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Last Updated     Jan 12, 2022
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Drinks And Secrets On Ice

Assignments And Assumptions:
     That tuesday had been a roller coaster for the crew, much like the week of days beforehand.  Only, now it had settled into a cold pit from which some found it hard to see a path forward.  Sekea speculated on the entire crew being swept into a bag by the Arch Duke and disposed of like trash.  While Colinne did joke that his invitation was a good way of getting them all together in one place, her tone said she didn't believe things would go that way.  When Sekea challenged her optimism, they reminded him Norris had told them he would meet and tell them everything "he knew" about Sonthert.  Sekea admitted he had lost that comment in the shock of the moment.

Regardless if she intended to shake everyone out of the funk they were in, Jocelynn firmly announced, "There is something I would like to do" while she organized her notes on a datapad.  Having gotten everyone's attention, Jocelynn said she wanted to go over her assignments and direction for their cold weather training while in the Denotam system.  Jocelynn started with herself and Zimzod, reminding them neither could use their battledress in the Sonthert system, and Zimzod was in pretty bad physical shape.  Because of that, and because they had both been trained for it, Jocelynn wanted Zimzod to be their snowcat drivers.  Zimzod would be the primary and Jocelynn would be their secondary, while also handling other jobs.

Next, Jocelynn asked who was comfortable with electronics and mechanical skills?  Emkir was first to speak up, saying he'd assume Aali was best with that.  Still, a survey of everyone showed that Aali, Fesic and Sekea were the best with electronic work, and Aali and Fesic were their best mechanics.  Saying they'd hate her for it, Jocelynn told Sekea and Aali they would be in charge of managing and setting up the emergency shelter if it was needed.  That was because the mechanical connections could be made by anyone with even basic skills, but she wanted their best electricians on it.  She also wanted to keep them free in case other issues came up.  Aali nodded even though there'd been significant talk about keeping Aali aboard the ship.

The down side was that they'd need to move the panels for the shelter around because they had to be close to them if needed.  Reminded that would also mean carrying or otherwise managing the panels from place to place, Aali asked if they could use the 'droids to help with that?  She was reminded the 'droids were just as much, if not more vulnerable to the environment and very expensive to replace.  Nodding, Aali asked about using the cargo loaders, but those wouldn't work for the job at hand.  That steered talk in the direction of a grav-sled or sledge.  While Aali was willing to ask Mikah for permission, Jocelynn said they'd likely need a grav-sled anyway.  Mikah only shrugged and said, "I guess."

When Mikah said she thought they should schlep everything out with them, Emkir suggested they "hire a few expendables", Mikah laughed while others reminded him they were the expendables.  Stepping past that, Jocelynn suggested Mikah bulk up her medical kit with treatments for arctic injuries like frostbite, etc.  She also suggested Sekea's med-kit be bulked up to help with that too.  That ended when Mikah reminded her that any injuries would be run-of-the-mill things like a fall leading to broken bones.  But, if a suit was punctured or failed, the sudden rush of hyper-arctic temperatures into the suit would likely be fatal too quickly to treat.

Accepting that, Jocelynn moved on and said Fesic, Colinne and Aiden would have the fun job of working with the three portable densometers.  Especially since Aiden had the most skill with that kind of sensor.  She also pointed out Fesic would be their point man because he had recon training.  That led to a number of jokes and someone congratulated Fesic on being named their 'Number one expendable'.  Fesic joked and said he'd planned to wear a red shirt under his hazardous environment suit, and Emkir joked why not wear it on the outside?  After the laughing died down, Fesic asked if the assignments were permanent, or just for training.  Jocelynn said they were for training for the time being, and would be reshuffled if things didn't work with those teams.

Aiden said he was happy to work with the densometers during training, but thought he would be aboard the ship once they were in the Sonthert system?  But that would make all the training he did useless, as well as preventing someone else from training before that person took his place on the actual mission.  Jocelynn admitted they had talked about that but also said she had to reconsider, and would get back to them on the roles.  Still, it was seeming more likely to Jocelynn that the skills needed for the roles would likely force her to reconsider who was stuck where?  Especially since they were a small crew.  People would have to wear many hats.  Jocelynn also said she and Emkir would be the lead ice cutters, though they'd need help because those were two or three-person devices.

After Jocelynn suggested they could have their first training on Denotam the next day after meeting with the Arch Duke, Emkir snarked, "Time to get those fancy suits ironed out."  When Aiden asked about getting patches in case there was a suit breach, he was told having patches wouldn't matter.  He was reminded that any breach would lead to a sudden exposure to temperatures which would freeze entire body parts solid as a sudden event.  Because that kind of event would happen so quickly, there was no way for a person to save themselves except to get to a safe environment even faster.  Aiden could only glare back and say "uh huh".

Sekea announced he'd look into the chemicals they would expect to encounter and any hazardous situations each could create when coming in contact with the materials of the hazardous environment suits.  But the largest hazard was the intense and extreme cold of the environment.  Sadly, beyond that and what little was in the world's survey report, the world was interdicted and there really wasn't much publicly known about the worlds they were targeting.  Even worse, they were the outer worlds of an interdicted system where the main world had always had the focus.  So, the outer worlds had been surveyed, but largely ignored after that.  And, over the coming days, Sekea would work but wouldn't find much in his research. That left them with "the cold".  And that meant Sekea couldn't predict what chemicals they might walk on, bump into or touch?

Curious what the suit manufacturers could tell him, Sekea checked the documentation which came with the hazardous environment suits, and didn't see much.  There was only the boiler plate warning of what environmental restrictions should be considered, which clearly said the suits would suffer in hyper-extreme environments.  "How" they would suffer, other than materials breakdown, wasn't mentioned or described, and details weren't given on how damage would occur nor in what timeframes?  So, Sekea figured 'what the hell' and sparked up a terminal to send an x-mail to ask?  Finding the manufacturers were apparently based in the D'Ganzio system, Sekea realized he'd not get any answer for at least six weeks.  Still, he paid the Cr 5 and sent the question.

While he did that, the others started considering what they "should or should not" wear to meet with the Arch Duke?  Despite the high level of the meeting, Mikah made it clear this was certainly not a court occasion and shouldn't be looked at that way.  She said she would be wearing a business suit to further make the point.  Hearing that, the others fell in line with treating what Emkir suggested would be a briefing like any other business meeting.  Because he'd been concentrating on his research and the x-mail, Sekea didn't notice the conversation.

News And Preparations:
     Knowing they had to be flown to the naval base early to meet the Arch Duke, Mikah had mandated early wakeup times.  They each considered, while they prepared, how the meeting would go and how dark they could imagine the outcome when Mikah's thoughts were interrupted.  Checking the alert, Mikah saw the ship was receiving an x-mail and scowled while wondering what new annoyance that was?  That lasted until she saw the label on the x-mail said it came from the University of Rhylanor!  Mikah's mood changed to one of glee when she realized "this" was news she was looking forward to!  Accepting the x-mail, Mikah checked and saw it was a message from "Doctor" William Kirgashii, which set her back a bit.  Mikah was more used to interacting with him as "Lord" William Kirgashii, brother of Duke Leonard of Rhylanor!

Less happily, she was also used to dealing with him as "Director" Kirgashii, Subsector Director of the covert IRIS Intelligence organization.  Of course, she knew ninety nine percent of the Imperial population believed IRIS was a figment used to scare people and didn't actually exist.  And, personally, she would as happily have been glad to remain unaware of the truth if that option had been offered to her.  Still, it had provided her some entertainment on those occasions she'd been able to watch people's faces when they learned the actual boogie man did really exist.  Especially because those were rare occasions when those persons were also learning they were being targeted by IRIS...

Still, she read on, remembering it had been nearly three months before that she'd cut the deal with Sir Brian's family on the books and sent her x-mail to Rhylanor to get the sale in motion.  Ironically, the x-mail only gave her more details to add to the news story she and the crew had listened to two days before.  Like the news story had told her, Lord William said the book auction was set for the 96th Day of 1114.  That disappointed Mikah, who'd hoped the sale would have happened already.  She'd hoped the x-mail would give her a code the crew could use to receive the sales profits from the bank.  Now, she saw they'd have to wait another two and a half months for the auction.  Then, it would be up to the x-boat networks and where they were at the time to find out how much they got for the books?

On top of the deal with Sir Brian's family to give them a quarter of the profits, William's letter told her the University had signed a contract with the firm Gidkhiza, Picheslal and Kiskhui to auction the collection.  He was also pleased to tell her the Duchy had 'leaned' on the auction house to provide professional courtesy so the house would only take twenty percent of the auction price.  That meant the ship would only get three quarters of eighty percent of the total.  Or KCr 60 out of every KCr 100 bid.  Still, she had no idea how much Brian had paid for them and the ship had gotten them free when he died so...One hundred precent profits!

In his stateroom, and having missed the conversation about what to wear the night before, Sekea found himself entirely unequipped to dress up.  Having lost all his previous possessions, including any civilian suits he had, aboard the wreck of the IMS King George and not having had any real chance to replace them on Arden, Sekea had nothing to wear to a high level meeting.  When he started asking about how he should dress, it was suggested he rush out onto the station and find a place that could sell him a suit, even if he showed up to the meeting with hemming pins still holding it together.  Unlike the meeting they'd had the day before, this wasn't a rushed meeting and how they dressed would likely be a consideration.  The good news, as Sekea rushed out onto the port was that the ambient technology was interstellar even if low interstellar.  And the port was largely based to care for ship crew, passengers and military on leave.  So, the sales concourses were open twenty four-seven.

Looking for 'business-casual', Sekea found they could make suits but didn't have a large stock of "off the rack" options.  Still, he decided to take a look at what they had hanging, and was surprised at the quality in his size.  Because he was under the gun for time, Sekea started trying on suits.  After he trying on a number of suits, the shop offered him one suit for Cr 300, two for Cr 500 and three for Cr 750.  Sekea bought two, with the agreement they could do the tailoring on one so he could quickly leave wearing.  The other would be delivered to his ship's berth after that tailoring work was done.  In the end, Sekea paid Cr 500 for the two suits, which could be called oxy-moronic because they were "Conservative Vilani Business Casual".  With one in black to be delivered to the berth, Sekea got done with the blue suit and wore that.  He also bought a pair of black dress shoes for Cr 70 and left, rushing to meet the crew at the port's military shuttle bays.

Back on the ship while Sekea shopped, Mikah suggested they should look to sell off what remained of Terin's gear and belongings.  The others agreed but also reminded her the Arch Duke had said he wanted a memorial for Terin.  There was grumbling about that and Mikah suggested they look into selling off the junk left over from Terin and others crap they didn't need in the ship's locker.  Everyone was agreeing with that because it seemed like the only bright spot in what promised to be a dismal morning.  After some time, the chatter was cut off by a call from the port telling them the Imperial Navy had sent a shuttle for them to ride on, to cross to the naval station and meet with the Arch Duke.  Taking that information, Mikah called Sekea to tell him where to meet them.

Unexpected Shocks:
     After the entire crew organized, they were led onto a basic navy transport shuttle.  It was the kind of bare-bones ship that could move a hundred to 120 people from place to place, and was aerodynamic so it could re-enter to operate from planetary surfaces.  Appreciating the space the shuttle's interior offered at first, they became less comfortable when they realized they would be the only people on the shuttle for that flight!  Again, that sparked more gallows humor about killing them all off, but several of the crew pointed out - some pointedly - that the Arch Duke wouldn't have sent a shuttle for them if he wanted them dead.  It could as easily have been done by faking a airlock failure in their berth.  Still, it was a very quiet flight.

After docking and all other procedures were taken care of, the group were debarked and introduced to a Lieutenant Kuaarsin.  He first confirmed they were all present, and then asked them to follow him through what was a bewildering maze to anyone not used to navy architecture.  They soon arrived at what looked to be an ordinary conference room and were told to wait there.  After a few minutes, the Arch Duke arrived and very bruskly turned to stop those of his entourage who, it seemed, had expected to follow him into the room.  In a voice which might have been a bit short, Norris said, "You're all staying here." making that clear before he stepped in, closed and secured the door.

