly check them out.  The one who was in the worst shape would be stuck in the autodoc first while she treated the other.  And when the first pop tart was done, she'd swap the other into the autodoc.  After she had them in the medbay, she decided to put Finerd in first.  While they boarded the ship, Jocelynn gave Sekea back the injector he'd given her and thanked him.  She told him to keep it in case it was needed in the future.

Getting back to the ship, Jocelynn tried to call Yur, Alef or Neff and got one of those who worked communications for them.  Despite the fact it was likely just an operator, Jocelynn smiled and said, "You sly dogs!  I would just like to thank Yur for his assistance, resources and everything you did for us.  And I wish you good luck on what you're doing here.  The operator smiled and said Yur thought she might call and just wanted to you be reminded, we know who you are, we know where you'll be and we know how to find you when we need help."  Reading further on the note, Jocelynn was also told she should thank Sir Makxel and tell him we'll have further instructions for him when we need him.  When she asked if there was anything they wanted brought back to the Imperium, she was told "not at this time."

Waking From The Nightmares
     After the medical work and other items, Mikah shut the ship down for the morning and told everyone to get sleep.  It was mid-day or just after by the time everyone had woken and had something to eat.  Now that they were "honored guests" of the Arden government, Mikah had no issues asking the locals to send them medicines to top off the autodoc.  Sekea also piggybacked on that, asking for replacements for his med-kit.  The port officials had also told Mikah that they would work with her navigator when the ship was ready to leave the system, if that was desired.  Since Mikah wanted Sekea to plot a null-grav point to jump from, Mikah and Sekea were both happy with that offer.

Further into the afternoon, Jocelynn got a call from the Ardenii saying they would like to have her carry a message to the Arch Duke.  That was because she had said she was personally on Arden on a mission for the Arch Duke, so she would be expected to work as a messenger.  When Aiden asked about possible cargo or passengers, Zimzod said that Finerd would be their passenger, since they had to return him to the Imperium.  That meant they couldn't advertise for passengers because they'd have no spare staterooms.  Sekea asked if they shouldn't call the Ardenii and asked for Aasimar's body, to return to also the Imperium.  Confirming their fuel and status, Mikah was reminded they'd been refueled two days before on 007-1114.

Considering cargo, Mikah wondered aloud how long it would take to advertise for shipping or shop for a speculative lot?  She was reminded it took as long as it took.  The process ran from questioning the port to see if there were any cargos listed to waiting for shippers to call them.  And, speculative cargoes had to be searched for and then validated before the haggling began.  When that was mentioned, Mikah remembered the illegal cargo Zach had almost bought from gangsters, which they could have been arrested for carrying.  Not to mention the tattooed man's android and how that ended up at D'Ganzio.  Since Mikah didn't want to spend much more time in-system, she said they could run a short-run ad.

She told them to post, "Looking for a cargo to haul.  We have 39 tons of space in our cargo bay, leaving port on Sunday, 010-1114 bound for the Denotam system."  They then started talking about Denotam, which was a Terra-sized frozen-over water world.  Much of the population centered around the downport and dirtside military bases, or worked in the highport or bases in orbit.  Still, there was also a tribal on-world population separated into seven populations identified as clans.  So, what they could likely sell were novelties and curio cargoes filling in consumer and manufactured goods that were powered by solar power and could survive extreme environments.  Where food would be good for the on-world populations, those populations tied to the port would likely have contracted shippers.  And, since Arden was an overpopulated world, food would not likely be an export at all.  So, that would be for trade with the clans.

Sadly, when they checked in with the port, they were told there were no shipments looking to hire transport to Denotam.  That meant they had to look for something available to buy, which they thought they could sell for a profit?  The lots advertised as on sale were polymers, liquors and machine parts.  And where the population of Denotam couldn't produce polymers or machine parts, they knew populations in cold environments really enjoyed their alcohol.  Added to that, the booze would be novelty alcohol from Arden, outside the Imperium.  When the chatter started, Mikah listened for a bit before saying they couldn't go wrong with liquor, so she said they should go for the thirty tons of that.  Especially since they had thirty nine tons of cargo space.

When Mikah said they should go for the liquor, Emkir happily announced, "I can endorse that plan!"  Calling the sellers, they were quoted a price of Cr 8,000 per ton, which came to KCr 240 for the full load.  After Mikah made the payment, the sellers promised to deliver overnight so they'd be ready for a morning lift.  With that planned, Mikah reminded all she wanted to lift sometime the next morning, but as soon as they could.  Since no one else had anything they were interested in doing on-world, that was good with the rest of the crew and they would square away their spaces while preparing the ship.

After Jocelynn was off the comms, Sekea suggested they connect the crystal from the eye to the computer and check the data there.  He also suggested they might have to decrypt it.  Hearing that, Zimzod reminded Sekea that Aasimar had said there was no key to the data while they were trying to get her out of the cell.  So, it wasn't encrypted.  Only the tables in the database were.  When Sekea pushed the idea they should investigate the data, he was asked why?  When he pushed the idea that they should search the data for anything important, he was reminded the data had been collected by someone working for the Arch Duke.  So, several of the crew suggested it might be inappropriate.  Aali even suggested the Arch Duke might not approve, but Emkir said there'd be no way for him to know they'd examined the data.

When Sekea still thought it would be a good thing to check the data, Mikah told him to copy it so they could do as they liked.  Sekea nodded at that and Mikah said he could read through the data during their time in jump.  While Sekea's eyes were all for the data, Emkir knew they were honored guests for the moment.  So, he called the port and asked a suddenly assigned liaison what kinds of alcohol they had on the world?  Soon, he'd ordered ACr 100 worth of alcohol he'd never tried to the best of his knowledge.  He got five bottles of local drink.

The first was a woody sweet drink with a deep and mellow flavor, and was called "Laapaan um".  The next was an oily, creamy drink with a cinnamon burn called "Shunuum".  Next was a bottle of what almost seemed to be a fruit punch with a label reading "Kiikurkia Cordials Summer blend".  The "Shaaark Hu" seemed like a base of something tart like apples with a blend of chocolate and a hint of nuts.  Finally, he got a bottle of "Saeslaan", which was slick drink, light on the tongue and flavored with a hint of biting fruit.  Checking over the lot when it arrived, Emkir happily guessed not much of it would survive the coming jump back to the Imperium.  Emkir was so pleased he ordered another set of the stuff.  That ended up costing him ACr 200.

With dinner still some time away, Sekea said he'd still not gotten a chance to buy clothing to replace what he'd lost and would like to get a few new outfits.  Mikah gave him permission to go shopping and they checked with their "new liaison" to see if they could carry weapons?  They were told the Knights aboard could wear honor weapons if they wanted.  That was being extended to the crew as a show of friendship.  Hearing that, Mikah decided she wanted to go shopping with Sekea.  The one limit they had on shopping was that they couldn't shop in areas near the Imperial embassy.

Sekea said he also wanted a snow-globe showing the crappy cityscape so he could remember not to come back to the system, along with the clothes.  While shopping, Sekea went looking for a gauss pistol, but the best they could sell him was priced at Cr 5,000!  Seeing that, Mikah told him not to bother, and to wait until they got back into the Imperium, perhaps at an InstellArms venue.  Aiden had also trailed along, to get a look at the local handguns.  Sadly, he'd already seen what kind of low value weapons the police had and there were no civilian weapons due to the laws.  If Aiden had actually thought about what he'd known he could have saved himself a trip.

While looking for kitsch, Sekea also looked for some piece of gemstone material native to the world.  A type of spinel which had surprisingly sharp and bright reflection points thanks to heat and pressure forcing a chemical makeup including a microscopic lattice of chromium atoms.  That led to a noticeable "sparkle" quality, and was rare outside of the Arden system, where they were more common.  Still, the stones were noticeably pretty and sparkly, and were an export from the Arden system to the wider markets.  The stone he bought cost him ACr 10, and while he talked about his interests Mikah mentioned she collected gemstones too.  In fact, Mikah even bought a similar stone.

While they both bought their stones, Mikah said she had a collection and casually mentioned the Tellona diamond.  Sekea had heard of Tellona diamonds, but also knew he had very little chance of seeing one in his lifetime from what he'd learned.  Hearing Mikah bring up the stone, Aali stepped up and showed Sekea her ring, saying the stone was a Tellona diamond.  After that, Mikah showed Sekea another very similar ring which also had a splinter from the same stone.  And the display of rings soon turned into a discussion of the actual diamond they had come from and the fact Mikah and Zimzod had a spare ring, since Terin had died.  Mikah made it clear Zimzod would get to decide who would get that.  Still, Tellona diamonds were incredibly rare and Sekea was now hearing Zimzod had actually been given one by nomads on Jae Tellona!  It took a while as he was listening to the others talk before Sekea could process that.

Not working to find what they considered "high class" shopping, Sekea bought a week's worth of generic clothing and also grabbed a small amount of local kitsch and souvenirs he could display ironically.  Not surprisingly, everything Sekea bought was overpriced, and he ended up spending ACr 150 for his "wardrobe".  Still, when it closed on dinner, government representatives met them at the ship and took them to venues that served what they considered to be "real food".  They all laughed when Mikah looked at the prices and said, "Jocelynn is paying, or should I say, 'Yur is paying.'"  They all got a good laugh at that, and Jocelynn couldn't refuse because she still had the ACr 20,000 she'd been given.  The meal eventually cost ACr 150 a plate!

