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Last Updated     Aug 11 2023
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Dipping A Toe-Tip Into Acid

The Night Before
     Aboard the INS Maadashmim Zikheaa, Zimzod was finishing a second very boring day healing and cleansing before the medics could hit him with a second dose of medical slow.  In their berth at the downport, Colinne and Aiden were "guarding the berth" while Colinne worked to find a Clan Erskin network.  While she worked, she had Aiden make sure she was well stocked with caff and sugar.  In a Erskin village named Wezsaen, the rest of the crew prepared to hunt the fugitive Entarzul in an Imperial Army safe house.  Aboard the Upgrade in the shipyard, Rol's clone continued to gestate.

The Cold Morning Truths
     Captain Weyepem woke them all at 5 in the morning and gave them time to square themselves away before inviting them to sit and plan.  He also handed out ration cold packs they could have for breakfast.  Before asking any questions, the Captain said, "I have a gift for you.  With that, he activated a control on the display and they saw a map of Wezsaen appear on the wall display.  The Captain also said he'd bounce a copy of the file to their devices before he asked them what their plan was?  On the map, a large letter "A" marked the Imperial safe house, and a red arrow pointed to where they'd landed the cutter.

Wezsaen Village Looking over the map, Mikah griped, "Doesn't anybody believe in a grid pattern?"  Hearing that, Aali laughed.  Looking up at the Captain, Fesic then asked, "Where's he hold up?"  That ignored the fact they'd arrived the night before and only told him they were hunting a fugitive.  lacking any information on their mission, the Captain only looked at Fesic and wondered what he was talking about?  Mikah swept that away, asking Does the map show any street names or numbers and the Captain said it didn't.  The Captain used a pointer to show them the general mercantile area, the "official" part of town where the police and government offices were and then explained the rest of the town to them.

Mikah checked the map and counted four river crossings on the roads within the town.  After that, Mikah told him they'd learned of the bounty on a fugitive from a "newbie" seeker with a big mouth and no skills, and decided to step in.  She then told him about the call to the Legate, and being directed to the safe house.  Nodding, the Captain said that made sense because they believed the man "might have" returned to Denotam.  The Captain pointed to a number of houses on the map, circling a group of five buildings near the town's lower western corner with his finger and said the fugitive could be hiding near there.  That was "if" he'd returned to the world.  So, they had some of their people watching those who might hide him.

The Captain raised hopes with that, but also said no one had seen the fugitive on-world yet.  Still, they were watching the people that might be hiding him just in case.  Jocelynn suggested Fesic fly her back to the ship so she could gather all the stuff they wanted to trade.  Then, she said they could return to the village acting like traders, and try to earn their trust.  That way, she said they'd be able to wander more freely and look for signs the fugitive was there, and it would help spike sales too.  The Captain nodded at Jocelynn's ideas, but also reminded them they had to worry about the cutter.  Since he'd seen the landing, he said it was possible some of the locals had, or at least heard it.  So, there might already be teams out looking for signs of a landing.

Nodding, Jocelynn asked Fesic and Mikah how long they thought it would take to burn for orbit and get back?  The math said that would likely take about three hours.  The Captain stepped in to suggest they all return to the cutter and fly out because the launch was likely to be seen.  So, if the cutter landed with only two of the team and the rest "came out of the woodwork" to join them, the gig would be up.  Adding to that, their gear would make them stick out like sore thumbs because it was obviously of off-world manufacture.  While most of them were nodding, Sekea suggested they pose as tourist visiting the village and was interrupted when the Captain started laughing so hard he doubled over in his chair.

Getting control of himself, the Captain told Sekea, "Sir, this is not a tourist spot and there will never be tourists wandering the streets."  When Sekea challenged, and asked about tourists looking to hunt, the Captain leaned closer to make sure Sekea couldn't mistake him and said, "Believe me, Sir, this place will never be a tourist spot.  Fesic next suggested they pretend to be locals but not mix in with them while moving to the woods near where they thought the man was hiding.  Then, he suggested, they should wait and see if anyone came out of one of the houses and turned out to be the fugitive they were hunting?  Mikah asked the Captain about the men he had watching for the man, then asked if her crew really had to be redundant?