That done, Norris turned to approach them and grab a chair while joining the group.  Spurred by Jocelynn, who formally bowed, the group greeted the Arch Duke though Mikah privately refused to bow as she greeted the man.  Waving away the bows as he sat, Norris scanned the group and nodded before saying, "So.  Sonthert."  Mikah very quickly answered, "Yep, Sonthert."  Looking at the very nervous Sekea, Norris said, "You can calm down because it's my assumption Lady Mikah filled you in on what you know about Sonthert."  While scanning their faces again, Norris continued, "As far as the records available to me go, there is a philosophic outlook held by the population of that system's mainworld that the Imperium has classified as threatening."  Norris also pointed out he didn't have access to all the records because he did not have a "need to know".

Since everyone in the room was a veteran, they'd all been exposed to the rules for classified data, and understood the restriction.  Still, it took some of them by surprise that someone with the rank of Arch Duke "Needed a reason to know something classified!  Norris continued, "For that reason, the Imperium, via authorities in the Imperial Navy, interdicted the system."  Changing direction, the Arch Duke said, "You have most likely done your research on the system and have learned there is a mining colony which is licensed to be in the Sonthert system."  The sudden change of topic not only told those listening closely that there were files the Arch Duke couldn't read, but any details on the actual philosophy deemed dangerous was buried in those files.  So, Norris himself didn't know that data.

Norris continued, saying, "All the public data you can find on that mining colony says it pulls out radioactives and a very disappointing amount of lanthanum.  So, they are, to all apparent appearances, an extremely small mining concern and their being in the system makes no sense."  After a brief pause, Norris continued, "I will tell you now that is not the case.  The mining colony are in fact a front for an artifact located on Vlei.  The population are a team working to investigate the artifact.  And the Imperium doesn't, as yet, have an understanding of the item.  Still, the documents I've given you will let you visit their spaceport and trade for food and other basic supplies you may need while you are in the system, should what you are doing require you to be in that system long enough for there to be a need. 

Turning to look at Mikah, Norris said, "To be honest, we heard about your interest in the Sonthert system as soon as you started asking nobility to help you get permission to go there.  Still, until yesterday we had no idea or understanding why you were interested in that system?"  Canting his head in the navigator's direction but still looking at Mikah, he continued, "Sir Sekea's question to me yesterday opened up a whole new understanding for myself and my people on that question."  As he said that, Norris emphasized the word "whole".  He then looked the group over as he said, "So, why don't we start with this question.  What do you know of, and how did you become aware of the White Star Order?"  His question made it clear to them that there were literally zero limits on the discussion.

Speaking up first, Aali explained her hobby in politics to the Arch Duke, including those people with titles and their roles in politics and history.  She then went on to remind Norris about the period they visited the Mora system, around when she and Emkir had gotten married.  Since Norris had officiated at the wedding, he remembered the timeframe well while he waited for a more complete explanation.  Aali then said she'd managed to find a fob for sale second hand, which had a crystal with data on it.  Aali then admitted to having had some frustration with the device until Emkir hacked a memory partition giving them access to all the data on the crystal.  Shuddering internally because she fully expected the Arch Duke to demand she turn over the fob, Aali then told Norris about the database they found and how it entirely covered the Order of the White Star to the point the fob was made.

When Norris didn't interrupt her, Aali continued to explain how she's started looking for information on this Order she'd never heard of and she and Emkir both couldn't find any data related to any of it.  Still, it was too much to be a hoax or prank, and what little they did find drove hard against dates that matched with the onset of the Psionic Suppression Wars.  Emkir admitted that that alone drove them to be more secret about their searches.  Eventually, the searches led them to guess at the reasons why the Order appeared to have been erased from history, and to worry that they too could be erased.  But they had eventually told the rest of the crew about it and they had seen, in the data, that Sonthert had been listed.  So, Aali ended by saying that was all they knew at the moment.

Norris nodded and surprised everyone in the room by not mentioning the fob at all after being told about its existence.  He first nodded and said, "OK.  Well, that clears up a lot of the questions we have about why you are interested in Sonthert.  So, I assume your interest in the system of Sonthert is based on the listing of a possible base in that system."  Cutting him off, Aali said, "That would be a correct assumption your Grace."  Continuing, Aali admitted, "Of course, we do not know if such a facility still exists, but that is one of the things we're curious about?"  What then started as a comment on what might be found several centuries later turned into jokes about toys like FGMP class weapons.

When the jokes faded, Norris waved the comments away reminding them all that development of the FGMP-15 was less than a century old, so it wouldn't be found in any such site.  He also reminded them all of his earlier comments on Regina, and the certainty the Imperial Navy would remove any equipment they might incorrectly locate in their activities.  That was a hard comment to ignore since everyone there but Sekea remembered that statement being made before All the organized Dukes and Duchesses of the sector.  Looking more directly at Zimzod, Norris smiled and said, "The problem isn't just getting the weapons, but keeping them."  Zimzod got laughs when he only whined back plaintively, "Come on dad!"  Leaning forward, Norris said, "OK.  Cards on the table." and they all leaned in to see where the cut would be made on this deal?

With their full attention, Norris continued, "If you find the base, and after you take what you do from it, your haul will be vetted by the Imperial Navy and you will keep what they allow.  But you will not tell them about the base.  And, we are especially concerned that any surviving data devices on the base not be touched or altered because we have a use for them.  Working or not."  That he was now instructing them to hide the truth from the Imperial Navy straightened a number of spines in that moment, and sparked questions what was really happening in more than one mind!  The only actual answer he got was when Zimzod nodded and said, "Fair enough."

Jumping backwards in the conversation, Jocelynn asked "What was it they're guarding?  The miners?"  The Arch Duke was so surprised, he had to stop and re-think himself and wonder if he was making it clear what was really important here?  Still, he shrugged and told her it was an artifact.  When she asked him, "That's all you know", he shrugged and nodded.  He then paused and waited for anyone else who felt they had to catch up before he moved forward again.  When he felt things were ready to continue, the Arch Duke said, somewhat ominously, "So, now you will learn everything I know about the Order of the White Star."

After a pause, Norris began, saying, "As you are all aware, about the eight hundredth year of the Third Imperium, there were a series of events empire-wide which are now referred to as the Psionic Suppression Wars.  During that time, the psionic citizens of the Imperium were hunted, imprisoned, killed, run down, lynched...the list goes on.  Until that point, the Third Imperium was very happy working and living with its honest psionic and law abiding citizens and benefitting from their abilities.  Following the Second Frontier War, Empress Arbellatra founded the Order of the White Star in the 640th Imperial year, open to any Imperial Knight with psionic ability.  After reaching its highest point of support and development in the Imperium, psionic arts were turned against and suffered a fairly steep fall until Empress Paula II revoked all Imperial charters for all the psionic institutes in the empire.  For reasons we don't know, two of those revocations were canceled and those two institutes were moved for preservation. "

This had not been news for Zimzod, since he'd dreamed of gaining glory by finding and leading attacks on a surviving Institute since learning two were "still out there" as a teen.  It was also not a surprise to Mikah and Colinne for other reasons.  For some of the crew it was not only a surprise, but a frightening and even threatening revelation.  Continuing, Norris told them, "Since that time, it could not be openly taught and now even admitted that the Imperium once openly supported psions, or that there had actually been an Order of Chivalry composed of psions.  The public, and many world governments wouldn't support it.  Still, it is a historic truth.  So, all government data on the Order on the White Star were suppressed and classified."

Shaking his head, Norris suggested it must have been a very large shock to the members of the Order and their families while they went about their lives, working to support and secure the Imperium.  To suddenly be turned on by the very forces of the Imperium in a massive and destructive wave.  Ever the student of odd items out of the distant past of Terra, Emkir muttered something that sounded like Execute Order Sixty Six' in a menacing tone, as if that meant anything to those in the room.  Still, the immense forces of the Imperium were unleashed on the Order, and any data from the period suggested all their assets were either destroyed or secured.  Then transferred to Imperial armories or treasuries.  Norris then told them he wasn't sure what they might find in the Sonthert system, but any additional digging he tried to do on his part would only lead to more people noticing and asking questions about his actions.

When it became clear, from his comments, that the Arch Duke was doing the best he could to covertly help them, Aali thanked him for his help and Mikah agreed.  To confirm, Emkir asked, "So, if we do find something, we are to come directly to you about it?"  Norris nodded but only said, "That would be appreciated."  He then added, "At the moment, the Prince and I are bound for the Retinae system, for a ceremony that will make a defensive squadron operational there."  With a grimace, he continued, "And, we're gonna have some fun on the way, stopping in the Thanber system, if you've been paying attention to the news."  Those in the room either remembered stories about events in the Thanber and Dekalb systems or they didn't.  And that didn't have an impact at that moment to Norris, though he preferred Knights be aware of what was covered in the news.

Continuing, the Arch Duke made it clear he was well aware of what kind of adventure they would likely have in the Sonthert system when he said he had no idea how long it would take them to do what they planned?  Still, he said he hoped they'd succeeded because anything they found might help him with one of his interests.  When he was asked what that might be, his answer showed how open he was actually being with them.  Reminding them the Imperium used to embrace citizens with psionic talents, he said it was his interest to promote acceptance of Imperial psions again.  At least in his domain if not the entire empire.  Seeing near-horrified looks on the faces of some of the crew, he pointed out that the Zhodani weren't going to take their recent loss well.  He continued that the Imperium only had so much time before the Zhodani absorbed and reacted to the loss.  And, he felt that when that reaction came, it would be best if they had some Imperial military formations who could face the Zhodani psions on an even footing.

Privately, both Zimzod and Mikah recognized that reasoning behind their recent "special training" with psions.  Still, neither of them had even gotten that "buzz" in the back of their brains when they could only attribute it to the Arch Duke, so they had to assume he was very honest and earnest about what he said.  Nodding at his comments, Mikah said, "It would surprise the shit out of them, wouldn't it?"  Surprising everyone because she was the most junior member of the crew, Colinne asked, "I don't know.  How can you trust someone who knows your deepest, darkest secrets?"  Fixing Colinne with a near-glare, Mikah then asked, "I don't know Colinne.  How could you?" in an almost nasty and certainly sarcastic tone.  And, she also emphasised the world "could".  Everyone else in the room tried to read the subtext it was obvious they didn't have.

Cutting the tension, Emkir said, "If they wanna look at my deepest, darkest secrets, that's on them.  It'll drive them crazy." in a very evil tone.  Mikah only smiled at him and said, "We wouldn't try that Emkir, don't worry." which confused some people on its own, because Emkir had been talking about psions and not the crew.  Horrified by knowing "any" of Emkir's thoughts, Aiden joked, "There ain't enough mental cleanser for that".  Mikah gave no sign if she'd tripped over a line and hinted at beans to be spilled?  Emkir only smiled evilly and said, "Remember, the best psionic defense is a dirty mind." and Aali added, "It creates an excellent compost from which to grow youth and beauty."  While this happened, Jocelynn had noted Mikah's reaction to Colinne, and been watching the women for further comments as the chatter continued, because Mikah's tone suggested she knew something.  So, Jocelynn was on alert for what there was to know?

Sekea then asked if they should try to recover any bodies they find and the Arch Duke said that they'd have to get amazingly lucky to find anything worth trying to recover.  Much more lucky than they'd gotten with Jocelynn.  Norris added that even if they did find any genetic material to bring back, it would only lead back to someone who was related to the Order.  So the risk that presented was even more dangerous.  Especially since everything they brought back would be vetted by officers of the Imperial Navy, and most of them were not as forward thinking as he was.  Aiden jumped on that and asked, "So, we could make sure anything we bring back can't be traced back to the Order?  The Arch Duke agreed with that completely.  Sekea then asked if the Arch Duke or his people had any more information on the chemicals in the atmosphere or surface of Laurasia and Oseaan.  Norris smiled and told Sekea their crew were likely the most educated people in the sector on the outer worlds of the Sonthert system.

With the questions about Sonthert spent, Jocelynn rolled the dice and asked the Arch Duke if he knew where they could pick up a grav-sled that could carry 500 pounds of gear and could survive the expected environment in Sonthert?    Caught by surprise, the Arch Duke suggested they check with the clans of Denotam to see if they were selling anything?  Going for it, Jocelynn asked if he was aware of any clan which was better to work with than the others?  Having arrived not long before they did, Norris could only tell her the lands around the area of the base and downport were claimed by Clan Arnstruther.  But, if they wanted to try any of the other clans, they should work through the port to find the contacts they'd need, since the port would have experience working with the clans.