While they relaxed and ate, they were surprised when Captain Truko stepped up to the table himself.  Jocelynn got up saying, "Alef!" while stepping to give him a hug.  Truko thanked them all for what they had done for Yur and the people of Arden.  When Jocelynn stepped back, he gave her a crystal, showing he wasn't above courier work even with his rise to power, and said, "This is the message from Yur to the Arch Duke."  She took the crystal and promised it would be delivered.  After he said he looked forward to working with them again in the future, Jocelynn gave him another hug and Mikah rose and shook hands with the man.

Smiling when he shook hands with Mikah, he told her, "You have a very interesting crew."  He then also gave her a crystal.  When Jocelynn invited him to join them for drinks, Truko said he would have liked to but had too much to do.  In the space of less than a handful of days, he'd gone from one of his Captain's Lieutenants and a manager running his secret on-world to a ship's Captain in his own right and, as a member of the Captain's Council, one of the global leaders of the Ardenii government!  He smiled ruefully and said he had a lot of on-the-job training to do.  Jocelynn nodded and wished him luck.  Truko only smiled back at her and said, "We don't need luck, we just need low friends in high places."

While he was leaving, Mikah and Jocelynn both called after him, "that's us!" and he called back, "Indeed you are!"  Then, he was gone.  After that, the crew decided to really get a feel for the world and see what they had in performance art?  They eventually went out to a play for which Jocelynn paid with Yur's cash.  That was ACr 50 a head and they largely liked the show, which had a theme of the smaller artworks of a disparate community leading their larger shared region to a wonderous shared experience in virtual reality which promised change and happiness in the future.  After the play was over, they got back to the ship and prepared to lift the next day before racking out.

Before hitting her bed, Mikah looked at the crystal she'd been given by Truko.  She saw a 'read me' file and a more dedicated data file.  The read me file read:

          We understand that you have interesting "connections" with some polities inside the Imperial Borders within
                            the Spinward Marches.
          These files may interest you.  Call me once you review them.

When she opened the dedicated data file, Mikah saw a list of items described as "orphaned accounts".  Those were broken down by government name, on Arden and maintained outside the Imperium.  Three of those accounts belonged to the Stepozhevaci government, and seeing that brought a large smile to her face.  Two more were Natokan.  After a bit more than the time it took to go over all the labels for the accounts, a pop-up note appeared saying "Call this comms code" and providing her the link data.  Seeing that, Mikah called the code and found herself connected to Captain Yur Cooper.

Seeing the call came from Mikah, Yur said, "Hello Captain.  I wondered if I would get this call or not?"  The inference was that Mikah might have checked the crystal after leaving the world.  Mikah smiled and said, "Yes Sir.  Thank you very much!"  Leaning back in his chair, Yur asked, "you've had direct personal experience with these two governments, what can you tell me about them?"  That wasn't exactly true, since Mikah had not really had experience with the Natokan government.  Still, she went with it.  First, she simply said, "They suck!  They need to be destroyed!" with a lot of emotion.

Yur asked if she could elaborate and Mikah paused to parse what she could and couldn't say before telling him of her crew's experience with the two governments.  Where she could, she played General Mattin's actions and role large against the Natokan government.  The fact Natoko was under intense Imperial military assault also spoke to her feelings.  Nodding, Yur said, "I understand you know the Federation of Arden is a young and growing government.  And my fellow Captains wouldn't be pleased to see me give away so much of an available resource, but they also understand that operating a ship independently is also often an expensive enterprise.  And we can certainly share with our Allies."  Hearing that, Mikah wondered where Yur was going?

She didn't have long to wait when Yur continued, "I'll tell you what.  I'll make you a deal.  If you stand by in port until we have the chance to update our message to the Arch Duke, which I will have delivered by tomorrow afternoon, we can see our way clear to liquidating these particular accounts and donating three million credits to your ship's funds."  Mikah actually gasped when she heard that, and she almost purred, "That would be wonderful."  She added, "I would appreciate that very much."  Nodding, Yur said, "Consider it done.  I will have one of my people deliver it tomorrow."  Mikah thanked him and said that, since Jocelynn had effectively indentured them to his cause, they would be available to help him.  The call then ended with Yur nodding and saying, "Yes she has, and yes you will."

After the call, Mikah checked the ship's funds to see their account had been updated.  Thinking about the ship's needs, Mikah decided to share out one million credits to the crew and put the rest into ship's funds.  That would be KCr 125 each, making Emkir and Aali millionaires while Zimzod had just a bit less than a million in his accounts.  The remaining two million went into ship's funds which, after their earlier cargo buy, were now just under seven million.  Sadly, while that number looked large, it couldn't have paid for a number of the repairs they'd had to have done on either the Hotel California or the Upgrade.  So, they were still one major failure away from "shit outta luck".  Still, anyone who checked their accounts in the morning were gonna be very happy.

Cruising And Boozing
     The morning began with people waking up and getting through their exercise and cleansing routines before eating breakfast.  The spirits were high because they were leaving Arden, and even higher when people started discovering the payday while squaring away their accounts and interests.  Soon, the port connected with Sekea to provide him any help he needed to plot their jump.  The closest null-grav point would be two and a half hours out from the world's main orbital plane, so there was a bit of a ride.  Thanks to support from the port, the variables were easy to gather, so the math for the plot should be as smooth as it could be.

Their cargo was locked down and stowed and the last thing Mikah had to wait for was the message from Yur.  After that was delivered, they were clear to launch and prepared for departure.  So, early in the afternoon, they were rolled out from their parkbay berth and lifted from the port.  The launch phase lasted nearly forty minutes before they opened up their maneuver drive and burned across the world's orbital bands and out towards the null-grav point they planned to use for their jump.

Finerd was in the autodoc since the night before and wouldn't come out until they were well into jump.  After they were in transit, Mikah started making plans for what they should do during the coming jump.  Mikah suggested they separate the crystals they'd collected and go through the ones not addressed to the Arch Duke.  After some hesitation, Mikah said she personally would check out the crystals addressed to Norris.  Alone.  Mikah also totaled up the remaining value of the cash and goods found aboard the Cedna and that came to Cr 24,648 per crew member and Cr 221,846 for the ship's funds.  With that, more than one account topped over one million Imperial credits.  Even with the exchange rates from Ardenii, Zhodani and Sword Worlds currency.

When the money was settled, Jocelynn thought about the Cr 20,000 she'd been given by Yur's people.  She'd not been told what to do with it, and assumed it could have been meant to be a bribe if needed.  But, when it wasn't needed, they didn't ask for it back so she wasn't sure what the payment was meant for?  Still, given how many promises of support she'd made to Yur, she figured she might as well consider it a retainer fee.  Still, along with other shares from the ship's earning, it made being the most poor member of the crew less of an issue.

It was midway through the afternoon when they reached the null-grav point and began the jump to Denotam and back to the Imperium.  In the jump, Mikah planned to go over the crystals and intelligence and kick back and relax.  She'd been recovering from a gunshot when they'd arrived in-system and still wanted to spend time not under stress.  She did regret that the cargo bay was too full to have their regular zero-g trainings.  Other than working in engineering and on her stent training, Aali also asked permission from Mikah to read through the material on the crystals, after she'd reviewed them.  Mikah said she'd consider that.

Mikah then set aside the crystals from the team until Finerd came out of the autodoc.  When he finally did, she saw he would have to stay on light duty for the rest of the jump at the least.  She also had been treating Fesic for his wounds and put him into the machine for treatment.  They then sat down with him and cracked the two crystals, one of which had been found sewn into a sweater and the other from the eye.  Like Aasimar had said, there were no keys or encryptions to the crystal from the eye.  The database from the other crystal had encrypted tables, which Finerd gave them the keys to.

The unlocked database really had nothing special in it.  It held key data on specific individuals, and what factions they were connected to.  So, they learned who else was connected to the store keepers, and about other small factions on Arden.  They also saw that Finerd's team had suspected Captain Atwhoulwar was working with the Zhodani.  They also knew that a faction of the Ardenii government had been working for Yur, and that he was friendly to Imperial interests, so he was safe to support.  The data also suggested the Ambassador had been caught in official releases, and didn't know what Yur was doing.  So, he appeared to be a criminal, and a problem.  Finerd said that was why she was fighting against Yur.  And she believed those who helped him had been subverted.

Looking at the crystals meant for the Arch Duke, Mikah saw that Yur was reaching out to offer Norris connections on Arden.  Mikah knew Norris had been an officer in Imperial Naval Intelligence before his brother died and he had to step up and begin training to assume the Duchy.  She also knew that he had been part of a cadre of officers who had started developing intelligence warning the Zhodani were planning to attack.  Intelligence that Grand Admiral Santanocheev had brushed off.

So, when Norris' people started to get a sense things might be happening in the Federation of Arden, he ordered covert operations be started to keep an eye on things.  Especially now they'd started adding worlds to their Federation.  So, covert operations had been started in the system and they'd become part of the quiet investigation.  When he found evidence of Zhodani encroachment, he sent in Finerd's team, and it also explained why he'd sent them without any paperwork or credentials.  Nothing could be official, or traceable.

The data in the crystal hidden in the eye was the "proof case", intended to make a case for whatever response Norris wanted to use.  It covered the known Zhodani agents and who the team believed they were working with.  It covered who in the Arden government they believed had been suborned and how?  It also covered the data streams between the Zhodani and Ardenii and the Imperial embassy, after they realized the embassy was working against the team.  Yur's message assured Norris that Yur and his Captains would take actions in the short term, against the Zhodani agents, because his people had been working to identify them before Norris' team arrived.