The Captain told Mikah they didn't have a dedicated team watching the buildings and only knew who might be hiding him.  So, they kept a casual watch, to see if they spotted the man or evidence he was there?  He also said they didn't have people to keep a constant watch, so they reported what they could.  The Captain then gave his opinion of the idea by saying they can sit and watch as long as they wanted, but there was only a suggestion the fugitive was on-world.  And they only believed the buildings he pointed out were the correct places to watch.  So, they could be sitting waiting for the man to show his face for days or even weeks before one of the local hunters found them.  In truth, Fesic's suggestion was not unlike his suggestion the day before.  Then, he'd suggested they find a town center to sit in and wait.

Considering leaving Fesic behind with his one-track suggestions, Mikah asked, "OK Fesic, you gonna volunteer for that?"  Missing the Captain's point entirely, Fesic admitted, "I'm thinking that might not be very fruitful.  I'm also wondering if they go outside, what if they cover their faces?"  So, he worried they wouldn't identify the fugitive even if he did leave the house they weren't even sure he was in?  When he said he felt they would, he decided his idea wasn't likely to work.  Especially since everyone had to wear vacc suits when outdoors in the thin and frozen atmosphere of the world.  Of course, he ignored the more realistic odds the man wouldn't leave the house himself, because he was a fugitive.

Adding to the pile, the Captain pointed out that all the locals had vacc suits of local manufacture while they were all wearing more advanced Imperial suits.  Because of that, they'd stick out like sore thumbs and never succeed in blending in.  hearing that, Mikah said she agreed with Captain Weyepem, that they should all leave and return later, with toys to sell and pretending they were traders.  Hearing Mikah say that, Captain Weyepem said he could devote two of his people to create a distraction while they returned to their cutter.  That would draw off teams which might be looking for signs of a landing the night before.

The Captain warned them they'd have to have a very good pilot to lift off without being seen.  They'd have to hover low and glide along until they were far enough from the village and search parties to lift without a risk of being spotted.  Not happy with Fesic screwing up their landing the night before, Mikah announced she'd take the controls because they'd be in normal space the whole time and she'd been trained on piloting a ship's boat.  Not even wanting to address Mikah's comment, Fesic asked the Captain where he recommended they land when they came back as traders?  The Captain only pointed out places a pilot who had real skills could land and a wide open space east of the town where a less-skilled pilot had nothing to avoid.

Mikah considered the man's advice and decided she wanted to land in a spot that demanded an approach from the north.  They'd settle into a space just east of the safe house, across the small river and beyond two buildings with another building on their far side.  She felt the space was good defensively.  The Captain warned them they'd need a good pilot because the space was between those and a further building east of those features.  Mikah liked it because it was close to the safe house, while the Captain considered the location's relation to the "legal section" of town.  Seeing that, the Captain warned them that hitting any of the structures could lead to the locals cracking the cutter open like an egg and killing them all before looting the wreck.

Plan B
     Deciding to go ahead and get into orbit and back to the downport, Mikah said they should get moving and make the rest of the decisions there.  When asked who should be on point, Mikah said Jocelynn should lead them out and she muttered, "Great", and got moving.  Jocelynn did have an advantage because she'd been raised on a snow ball world.  While there were many differences between a snow ball and an ice ball, her skills from childhood served her well.  Getting close to where they landed, Jocelynn was pleased at the progress, but had started hearing sounds over the ice fields.  That meant someone likely had heard them land and there were teams out looking for them or their cutter.

Still, they'd had to move slowly and were ten minutes into the trek when they started getting close.  Jocelynn also worried about the teams she could hear and hoped her people were being more than quiet.  Suddenly, a number of hearts clutched when they heard a loud sound and started hearing a male voice screaming, "We've found something over here!"  They then relaxed when they realized the sound was coming from a distance in an off-angle direction leading away from where they set the cutter down.  Fesic then played 'Captain Obvious', and said it was the Captain's two men providing a diversion.

Happy with the diversion, Jocelynn did goose their speed but kept their movements regulated, hoping to keep the sound down.  They worked to make their way across the last stretch and finally reached the cutter.  Getting there, some unbuttoned the craft while Jocelynn and others inspected it to see if it hadn't been spotted.  Boarding the cutter, Jocelynn worried how much noise the craft would make when it lifted?  She was told the anti-grav hover wouldn't make much noise at all.  But, when they fired the thrusters to move faster and climb, those would make a loud and resounding 'whoosh' sound.  There wouldn't be a 'roar' unless they opened the throttles and burned hard.