Before the meeting ended, Fesic asked the Arch Duke for any decision about the lock picking class he'd asked about a couple of days before.  Norris reminded Fesic he'd ordered a search and would get back to him once they came back with their answers.  Sekea then asked if the Arch Duke knew any more information about extending the lifespan of the hardware he'd given them and Norris said he didn't.  He said he'd seen the gear and figured it might help them in their work.  Following that, Aiden asked if the Arch Duke thought it would be good for them to look for probes and sensor sampling systems to better figure out what they were walking into?  Because people who are Arch Dukes have so much free time to investigate hardware specifications and what gear a Scout would use rather than going to an actual reasonable source for that information.

When Aiden pushed things a bit further, and asked if that kind of equipment could be made available by the Scouts or Navy, Norris told him no.  He pointed out that the equipment he had given them didn't come from the military and they shouldn't be pretending they could simply ask the military for supplies.  The attitude he did his best to moderate was that certain people in Lady Mikah's crew should stop pretending the Imperial military were a grab bag for supplies for civilians.  Still, he was willing to be as helpful as he could and wondered if there were any more questions about Sonthert or the White Star Order?  When they didn't have any more questions, he had them escorted back to the base's shuttle bay.  There, they boarded another shuttle like the one they'd arrived on.  Only, this was a regular flight and there were other passengers aboard.

Getting back To Work:
     When they got back to the berth, Jocelynn jumped on a terminal and started looking for any grav-sleds that might be for sale in the system.  Despite the recommendation to call the port to get their connections with the clans, she wanted to see what she could find before going downwell.  Aiden and Sekea were talking about the idea of looking for ground and atmospheric probes, to learn more about conditions before they landed anywhere.  They also sparked up terminals to see what they could find where Aiden's first 'stop' was the InstellArms site.  Having heard Fesic ask the Arch Duke about the lock pick class, Colinne started checking the local web, public archives and library listings to see if she could find a lock smithing course?  Ironically, while Colinne was looking up one class for Fesic, the gunner got a notification he had a new x-mail!

Logging into the IISS system, Fesic checked the label on the file and saw it was from the University of D'Ganzio!  He'd bought a four year degree teaching program from them on 071-1113, and then lost the program(with the ship's computer) when the Hotel California had misjumped three months later.  After they'd made it to the Inthe system aboard what was now the Upgrade, rescuing themselves and Jocelynn, Fesic and the crew had finished up there and traveled to Wypoc, Dinomn and returned to Regina before Fesic had sent an x-mail asking how he could recover the class on 314-1113.  That message had made its way to D'Ganzio and a copy of that response had arrived in the Denotam system aboard an x-boat from the Ghandi system that morning.

After two months, the message first recognized Fesic's right to the class materials based on the data he'd sent them.  It then included a passage in sympathy for the misjump but celebrating the fact that Fesic had survived since so many did not.  Finally, it said that Fesic could receive his replacement software in one of two ways: The first was to bring his ship to the D'Ganzio system, or their campus in the Lanth system, and upload the software to the ship's computer.  If that wasn't possible, he would have to pay to have a memory core with the software loaded onto it shipped to a location where his ship could receive it.  He could then upload the software to the ship's computer.  That would cost him quite a bit of money for the memory core and to ship that core to a place where his ship would be.  But, since they were considering stopping in Lanth before going to Sonthert, and going to D'Ganzio after leaving Sonthert, all he had to do was wait until they arrived in either system to replace the class for free.

Zimzod and Jocelynn talked about the type of sled she wanted, and Jocelynn said she hoped to get something that was good in any climate because she was sure it would prove useful regularly.  Zimzod said he doubted it would matter how well it was designed because the extreme conditions they'd be subjecting any sled to would break it down.  Jocelynn agreed with that but figured it was worth a try.  While Jocelynn did that, Mikah got a buzz on her comms.  When she answered, she found it was Lieutenant Commander Germai Miisud from the shipyard.  She asked what he needed and the Commander, who was very annoyed, told her a team from Imperial Naval Intelligence had arrived.  They ordered his people off the ship until they completed a two-day search for possible covert or restricted data.  So, the Commander wondered what Mikah knew about this?

Mikah said she had no idea what they were talking about and accepted that there was nothing they could do to stop the navy people.  So, she told the Commander to stand down unless there was something he could do on his end.  While annoyed that his work schedules were being bent out of shape, he had no power to fight the intelligence people so there would just be a two-day delay on the work.  After she got off the comms, Mikah told the others about the news and both Fesic and Sekea guessed it was the fob and crystal containing the White Star Order data.  Mikah figured that would have explained why the Arch Duke hadn't asked them to turn it over when they talked to him.  But she also told them that wasn't on the ship.  It was in the berth with them because Mikah had told everyone to get their valuables off the ship before it was moved to the port.

Still, Mikah considered the fact that the Arch Duke didn't want any details of the Order to get out, so she had to wonder if this was being done under his orders or if someone else had somehow learned what was going on?  Figuring she should go right to the top, Mikah called for Arch Duke Norris and obviously interrupted something he was doing when she said the classified data may have leaked.  When Mikah explained the message she got from the Lt. Commander, he was bothered, which told her he had not ordered the search.  Still, the Arch Duke said he'd look into the investigation on his end.  While he had Mikah on the line, he asked if his people had called her about the memorial for Sir Terin, and Mikah said they hadn't.  He told her he would poke them over that.

While the others worked to find a sled or other things, Aali realized she hadn't loaded the ten-round magazines for the bullpup shotgun she'd bought.  Since she had boxes of various ammunition, she loaded the magazines with ball ammo.  Since that used up all her spare ball-ammo shells, she reminded herself to buy more when she could.  Sekea left Aiden to shop for probes and looked over the gauss rifle and gyrostabilizer he'd bought.  He decided to pulled the directions for the stabilizer and connect it to the rifle and configure it.  After Colinne had set up her searches for the lock pick classes, she decided to do some meditation before doing her daily 'Direct threat' scan.  What she'd seen in setting up her searches wasn't encouraging.  Those who taught lock smithing were usually those who hired the workers or took apprentices.  In the Denotam system, surface security was often based on clan needs and processes and orbital security was more often than not electronic, and divided by civilian and military.  And "Military lock smithing" was more often than not "disassembly-based".  Often using explosives of energy weapons.

Done with his x-mail, Fesic suggested that Jocelynn add searching for arctic-quality weapons to her sled shopping.  That was because, while the Denotam environment wasn't nearly as harsh and destructive as they expected the Laurasian and Oseaan environments to be, anything she found might be that small bit closer.  From what Jocelynn had already started finding, there were a large variety of both advanced and less-tech based sleds and sledges being sold on the world below.  She wasn't thrilled with the idea of animal-pulled units, because that would mean "Human-pulled" in the Sonthert system.  All she could think of there was, "Not meeeee", even though she knew it meant "Yes me" if it came to it.  Jocelynn did see one grav-sled one of the clanners was selling that was not only a grav-sled, but also had a small "hut" built on it, and focused on checking that out.

Aiden had connected with InstellArms, and was asking them about surface and atmospheric drones and they had a variety they'd had success selling in-system.  They also had some 'outlier' models which didn't exactly fit the local needs or were above average price points, but still sold.  When Aiden tried to dial up the descriptions to cover hyper-arctic environments, it was made clear their stock would function well "on Denotam" with no guarantees for environments that were significantly more harsh or destructive.  That said, they had a good stock including some drones made on Denotam by some of the clans themselves.  While she did that, Emkir asked about any user manual for the ice cutters, because she'd assigned him to be lead on one of those.  After Jocelynn told him where to access the manual for that, she also said she'd join in with him after her sled research.  Emkir dove into starting to learn the ice cutters.

After an hour and a half, Colinne rejoined the crew after again encountering a number of shielded minds in her scans, but sensing no direct threats.  When she checked her searches for lock picking, she found there were no hits in the local system because it seemed security in-system didn't concentrate on individually managed systems.  So, military organizations likely had what training they did in civil engineering outside the system while the different civilian clan or station-based cultures had their own approaches to electronic or physical security.  So, no one was teaching lock smithing "on the fly" while making those classes or training available to others in general.  There were short bits on individual systems or lock-types, where one couldn't be sure if viewing the short vids might not be monitored by some level of local security.  But, there was nothing 'over-arching' that covered it all.

While others worked at their tasks, Fesic sparked up a terminal and went looking for an Emergency Personal Life Support(or 'EPLS') bag and vacc suit reaction pack.  Where thruster devices could be hand held or suit-mounted, Fesic was specifically looking for a unit which would mount to his suit.  First looking for the 'baggie', Fesic saw there were a number of venders on the station who sold or even refurbished emergency life support systems.  Anything from short-term rescue balls like the one the Baron and his daughter had escaped the King George, in to longer-term and more survivable options and systems.  the EPLS was essentially an air-tight being-sized bag in which a person could seal themselves in a crisis.

Basic units for Cr 400 allowed a user to enclose themselves with any gear they have on them and use the in-built air supply to keep alive for a day or so.  But basic units also had little protection against micro-meteorites, drifting wreckage or the other hazards of a shipwreck.  Still, after reviewing the costs and listings, the basic unit was what Fesic chose to buy.  Fesic next looked for a thruster pack, and spent some time searching before he found a unit.  Sadly, the device was obviously old, worn and looked a bit beaten.  Deciding to pass on that, Fesic paid the Cr 400 for the EPLS bag and a Cr 20 charge to have it delivered to their berth.

Moving on from her lock pick search, Colinne started looking for listings for used or inexpensive hazardous environment vacc suits, or even a basic vacc suit.  While she knew the suits the Arch Duke had given the crew would be much more appropriate and much more survivable on Laurasia and Oseaan, a HazMat vacc suit was an improved option over a regular suit in many situations.  The one HasMat suit she did find was described as designed for the Denotam environment.  So, it was based on local tech and likely not as advanced as could be found in higher tech systems.  But it would certainly last a bit longer than a basic vacc suit.  Still, she looked at the KCr 12 cost and joked, "Out of my price range and useless too!" as if she was unimpressed.  Overhearing the comment, Aali said it was very nice of the Arch Duke to outfit them like he had.  Of course, that ignored the obvious fact he wanted something from them if they succeeded.  And, if they didn't he likely didn't lose much money and their crew would be "sorted".

The range of regular vacc suits listed for sale was much wider.  The list started with a very generic unit advertised to have a four-hour PLSS.  That suit and its marginal services was on offer for KCr 10, which "really didn't impress Colinne.  Another unit she saw was advertised with an eighteen-hour PLSS, being sold for KCr 14.  From there, they worked up quickly to KCr 20 and more, with units becoming much more expensive as they added on features and sported "modifications".  Not that one could be certain of all the customizations without proper testing.  When Mikah heard Colinne comment unhappily on one suit, she asked, "Don't we have spare vacc suits and PLSS units in the ship's locker?"  Jocelynn said they did, since she'd been the last person to organize that space.

Jocelynn told them they'd had two suits when Sekea signed on the ship.  One that would fit a person standing 5'7" and of average build.  Though he was a bit short for the suit and wasn't exactly "comfortable" in it, Sekea was using that suit along with the 48 hour rated PLSS.  The second suit had been Terin's, and would fit a person standing 5'9" and of average build.  So everyone aboard was either much too short or too tall to be able to use it.  The other PLSS they had was rated for 24 hours.  Jocelynn said they had three combat armor suits too, and she was using the 5'7 suit while there were suits for someone 5'3 and 5'9.  Still, Mikah said Colinne could use the spare PLSS until they reached a system where vacc suits and gear were less expensive and more reliable.  That got Colinne to sheepishly admit she couldn't afford a vacc suit that might fit her while she could still use the PLSS.

Mikah shrugged Colinne's answer off and told her the ship would pay for it if she could find a vacc suit that fit her better.  Colinne thanked Mikah and then said she'd turn back to looking for a vacc suit that would fit.  While she didn't say so out loud, she still planned to look for something less expensive since there was no reason to waste money.  Colinne did say she wouldn't be over spending for a brand name and Jocelynn joked she could have the horrifying bathing suit she'd gotten from the pool staff at the casino.  They all laughed, but Colinne said she would only be getting what she needed and would wait until they could get better while spending less in another system.