To Mikah's disgust, Yur did say he felt he could work with Ambassador Zugoukh, though he included a list of people who should be recalled.  Not surprisingly, Mikah saw Nour was on that list.  Yur also offered Norris an alliance of intelligence organizations, trying to gain Imperial support by linking Imperial efforts to his.  Especially when facing an increasing Zhodani threat now they could not act in a broad military fashion.  Yur also thanked him for the covert teams and all the good they did, and regretted the loss of life involved and promised some kind of quid pro quo in the coming time.

Still, when Mikah brought Aali in, the engineer noticed this was more than a set of polite offerings.  Aali suggested this actually looked like the covert offerings of an official alliance.  And, not one between governments, but one between Yur and Norris personally!  the sort of deal which would enhance the "personal power" of each while also improving things between the Imperium and Arden.  And, the sort of thing which Yur might be able to use to gain power above his fellow Captains for some unknown future action.  During the jump, as he'd planned, Sekea spent an amount of time digging into the data from the crystal and saw a large amount of data on political connections and personalities in the Arden system.  But there was nothing related to his crew or even anything he could say would be useful unless they wanted to try to carry out sociologic or espionage operations on Arden.

Emkir planned to spend the jump working on translating the book from Brian's collection.  He also organized a card game for anyone interested, with a different game each night while in jump.  He also broke out a bottle of the Ardenii alcohol each night.  The first night he opened the bottle labeled "Kiikurkia Cordials Summer Blend".  The cordial had a pleasant fruit punch-like taste that wasn't quite to Zimzod's taste and which Mikah and Jocelynn didn't like.  Still, Emkir thought it was OK, and while Aiden and Sekea liked it, Aali liked it very much.  So, the second bottle of that was reserved for them to share alone.

The second night, Emkir broke out the "Shunuum", which had an almost oily, creamy viscosity with a rich taste and a cinnamon burn.  Emkir and Mikah thought that tasted "amazing" while Aiden, Aali and Sekea liked it.  Fesic thought it was OK, and it wasn't Zimzod's favorite.  Still, he could drink it if it was offered.  The third night in jump, Emkir shared out the Saeslaan, which was a slick drink, light on the tongue and flavored with a hint of biting fruit.  On opposite ends, Zimzod called for a second bottle because he liked it so much while Sekea was so disgusted he said Zimzod could have his share.  Aiden and Emkir liked it while Jocelynn thought it was good and Aali and Mikah thought it was very good.

On the fourth night, Emkir brought out a bottle labeled "Shaaark Hu", which had a tart base like apples, with a chocolate blend and hint of nuts.  While Jocelynn hated that, and Aali didn't consider it much better, Aiden and Zimzod liked it while Emkir and Sekea thought it was very good.  Mikah thought that bottle was one of the best they'd had.  On the fifth night in jump, Emkir shared out the Laapaan um, which had a woody sweet taste with a deep and mellow flavor.  This was also one of Aali's favorites while Aiden and Mikah really liked it.  Emkir thought it was good while Jocelynn thought it was OK.  Sekea wasn't enamored of the drink while Zimzod figured it was good to clean weapons with.

Over the jump, Zimzod continued his physical therapy and gear maintenance, and did some workouts in his battledress.  He also did his best to convince Mikah that spending time in bed with her also counted as physical therapy.  And since sex was a kind of aerobic exercise, she had to admit he was correct on that, regardless if she participated each night or not.  Fesic did physical therapy after he got out of the autodoc, and kept up his lock pick studies and work with the cargo sealer.  Everyone with a stent participated in daily practice as a group.

Sekea helped Mikah with any medical work where he was needed, and spent time trying to get to know Finerd after the man came out of the autodoc.  He also asked about static weapon training exercises and worked on those to improve his fire arms skills.  Dealing with Finerd was difficult because he was some parts bitter, some melancholy and even spent some time wanting to talk about his lost companions.  He felt they had been lost due to lies and treason and it would take some time bringing him back after spending months surviving on his wits and people he was never certain he could trust.  So, while he was open and could be friendly, he wasn't the easiest person to deal with.  Emkir found him helpful advising which bottles should be drunk and which should be thrown into jump space.

Aiden and Sekea continued talk, started in the jump to Arden, about Sekea helping Aiden improve his navigation skills.  Beyond that, Aiden read and did gear maintenance.  Jocelynn restarted her armory vids and tried or practiced things she picked up while trying to learn to service and manage weapons and armor.  She also got with Aali in her spare time to hang gun strips on the ceiling of her stateroom, to snap weapons into.  That freed up storage space in her other furniture and kept all her long arms within quick reach.  She spent the rest of her time scanning the ship's entertainment system for old news stories involving Denotam.  Jocelynn learned the Denotam Naval base was a key base for watching and receiving news from and about Arden and the Federation, but not much more.

Arrival In Denotam
Sensor Data      After the computer warning, the crew took their places and prepared to emerge from jump.  Everyone on the bridge started working to verify their location, and look for hazards.  The early good news was that they'd arrived where they wanted to, but, closing into the system, it quickly became obvious something was not expected.  Warnings from the beacons said there was a large Naval fleet element in-system, with their lesser escorts adding to the security of the system.  It also didn't take long for the sensor and warning data to tell them this additional element were the Tigress-class dreadnaught INS Adzin Ilgimsumaa and her flotilla!  That ship was Prince Lucan's flagship!  And, they knew Arch Duke Norris was traveling with the Prince.  They also knew the Prince and Arch Duke had not planned to travel in that direction.  They'd planned to continue on to Retinae, meaning they would stop at Denotam and Frenzie before meking the controversial stop in the Thanber system.  From there, they would jump to Retinae for the planned ceremonies.

Checking the system notifications, they saw there were actually "Two" naval exclusion zones, so the Prince's flotilla wasn't the only naval element visiting the system!  They knew they'd have to wait for more complete data until they closed with the system.  But, as they closed with the system, vislight showed them the very obvious dreadnaughts.  The flights of Tigress-Class Dreadnaughts were escorted by other ships including two flights of Atlantic-Class Battle Cruisers.

Seeing that, Aiden happily said, "Looks like we get to give our report early!"  Following that up, the ship closed with the system and soon started receiving comms from system control.  And when they did, they received "special routing directions" telling them to take a course directly towards the large naval formation counter to the instructions being broadcast to civilian craft from Denotam's orbital beacons.  Hearing that, Mikah grumbled, "Oh, great." in an unhappy tone.  And when they were even closer, they were routed to dock with the orbital Denotam Imperial Naval station, and await orders from there.  After they were docked and secured, the crew had nothing better to do than turn on the news and see what they'd missed while outside the Imperium.  After the health, customs and immigration inspection, Finerd gathered all the crystals and message and left the ship to report in on his own.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                                              Date: 302-1114
    In a press conference today, SuSAG's spokesbeing Roula Bonin announced the firm's plans to cancel
    the so-called "Smart-Cat"© product line.  This product had intended to create a feline pet with
    increased intelligence, providing a better and more trainable companion.  Initial work on the
    project successfully led to a viable baseline genemod that provided for hypoallergenic fur,
    extended lifespans, immunity to common feline diseases and "larger eyes", so even adults looked
    cute and "kittenish".  SuSAG also added genes coded for enhanced intelligence, allowing the new
    SmartCat© to become a better and more trainable companion.

    Unfortunately, the initial product release for testing was an unmitigated disaster in commercial
    and public relations terms.  Testing showed there was a clear increase over even the most
    intelligent of natural felines, and initial market testing was very positive.  Sadly, early testers
    noted that the "S-cats" quickly learned behaviors to best wheedle treats and extra food from their
    owners.  Within months, problems emerged as owners found some SmartCats became manipulative,
    pretending to be unwell to get sympathy and affection.  Reports soon stated a number of S-cats had
    worked to subtly remove anything competing for an owner's attention.  "Accidentally" knocking
    tri-Vid players or appliances from surfaces or showing strong adverse reactions to new romantic

    Worse, the S-cats retained their natural traits, including often amusing themselves in ways
    found cruel by their owners.  Instances were documented of other pets or even children in the
    same house being attacked with claws from ambush or even scalded when a kettle was knocked off
    a kitchen counter.  The often-repeated story of a SmartCat© deliberately suffocating a baby by
    lying on it appears to be an urban legend, but it was commonly believed.  A product recall was
    issued where most of the SmartCats sold were recovered and euthanized.  A small number of owners
    refused to return them and a somewhat larger number of SmartCats had simply escaped.  Fortunately
    SuSAG had engineered the breed to be sterile, for copyright reasons.  There would be no repeat
    sales if owners could breed their own replacement products, after all.  It is expected that the
    escaped examples will mostly have died out by this date, without being able to pass on their
    genes to the domestic cat population.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                            Date: 307-1113
    In a follow on announcement from SuSAG corp, bio-Medical units in Rhylanor, A new discovery in
    agnathics research suggests a possible treatment for "Progeria", which has been a disease preying
    on Human children since before Humanitii learned to reach for space.  This announcement was
    coupled with confirmation that SuSAG have granted the teams working on this discovery further
    funding while also providing current data to teams to begin initial Human testing of the possible
    drug.  In the statement, spokesbeing Dr. Alvek Dho admitted this discovery was made accidentally,
    when his team were investigating the difference of effect in Human and Vargr populations.
    Dr. Alvek Dho is a respected Vargr researcher who's family had emigrated to the Imperium from
    the chaotic Vargr states in the Gvurrdon sector.  Showing aptitude early in his primary schooling,
    Dr. Alvek Dho was eventually accepted into the University of Regina's Bio-Medical program.
    Dr Dho proceeded to a line of successful positions before finishing his doctorate in xeno-
    gerontology after accepting his current research position with SuSAG.