The real issue, Jocelynn was told, was that the cutter would be 'very visible' as it lifted.  Hoping to mitigate that, Jocelynn suggested they fly low and hug the ground until they were far enough from the village.  Of course, that wouldn't matter for any search teams close to where the cutter was lifting from.  Since Mikah said she'd be taking over flying from Fesic, asking Mikah to hug the ground and not crash them would make things even more difficult.  Making matters worse, the village was up on a hill to the east of the cutter while a ridge-like hill ran east to west to the north of their location.  So, anyone looking in their direction could possibly see them flying away from the town.

Scanning the area looking for any help, Fesic spotted a stand of trees that was between them and the town at the moment.  But the higher reaches of the town popped up above the trees even then.  That meant that while they rose and flew, and moved further away from the forest stand, they would become more and more visible to the town.  As if flying along the nape of the land wasn't hard enough, Fesic suggested Mikah also be told to make things more difficult by keeping the trees in line between them and the village.  Mikah growled and said she'd try and told Fesic he'd have to be the 'rear view mirror'.

After boarding and buttoning up, Mikah considered the tasks ahead of her, set some warning alarms for terrain problems and got ready to lift.  She did that while Fesic set up rear-camera views, to could guide her properly.  Rocketing forward, Mikah watched and managed 'hugging the ground' while Fesic watched their aft-view and called out directions left or right.  At times, when Mikah had to keep them from slamming into ground features, Fesic saw the forest slip off the camera view to either side but it couldn't be helped.  Eventually, Fesic realized they wouldn't be keeping the forest between them and the village at all.  It was just too much to ask.

They were also not up very long before they started hearing the sounds of impacts against the hull and realized people on the ground were shooting at them with firearms!  Hoping to get a laugh based on 'family history', Fesic looked at Mikah and said, "We've been spotted" in a casual tone.  Annoyed, Mikah thought about bringing the cutter back and strafing them with her guns, but worried about the reaction of the villagers when they came back later.  And Aali was urging her to "punch it", and get them out of there.  Eventually, Mikah slammed the throttle forward thinking 'Screw it!' while Sekea worried some of the villages hunters had already seen the cutter.  That would mean they couldn't return at all, because they'd be recognized.

Doing their best to climb, they now watched the sensors in case of jet interceptors from local Erskin air bases.  Mikah decided to burn for low orbit and make the transit to the ship yard instead of risking a flight through Clan Arnstruther airspace.  They'd reached a good altitude before they started seeing tracks on the sensors warning of inbound interceptor fighters.  But by then, they'd literally been standing on their tail and burning hard, so the fighters made a good try but never got close enough to fire on them.

Spare Parts And Personnel
     Burning out of the sparse atmosphere below, Mikah could see the jets couldn't get close enough for even a desperate shot.  And, they'd climbed high enough they'd not have to worry about Clan Arnstruther sending anyone to intercept them.  Reaching the lowest orbital station, Mikah adjusted their flight path and called the shipyard to say they were on approach.  Aali also came forward and asked Mikah if she could check the cutter's diagnostics to see if there'd been any damage from the fire they'd drawn?  Considering it, Mikah ordered Fesic into the rear because there were only two seats on the flight deck and Aali needed the instruments.

Sadly, the cutter's controls were limited when it came to diagnostics.  Aali looked for the items she hoped for and saw many fewer.  She still ran the tests she could and saw the boards come out green in the end.  Smiling, Aali told Mikah they hadn't taken any damage she could see and her board was green.  She did joke about asking the shipboard people for a sander to grind out any scratches in their paint job.  They also joked about asking for some paint to change their hull and Mikah said she wanted racing stripes.  The others laughed as the jokes continued.

Killing the laughs, Sekea proved he'd not been paying attention to the quality and economic structures in the system.  He suggested they leave their cutter behind and take another ship back down to the village.  When Mikah said there were no ships, Sekea showed he hadn't been paying any attention to the quality of the system by suggesting they rent one.  Mikah then made it very clear there was no place in the system where they could rent another craft.  Besides, Mikah made it clear she was sure the racing stripes would keep the villagers from recognizing them.  Jocelynn wondered if they'd managed to get the cutter's transponder code, but the only way to tell that would be to call down to the village and ask.