Paring down to what she was willing to spend, Colinne did find a seller with a suit that was used, though still new enough, that appeared to have not been abused.  While the sellers weren't pleased with selling the suit without the PLSS, they agreed if Colinne wanted to buy.  So, the question became if she wanted to go look at the suit or not?  When Colinne wanted to go check the suit herself, Jocelynn said she also wanted to go with her because she wanted to see if the seller had any gear like boot or glove liners for warmth?  Hearing that, Mikah joked that Fesic should go with them, knowing how often Fesic came back 'bent or dented' when he went out with Jocelynn and anyone.  Reacting to that, Fesic said he'd go along with the women.

Getting Rocked:
     Colinne then copied the location of the shop on the port and the three left to shop.  The "store" the man ran was more of a salvage sale in a short-term rental along one of the station's commercial concourses.  It was also clear the man who ran it was at least something of a scavenger, and would close up shop when he reached a balance between what he could sell and what it cost him to keep renting the space.  When the man, whose name was Akhid Kaggau, was asked if he was a scrounger he said he preferred the term treasure hunter.  He did admit he spent time surveying the less traveled parts of the Denotam system looking for items which could be recovered and "resold".  He then pointed to a display which was prominent along the right side of the "shop" and drew their attention to his prize piece of merchandise.

Looking up, the three saw an oddly formed rifle on display, which was obviously Zhodani.  The weapon form was as familiar as any other gauss rifle, but the angles and curves were 'wrong', simply because the weapon's shape reflected the 'artistic sensibilities' of a different culture.  Akhid said he was asking KCr 10 for the weapon, which he recovered from a crashed Zhodani ship he'd gotten to before anyone else during the Fifth Frontier War.  Fesic, Jocelynn and Colinne remembered that Denotam had been cut off by Zhodani fleets in 1108, and relieved by Imperial fleets towards the end of 1109.  Looking critically at the weapon, Jocelynn had served in the "Lanth front" and faced some Sword World troops using Zhodani weapons, though most used weapons from their own home worlds.  Fesic had also largely served in operations out of Lunion fleet operations areas and also faced Sword World troops, though they were rarely 'front line' and Fesic spent his battles in a turret or battery.

Still, they had all had threat briefings and visual recognition training during the war, and had a good idea what enemy gear looked like.  So, they could be sure it was Zhodani, and the rifle looked like it had suffered some field use.  Jocelynn asked if she could handle the rifle before examining it up close and checking to make sure it wasn't missing the components she could see.  As far as she could tell, it was Zhodani and she said so.  Colinne nodded as she took the rifle to look over.  Doing her best to seem like she was concentrating on her cash, Colinne tried to reach out for the man's surface thoughts.  Annoyingly, Jocelynn stepped closer to her and started promising to cover her financially if there was anything Colinne wanted but couldn't afford.  That interrupted her first attempt as she gave Jocelynn more of her attention and nodded in thanks.

When Jocelynn stepped away again, Colinne again reached out for the man's surface thoughts.  Seeing she was interested in the rifle, as well as the vacc suit, he offered her a package for KCr 24.  He said she could have the vacc suit and the rifle, which cut Cr 2,000 from the total deal.  Jocelynn then stepped in and asked if the man had anything to help warm his feet and hands in colder environments like Denotam's?  Akhid nodded and said he used muffler socks and glove inserts which did make his vacc suits and other gear tighter, and sometimes uncomfortable.  But he did say they helped keep warm and reduce using the suit's heaters and draining his batteries.  Hearing that, Jocelynn moved to ask prices quickly, but the man backpedaled and said he wasn't selling those.

At the same time, Jocelynn's questions gave Colinne cover to read what she could and realized Akhid thoughts were on who and what bills he could pay if he made this sale.  She would later realize, what he'd been selling had been much less important to him as getting the money was.  The man certainly had debts.  At the same time, Fesic was looking around the rest of the shop which seemed to be filled with local debris and gear.  There were even some bits and pieces of things that could only presumably be hung on a wall as an object d'art but seemed to have no purpose Fesic could work out.  Fesic was done with the place about the time Jocelynn and Colinne also started looking about for more toys, when the man suddenly said he had an interesting gemstone.  Colinne asked "how so" and he said he didn't show it to everyone as he led them to what turned out to be a covered display instead of just a table-top pedestal.

The stone was a large, oblong opaloid shape, almost two feet long and up to a foot wide.  It was almost a foot high and was rounded though flatter on the top and bottom.  When Jocelynn asked where he'd gotten it from, Akhid said he'd bought it from a trader who seemed to want to just get rid of it.  Jocelynn guessed it probably didn't come from Denotam and Akhid said he was sure it didn't come from that system.  Asking if she could first, Jocelynn leaned over to lift the stone and realized it was heavier than it seemed!  That meant it was more dense than she expected.  When Jocelynn asked, she was told Akhid wanted Cr 5,000 for the giant gemstone.

While Jocelynn was pretty much ready to put some cash down on the stone, Colinne had her hunches about it.  She was also ready to buy it, and planned to scan it with a densometer to see if there was something inside it?  So, Colinne thought a bit more about it before the two said they wanted to buy the stone.  That decision seemed to move them to the "Checking out" part of the shopping trip when Jocelynn told Colinne, "OK, we'll get you the vacc suit and rifle..."  She then turned back to Akhid and continued, "...and we want this crystal."  Akhid was certainly pleased at the amount of cash he'd get from the sale and was only slightly backed off when Jocelynn then shifted to ask him advice on where to get muffler socks and glove liners for the cold?  Akhid also decided these three had money and might come back for more if he made friends, so he asked where they were planning to travel that was so cold?

When Jocelynn said, "Just down to the surface", he nodded and said he thought he had something else they'd like.  While the three watched, he dug out a box in which there was an electronic console and a number of other accessories obviously belonging to the console.  When he set it out before them, he told them it was a neural activity sensor array.  Jocelynn's clearly unimpressed reaction was to ask, "A what?" while Colinne had seen much more advanced versions of the device in her past work.  Like Jocelynn, Fesic had never seen something like the rig before.  After getting an explanation for everyone what the device did, Jocelynn realized it might be valuable and agreed they wanted it.  With their current total at KCr 29, Jocelynn offered, "Make it an even KCr 30" without even asking how much the NAS was worth?

Akhid countered with an offer for KCr 30.5 and Jocelynn decided to try and negotiate.  Being a team player, Colinne decided to strike a pose advertising her curves and possible interest while Jocelynn and Akhid traded offers.  Akhid finally said that if they paid an even KCr 31, he'd throw in a set of muffler socks for each of them for free.  That closed the deal, and they moved to pay for their purchases before looking into how to wrap and move the things they'd bought.  While they did that, he also told them about other stores on the station's various trade concourses where they could look for more muffler socks and glove liners.  Jocelynn paid the overall bill, knowing the ship would pay her back for Colinne's vacc suit and Colinne would pay her back for the rifle.

Colinne still thanked Jocelynn for the help, and planned to thank Mikah when they got back to the ship.  Jocelynn shrugged it off saying she knew Colinne hadn't gotten a pay check yet.  Still shrugging off the thanks, Jocelynn paid for the gear and Colinne had Fesic help her try to find a way to pack the gemstone into the vacc suit carry bag.  They were mildly annoyed when it wouldn't fit.  The helmet was large and didn't collapse, but it wasn't nearly as large as the gemstone, and the rest of the vacc suit folded down so there wasn't the space for the stone inside the bag.  Hoping not to obviously be wandering the station with the huge gemstone, Colinne finally decided to just wrap the stone in the vacc suit and hope for the best.

Since the vacc suit bag was empty, they fit the NAS sensor and muffler socks into that, to ease carrying everything.  That done, they moved on while Akhid started dealing with his accounting.  Jocelynn was the first person to say she was happy they'd managed to get the gear.  Colinne agreed, saying it looked like the man needed the money, and she thought the gemstone was pretty interesting.  Jocelynn agreed with that, and said that if Akhid was telling the truth and someone had been eager to get rid of it there would be a story behind the stone.  They were all looking forward to looking into the gemstone and learning more about it as they chatted along the way back to the berth.

Soon enough, they came to an internal inspection station, where they found they had to submit everything they had to inspection!  It was an apparently internal regulation of the highport that they had the stations at key transfer points to insure safety and security between sections of the port structure.  In this case, there were no inspection points for spacers coming into the interstellar housing or commercial spaces from "the docks".  But, there were check points heading back.  And, there were customs points at every point where anyone wanted to cross from the "Interstellar" compartments to the "Local" compartments.  So, the three had no reason to have expected the point but couldn't evade it after they'd seen it...or after the troopers saw them.

While they approached, the team at the gate noted two items of concern in the obviously shouldered rifle and the oddly wrapped "item" being carried.  When Fesic and the ladies stepped up, they were asked to place all their goods onto inspection tables while some of the station troopers stood back with hands near, but not on, weapons grips.  While the spacers expected nothing, they also got no real warning signals from the troopers because those people were good at their jobs and all too aware how easily a mistake could start something that ended in lots of paperwork.  Or worse.  So, a quick check showed the odd-looking gauss rifle had no magazine in it.  It was officially stamped: "Not a threat" when the rest of the goods on the table showed no magazines for it.  That judgement was even more reinforced when two of the "tourists" turned out to be some flavor of nobility.  And while they had the right to bear arms, they were supposed to be bearing sidearms.

That was a 'wink-and shrug thing', because the idiot nobility never followed the rules unless they were made to.  So, they ignored the fact the one person who wasn't a noble was carrying the rifle and figured she was either their servant or being set up for a practical joke by the nobs.  Either way, not enough of an issue to bother doing paperwork over until they understood the other surprise.  Then, they realized there would be more paperwork than they wanted to add to, and it first seemed the nobility and their servant/victim might be spending time in the lock up.  The inspector who had stepped up to unwrap the item that had been held almost stopped cold when he unwrapped enough of the stone to realize what it was.  And that wasn't much.  He then did a stutter step before muttering a code into his uniform mic and preparing to step back.  The troopers were so experienced that the transition was very smooth.

The three crew only realized something might be up when the inspector looking at the stone very politely asked, "Can you folks step into that interview room over there?"  He pointed at what looked like an interview room, that seemed to be made of frosted plexiglass but was likely of sturdier stuff.  What they didn't know was that, thanks to the passed code, they'd become 'suspected smugglers' and the inspectors positions had shifted so the other guards could quickly make use of pre-defined firing alleys if their reactions were anything but cooperative.  That was also something that was trained for, and drilled into the troopers.  Moving into the space, Colinne joked, "Well, it was nice knowing you." to Fesic and Jocelynn.  Thankfully for everyone, they only sat for ten minutes before a man walked in, closed the door and introduced himself as Chief Inspector Gakearka.

After sitting down, he pointed at the stone and asked, "Where did you get that stone?"  Jocelynn immediately told him, "the same place we got the rest of the stuff." which had also been held on the table outside the interview room.  Thinking of how to describe what was halfway between a stall and a salesroom, Jocelynn eventually said, "We went to a junk dealer, I guess is what he is."  The inspector nodded and asked, "Do you know what that stone is?"  Jocelynn only said, "It's a lovely gemstone.  I was gonna make jewelry out of it."  When the inspector asked, "Do any of you want to hazard a guess what it is?" Colinne joked, "A paper weight?"  Judging by the man's reaction, that didn't help their case.  Jocelynn could only fight her own laughter while admitting the stone was quite heavy.  Fesic was trying to think of anything like the stone he'd encountered before only he hadn't.  Colinne continued, "It doesn't look like computer storage." with a smirk showing she didn't realize the danger they were in.

Stepping in with a flat voice, the inspector asked, "And, neither of you three have any idea what it might be?"  The man then turned away from them as something in his demeanor suggested this was more than a small issue.  They watched while he worked at a terminal screen only he could see.  While he typed, he almost idly asked, "Have either of you ever heard of a Denuli Gemstone?"  Jocelynn only asked back, "A Denuli gemstone?  No."  Turning, Jocelynn asked, "Fesic, do you?"  He only shook his head and said, "I can't remember ever having heard of such a thing."  While they talked, the man printed a quick flimsy from his terminal and handed the printout across the table to them.