    Regina (A788899-C 2 Ri Cp G 703 Im F7 V M8 D M6 V)                            Date: 355-1113
    With events and attention shifting from the Arch-Duke's calls to meet with the landed nobility
    of the Spinward Marches, His Grace's Seneschal has announced that any further decisions on the
    vacation of assigned fiefs will wait on events or meetings held during his grand tour.  While
    that process is still under discussion, the Arch Duke has already begun his tour, visiting worlds
    after leaving the Regina system with the fleet transporting Prince Lucan, bound for the Retinae
    system.  The Arch Duke expects to complete his work on the 353rd day of the year and leave with
    the Prince on the 354th day of the year.  While they are in jump-space at the moment, the Arch
    Duke will be meeting with the Viscount of Extolay while he and the Prince visit the system.

    Extolay (B45589A-A N G 110 Im M2 V M4 D)                            Date: 361-1113
    The Extolay system wishes Prince Lucan and Arch Duke Norris well as they leave the system bound
    for the Imperial Naval base in the Denotam system.  Sir Radshiir Staeeini, Viscount of Extolay,
    expressed his thanks for their visit while all expect the Viscount is very pleased having gotten
    the Arch Duke's vote of confidence.  Sir Radshiir was also extremely pleased at the announcement
    Imperial resources would be directed towards both energy recovery and land reclamation through
    dome construction.  Despite the many smiles the Prince leaves behind, there is likely some well-
    hidden grumbling from on-world corporations who hoped to benefit from the announced support for
    building programs.  Especially since the programs were directly earmarked for increased
    agricultural capabilities on-world.

    Jewell (A777999-C 2 Hi In Cp G 623 Im G7 V)                            Date: 334-1113
    Word was received by Imperial authorities in the Jewell system that trade with the Sheol by "any"
    Imperial organization will be taken under advisement.  This position prevents any trade access by
    Imperial organizations with the Sheol of Querion until the matter is decided by the Zhodani High
    Council on Zhodane itself.  The Zhodani Diplomatic Corp. have offered an opening outside of direct
    trade.  Imperial trading vessels will be allowed to access ports in the Cipango, Chwistyoch, Clan
    and Farreach systems per normal trade.  There, the trade representatives of any Imperial ship may
    request trade items normally received from the Sheol.  Such requests will be considered though
    initial stocks of such products will take some time to establish in Zhodani interface ports.
    This policy will be updated once a decision is returned from the High Council.

    Rhylanor (A434934-F 2 Green Hi Cap 910 M2 V6)                            Date: 342-1113
    Word was released today that a special auction of antiquities would go on the block on the 96th
    day of 1114.  The auction will be handled by the auctioneers "Gidkhiza, Picheslal and Kiskhui", and
    supervised by authorities from the University of Rhylanor and Lord William Kirgashii, brother
    of Duke Leonard.  The antiquities have been described as a collection of books collected by the
    late Sir Brian Montgomery, formerly on the crew of Lady Mikah Kirlim.  A catalog of the items
    can be acquired by seeking out an authorized handler for the auction in your system.  Per courtesy,
    the Seneschalette of His Grace, Duke Leonard have included a separate missive to each world's local
    government to create an agreement in each local system.

    Bidders by xmail should be warned that dynamic bidding may create an environment where static
    values are less than successful.  As a result, it is recommended those interested in items within
    the collection be present in the Rhylanor system for bidding.  The collection is being sold on
    behalf of Lady Mikah and the family of the late Sir Brian Montgomery.

    Ghandi (B211455-A N Ni Ic G 303 Im F8 V M3 D)                            Date: 362-1113
    Based on scheduled travel planning, the Portmaster has officially declared the Imperial luxury
    liner IMS King George overdue from the Lanth system.  The passengers aboard the vessel were
    embarked on a pleasure cruise to include stops in various systems along the main trade route
    from Lanth to Jewell.  The vessel was also scheduled to have visited the extra-Imperial Ruie
    system along its planned route of travel.  The ship maintained three hundred passengers in
    addition to its crew of one hundred eighty two.  Several of the passengers aboard were noted
    members of the Imperial nobility.  These included Baron Aluu Murema and his wife Baroness
    Niilere as well as their daughter, Lady Likhaarka Murema.  Baron Murema is noted as holding a
    world in the Deneb sector in fief and is a industrialist.  It is believed he was in the Marches
    not only on a pleasure trip, but to meet with the Arch Duke.  Also listed aboard was Sir Sekea
    Sian, late a Captain in the Imperial Navy as well as a relative of Baroness Cynthia da Imalfini
    of Carse.

    Ghandi (B211455-A N Ni Ic G 303 Im F8 V M3 D)                            Date: 365-1113
    Imperial authorities in-system have confirmed the IMS King George, operated by Asiigku Kukud
    lines, has not arrived according to the port's existing schedule.  Ships have been dispatched
    to Lanth to confirm the liner had left that system, and word is expected back in just under two
    weeks' time.  The ship was known to be carrying a full complement of 300 passengers in addition
    to the working crew.  The courier IISS Arzaim Duui is expected back in-system with the requested
    update by 006-1114.  Additionally, ships have been dispatched to the system's outer reaches
    in the event of an in-exact system entry.

    Extolay (B45589A-A N G 110 Im M2 V M4 D)                            Date: 006-1114
    The IMS Kalage Ashi arrived in-system today and immediately declared their ship in distress
    and in need of support.  While Imperial and civilian craft began to respond, the ship's
    master announced they were overloaded with passengers rescued from the mis-jumped cruise
    liner IMS King George and their systems were over-stressed.  As data becomes available, it
    appears the IMS Kalage Ashi and IMS Upgrade had been departing the system when the IMS King
emerged from mis-jump...  Immediate lists of rescued passengers were sent to Imperial
    authorities and not made public for some hours while aid forces have been responding.
    During the most recent briefing given, Admiral Kaskiin confirmed the number of passengers
    and crew rescued numbered over one hundred.  Where the total compliment of passengers
    and crew included four hundred eighty two souls, knowledge that only a quarter of those aboard
    were rescued is disheartening.

    At the same time, the Admiral did state that a task force was being assembled to dispatch
    to the Tremous Dex system under Commander Peser Tindesu in hopes of further investigation.
    Given the "fractious" nature of persons and organizations in that system, the task force will
    lead with their heaviest weapons and target an in-system La Grange point.  This action is
    supported by accurate data provided by the Kalage Ashi.  In addition to this action, the
    Admiral had a courier sent to the Arden system to inquire after the IMS Upgrade and the
    rescued passengers expected to be aboard that ship.  That Courier, the ISS Ranaza, will
    accompany the main task force into the Tremous Dex system before jumping for Arden.  They
    should reach Arden by 020-1114.

    Marz/Deneb (A584985-A S A Im 110 G4 V G6 V)                      Date: 285-1113
    Following two months of operations, Imperial forces operating out of Imperial bases in the Marz
    system paint a disappointing image of the collapse of the Commonality of Kedzudh.  While some
    missions have prioritized attempts to contact and recover Imperial citizens and officers in the
    region, others are simply tasked with tracking the expanding conflict to identify those assets
    which may have been retasked from organized military use to raiding.  Hard won data suggests
    there may be some significant assets which have fallen into the hands of Vargr leaders looking
    for easier glory, power or wealth.  All Imperial worlds on the border with Vargr space have
    been warned to raise their defensive profiles and local fleet alert conditions.

    Where one positive note may still improve the situation, a flotilla of Imperial and Imperial-
    allied ships were known to have been operating in the region as of a month ago.  Word has been
    received of a former Kedzudh cruiser/carrier commanded by former Imperial officers who had
    organized a smaller fleet of lesser warships.  Included in that command are the officers under
    an "Admiral Fhazkoe", who had been an Imperial Navy Captain before joining the Commonality's
    cause.  Additional information stated the following Captains of Imperial ships working with
    Admiral Fhazkoe's cruiser as they could support: Ikiaar Adaudi, Marcelo Nabi, Andrey Umar,
    Gaadkan Mai and Kyle van Ryddoth.

    An editor's note was added to this story as Captain Kyle van Ryddoth was also the final master
    of the ISS Dawnstar Horizon, before her destruction in actions which have still left a number
    of questions.  Also aboard the Horizon during that period were Lady Mikah Kirlim, Sir Zimzod
    Egosion, Sir Aidan Radetsky, Sir Emkir Meshrumiikiim, and Lady Inger Martinusdtr Vik.
    Additionally included in that crew were the late Sir Brian Montgomery and Zachariah Wood.

    Inthe (B575776-9 A Ag G 423 Im F8 V)                            Date: 301-1113
   The Imperial Scout Command have released further information into investigations following
    recovery of the INS Regina's Storm and IMS Coronal Flair.  The data derives from the computer
    core data recovered from both ships after their recovery, along with the IMS Hotel California,
    were effected or made possible by Lady Mikah Kirlim's crew.  As a matter of note, the data
    further confirmed information and guesses provided by Lady Mikah's crew and Imperial Marine
    Sergeant Guerrek.  Of more importance, it is felt that the data from those cores might suggest
    vectors of travel for the missing small craft noted after recovery.  While the officers very
    honestly stated they did not expect to find survivors aboard any located small craft, the data
    provided by any discoveries would further update the events encountered.  While Scout Commander
    Mavinpi stated some work had been carried out on this initiative, no details or ship data were

    Those following this story are reminded a shuttle was launched from the Regina's Storm, on
    which up to one hundred sophonts could have been boarded.  When asked if those craft had any
    low berths, the officers involved stated that was uncertain at this time.  Additionally, the
    IMS Coronal Flair had also launched a cutter however there was no detail what so ever on how
    that small craft had been outfitted?  Still, both craft had limited fuel and could only have
    maintained power for as much as a month.  After that, there are cases like Sgt. Guerrek's,
    where the batteries might last, but that is not something to depend on.  Still, missions were
    being launched in hopes of recovery.