Still, they joked about painting the cutter and there was even a suggestion they paint 'Honest Ahab's Used Gear Sales' on the cutter along with the stripes.  When Aali suggested they call the village to set up an appointment to land and sell, Mikah said they shouldn't call and should go in 'loud and proud'.  Just pumping out sound as they flew in like the Ugly Imperials the clans claimed them to be.  The chatter kept up until they got feed from the shipyard and updated them on their arrival path.  From there, the yard opened a beacon for them to dock and they secured themselves to the station.  Moving out after Mikah shut down her boards, they first moved to the ship and avoided getting in the way of the workers while they moved everything they wanted to sell out of the locker to the cutter.

While they did that, Jocelynn pushed to convince Mikah to bring along a set of combat armor to sell.  When Mikah wasn't happy with that, Jocelynn just said, "Trust me."  Mikah held firm and said they could only bring one suit.  Jocelynn also decided to grab the box of six tracking balls from Rol's spy-gear box.  She wasn't certain how they would help but wanted them along.  When it came time to choose, Jocelynn grabbed Terin's combat armor to bring for sale.  When Jocelynn paused at bringing the blender, Mikah said "why not?" because the village did have electricity and sealed buildings.  When Mikah joked about selling the hookah, Jocelynn reacted almost as possessively as Terin had.

While the cross loading was done, Sekea wanted to check and see if there were any documents they could get that certified them as merchants?  When he asked Mikah about that, she reminded him they were on the shipyard.  She pointedly told Sekea the shipyard wouldn't handle that and he should ask at the downport when they got there.  Her tone was sharp, in hopes he would pay attention to what she was telling him and learn to check for things in the proper place.  Also, at the same time, Aali did a check of the cutter's hull for damage.  As expected, she found the rounds that hit the cutter scratched the paint but no more.

Considering that and more, Aali asked about actually painting something on the cutter's hull like they'd joked about on the flight up from the surface.  Mikah was all for getting her racing stripes and said they should ask some of the yard crew for paint and the other gear needed.  When Aali suggested an ornate design, Mikah shot that down and demanded they only go with racing stripes.  When Aali still pushed for flames or lightning bolts, Mikah said it wouldn't come out right unless she was an artist, and demanded they stick with the racing stripes.  Nodding, Aali moved off to look for someone to handle the job.

When Aali caught up with someone from the port and asked him about it, the request caught the man by surprise.  Still, he asked questions and said he could get some people to do the work.  Aali offered to pay for the work and the port man laughed and said he would certainly charge them.  After discussing the idea, the man said he could get two men to do the job for Cr 100.  Aali agreed the ship would pay that and the man moved off to get workers to do the job.  The work took twenty minutes to paint and bake on the stripes, which came out rich, thick and very noticeable.

While Aali did her best not to get in the way while buffing out the bullet scars, Fesic complained he didn't think the stripes would matter.  He reminded them that Imperial ships rarely came to that village if ever.  Now, they'd landed the night before, and fled that morning.  So, they'd be claiming to be a 'second Imperial ship' arriving in the same day.  Fesic was certain the confluence of events would tip the townsfolk off that "something" was up.  That meant they'd be on guard and suspecting the crew every minute they were on the ground.  Fesic did suggest they call downwell and make an agreement to land while also admitting they'd been there the night before and lifted without making contact.  But that depended on giving an acceptable excuse why they did, and both he and Aali could only come up with weak suggestions no one believed the villagers would buy.

Undocking from the shipyard, Mikah flew the cutter down to land at the downport.  During the departure, Mikah called down to let Colinne and Aiden know they'd be arriving in less than half an hour.  Eventually, Aiden and Colinne were suited up while Mikah settled the cutter onto the crawler platform in the center landing space within the parkbay.  Mikah then shut systems down while the crawler moved the cutter back into the berth.  Mikah then called Jocelynn and Fesic to the air-lock before the crawler settled them in the berth.  Mikah was ready when they came to rest, and had whispered instructions to Jocelynn too.  So, right after the berth was sealed and they opened the cutter's air-lock, Mikah and Jocelynn took sides.  They grabbed Fesic by the waist band of his vacc suit and shoulders and lifted him.  They then "tossed him out" and Mikah leaned out into the berth to yell, "Aiden!  Get in here!"