When they read that, it was a TAS report on orders from the Mora system and Grand Duchess about the 567-908 system.  That system had been renamed "Denuli" and the piece from late 1113 said ownership of the items known as "Denuli Gemstones" was a Capital Offense!  And it further said the amnesty to turn any such items in to the Imperial Navy ended on 002-1114.  Or, seventeen days ago!  That bit of news had been released two months before, on 315-1113, while they'd been in the Regina system.  Reading the piece, Jocelynn suddenly remembered the news item then:

    Mora(A99AC7-F  2  Hi In Cp  112  Im  M5 V)                            Date: 252-1113
    In a long-awaited announcement, the Admiralty Command of the Spinward Marches have followed up orders
    and announcements made months ago in the Rhylanor system regarding the newly redesignated Denuli system.
    Bearing the seal of the Emperor, the order carries with it new laws regarding operations and activities
    in the new system.  To the surprise of many, the prediction of explorer Lord Sir Kaenkder were born out
    as the orders stated the basis for protection of a new minor race discovered in that system.

    In addition to legal orders and ramifications regarding operations in the system, the order also reinforced
    and codified the ban on collection or ownership of the "Denuli Gemstone".  In another surprise, Imperial
    Law now considered ownership of such goods as a "Capital Offense"!  While the relationship between the new
    race and these gemstones was not mentioned, the order did provide for a period of amnesty during which all
    currently owned Denuli Gemstones could be turned into any Imperial authority without punishment.  Failure
    to comply to the orders within that period will be seen as a mitigating factor should any sentient be found
    in possession of the items beyond the amnesty, which will end on 002-1114.

The inspector had been watching when Jocelynn realized she remembered the news item.  He also watched as she started understanding the situation, but only said, "I never knew what they looked like."  Fesic and Colinne kept quiet during the exchange.  Finally, the investigator asked who had paid for the items they said they'd purchased, and the phrase "they said they'd purchased" let them know they were still in deep space.  When Jocelynn said she had, he asked if he could see her Ident?  Jocelynn handed that over knowing she didn't really have the option of saying no.  When he had the Ident, the investigator connected it to a device wired to his terminal and began reviewing the files.

After a short bit of work, the investigator's demeanor changed and he returned Jocelynn's Ident while saying they could pick up everything they'd been carrying except the gemstone and return to their business.  That suggested he'd seen the records of the purchase in the data on Jocelynn's Ident and decided to believe they had just innocently bought the stone.  When he said his people would handle the gemstone from that point, Jocelynn asked if she could get her credits back?  The investigator simply looked her in the eyes and said, "No."  Colinne then asked, "Are these crystals a big deal?" and the investigator reminded her ownership of the stone was a capital offense.  His tone also said he had no explanation for the law but would enforce it.  It also suggested there were already security teams moving in to secure Akhid and his wares.

On the way back to the berth, they started out talking about Akhid's likely demise, and then moved on to what the odds were he actually knew about the stone?  That led to speculation on how many people would be in the market for so large a gemstone and how it would be used, though the biggest laughs there were suggestions it could be used as a codpiece.  Eventually, while not saying how they would have done it, Colinne speculated on if they should have tried to get past the team with the stone and made it back to the berth.  But the truth was that they'd only have an even worse time explaining the stone to the team that finally did catch them with it.  Only then, they wouldn't have the excuse of having innocently bought it anymore.  Jocelynn only lamented that the lesson had been as expensive as it had been.  She also hoped they gave her credit for the fact they turned in the crystal, though they'd not had much of a choice.

Back at the berth, Jocelynn and Colinne filled Mikah in on the finances.  Mikah agreed to pay back Jocelynn the KCr 14 for the suit and also paid her KCr 9 for the gauss rifle.  Mikah also told Colinne she didn't have to pay the ship back for the suit, and could payback the KCr 9 when she had it.  Still, Mikah did ask if Colinne had training with the weapon and Colinne said she had.  After the money was settled, Jocelynn pulled Mikah aside to tell her what had happened with the scavenger and the inspector.  When Mikah heard about the Denuli gemstone, Mikah could only whine, "Oh Man!" in disappointment.  Especially when Jocelynn said they'd given the stone to the station security people.  When Jocelynn said they tried but got caught, Mikah said, "At least you didn't get shot."  Jocelynn nodded and mentioned the amnesty for turning in the stones had ended seventeen days before so they had been lucky.

Having overheard the talk, Zimzod asked what was so special about the stones that the Imperium would kill over them?  Mikah had remembered the news stories the best after having had a conversation about the stones from Countess Ursara.  The best she could do was tie the stones to the 567-908 system when all the news items started flowing from the system a little less than two years before.  When that did little to help with the mystery, Colinne suggested she could look into the question if Mikah wanted?  Mikah waved that off and said not to worry about it unless she had nothing better to do.  Speaking of better things to do, Colinne started preparing to lead a stent class.

Twisting In the Data Stream:
     While Jocelynn, Colinne and Fesic had gone shopping, Aiden found listings for a number of drones used or even made in-system.  Of course, they were used primarily in the fighting and battles the clans fought against each other.  That meant the devices built locally were optimized for combat.  Aiden also looked at the data they had on the Sonthert system, which Terin and Rol had gone over months before.  That showed a lot of information on the composition of Oseaan and Laurasia's atmospheres.  So, that gave him some of what he hoped to find using sensors.  With that, Aiden brought his research to Mikah.  Given what he had, he asked Mikah if they wanted to connect with some of the local builders and see what they could do to optimize some drones to better survive hyper-arctic extremes?  Mikah agreed they could contact the on-world builders and see what they had available, and how they could optimize.  Still, she warned him it would depend how much having them do that would cost?  Aiden agreed he did want to know what models were available, what other features they had, and what their durability numbers were? 

He told Mikah he'd look into that.  Mikah waved him off with her hands, agreeing and happily saying, "OK, you do that.  Have fun."  She was glad he was out of her hair because she'd realized it wasn't about "what the device could do."  It was about what the materials any device was made of could withstand.  Every device was made out of multiple materials and their component materials would expand and contract at different rates.  That would slowly rip every part of each device away from every other part of a device.  Adding chaos to that, some materials would hold or surrender heat or cold differently, meaning they would vary the temperatures of materials they were in contact with, so a strap of high-density steel would vary in temperature depending on what other materials bled heat to or from the strap.  So, unless they could invent a new super-material that held atomic and molecular bonds throughout those many and complex changes, "no material" could be optimized to survive where they were going.

While the others shopped, Sekea looked for when Mikah was available and then asked her if he could talk to her about the neural stents.  Having had the chat she thought was coming with many in her crew, Mikah didn't even try to hide the sigh.  Still, Mikah asked what he wanted to know?  He asked her what was involved in having a stent implanted, and if the procedure could be done on the ship?  Mikah told him she had the skills to do the implant procedure and it was simple enough to do that she could do it on the ship.  She explained that he'd be put under anesthetic so she could cut a flap into the flesh behind one of his ears.  After baring his skull, she would drill a hole into his skull through which to insert the internal stent components and micro-tools.  Then, she'd surgically create the bio-connection with the brain and assemble the other components to a port that would fill in the hole in the skull.  That gave the electronics of the stent's guts and external port for wafers a base.  Mikah told Sekea they just had to get to a system where they could get the hardware.  Sekea thanked her and said he'd spend two hours looking to see what was available on Denotam, but didn't expect much.

Until Colinne was ready to lead a stent class, Jocelynn checked out one of her armory vids, and set that aside for the class.  When that was announced, Aiden also saved the research he had only just started.  Getting back from the shopping trip, Fesic didn't have to worry about the stent class and started digging into his planned research on the Ghandi system.  Having been in that system a little less than a year before with Mikah and the crew, Fesic remembered his experiences in the system.  Everything was expensive and comfort only came to those willing to spend money on it.  He also remembered the research he had done in the later months of 1113, when they were on Dinomn and planning to jump to Ghandi.  That data was in his notes: (and available on that After Action Report)

        What passes for a main world in the Ghandi system is a 2,000 mile diameter rock
        The rock has a trace atmosphere, and a spotty one percent of the surface is ice covered
        The system has a citizen population under 10,000 in stations and no one lives on the rock

      The system has a population only because it is a stepping stone between the Lanth and Regina systems along with Dinomn, and
      because the Imperial Navy built a significant defensive naval base there as part of the "Shield Worlds" strategy.  The Ghandi
      naval facilities were also responsible for supporting the interdiction fleets for the Victoria, Sonthert and Ylaven systems.  That
      meant most of the population were transient and non-citizens.  The result of this is a large and robust transient population living
      on the B Class starport and other civilian stations and service facilities who need almost everything imported for use or sale in-
      system.  The rock which is the system's mainworld is the site of speculative and transient attempts to mine for valuable ores, but
      no one stayed on the rock.

Adding to the allure of the system, the local government was a feudal technocracy.  That meant the "upper crust" of the system all had their own petty titles.  Their ruler sat over local Duchies and Counties which control economic sectors of the economy through the control and development of technology.  This meant those forces owing fealty to each faction had their orders to protect and benefit their liege, and might not miss any chance to advance their faction if a door was opened to do just that.  Legally or not.  It also meant troops and servants in livery everywhere, and badges worn by every citizen which created sociologic and economic borders that were no less points of friction for their fluidity.  Each company from the smallest to the most powerful were owned by a citizen of rank.  Smaller firms might be owned by a squire or armsman where larger firms were owned by Knights, Lords and so forth with greater titles holding conglomerates of firms.  And every worker, a serf, though not legally a slave due to Imperial limits.

That meant there would be a constant influx of supporting and advanced technology and systems they needed to support their own systems and stations.  They'd also need food, water and gasses to support their systems and environmentals.  Even more, they'd constantly be bringing in many of the goods they would then put on their sales shelves and sites to sell to ship crews and passengers moving through the system along transit lines from the larger Imperium and the Regina and Jewell subsectors.  Firms in the Ghandi system also did their best to get hold of novelty goods from the Zhodani and Vargr.  That even suggested the cargo of novelty alcohol could sell well in the system, depending on tastes.

And while a lot of the more common goods came as bulk mega-freight along with foodstuffs and consumables, more rare or unusual cargoes could sell well along with smaller shipments of goods where some item had suddenly become over-popular.  There could easily be markets for tech goods that couldn't be created in-system along with consumer goods and heavy manufactured goods.  Because he didn't yet have his trading certification, Fesic then saved his data for later and considered needing to replace a pair of pants and a destroyed set of executive armor, which he could have suggested they try to do when he'd been out shopping with Jocelynn and Colinne.  Still, with the others busy, and while Mikah read a medical journal, Fesic went shopping again.

At first, Fesic looked to see if the shop had any clothing which would be considered ostentatious on his homeworld?  When they didn't have what equated to a Flammarion version of a 'blindingly bright' Hawaiian shirt, Fesic paid Cr 30 for a pair of pants which would fit in with the wardrobe he already had.  Fesic then asked about executive armor, and wasn't surprised when they said they didn't carry that kind of what they considered 'combat-ware'.  Leaving that shop, Fesic traveled to InstellArms because they were the largest seller and he knew them better than any specialty shops on the station.  There, he was quickly connected to a concierge who he asked about executive armor.  She checked her datapad and said they didn't have a stock of that in the system.

Disappointed, Fesic asked if there might be anywhere she could recommend he look for executive armor?  That was a doubtful move because InstellArms' had a reputation of getting everything there was to sell.  Even putting their acquisition teams into personal danger to do so.  Because of that, Fesic could've guessed that if there was a market for Executive armor in the system, IA would have agents feeding them any sets that were available locally.  The concierge remained friendly and polite while telling him they were not aware of any availability in the system, but he might do his own research.  Fesic then returned to the berth to spend an hour or two checking on his own.  While Colinne, Jocelynn, Zimzod, Aiden and Aali had been in a stent class, Sekea finished his search and found no one in the Denotam system appeared to stock the hardware for a neural stent.  Not that his results surprised him.

After reading a journal, Mikah decided to look for what training experiences she could find on the world below?  What she found was less encouraging than disturbing.  While all the offerings the natives posted about looked inviting enough, there were Imperial warnings annotated to them.  What were advertised as ice and snow treks were often enough mischaracterized and actually a way for some clans to "augment" their border patrols.  And, if a tourist were wounded or killed, the clanners apparently had no issues with "absorbing their equipment" into clan stocks.  More than one legal fight had been noted as having resulted from fights breaking out as part of a "winter hike".  Some additional warnings suggested the clans could often be accused of "gangster-like" behavior or warring organized crime families.