    Skull (C2237C7-9 N Na Po G 601 Im M1 V M0 VI)                            Date: 319-1113
    With fighting all but ended except in small isolated incidents, the Imperial Army have moved
    in three complete lift battalions including five companies each.  The 1173rd, 1694th and 1464th Imperial
    battalions have begun deploying with their vehicle and logistics assets.  While support is available
    from the Ivendo Imperial Naval base, some assets may be hard to provide given the actions against the
    Natoko system only two parsecs distant.  With two entire Imperial Army divisions being cycled into that
    conflict much of the region's support and material are devoted to resolving the conflict on that world.

    Natoko (C8879AB-9 Hi An G 204 Im F4 V)                            Date: 341-1113
    In the initial two weeks of assault, the 1,204th Marine Pathfinders were followed up by the ten
    battalions of the 1,063rd brigade.  With key targets and landing zones secured, Imperial naval
    forces began delivering the main van of the Imperial 1,657th and 1,965th Army divisions.  Reports
    from forward embedded reporters indicate that factions of the world government have withdrawn into
    positions which are suspected to be shelters for the populace.  Despite the government assignment
    of military rank to every citizen on-world, General Sir Darkirger was unwilling to simply order
    KEW-based strikes on the positions.  As a result, the two Imperial army divisions being deployed
    will be expected to do this "the hard way".  Not only will they be tasked with digging the Natokans
    out, but will be expected to disrupt resistance formations and encourage citizens to surrender.
    Needless to say, the world will likely remain under Imperial military administration for some time.
    Especially given the significant lack of data on the world's former leadership.  Few have been known
    to have been killed and even fewer captured.  At the same time, Admiral Uuela's forces have taken up
    a formation defending Imperial operations from any possible attacks from additional shadow
    interstellar assets.

    Aramis (A6B0556-B 2 Ni De Cp G 710 Im M9 VI)                            Date: 350-1113
    With all the tokens having been turned in and analyzed in the second point to point Spinward
    Marches race, Officials in the Aramis system have awarded the First place prize to the IMS Dahu
!  The yacht, of a highly customized design, was built around engineering systems designed
    by the Glisten Interstellar School of Design.  This victory gives top marks to the student-
    design cadre formed in 1108, at the height of the Fifth Frontier War.  And while some number of
    vessels were built for the Imperial services, the expense of construction prevented a large-
    numbers construction and deployment.  Ship design firms are now bidding heavily for access to
    the specifications of not only the winning ship, but also the second and third place vessels.

    Denotam (B739573-A N Ni G 324 Im M2 V)                            Date: 017-1114
    Responding to the arrival, earlier today, of an apparent naval flotilla, Denotam Naval Command have
    partitioned yet another portion of the system for naval operations.  Despite the designation, the
    flotilla of defensive and support craft are support for the exploration science vessel ISV Paul
.  The Dellechiaie is bound through ports in the Beyond and Vanguard Reaches sectors to
    explore systems in the Fulani sector.  The long-term exploration mission of the Dellechiaie fleet
    element are expected to enhance trade partnerships with non-aligned systems spinward of more
    established markets.  More strategic minds suggest this is a further attempt to flank continuing
    Zhodani colonization in the region.

                      Paul                           Memorial

Orders And Puzzles
     While the crew watched and talked about the news they were catching up on, the most recent stories were new across the system.  In her visiting personnel quarters, Former Scout Colinne Paan listened to the newest stories while looking for a "next step".  After the war ended, the last four years had become safer but boring.  Having heard commentary on Lady Mikah and her crew over the previous weeks, she was caught by surprise when a new story said the ship was now in system!  Figuring their lives were likely not boring at all, she decided to roll the dice and send them a resume.  See if the ship needed crew with her skills?

Because they'd been ordered to dock with the naval base, Mikah was happy they wouldn't have to pay for the facilities.  Still, she wondered when the orders they'd been told to wait for would come, and worried what they might say?  While they had to stay close to the ship, just in case, they had free access to some civilian parts of the base.  Anyone who had retired from Imperial military service was also told they could shop at the commissary and other on-base venues.  They waited an hour before they got a ping from Prince Lucan's flagship, sent by Lt. Commander Nualon.  Mikah listened and was told the Arch Duke would like a report on the project they'd been given.

The officer told Mikah the Arch Duke wondered when she would be available?  Mikah said, "I'm available now." in a 'let's get this done' tone, and the man said he would report that and get back to her with an update.  That wait lasted thirty minutes before Mikah was called and told she would be meeting with the Arch Duke at ten the next morning, in facilities on the naval base.  She was also given details on where that would be and how to get a military escort to the location.  When she asked about having to hire a taxi, Mikah was told the military would handle transport.  Mikah was told the Arch Duke would expect her report at that time.

After Mikah got off the comms and told the others, Emkir offered one of his Ardenii bottles to show as fruits of their labor.  That got a laugh from the others.  Because she wasn't told if they "all" had to be there or not, she warned everyone to get ready to meet with the Arch Duke the next day.  Aiden asked what the dress code was and Mikah said to count on Court Dress.  Knowing it wouldn't be appropriate for their meeting with the Arch Duke, Sekea knew there might be occasions where it might be proper for him to wear the uniform of his service.  Since he'd lost his old uniforms escaping the King George, Sekea wanted to replace that.  He called up a base shop, presented his credentials and paid Cr 7,000 for a new dress uniform with the appropriate fruit salad and brass.

Sekea also filled out the forms to request replacements for his decorations, also lost aboard the King George.  After that, he asked about replacing personal weapons and the clerk he was talking to asked if he had retired from the Imperial Navy?  Sekea had only served four terms, so he had not "Retired", and did not have credentials letting him shop at the base venues.  So he was told he could ask for permission to access the BX or other shops while his ship was docked with the base.  Still, it was recommended he wait until he transferred to a civilian port to shop for personal weapons at a venue like InstellArms.

With the morning proceeding, Aiden and Aali received notifications the Naval base to which they were docked had a Scout base component.  Where they each had Silver Asteroids, the Scouts would provide transport if they wanted to claim the Cr 100 each for that month.  In this case, Aali said they should go because transport was being provided, so it wouldn't cost them any more than time.  Agreeing with that, Aiden and Aali waited for the scout transport to arrive.

Not long after Aiden and Aali left, Mikah got a ping telling her she had xmail!  Checking that on one of the ship's terminals, Mikah saw it was a message from in-system.  Opening it, Mikah saw it was a resume!  Surprised, because the ship wasn't advertising for crew, Mikah saw it was from a former Scout named Colinne Paan.  All Mikah could do right off was to put her face into her hands and moan, "Oh God, another scout."  That was because most of her crew were either entirely or partly graduates of the scout service.  Both Aali and Fesic had served in the scouts before moving to the Imperial Navy.  Aiden and Emkir had only been scouts, and Zimzod, while never having been a Scout, had comically been discharged from the Imperial Navy and Marines before rising to an E-9 in the Imperial Army.  So, they were an interesting, but scout-heavy mix.

The woman, a Human, presented herself as a flight-certified officer with medical training with combat experience and decorations who, without any humility, stated she was a "Galaxy Class" computer expert.  There was a brief moment where Mikah had to wonder if the woman was actually leaving room for "Universe Class" experts or simply wrote off anything outside their galaxy?  Given the lack of humility displayed, Mikah guessed it was the latter.  Mikah also saw she was a qualified ship's communications officer, which was a skill only Rol had among their crew.  At the bottom of the electronic document, Mikah saw the note: 'Select this resume file in your operating system and execute it'.  Thinking, 'screw that!' to herself, Mikah called Emkir over because it could be a virus, ransomware or worse.

Reviewing the visible text Mikah had open on her terminal, Emkir noted the resume seemed impressive.  Still, it only showed two terms served as a Scout, with the rest of the time marked as unspecified Imperial service.  He also noticed the applicant listed two "Purple Hearts" where Scouts only ever got Silver Asteroids, so this was even more curious.  Seeing the note requesting the reader run the resume file in their operating system, Emkir sparked up a second terminal to look at the resume file itself.  What he saw was that it actually was an executable file with a secondary display text component!  Trying to be very careful, Emkir began examining the file.  Sadly, he didn't create a second virtual computer in which to do the work, to protect the ship's main computers.

Emkir's examination was based on his skills and knowledge.  Because of that, he wasn't aware of an exploit which had been built into the properties of the document.  If certain properties were queried, the update subprocess which ran would read the data for those properties and act while using the permissions of operator who had queried the properties.  Only, what the subprocess actually read was a redirect subprocess that called the main routine of the resume program.  So, the program Mikah wouldn't run was unintentionally launched by Emkir's examination.  Seeing the process kick off, Emkir tried to grab the process ID's and kill them, but found they had already triggered other processes and the horse was well out of the gate.