After the landing, Jocelynn filled Colinne and Aiden in on what had happened and what they were now doing while Mikah and Sekea checked with the port on trading certifications.  They learned Fesic had gotten his certification six days before.  They were also told that only covered trading on the port because they couldn't control independent trading on Clan lands.  They also very seriously discouraged trading with the clans off the port.  For the merchant's own safety, since they'd seen things go bad for Imperial traders.  When Sekea asked about papers to let them trade off the port, the port officials looked down their nose at him as possibly learning deficient, and repeated they recommend people not trade off the port because they had no control over trade in the clan territories.

Done with that, Mikah checked they had what they needed and told Aiden he was now the pilot for their mission.  When Fesic asked if he was even coming on the mission, Mikah told him he wasn't while Jocelynn used the word "dumped".  Mikah told Fesic it was his job to help Colinne with whatever she told him to do.  Accepting that, Fesic told Colinne he had computer skills and she moved him up from "snack duties" to actual work helping her.  Fesic's first assignment was to look for any videos of the fugitive and download anything he could find.  The problem with that was that Entarzul wasn't famous.  So, no one had been following Entarzul taking vids of the man and his activities.

Accepting his orders, Fesic started digging into the network, looking for any search patterns that might come back with hits that could pan out.  At the same time, before they'd left again, Colinne reminded the crew she wanted one of them to email her from a computer on the Erskin network so she could track the header back and start searching for targets she could hack.  On the cutter's flight deck, Aiden had called the crawler and signaled the port they wanted to launch the cutter again to return to Erskin territory.  While they waited, Mikah showed him the map and explained that she wanted him to fly them in "slow and obvious" from the north and where she wanted him to land the cutter.

When Aiden asked if they should call ahead, saying they were coming, Mikah shot that down.  She left unspoken the fact they didn't even have a frequency to call if they wanted to.  Mikah added, "That's why we're going to be obvious in our approach."  When Aiden said he was worried about any fighters the Erskin still had in the air, he was also clearly at a loss to suggest any answers to his fears.  Despite all his experience.  He was eventually told, in a tone that harshly said 'You should be intelligent enough to come up with this', they could broadcast on all channels and frequencies, 'We are Honest Abdul's Used Goods Traders, looking to land and sell merchandise'.  That should be good enough to at least let them land before they were questioned.  Several of the others in the cutter shook their heads that so simple an answer appeared beyond Aiden's mental capacity.  Of course, Fesic might have suggested they circle until invited to land.

Thankfully, Aiden knew how to fly and get lost in traffic.  So, he lifted them up from the downport and got them into the cloud of other cutters handling business in low planetary orbit.  When he felt comfortable no one had tracked them past entering the cloud of cutters, he then started his descent while broadcasting, 'We are Honest Abdul's Used Goods Traders, looking to land and sell merchandise' on all channels.  And while his "white noise" annoyed a large number of pilots on other craft and station officers, it seemed to have the hoped for effect of keeping the jets patrolling in Erskin airspace from angling in on them.

They did very quickly receive a comms challenge from someone claiming to hold authority in the Erskin military organization, while Aiden also saw fighters closing on their vector.  Soon, they were bracketed by a pair of very nasty looking fighters which both had lost of mount points loaded with an unhealthy variety of ordinance types.  The challenge was to identify themselves and prove they were who they claimed to be or they'd be blown out of the sky.  Mikah broadcast their port trading certifications and called out, "Well, we're here and we'd like to trade with you.  If you don't want to trade, we'll leave."  The person on the comms ignored her bluster and words that said nearly nothing, and checked the paperwork they'd sent.

After a pause, the Erskin person came back on line and asked where they planned to land?  Mikah ignored the altitude they were at, which made "any town" in Erskin territory reachable and answered, "Well, there's a town right down there, that we'd like to have the opportunity to trade in.  It seems a nice place, but I may be completely mistaken."  While that happened, Aiden located the town ID on the software they had and broadcast the town name of "Wezsaen".  Getting that, the person on the other side of the comms answered Mikah, saying, "Well, it's not a nice place but so long as you maintain your flight profile we'll let you land."  Aiden used the data to set his own navigational 'soft-beacons' to help guide him in.