Mikah shrugged and decided the crew wouldn't be working with the natives while trying to train with their new toys.  It was nice enough for the rich murder-noble to give them the toys and they didn't simply want to die while handing them off to a group of murder-happy eskimos.  Mikah then considered her medical kit and wondered what Jocelynn wanted her to add to it?  The very brutal truth was that injuries would come in two varieties.  Those wounds which happened because you fell and broke a bone or something else but didn't damage your suit.  Or events where a person violated their haz-mat suit and died.  There really wasn't a middle ground.  When Mikah asked Jocelynn after the stent training, Jocelynn had been concerned about frostbite and such.  Mikah told the marine there wasn't gonna be anything treatable if someone got frostbite.  Fesic finished his searches for executive armor, but didn't manage to find any sources.

An Evening Hunt:
     When dinner came, they sat and shared food and updates.  Mikah told the others what she'd learned about the natives and they realized they couldn't just have fun trusting the locals.  That also suggested they had to not consider asking the clans for land to train on.  Considering that, Aali skipped past finding unsettled or unclaimed land and went right to asking the Imperial military to use land on their dirtside base to train.  When she brought up the idea of asking the military, the others liked it.  They then talked about how to ask the base for space to train and eventually hit on the plan of having Emkir call the base's civilian outreach office.  From there, he would start working his way through the procedures and red tape.

The first person he connected to was a civilian support agent who listened to what Emkir was interested in and said that base resources were not shared out through that office.  He asked Emkir to hold and then transferred him to the base administration office.  There, he got an administrative assistant working for the base command.  She interviewed Emkir for his interest in using land on the base and got details on what kind of "training" the crew wanted to carry out?  She also confirmed there would be no weapons, demolitions or anything destructive in use.  Overhearing Emkir say they didn't plan on using anything destructive, Colinne muttered, "Well, there go my plans."  The admin rating had Emkir hold the line while she investigated is request with the base command.  She finally came back to the line and said she'd gotten permission for the crew to practice on the base.  She only wanted to know when the crew wanted to carry out this training and how long it would last?

While Emkir talked to the people on the base, Aiden also started talking about possibly getting drones and wondered if they would require training to use with the others?  The consensus was that they didn't demand specific training, but they would have to get used to operating them and practice regularly.  And that would be stacked on top of all the other things he wanted to, or needed to learn.  Finishing up with the admin rating, Emkir set the dates so they would do their training in three days, and have three days access.  So, they'd start training on Monday, the 25th day of the year.  The woman then got the berth address, to send Emkir the permits needed for when they moved to enter the base and train.  That let them drop from orbit to land on the base's landing field, then move to where the permit let them go and do their training.

With that done, Aali suggested they make sure they have a sled of some kind to tow their gear on by then.  Earlier in the day, Jocelynn had searched for sled and sledges to see there was a wide variety of them being sold.  One of the sleds even had a cabin built on it.  She liked that very much because it would help in an emergency.  Looking at the contact data on that lead, Jocelynn saw the seller lived within the Erskin Clan.  When Jocelynn called the comms link in the ad, she connected with a man who said he was a hunter within his clan.  He asked what questions she had and Jocelynn first asked how the sled held up in the elements?  While she was hoping to learn how it would withstand hyper-arctic conditions, the man only told her how well it ran in his use on Denotam.

Jocelynn then asked how old it was and what issues he'd had with the sled?  She also asked what had to be done to regularly keep it running?  Scratching his head, the man said he'd had the sled for something like ten to twelve years and was finally replacing it.  He admitted it had 'a couple of' what he called 'glitches'.  Then he said, "the power system needs to be kicked every so often'.  Jocelynn then asked how quickly it tended to break down in the cold, and the man didn't understand her question.  That was because the sled's materials wouldn't break down in Denotam's cold environment.  Saying he didn't understand the question, he only repeated it was old and he'd decided to replace it.  She then asked how much he was asking and he said he wanted Cr 12,000.

Fairly certain she was interested, Jocelynn asked for the sled's dimensions.  Getting those, she realized the sled would take up three tons of space!  Her stomach dropped when she realized that meant it was too large for them to move with their cutter.  If they bought the sled, they'd need the ship to move it, and they didn't have the ship for the next four weeks.  When Colinne mentioned they wouldn't have the cargo space for the sled she was told they would be selling the alcohol anyway, so they only had to worry about space for future cargos.  Still, this specific sled was too large for them to move with the cutter and so Jocelynn thanked the man and ended that call.

After they were done with that seller, Fesic suggested his ideas for getting and using a sled.  First, he reminded them they had a snowcat, to move themselves and their gear to locations on any given world.  He expected they'd hook the sled to the snowcat, to move their gear to locations where they could get the snowcat into.  Then, they'd have to drag the sled where the snowcat couldn't go.  So, he suggested any sled they get be designed to be "man-powered", so they could team up and push or pull it into that kind of location.  Hearing that, Jocelynn happily called out, "Thank you for volunteering."  So, he suggested they look for something smaller and less extravagant.  He then asked about the sizes of the gear they'd have to move, to get an idea how big a sled they needed?  At a minimum, a sled would have to carry the 'ten by ten' panels for the emergency shelters.

If they wanted to save space, they could stack the ice cutters on top of them or have the people assigned to them pull those behind the sled.  The densometers were easy for people to carry and they'd have to hump their own additional gear.  Added to that, any gear they had on the sled would need to be strapped or tied down and the material they used for that would have its own rate of degradation in the hyper-cold.  Responding to that, Aali suggested using rope or natural materials over artificial straps like bungees.  Fesic's questions also ignored the fact they would be using the cutter to land as close to a location they wanted to investigate as they could.  They would then use the snowcat to move back and forth over that area, and either choose not to investigate specific sites or use the ice cutters to reach them.  So, having to deal with long treks over land would not be a thing they would have to do.

The next sled listed was built to move people and had an enclosed cab and seats, so they could stack cargo on top, but that would be limited.  If they even considered the sled, they'd have to rip the cabin off the device and rebuild its surface.  It was also old and the listing very honestly said one of the grav-modules had been failing repeatedly.  So, it was entirely wrong for their needs and they passed the listing by.  Another listing was referred to as a "half and half" which meant it had grav-modules lifting the front of the sled off the surface but the back end was designed to drag behind.  The design was for uses where the user had a vehicle strong enough to drag it and wanted to save on costs and battery charging.  Despite the intentional design, Colinne suggested the seller was lying and it was really a full grav sled on which the back two modules had failed.

While Jocelynn wasn't impressed, and didn't want to argue with Colinne, she called the seller to get details and learned the sled he had would fit in their cutter.  When she asked if things just fell off the back, he said they had to be secured down to the sled as if that was obvious to anyone.  When she asked what he hauled on it and how he tied things down, he said he hauled whatever he had to and used either rope or plasticord.  Again, Jocelynn asked how the ropes and cords would hold up to the elements when he could only speak to Denotam's standards and not hyper-arctic conditions.  Because of that, he said what he used held up well, but he didn't really understand her question.

When Jocelynn asked what he would do differently if he were working in a hyper-arctic environment, he screwed up his face as if he'd bit into a lemon and said, "I wouldn't go to a hyper-arctic environment."  That answer was likely a combination of his conviction no one should go to such places mixed with the fact he'd never studied and didn't understand what "hyper-arctic" really meant?  Jocelynn could only mutter, "Believe me buddy, I'm with you on that." while wishing there was an easier way to do what they had planned.  Listening in, and considering what they already had, Aali quietly recommended they look for a sled that was entirely grav-supported instead of a half and half.  Moving on, they saw a sled which was everything they wanted in a sled except the listing said the sled's power unit failed often.

After checking the dimensions and making sure it would fit in the cutter, and was fully grav-capable when the power unit didn't fail, Aali suggested she might be able to fix the grav modules.  Even though they hadn't yet checked all the listings and might find a better unit in a later listing.  When Aali pushed to go look at the sled, Jocelynn checked the listing and saw the seller wanted KCr 13 for it.  Since Jocelynn felt that was reasonable, Jocelynn checked and found this seller was part of Clan Glas.  Calling the contact, Jocelynn asked if they could visit and have their engineer check the sled's power plant?  The man was happy to welcome her to his place and had coordinates ready for her to navigate to.

Despite the fact they still had listings they'd not checked and could find another better unit, Aali seemed to take the lead and started setting up an expedition to check out that sled.  When pushed, Aiden said he'd pilot the cutter before Jocelynn protested because she wanted to do some research into the clans first.  She wanted to be sure they weren't going down into the hands of people who might beat and rob them after they landed and walked into a trap.  What she found when she got them to give her some time to research was that the clans were not criminals outright, but more of a low-tech frontier version of organized crime.  So, they only had to keep their wits about them and not get roped into local crime, or mistakenly sign their cargo, property or lives away.

That said, Jocelynn was in charge and needed Aali to see if she could diagnose and possibly fix the sled's power units.  Aiden had said he'd fly them down and Mikah said they could use the cutter when they asked.  Emkir also decided to come along with them and see how much trouble he could get into.  Aali then suggested they bring some of the alcohol from the cargo to share as a sample of what they had to sell.  Aali was told that would mean breaking open one of the cargo pods to grab a bottle.  And that might lower the value of that full ton of the alcohol since that lot had possibly been tampered with.  Before they could make that decision, they asked Fesic about breaking up the cargo.

The first thing they were concerned about was the loss of payment for a single ton of the alcohol.  That was KCr 8 if they broke open a cargo container for a sample.  When they went to Fesic to ask about breaking open one of the cargo containers, Fesic shrugged and said he figured breaking open one of the containers was the price of doing business.  After that, there was some chatter before Aali suggested that they should sample some of the drink to see if it was any good, since they were opening the container.  Hearing that, Emkir looked up as he said, "You know!  I hadn't thought of that!  You're absolutely right."  While Emkir very excitedly looked for a tool to open a cargo container, Aali said, "In fact, I think the whole crew should take a sample."

Hearing Aali, Emkir worried there would be less for him and their liquor cabinet until Aali assured him they had enough booze already.  Fesic said they could go blind drinking the stuff and they all laughed.  Still, Fesic did say it was perhaps smart if not all of them tried the drink.  Aiden raised his hands almost defensively and said, "Yeah.  I'm flying later." making it clear he wasn't going to have a drink.  Over acting the part of a martyr, Emkir stood and said, "Fine!  I will do this for the crew.  I will drink until I am sure this drink is palatable for our sales."  Which meant he'd volunteer to 'test the alcohol at grave and fake risk to his own life and body'.  Holding back her laughs, Aali lauded his willingness to fall on his sword in the line of duty.

Colinne announced, "You know Emkir, this danger is far too dangerous for you to take on alone." while Emkir waved away all attempts to stop him or even worse...join him.  Rather than risk having someone drink something he might keep to himself, Emkir objected, "No, no, no.  You have to understand I am well experienced in understanding and dealing with dangers like this." in a tone of sham-nobility.  He then continued, "I am certain I am the most experienced in this crew for the task of determining if this drink is serviceable enough for us to sell."  When Colinne objected, "But you're far more important than a poor new hire such as me", Emkir suddenly switched tones and asked, "What is that?  Can I get that in writing?"  Hearing that, everyone laughed.

Colinne backtracked, saying, "I didn't say you were better at computers, just more important than the new guy."  Emkir pushed to get her to admit she said he was more important and she did before he nodded and said, "I just wanted to get that out there." in a fake pose of victory.  Emkir then returned to his mock-noble tone as he said, "But I am still the person who is going to test this drink because I can't bear to put my crewmates at risk for something I would not do myself!"  With that, Aali stepped up and said, "And I would also be willing to help my dear husband!  Should anything befall him, we will go down that tube together."  Accepting that, Emkir commanded, "Alright!  Let's open up one bottle and see what it tastes like?"  Nodding, Fesic said he'd get them "a sufficient sample to bring to any customer".  At that, Jocelynn said they should all probably taste it so we all know what it tastes like.  Sekea heard that and volunteered to try it too.