Because of that, Emkir realized he could only isolate the original program and start working to debug it to see what he could learn and what guesses he could make from what he could see but not understand?  And his best guess was that the process would take him several hours.  While he did that, and after Sekea got off the comms with the base shops, he asked Mikah about Aasimar's body, which they still had in a low berth.  Mikah agreed with Sekea and they called the Naval base to discuss the body.  Soon after, officers from the base came to recover the body from the ship.

Aali and Aiden eventually returned to the ship and everyone except Emkir had the rest of the day free.  Emkir had been working on the resume program which had launched while others considered what they would wear while meeting with the Arch Duke?  Some remembered that the last time they had spoken to Norris, he had surprised them by bringing along "All" the sector Dukes and Duchesses because they happened to be in-system for high level meetings.  It had been a nearly heart-stopping moment of terror for some, being in the same room as all that massed power.  This time, it was assumed that wouldn't happen because, at the least, news reports had Duchess Muktheswara back in the Glisten system, and suggested Duke Leonard was in Rhylanor.

In his investigation, Emkir could only marvel at the complexity of some of the constructs and subroutines he could decompile and work through.  He saw that one reason he'd not been able to stop the execution was a very well hidden "address jump" to another section of code which then kicked off a secondary thread that controlled multiple replication processes.  Those copied secondary copies of the file were outside his quarantine, and there were the copies he saw and copies he'd not seen or been aware of.  So, the process was running from all over the ship's main computer systems before Emkir could even think of trying to stop it.

From what Emkir saw, it next put all those copies into a standby mode while any of the processes was running.  So, if Emkir had found the active process and killed it, a second copy would reference the uncleared registers updated by the killed process and pick up from the same point the last had been stopped.  That meant that each copy could kick off at the same point where the copy before it had been killed, like a relay race with the register data being handed forward, each to the next.  It was very elegant and more complex than anything Emkir had worked with.  Until it ended.

While he worked, it took Emkir a few minutes to realize the processes had stopped.  When he saw that, Emkir looked for anything definable as output and saw a very obvious file had been written into the admin home directory.  Checking that with a simple text editor which couldn't, to the best he understood it, activate any further links, Emkir saw it was a report of some kind.  When he read the report, Emkir saw it provided links to fourteen exploitable security gaps in their operating system, and warned there could be more gaps.  While he didn't activate the links, Emkir could see they directed him to the specific configuration files where each gap was defined, and from which each of those could be closed.

The report also ended with the statement:
          "If you would like these exploits closed in ways which do not open new gaps, you will hire me."

The entire process told Emkir that the person who'd written the resume program absolutely knew what they had been doing.  And it also showed him she could program rings around his skill level.  With his data gathered and his report in mind, Emkir went to Mikah, got her attention and announced, "I don't like this person."  Despite the situation, Mikah burst out laughing and only got control of herself with some effort.  When she did, Mikah jibed back, "Well, then were gonna have to hire her.  Sorry."  Her tone and the smile on her face told Emkir she was joking but still wanted to know more?

Speaking in a tone of Mock-serious, Emkir said, "Whoever this is, she knows what she's doing and that makes me doubt my own credence among the crew so my own self-confidence tells me I really shouldn't recommend this person.  Emkir then struggled not to say that she knew more than he did, but did finally say, "She certainly knows her job and computers very well."  And despite Emkir never stating it, Mikah saw the stamp of approval and superior skill for what it was.  Mikah nodded and told Emkir, "Well, we really value your diplomatic finesse and your...  Interrupting Mikah, Emkir joked, "Yes, I know.  My booze collection." which got a laugh from the others.

Mikah continued, "...your singular ability to bullshit people.  And having it create very successful outcomes for the ship.  So, you have other skills."  Mikah also didn't mention that with Terin's death, Emkir was now owner of one eighth of the ship!  Rol still owned his eighth, despite being a gestating clone at the moment.  And Sekea did not own a share of the ship because he'd not been on the crew when the last "ownership redistribution" had happened in the Inthe system.  When Emkir joked, "But, it's my computer" Mikah answered, "And as Captain, it's my ship."  In mock-frustration, Emkir threw up his hands and said, "Fine!  Hire her!  I'm gonna find a bar!"

Mikah agreed when Emkir finally got serious and said the woman should certainly be considered.  Mikah then thought about the fact they were on the naval base and would be until the next morning at least.  So, this person couldn't come to them.  Looking up the bars and recreational spaces on the civilian highport, Mikah selected an Astroburgers and sent a message to the woman telling her to meet them there the next afternoon at five in the evening.  Not long after Mikah sent the invitation out, she got an acceptance.  So they could expect Ms. Paan would meet them as invited.  One question Mikah planned to ask was why anyone else hadn't hired her already?

Emkir also pointed out the parts in her resume where it seemed she was working for the Imperial government, but not for what organization or in what capacity?  Mikah considered that and told him, "That sounds a lot like us." and Emkir had to agree.  He didn't add that unlike their crew, this woman actually appeared to be qualified and might have a clue.  While they chatted, Mikah got another ping and this message from Ms. Paan had an attachment.  Reading the note, it said, "You really should sell your cargo on the naval base.  It will sell better."  Checking the attachment, it was "their own" manifest of what was in their cargo bay.

Setting aside the access to their ship's systems Ms. Paan displayed, Mikah agreed with the idea and asked Emkir how he felt about trying to sell the cargo of liquors on the naval base.  When Emkir told her they'd need special permission to sell anything on a military facility, Mikah snapped, "Well, then.  Get it."  In mock-frustration, Emkir snapped, "Fine!  Get rid of the booze!  This is turning out to be a really nasty port."  Given his marching orders, Emkir began working to find out who he had to reach so he could start the process of getting authorization to sell the alcohol on the naval base.  Then they could look for a bulk buyer.  Eventually, his work as an evil Scout Admiral trying to corrupt innocent Imperial Navy files with Ardenii booze would continue into the next day.

Dealing With Orders
     That morning, per Mikah's orders, everyone in the crew woke early so they could clean up and get ready to meet with the Arch Duke.  When the time came, they left the ship into the bay they were docked in to meet a Lieutenant who said their transport was waiting.  Following instructions, they boarded the transport and were taken to another location on the base.  There, they were led to a meeting room which was guarded by Imperial troopers.  Stepping past them, they saw there were four more guards each standing in the four corners of the room.  Ignoring the shows of power, Mikah led the others in and they sat to wait.

After twenty minutes, Arch Duke Norris arrived with a team of assistants and apologized because of the pressures of his schedule.  One of the people with him was Finerd, who looked a great deal better now he'd been cleaned up and healthier.  Because they'd all risen when he walked in, he asked them to sit and said, "Let's get down to it" as if this were any other regular business meeting he might hold.  Looking over the entire crew, Norris said, "I must admit I am very surprised with the level of your success."  Pointing at Finerd, Norris continued, "I honestly didn't expect any members of his team to still be alive."  None of the crew thought that unreasonable.

Continuing, Norris said, "You get top marks for that.  So, I have a question for you.  Given your extreme success, what does your ship currently not have that you would like it to have?"  The impact of that question was immediate.  The Arch Duke had sent them to Arden with no paperwork or scrap of credentials, so this had been entirely untraceable and covert.  Now that they had succeeded so completely, he couldn't reward them publicly and had to find some quiet way to do that.  And that was what this question was about.  Before anyone could answer, Norris turned to Mikah and said, "And you should certainly not ask for a dreadnaught as a hood ornament on your ship." with a smile.  Turning to Zimzod, Norris also said, "And, no FGMP's."

Given the floor, Aali was the first to speak saying, "We need external surveillance."  Then, Zimzod said, "It'd be nice to have all the gear we need to clone someone."  Hearing that, Mikah agreed and told Aiden that the brain scan gear they already had on loan from the Navy was included in what Zimzod had said.  Remembering the crushed one android on Wypoc and had two damaged in combat, Mikah asked for replacement engineering 'droids.  When Aali mentioned asking for more drones, Mikah pointed out she had drones and Rol also had them, but none had been used.  So, if they were making wishes, they should wish for things they didn't have or would use.

Aiden surprised everyone by asking who's armor could be upgraded to battledress?  The downsides of battledress were that it was very expensive and ownership was very restricted, despite the two suits owned by their crew.  On top of that, anyone trying to use battledress had to be trained to use it.  Those without training could either take classes, try to use stent skill disks or have implanted skill biochips, but the disks and chips were expensive.  And, along with battledress training, the skills and chips were very hard to find.  Still, Rol was both trained and combat experienced in the use of battledress, so Norris could consider that too.

When Aiden said it might be good to have Jocelynn, Rol and Zimzod in battledress, Zimzod pointed to his own chest and said, "Here's an upgrade project." meaning repairing his chest and torso using either cybernetics or cloned organs.  Of course, that would take quite some time.  Growing the replacement organs would take time, as would ordering the correct cybernetics if they were not available.  Then, he'd have to undergo surgeries to replace the damaged biostructures, and the recovery and physical therapy that followed.  The process would easily take two months without using medical slow drug.  And that couldn't replace the physical therapy.

Returning to battledress for Rol, Mikah said Rol had certainly proven he deserved it.  Norris at first asked, "Really?" because he'd never heard Mikah speak positively of the man.  But he admitted, "He did save my daughter."  There were other events like when Rol had gotten shot while trying to save Sir Jeremy's life without knowing the man was safe in a panic room.  So, Norris nodded and said he'd consider it.  After that, it seemed the crew had a much smaller wish list than others might have in the same situation.  Almost ready to move on, Zimzod said they'd lost their original cutter, which had a chameleon hull.  That was lost in the Tremous Dex system and he wondered if the Arch Duke could help them with that?