While he left, Fesic made it clear he wouldn't be drinking any of the booze until he saw if those who did went blind or not?  Aiden used the excuse that he'd be flying them to and from the world's surface even though he could easily take a sip or ten without getting drunk.  Jocelynn said, "Not the whole bottle, just a shot or something." and Emkir joke-snapped at her, "Speak for yourself!"  While they waited, Emkir fake-whispered, "Perhaps I can taste it and, if its real good, I can tell them it's not good enough to sell..."  He was cut off by Mikah's comedic snarl, "We know all about you!  We don't believe a word you say!"  Emkir smiled and said, "I can be very convincing." with a very wide smile.  Colinne then stepped in, saying, "Well, if it's no good they we'd might as well jettison it or..." while faking a disinterested attitude.  Emkir quickly cut her off while objecting to that and claiming it could be improved.  Aali even suggested "giving it" to the Navy while she happily suggested throwing away KCr 240 of cargo.

Eventually, Fesic got back with a bottle to "test" and glasses were poured out for those willing to test the drink.  After the first sips, Sekea and Aali felt the drink was "OK".  Emkir, Mikah and Zimzod were "less enthusiastic" about what was an apparent variant of grain alcohol.  Colinne was also less thrilled about the taste and Jocelynn announced it would be perfectly good to clean engine parts.  Hearing that, Emkir held up his glass and looked at it appraisingly before saying, "I guess we can part with this" Colinne nodded and said, "It's not bad for vinegar."  That got even more laughs from the others.  When Emkir said, "It needed salt", Colinne added, "And potato chips."  Aali asked, "And a lime?"

When they asked how many bottles they'd take downwell with them, Jocelynn said, "They can have the rest of the case" in a disappointed tone.  Sekea suggested they could sell it as antifreeze if they couldn't sell it as alcohol.  With a laugh, Emkir asked to be reminded how much they'd paid for the cargo.  He was told they'd paid KCr 240 for the cargo.  When Aiden asked what the unit price was, Fesic scoffed at Aiden and said they could divide the cargo down to KCr 8 per pod of cargo.  But they had no idea how many bottles, or cases, was in a container so they couldn't divide below KCr 8 to get a per bottle unit price.  Still, they all agreed on taking the case they'd pulled the bottle from as a starter and see where that ended up.

After that, Jocelynn said they should grab that case, get into their vacc suits and take the cutter downwell to meet the sled owner.  While they shipped out to the world below, Colinne sparked up a terminal in the berth to do some exploratory computer work.  She hoped to see how deep into the local network ecosystem she could get and how far she could dig into it without getting in trouble.  Mikah helped Zimzod with physical therapy while Sekea broke out his new gauss rifle to do static practice.  Fesic studied using the cargo sealer.

In the cutter, Aiden looked at the coordinate data the man had given them for the first time as he called the port, then stopped and looked again.  He was annoyed that they didn't make sense!  Having already called the port, to get clearance, Aiden mentioned that he'd been given a set of landing coordinates from the world below but they didn't make sense.  The controller laughed and told him the clans had their own nav-system for their system, and used it instead of standard Imperial data.  That meant the data they'd been given had to be translated.  There were several minutes delay before control passed the translated coordinates back to him.  Quickly after that, they dropped from the station and began their burn down to the world below.

The drop and re-entry was smooth enough given the thin atmosphere and lack of heavy resistance, and they had soon landed near the buildings that were his compound.  They saw the man had some kind of business and could see a number of both grav-tech and legacy-tech vehicles as well as a garage, other out-buildings and his home.  After he greeted them and introductions were done, the man led them to a sled which would have been their dream sled if it had been brand new.  Of course, a brand new one would cost a great deal more too.  What they could see was that the sled had seen better days and this sled had been used, abused, beaten and battered.  And, he said that from time to time, one or more of the grav-modules would fail.  Which could leave them stuck in place while the hyper-artic environment ate away even more at what they were trying to repair.  Considering there were more listings, the sled was a roll of the dice that hadn't deserved the attention the crew were giving it.

Raising A Glas:
     Still, the man had a garage so Aali could get the sled up on risers letting her look directly into the modules at eye-level after opening their access panels.  She didn't need to bend, twist or even lay down to do what she had to, or what she could.  The others watched while Aali began testing to see what she could figure out.  Or, if she could find what to fix?  The small talk only lasted a short while before they had to start thinking about alternative topics of conversation.  Lucky for them, they had a near-full case of stuff they really didn't want to have to drink again in the cutter.  Dragging out the conversation as long as they could, the others led the seller back to the cutter with promise of drink while Aali worked.

Awesome The first thing they did was pull a bottle from the case and hand it to the man so he could pop it open and taste it.  Fully ready for the cry of disgust, they got a lesson in 'different tastes' when the man only nodded and said, "Damn, this is tasty!"  Recovering quickly, Jocelynn smiled and said, "It's Ardeni."  The man asked, "What's an Ardeni?" which showed he was, like the larger percentage of people in the Imperium, unaware of what happened beyond the sky of his local world.  Stepping right in as if it were meant to be, someone joked, "It's Ardeni Awesome Sauce" and, despite the label no one was looking at, the nickname stuck.

When the man nodded in appreciation, Jocelynn nonchalantly said, "We picked it up on our last stop.  In the Arden system."  Emkir jumped right in saying, "We're actually looking for some buyers for our cargo.  We weren't sure how they'd go over so we brought some down here to see what the reaction was?"  Nodding, the man asked, "How much of this stuff you got?"  The others gave knowing laughs as Emkir said, "Thirty tons."  Then, he nodded in honesty and said twenty nine tons sealed and one broken cargo pod this came from" while raising another unopened bottle.  After another swig, the man asked if they'd talked to his people about the stuff yet and Jocelynn and Emkir said they hadn't.  Emkir added, "Maybe you can put us in touch with them."  Giving the bottle an eye then giving Emkir that same eye, the man said, "Maybe you should talk to the Glas."

Hearing that, Jocelynn asked, "Are you the Glas?"  The man told her, "Oh, hell no!  He's my third cousin, four times removed."  Jocelynn nodded and said, "Sure.  If you think that he'd like to meet us then...sure.  Aali then interrupted, saying, "We would be honored if the Clan Head would deign to meet with us and have a swig of this reasonable alcohol that we have brought."  Ignoring the strange engineer with her over-fancy words, the man turned back to Jocelynn and said, "Well, he ain't gonna meet with you but you can meet with him.  Especially if I tell him you're bringing the drinks."

Hearing that, Aali suggested they leave her to her testing while they go and do what they had to with the man to meet with the clan head.  She suggested she'd join them when she was done with her work.  Nodding at that, Emkir turned to the man and asked how far away the Glas was?  When the man said it was "a bit of a flight" and he'd call and see when the clan leader was available, Aali realized they would be going somewhere she couldn't just walk to.  Aali then decided she should travel with the others.  Jocelynn nodded but said, "If he's not available right away, we can still hang out while you do your thing."  Still, Aali was considering what she knew of the circuitry of grav-modules and both what could cause those failures and how those issues could be fixed.  So, she had her ideas, but she felt she'd need a couple of hours to make absolutely sure.

Things came together when the man made his call and connected through several people to learn the Glas would be willing to meet them in a couple of hours.  So, they sat and chatted with the man, and slowly encouraged him to finish off the bottle, while Aali did her work.  When Aali was done, she found there were circuits in each of the modules which were fried.  Some of the boards even had visible scorch marks where there had been a component burn.  That meant those boards had to be replaced with new or working boards.  And, because there were so many brands of grav modules, they had to have boards made to work with the same model of modules.  Adding to that, the grav sled and its modules were not new or recent, so they had to see if anyone on-world even stocked the older models before they could try to buy replacements.

Denotam wasn't an industrial world, so there were no major factories or heavy industry.  While the ambient tech level supported the common use of grav-technology, grav sleds weren't made on world and had to be imported.  They were also more expensive than lower tech vehicles.  So, there were some on-world manufacturers of some parts and systems for them but not everything was made, or even available, domestically.  So, to find the correct boards to properly replace the ones in the failing modules might be an adventure in itself.  When Aali told the others the news, Jocelynn accepted that, but pointed out they'd found someone who liked his booze and should follow that up.

Now that the sled deal was done and dead, they offered the man a ride in their cutter when they went to meet the Glas.  On the ride over, they learned the Glas had taken over from his late mother after she'd died just before the war.  When Aiden set the cutter down at the end of the flight, it was in the more advanced and built up area of a small local city.  Though built above the ice and snow, that town looked more like any city Aiden or Aali were used to.  The vehicles there were a mix of more recent grav vehicles, snowcats and more which were not beat or over-worked service vehicles.  These were personal or family vehicles.

After Aiden landed and they'd secured the cutter, they were led to where introductions started with the outer ring of security for the Glas.  There, they explained their business and had to pass off another bottle to be "tested" by sampling, to show they were there to trade.  All the while, the man they'd first met led them through levels of introduction and explanation until they were ready to meet "The Glas his self".  In the presence, Jocelynn stepped forward and said, "It's an honor to meet you and thank you for inviting us in to your presence."  Looking Jocelynn and the others over, the Glas noticed the case with a few bottles missing and said, "It's gonna take a hell of a lot more of that to get us all drunk."  Jocelynn only smiled back and said, "Oh, we have a shit load more.  Don't worry."  And both her words and attitude got nods of approval.

The reception room they were in didn't seem to be busy at the time, and they seemed to have walked into a low-level party.  Suddenly interrupting from the back of the group, Aali said, "Please consider this a free sample of what we have in our cargo and are willing to sell."  Several of the people around the man looked them over and one said, "Well, the Glas will make that decision."  With that, one of the men at a table looked up and said, "Look at that!  They brought us more booze!" in a happy tone.  The man leading them in, snapped, "Shut up!  This is for the Glas!" even as Emkir said, "That we did!" in a cheery voice.  With that, the Glas looked up and asked, "For me?  It ain't my birthday." as if there were a reason for him to question their arrival and their bottles.

Jocelynn then stepped up, smiled and said, "It can be." which got her an appraising 'toes to hair-tips' eyeball scan she wasn't sure she wanted to have invited.  Jocelynn regretted her wording even more when the Glas asked, "Does the booze come with you?" as he willfully misinterpreted the few facts they'd offered since arriving.  Getting herself in deeper, Jocelynn said, "Well, I brought it so it must."  Realizing she was digging herself into a hole that could only end in bed, Jocelynn decided to get serious and try to straighten out the boat.  So, she explained they'd been invited onto Glas lands to evaluate a grav-sled they were considering buying, and had a cargo of alcohol in their ship they hoped to sell.  Tying it all together, she pointed to the case Emkir held and said that was a sample.

When the Glas appeared disappointed, Aali again interrupted saying, "We did come with this free sample" which was only repeating what Jocelynn and Emkir had already said.  the Glas himself made it clear he preferred the birthday present and pointed at Jocelynn.  Emkir turned to Aali and told her, "Yeah, he wanted something else as a free sample." while winking at her.  Aali finally realized what they meant and nodded.  Turning to the Glas, Emkir said "It's easy to misunderstand sometimes but don't worry.  We're gonna have a great time." while raising up the case a bit more to make his meaning more clear.

In a less enthusiastic tone, the Glas waved a hand and said, "Bring it forward.  I might as well try it."  While approaching him to hand off the bottle she had, Jocelynn said, "I saw a nice number of grav vehicles outside.  Maybe we can make a deal."  After she poured the man a glass, he motioned for her to fill the glasses of all the others at the table.  When she'd done that, and they had all tried it, they all agreed they liked it a lot.  Looking around, Jocelynn could see one man's face suggested he'd just drank battery acid but was holding his tongue.  That suggested there was perhaps a reason for the Glas' advisors to not be entirely honest with him at times.  Still, the natives of Denotam had been raised with a different flavor palette and may have differing tastes.

Considering as he again sipped and tasted the drink, the Glas finally asked, "How much are you looking for this booze?" which wasn't a question they were expecting.  Because of that, they asked if they could connect with a crewman of theirs in orbit who could give them the price.  When they were allowed to do that, they were allowed to move to a separate room to talk with Fesic.  Following a brief discussion, Fesic told them to start with an ask of KCr 310 for all the remaining cargo including the opened pod.  Deciding to hold an open comms with Fesic to their ears, the group moved back in to talk to the Glas and told him their price was KCr 310.  Nodding, the Glas pointed at Jocelynn and asked, "And her questions about a grav vehicle?"

Emkir nodded and said, "That might be a consideration too." and looked at Jocelynn asking, "What do you think?"  Jocelynn said it depended how much the grav vehicles were worth and the Glas said, "I have a couple of grav cars I don't need anymore."  When Jocelynn asked if they worked, and Emkir asked if they could take a look at them, the Glas said they could.  Nodding, Emkir said, "Let's take a look at them."  With that, everyone gathered and started moving.  Both the four crew and the Glas along with his entourage.  It didn't take them long to get to the motorpool, where they saw all the vehicles were passenger craft.  To say the least, the four were underwhelmed.  When Jocelynn realized that was because she'd said "Grav vehicle" instead of "grav sled" and apologized, the Glas joked, "Well, we won't have you shot today.  At least, you brought us good booze."

While the four crew stood trying to decide what to do next, the Glas said, "Let's take a ride and check out my grav sleds."  That surprised them and they followed the Glas and his driver aboard a larger grav car.  While they rode, Jocelynn asked where they were going and the Glas said they were going out to the farms.  That again surprised them, because Denotam was an ice world, so she asked what they grew in a puzzled tone.  The Glas explained there were a quite a few breeds of plants which flourished in Dentoam's climate and number of farms and scattered horticultural facilities across Denotam.  His clan, and the others, had small but going concerns with spices and medicinals.

After a brief tour of the farm, they came to the "service barn" which was called a "barn" by tradition from the earliest times of settlement.  There, the four saw a good number of hover and grav sleds, pallets and other devices along with more traditional wheeled and tracked units.  When Jocelynn guessed he wanted KCr 310 for the sled, the Glas said he'd give them the sled for the alcohol and KCr 250.  Hearing that, Jocelynn and Emkir moved off a bit and opened a comms with Fesic and Mikah again to discuss the offer.  While Mikah suggested they ask for KCr 270, Fesic was more concerned with the value of a used grav sled.  When they guessed the value might be around KCr 15, Fesic said they should ask for KCr 300, Emkir accepted that and told the Glas his crew wanted that.

The Glas put on a puffy lipped face and offered them KCr 270 and the sled.    When they passed that to Fesic and Mikah, Fesic said they should ask for KCr 290.  Emkir nodded and said, "We feel that two ninety is actually an excellent price for what you are getting here.  This drink came lightyears to get here."  Reacting to that offer, the Glas leaned forward and they could tell his mood was changing.  He was getting annoyed.  When the Glas said, "Two Eighty Five", Aali again interrupted while she started polling the others, but Emkir simply said "Done!"  That ended Aali's attempt to get in the middle of things again.  Hearing that, the Glas was happy again and they settled down to talk about delivery and payment.

The crew knew they couldn't deliver the entire cargo in one trip, because they only had the cutter and it would only carry two pods at a time.  Because of that, the Glas agreed they could take the sled and start delivering the cargo over the next days.  Because they had thirty tons to deliver, that would take them fifteen trips down and back up again.  They had two days to get that done before their "practice sessions" started on the naval down-base.  After they delivered the last of the cargo, the Glas would have his people pay the crew for the shipment and they'd be done.  With that, they loaded the sled onto the cutter and lifted back to the port and berth.  Because it was already late and they left the Glas and his people drinking, the deliveries couldn't start until the next day.

In the Berth, they looked at the task ahead of them.  It would take more than an hour to make every landing and less than an hour to lift again.  Each time they landed, they had to unload the cargo aboard the cutter and each time they returned to the berth, they had to load two cargo pods.  The best news was that they had two sets of grav lifters, thanks to the pair they'd "acquired" while raiding the Sohturn Behemoth.  So, they had two sets and could move two pods at once.  Aiden volunteered to start in the morning and was told he'd have to lift with the first delivery at seven the next morning.  That way, they could schedule more deliveries leaving the bay at half past nine, twelve, half past two, five, half past seven, ten and midnight.  That would be the first eight deliveries.

A Stevedore's Lot:
     During the whirlwinds of delivery, Fesic got a notice from the port that his trading credentials were now active.  While their cargo had been sold off, that did open the door for him to shop for cargos as they got closer to getting their ship back.  Also during the day, Aali took the time she had to log into the naval systems to see if she could get an update on their ship.  Unfortunately, the Naval Intelligence team was still going through it and the engineers didn't have access to their people to ask what they were doing?  They only knew the team would be there until the end of the next day before work could start.  During her free time, Colinne did her mental and computer work but had to put off the stent class.  Jocelynn worked on armory videos, Fesic worked on the cargo sealer and Aiden did his own stent training and read when he could relax.  Sekea worked on his static weapons work while Mikah read med journals and helped Zimzod with his PT.  Zimzod did his PT and helped out with anything he could.

The next day, they'd start at eight and deliver at half past ten, noon, half past two, Five, and eight at night.  That would end the deliveries and get the payment with enough time to relax for the evening before the practice the following day.  With the schedule decided, they had to decide who would work each run?  Aiden had volunteered for the morning shift, and so had Jocelynn.  They needed Sekea to step in as a second person to help with cargo moving.  Colinne had also volunteered to fly and Zimzod couldn't help, so Mikah and Emkir had to help while Aiden and his crew rested up.  That switch would happen at two in the afternoon, and Colinne would fly until ten.  Then, Emkir could fly the last delivery before buttoning up for the night, with Aali and Jocelynn helping move the bins.  The second day, Aiden and Colinne could split the flights with their teams moving bins.

Bottles And Bills:
     In the end, after everything was delivered, the Glas insisted the last crew share a drink with his people from the open cargo container.  After that payment, and not counting the value of the grav sled, the crew had a profit of KCr 35.  That meant the ship gained Cr 10,500 and each crew person got Cr 2,450.  Aiden considered asking Aali about connecting the densometer handhelds to comms to connect to the ship?  He knew that, just like any other device, they could connect a commdot to it as long as the mux that dot was connected to had another commdot connected to the user's comms.  That way, the device could talk to anything the comms was connected to.  He just wanted to confirm that with her.  But the more he thought of it, Aiden realized the idea wouldn't work.  That was because he had the skill.  So, he would need to be there to understand the situation and the area being scanned.  And while he could "try" to talk another user through figuring out how to fine tune a device, it would take much too long to try that.  And, while he was doing that, he wouldn't be doing the job he was supposed to be doing.  The situation was the same with the neural sensor array.

During his time off, Sekea noticed that Aiden was very busy so he used his free time to look for information on weapons to use in hyper-arctic environments with any organizations and network sites available to him.  Unfortunately, whenever he located an expert or advisor and asked them, their first piece of advice was not to go into hyper-arctic environments.  When Sekea said he didn't have an option, they asked where the location was, so they could get better details on what he was describing.  Rather than answer that question, Sekea decided to only vaguely suggest he and his crew would be working in a refrigerated location that would be extremely cold.  Left with that as the only information, the word "refrigerated" suggested a place that was enclosed and artificially cold.

Chewing on that, those Sekea was speaking to either wrote him off as a loon or an idiot.  The latter because such an experiment as he was describing would either be something everyone knew about or was not known because it was supposed to be secret.  Especially since he apparently knew enough not to say where the location was?  Even more, he apparently felt he would be threatened enough he'd need weapons.  In all, the story didn't make sense and any person who got that far with him knew they were being lied to and accepted that either in hopes they might get some crumb of data that would make sense.  Or, that he would accidentally drop some bit which showed what he was talking about to accidentally reveal a classified program.

Those who persisted through that dark tunnel lacking all logic eventually got the temperatures from Sekea, and firmly said that no weapons made of more than one material could survive in such an environment.  That was due to the differing expansion and contraction rates of the materials any such weapon was made of.  Eventually, the components of any such weapon would lose cohesion and the weapon come apart.  Either totally, or badly enough to cause the failure of critical components.  When Sekea suggested a weapon made entirely of a single material would be able to survive that, they pointed out that such weapons would then also have to be proof against becoming incredibly brittle in hyper-arctic conditions.  If not, they would shatter if someone tried to use them.

That left Sekea with one idea that would possibly suit them.  If they brought with them molds for hand weapons such as a sword or cudgel, hey could search the locality for solid materials which would be fluid at easily created temperatures while in the hyper-arctic location.  They could then mine some of the material as a solid and melt it so it could be poured into a mold before being returned to the outside environment to cool and solidify.  And "if" it cooled without a fault or imperfection...  And "if" the material held up in its own solid state without shattering in the form it was cast into, then it could potentially be used as as a weapon.  With all those question marks, and the need to spend time mining instead of searching if they chose to do that, Sekea began researching what materials might suit their needs?  Of course, they also didn't have any indication what materials would be available to them on Laurasia or Oseaan to make weapons from?

The more Sekea discussed the idea, the more those around him, like Colinne, thought any of the ideas he was coming up with were bad ideas.  When he heard of them, Emkir also agreed that the ideas were foolish.  Emkir also said he specifically felt that the idea of fighting in a hyper-arctic environment was not only foolish but suicidal.  To all fighting parties.  When Sekea accused Emkir of making assumptions, Sekea was told his drive to create weapons was making even larger assumptions that weapons would be needed.  So, Sekea had no firm ground to accuse anyone else of making assumptions.  Mikah and Jocelynn agreed there could be wildlife and Emkir said they'd be done for if there was because those lifeforms had evolved to the circumstances.  That ignored the fact that energy there would be so hard to harvest that such lifeforms would be slow moving or only able to act after long periods of collecting energy.

Colinne pointed out they would be looking for what was left behind by an Order of Psionics, who were weapons in and of themselves.  No one appeared to want to comment on Colinne's point because they each knew how defenseless they would be against any survivors left behind by the Order.  Sekea further defended his idea of blunt weapons, at the least, pointing out they could need to smash an ancient frozen lock or other item blocking their path.  In that case, a hammer freeze-cast from the proper materials could smash the blocking item.  Emkir agreed on the need for "tools", but still opposed weapons.  Regardless of those who disagreed with him, Sekea spent his free time over the two days delivering cargo researching the idea and said there were materials which melted to fluids and froze to solids at the temperatures they would be facing and presented his report listing the materials.

News items:

    Extolay (B45589A-A  N  G  110  Im  M2 V  M4 D)                            Date: 015-1114
    Reports were distributed today that a courier which had been attached to the task force sent
    to the Tremous Dex system under Peser Tindesu has arrived in that system and the Commander is
    deploying the forces assigned to him.  The courier, the ISS Eshkhi Miir was dispatched back
    to the Extolay Naval base to apprize command of the initial arrival.  Per the Commander's orders,
    a regular stream of reporting courier craft will maintain position outside the system's jump
    limits to insure communications with high command.  At the time his ship made transition into
    jump, Lieutenant Ashniish Kadi, commander of the ISS Eshkhi Miir, stated there had been no
    challenge from in-system and Lt. Commander Tindesu had organized his forces and was proceeding
    to deploy in-system.  Lt. Kadi further confirmed the courier ISS Ranaza had made her transition
    into jump space bound for the Arden system and would emerge from jump in that system on or
    about 022-1114.

    Icetina( B5245A9-7  N  Ni  A  301  Im  M9 V M8 D)                            Date: 349-1113
    A spokesbeing from the Equus Naval base stated that Admiral Sir Hensars Mondilwin, held a press
    conference today following the return of elements of the 18th Imperial Squadron.  Working with
    naval divisions from the 212th, 43rd and 73rd squadrons, and acting on data provided by officers
    under Admiral Khimuru Uuela, commanding Imperial forces in the Natoko system, Admiral Sir
    Mondilwin stated a force under his command had engaged a mix of lesser military and armed merchant
    vessels operating out of the asteroidal base orbiting a brown star.  While normally not mapped by
    the IISS by order of the Imperial Navy, brown stars are failed stars which generally do not
    evolve into systems containing planets.  In this case, the star held a small collection of icy
    asteroids, on one of which a significant secret base had been established.

    In the ensuing engagement, a small number of naval vessels were damaged significantly enough
    to be forced to remain on station.  Following the battle, Admiral Sir Mondilwin left a small
    but powerful force on-station, awaiting the return of any further affiliated vessels.  In the
    meantime, Imperial Naval Intelligence have set up a command on the now captured base and are
    carrying out an investigation of the intelligence available.  The spokesbeing stated that
    further updates would be provided as appropriate but for now, all additional data on this
    event is classified.  When questioned if this was related to events in the Natoko system or
    other events such as attacks in the Rhylanor system, the spokesbeing made no comment.  Shortly
    after that, the press conference was ended.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Everyone: The crew are in their rented berth after having completed all deliveries to Clan Glas
     Rol: 7 weeks, 6 days remaining until decanting

Next: Changing Plans And Faces