Norris first asked if Zimzod hoped for a replacement cutter, or if he wanted the cutter they had re-hulled?  Zimzod said he didn't much care so long as it still had the mounted lasers.  Norris nodded and said he wasn't certain he could find a cutter that mixed roles like that.  The laser mounts were used in combat and strike cutters while troop-carrying assault cutters were camouflaged to assist in landings into hot zones.  That wasn't really a surprise because this 'replacement' came from Tremous Dex, where craft to craft combat happened so much more than ground assaults.  Accepting that, Norris nodded and said he would look into the request.

So, conversation moved on to Ambassador Baroness Dame Zugoukh.  Norris opened that by saying, "On the subject of doing your job better, I understand you may have some lingering issues with working with a particular Vargr Baroness?  Mikah snarked back, "You mean the Ambassador on Arden?"  When Norris nodded, Mikah said, "Yeah.  I mean, she was duped so I would think you can't really rely on her judgement."  Mikah also pointed out the Baroness had doubled down after the first team was killed, by putting the second team in danger based on her judgement of the facts on-world.  Norris nodded but also didn't say anything, whether he agreed, knew better or something else.  Norris just smiled and asked, "And you've never been duped like that before?"

Mikah had to admit there were situations like the Zhodani jump commando in the Dinomn system.  If she was being entirely honest, she could also add events in the Extolay system, where she accused everyone in the port of having been complicit in stealing their cargo.  Mikah could also add to that list all the hard-held opinions about some intelligence organizations which she'd dealt with after mistakes the crew had made, like accidentally outing their secrets.  Still, this was likely a position she would hold despite the facts.  Norris simply said he understood their concerns and they would be dealt with, and dealt with appropriately.

While the Arch Duke said he could take the battledress under advisement, they already had two thirds of the cloning plant aboard the ship.  So, he could make that permanent and complete the suite.  Norris' eyes glowed evilly and he smirked when he added, "Given the frequency with which you lose ships."  Mikah got defensive at that and said one was lost in a misjump and another was just blown out of the sky by terrorists in Rhylanor, then added, "...which were never caught, if I remember correctly."  Norris smiled and said, there is a good deal of back data which hasn't appeared in the news recently.  Mikah had to assume that referred to the Imperial intervention in the Natoko system, since they were largely believed to be behind the phantom raiders.

Moving back to items he might give them, Norris then went back to the external security system Aali had brought up.  He said it was in his power to grant them that, and have the work done.  But, he asked how long the crew wanted to stay in this, or any port?  He pointed out that installing cameras, subsystems and wiring would mean removing the ship's hull plating to install under-hull cabling and systems.  Then, specific hull plates would have to be modified to have cameras installed and connected to pass-through wiring.  That could take up to a month.  Hearing that, Mikah said they could spend some time in the Denotam system and heal.

When they considered spending up to a month in Denotam, Norris also reminded them that was balanced because they no longer had to rush back to Regina.  That would have taken them eight weeks to get into position to jump to Sonthert, which was the only thing they considered doing "next".  Outside of that, they'd had nothing planned other than returning to Regina, which they no longer had to do.  And the past to Sonthert from Denotam was a jump to the Ghandi system.  From there, they could jump the three parsecs directly to Sonthert.  Or, they could first jump to Lanth, and then make a shorter two-parsec jump to Sonthert.  And that would let them have enough fuel to jump back to Lanth, or to D'Ganzio without refueling if they had to.

Given their options, Mikah spoke to the crew and no one was against staying at Denotam for a month, despite how little there was to do there.  But they needed to heal, and look at other options, so Denotam was as good as any other system.  And, they'd all just made a lot of cash to use to do things too.  So, Mikah told Norris they could stay in the system and he said he'd instruct the Navy to schedule and complete the work.  That meant they now had to wait until the Navy tech organizations contacted them and told them when the work would begin?  As far as the cloning suite, Norris told Mikah they'd likely have to uninstall one of the ship's low berths to have that properly situated, since what was there was installed in Rol's stateroom.

When Sekea asked if they would be allowed to travel in the system over the month or would be stuck on the Naval base, he was told they'd only been brought to the base for the debrief meetings.  Now, they'd be expected to leave the base and dock at the civilian port.  They would wait there until the Navy told them where the ship had to be moved for the technical work, but they would stay on the civilian port while that happened too.  So, even then, they could use their cutter to move around the system, to the world below or to other stations in orbit.

Mikah did ask if they would be able to stay on the naval base, with an eye toward saving money, and was told that wouldn't be allowed.  To confirm, Sekea mentioned he'd ordered a uniform and asked if that would be delivered before they moved.  He was told it would be delivered anywhere in the system after it was made.  With that, the meeting was over and they started collecting their personal items and leaving.  Reaching the door first, the Arch Duke turned back with a smile and said, "Oh.  I've left something for you in your cargo bay."  Before Mikah could do more than sigh in despair, he left without giving them any chance to ask questions.

With nothing else to do, and knowing they'd soon have to leave the naval base, they returned to their ship.  Aiden, Emkir and Sekea moved to the bridge, expecting the call from the base shortly telling them to leave for the civilian port.  Mikah went directly to the cargo bay to check out what new nightmares were waiting for them there?  What she saw was that the nine tons of free space they'd had were now filled with cargo pods!  Checking the labels with Fesic, Mikah saw that one two-ton container had a snowcat tracked vehicle listed for limited functionality in extremely cold environments!

Another three one-ton containers seemed to contain nine extreme cold suits, which also would have limited lifespans before the cold broke them down.  The remaining four tons were marked general gear for extreme weather.  One thing Mikah noticed was an emergency 10x10 popup shelter.  Moving back to the bridge, Mikah asked for options on making the transit to the Sonthert system, which surprised Sekea.  He was mostly shocked because the system was interdicted, meaning no one could go their without being attacked by Imperial Navy or Scout fleets.  But, he was also surprised because they'd just decided to stay in Denotam for a month or more.  Mikah said it was for after Denotam, and also cryptically said she had authorization to visit the system.

Sekea reported that they could reach the system in two jumps, with one parsec of jump fuel left, or three jumps with two parsecs fuel left, depending if they jumped from Ghandi or Lanth.  Nodding, Mikah told Fesic to find them accommodations on the civilian port and Emkir started devoting time to finding out how to sell the liquor to the naval base?  The Denotam highport had berths much like what they had on Rhylanor, where there were staterooms and offices connected to the bay.  That would give them both a berth for the ship and cutter while also giving them off-ship housing for when the ship was being worked on.  When Fesic said they needed the space for at least a month, they charged the ship Cr 3,000.

Over the hours, Emkir found out that there were quite a number of restrictions for getting permission to sell anything on a military station.  That was in addition to selling "novelty-quality" alcohol from outside the Imperium and not properly rated regarding health and safety.  So, in the end, Emkir was told neither the Navy or the Scouts would allow the sale on their bases.  Mikah had Fesic book a berth close to the Astroburgers where they would meet Ms. Paan, and they moved the ship when the time came.  Then, people were told to move their gear off the ship before the call came from the techs.

More Questions And Entertainment
     The day then wore on while people adjusted to living outside the ship, in slightly more space.  Soon, it was time to go to astroburgers and meet with Ms. Paan to interview her.  Mikah said Zimzod had to come, as well as Emkir.  She wanted the Admiral to come as a bullshit detector, since this person had already proven her computer skills.  Mikah also asked Aali to come along, and Aali suggested Emkir try to hack into any portable computer Ms. Paan brought with her to the interview.  Emkir admitted to betting he might not be successful with that plan.

When they arrived at the Astroburgers, Colinne had already been there waiting, sucking on a strawberry shake.  And since they had been very visible in the recent news cycles, she was easily able to spot them coming into the place.  She watched as they ordered some drinks and snacks before looking around for their possible hireling.  Deciding to make a show of her stent skills along with her computer skills, Colinne devoted a bit of concentration to a task in her stent's v-ram and queried the available device connections in the space.  Getting the report back, she then deleted the most recent list she'd taken before they arrived and looked for data she could use to identify Emkir's hand computer.

Concentrating a bit more on another task in the v-ram and providing the address from Emkir's computer as a variable, Colinne then sent a message to the port which usually provided texting connectivity to the computer.  So, if that application was running on Emkir's computer, the port would receive it and the listener would transfer it to the texting app.  In this case, the app was running so Emkir got a message saying "Come to the booth in the corner of the restaurant."  Looking at the corner booths, Emkir saw vargr spacers in one corner and another booth was empty before seeing a woman with a drink of some kind and a hand computer of her own looking at him in the third corner.

Pointing to Colinne while he started moving, Emkir said, "I think this is the person we're looking for."  When Mikah asked how he knew, Emkir said, "I've got a feeling." in a tone that also said 'Don't ask questions you can guess the answer to.'  When Mikah started walking and asked the woman, "Are you messing with him?" Emkir answered, "No.  She sent me a message."  With a smile on her face, Mikah said, "She's messing with him.  Awesome.  I like her already."  Emkir only replied, "Let's not be hasty."

After sitting down and the introductions, Mikah dove right in asking about the parts of her resume that claimed Imperial service but lacked any explanation.  Colinne only answered, "Even if you had the clearance, you don't have need to know.  Suffice to say, during that time, I developed a lot of my computer skills."  Liking what she could guess from that answer, Mikah nodded and said "OK".  Mikah next asked why no one else had already hired her and Colinne said, "I didn't really need a job." with a shrug.  She continued, "I just got out of the scout service and..."

Mikah only raised her hands and moaned, "Why the scouts?"  Colinne smiled and said, "It was something to do before and after the time I can't talk about.  Emkir simply leaned back in his seat with a self-satisfied smile and said, "She's obviously a very intelligent person.  That's why."  Mikah looked at Emkir and snarked, "We got some good things out of you." in a sarcastic tone.  Turning back to Colinne, Mikah asked, "Why us?"  Colinne admitted to having been sending out resumes to other organizations when she heard they'd arrived in the system.  So, she felt it couldn't hurt.

Mikah smiled and asked, "Did you embellish the resumes you sent to them the same way you did to us?" and Colinne said she had.  At the same time that exchange happened, both Mikah and Zimzod felt the sensation of buzzing in their brains!  And while Colinne got the sense that Emkir was curious about her skills and history, she also realized Mikah and Zimzod had blocked her basic probe!  While Zimzod kept quiet, Mikah gave out a louder "Oh!  OK" before moderating her tone and asking, "And nobody else was..."  At that point, she cleared her throat while shooting a brief glare at Emkir and continued, "...mouse-crazy enough to run it?"

Stifling a small laugh, Colinne said, "Surprisingly, no.  Otherwise, I'd probably be working for someone else right now."  Nodding, Mikah then asked, "And what exactly do you expect to be paid?"  Colinne gave out a brief humm before saying, "A fair share".  Nodding, Mikah explained there would be ten crew on the ship if they hired her, though one was currently being cloned.  Given that, she said they had a formula for every credit the ship earned.  A chunk of any earnings were devoted to the ship's funds and the rest were shared out equally.  Colinne said that was better than working for a corporation and Mikah only said, "You'd think so, huh?  It depends on when and how often we get paid."  Colinne nodded and said that was fair.

Mikah also told Colinne that there would also be jobs that didn't provide paychecks.  Emkir then stepped in and asked, "Just how good are you with computers?" and Colinne smirked and said, "Better than you, obviously."  That got laughs from everyone at the table.  Emkir then asked, "Are you sure?" and Colinne very honestly asked, "Would we be sitting here if you could undo what I did?"  Emkir lied, and said, "I might just be trying to lull you into a false sense of security."  And Colinne didn't need to probe him to know that was below-basement level bullshit she could ignore.

Switching tracks, Mikah asked Colinne where she'd gotten her medical training?  Colinne simply answered, "In the Scout service, along with piloting, communications and some combat."  Emkir asked how far out she'd gone and she admitted she'd only served in the Spinward Marches.  Colinne also admitted she'd spent a good deal of time base-bound.  Deciding it was time to step in, Zimzod said, "Imagine we're on the hull of a ship and trying to get in.  What would you do to get us inside the ship?"  Colinne said, "Assuming the airlocks are computer controlled, I'd try to hack into the computer and use that to open the lock and get us inside."  Nodding, Zimzod asked if she'd ever done that and Colinne again said he might have the clearance but didn't have the need to know.  Especially since she now knew that Mikah and Zimzod both had clearances that were rather high.

Colinne was surprised when Zimzod aimed a thumb at Emkir and said, "He's done it a couple of times."  Of course, Zimzod kept quiet on the software Emkir relied on for all his successes.  Emkir only sat up much straighter in his chair, straightened his top and gave off a smile of complete satisfaction.  Derailing that, Mikah said, "So, tell us about your combat experience?"  Colinne admitted she'd been wounded on a couple of operations but said her combat was mostly cyber-related.  She continued, "I'm very basic when it comes to combat.  I'm good with a pistol, a laser pistol and a dagger."  Emkir said, "Don't worry, they'll take care of that." while pointing to Mikah and Zimzod.  Zimzod only asked, "So, no confirmed kills, huh?"

While he said that, Colinne concentrated on her stent a bit and Emkir got a beep from his hand-comp.  The computer then started reading out one of his personal files from the audio speaker.  Looking down at the computer, Emkir shut down the audio and said, "Oh.  Really?"  Marshalling her face, Colinne innocently asked, "Is something wrong?"  Emkir only shrugged and asked, "What could possibly be wrong?"  After shutting down the programs that had been activated, Emkir nodded and said, "Impressive.  Most impressive", which showed Colinne he didn't really know what Impressive was?  Especially since she never touched her computer at all.  Still, her resume said she had a neural stent, so that spoke to yet another interesting skill.

Getting back to confirmed kills, Colinne said that was on a need to know basis and Zimzod asked, "You're gonna be crew on our ship, you don't think we have a need to know?"  Colinne only shrugged and said, "I don't think the government would like it if I told you."  Giving a nod, Zimzod said, "Well, us and the Arch Duke are good buddies, so we'll find out soon enough."  Colinne only smiled and said, "Good luck with that."  Emkir then asked, "So, how do you feel about signing on with a new crew?" and Colinne said, "If I wasn't OK with it, I wouldn't be here in the first place."  When he asked if she'd ever served with a crew before, she said, "Of course, I was in the scouts." as if that was the most obvious answer.

Emkir pointed out a lot of scouts did solo-work, on x-boats, and Colinne said she hadn't done that.  When Emkir then asked, "So, you've served with a crew", Colinne said she had while she wondered if Emkir was leading her through some kind of Turing test.  She also felt that if he was, he was the one who was certainly failing.  Emkir asked if she'd had any problems with her past crews and Colinne said she hadn't.  She then added, "Not that I couldn't fix." which could have been concerning or not depending on how it was taken?  Emkir then turned to Mikah and Zimzod and said, "She definitely has some skills we can use." while Aali had kept quiet the whole time.

Turning back to Colinne, Emkir asked how good she was at poker and she admitted she might have played a few times.  Emkir then said something which sounded like gibberish to Colinne and when she didn't get the line, he cryptically said she might have some areas of skill which could be improved.  Zimzod stayed quiet but Mikah said, "We'll give you a shot."  Turning to Colinne, she said, "You'll have your own small stateroom."  When Colinne nodded at that, Zimzod joked, "As much molded protein as you can eat." with a grin on his face.

Mikah added, "And you go where we go.  Our missions are your missions, and we either come up with them ourselves or they are assigned to us.  We have a mission coming up that's going to be in a hyper-cold environment and we're troubleshooters.  Do you have your own armor?"  Colinne said she had some weapons but didn't have armor, and Mikah said, "I don't know what's available on this world, but we'll see what we can get for you?"  Colinne said she was trained with a vacc suit, but when Mikah asked, said she didn't have one yet.  Mikah nodded at that.

Mikah said she expected they would sell vacc suits in the Denotam system and Colinne said they were hard to lug around without a ship to be based on.  Emkir nodded and said, "Yeah, but you'll come to love them."  When Mikah asked if Zimzod had any objections, Zimzod said, "Nope.  She'll join us or she'll die." with a smile on his face.  Smiling and extending her hand, Mikah said, "Well, I guess you're hired."  While Colinne and Mikah shook, Mikah continued, "We have moved the ship to the highport, and have a berth with staterooms, and will be here for the next month at least, while the Navy upgrades our ship a bit.

Mikah then gave Colinne the berth data for where the ship was, because Colinne had to sign out of her quarters on the Scout base and grab her gear to move.  She would then meet them at the berth and tour the ship before the Navy called for it to be moved.  Mikah then invited Colinne to deactivate all the programs she was running on their ship and Emkir's computer, but invited her to mess with Emkir once a day.  Colinne said she could turn off the program on the ship but it wasn't malicious.  She said it was beneficial to them.

Mikah said she should turn the program off "for now" and they could revisit the idea after the upgrades were done and everything else was tested.  Nodding, Colinne closed her eyes and concentrated on her comms to connect to the port her software opened up, and then said, "OK.  It's done.  Emkir can confirm that."  Just after that, Emkir's hand-comp played an audio file of a stuttering "Buthea-butheah, that's all folks." and everyone around the table laughed.  Nodding at that, Mikah said, "You obviously have very good control of your stent.  Have you ever taught anyone how to use their stent?"

Explaining further, Mikah said they had a number of people who had stents but only Aali had really moved forward with hers.  Colinne said she would be happy to join in on the group training sessions they had.  Colinne also offered to teach some of the programming that went along with her writing mini-progs so they could do some of the stuff she did with hers.  Mikah nodded and said, "Well, you have the berth data and we'll let you know if we get any instructions before you join us.  Mikah knew she'd have to give Colinne a team comms unit when she got to the berth and settled in.

Nodding, Colinne said she was working on a personal project, further securing her neural stent and she would share it with the others when it was done.  With that, they went their separate ways.  Colinne had to grab a station shuttle back to the scout base, grab her stuff and turn in her keys before grabbing a shuttle back to the highport.  Mikah and the others had to organize themselves in the berth and tell the others they had a new crew mate.  Zimzod had some issues because of the buzzing he'd felt in the back of his brain, but was only now realizing how careful he had to be talking about "why" he felt that buzzing, and who he could talk to?  Perhaps, no one on the crew.

They would also be waiting for the Navy to call them and tell them when and where to move the ship?  And while it seemed Arch Duke Norris had decided to give them a full cloning suite and install an external security video system, he was still deciding if he would also give them one or more things, including replacement engineering 'droids, a replacement chameleon hull-equipped cutter, battledress for Rol and/or recovery services for Zimzod?

Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Everyone but Colinne and Rol: Moving gear from the ship to the berth in the Denotam civilian highport
     Colinne: Recovering her gear from the Scout base to move into the crew's berth on the Denotam civilian highport
     Rol: 9 Weeks, 3 Days to Decant

Next: Complications From High And Low