Yard Sales And Strange Deals
     When they closed on the landing site from the north, Aiden considered just setting it down as he announced they were about to land and Mikah said, "Do something special and knock their socks off."  Less than pleased with that, Aiden did what he was told.  First, he came in to hover directly above their intended landing spot.  Then, he used the grav systems and thrusters to stand the cutter up on its tail, hovering in the air above the spot.  Next, he dropped the craft to hover belly-down above the spot and spun the cutter around as if it had a pole driven through its mid-point and was spinning on that.  Finally, he lined the cutter up with the nose facing the south and settled the cutter down while a large crowd of very surprised villagers gathered and watched the low-grade aerobatics.

After landing, Mikah left Aiden to shut the cutter down while she moved aft and called Jocelynn to be ready to join her when she opened the hatch.  When they were ready, the hatch dropped and Mikah stepped out on one side to say, "Welcome to honest Abdul's trading company!"  Jocelynn stood on the other side of the ramp, so both sides of the walkway were occupied and no one could try to make a rush up into the cutter.  While Mikah called out her greetings, a small knot of officials made their way through the gathered crowd and moved up to the very base of the cutter's ramp.

Seeing them take their positions, the leader of a small group called out, "I am the Adjam of this village and I would like to see your papers."  From the gunbelts and badges, they guessed 'Adjam' meant police chief or sheriff.  Moving forward to show the man her Ident, Mikah scanned the four men behind the Adjam, and she'd classify them all as brutes from their brute squad.  The man looked over the trade certification, which had no legal force on clan lands, and asked, "Which one of you is Fesic?" since the paperwork certified him.  Mikah answered, "He's at the headquarters right now."  Looking Mikah up and down, the man snarked, "So, he's counting the gold with Abdul?"  Mikah just gave her widest and most inviting smile as she said, "That's right."

Nodding, the Adjam said, "OK, why don't my men stay right here while you take me into your ship and show me what you have to sell?" in a challenging tone.  Mikah continued to smile as she said, "OK" and raised her hand inviting him to climb the ramp and check out the goods in the cutter.  While the man looked over what they'd brought to sell, Mikah did her best to talk everything up like the most eager of used starship salespersons.  Mikah also watched his face and was satisfied with his reaction to the weapons and suit of combat armor when he saw those!  Telling Mikah, "I will be right back" as he turned, the man was certain they'd not checked with the Imperial authorities before landing with this load of gear!  So, this woman seemed to be the kind of trader he and his people liked.  A lot!

Quickly making his way down the ramp, the Adjam talked to another apparently important man, who'd arrived after the first group, and then let that man walk up the ramp to approach Mikah.  He introduced himself as the village's Ashshu.  They would learn that was the Erskin analog to "Mayor".  That man said he would call out those in the town who would be allowed to shop with Mikah while she and her people were in the town.  He then stepped back down to the bottom of the ramp and began calling names.  He finally called twenty names and told the other villagers to go back about their business.  Still, while most people dispersed, a good number of them stayed and watched from a distance.  There was also a healthy population of small children entranced by the cutter.

With the men gathered at the ramp's foot, they asked how Mikah wanted to proceed and if they should all come up as a group to enter the cutter?  Mikah said they could come up one at a time, and see what prices they settled on?  At the same time, Jocelynn scanned the semicircle of kids scattered around that side of the cutter and saw they weren't coming closer but were mostly awed by what some of the adults even thought was an Imperial starship.  Walking down to the foot of the ramp, Jocelynn called out to some of the closer children, saying, "Hi kids.  Have you ever seen a ship like this before?"  While trying to connect with them and make friends, Jocelynn also kept a sweeping eye on the crowd in case anyone "got twitchy".

While the kids were suddenly shy and stand offish reacting to a stranger and outsider, Jocelynn tried to make small talk and see if she could get one or more of the kids engaged.  In the meantime, the first of the twenty men to be called made his way into the cutter to check out what was on offer?  That man had been one of the four brutes behind the Adjam, so she had to guess he was whatever they called a deputy there.  Mikah watched while he scanned the compartment and walked directly over to the combat armor.  He then did the best he could to measure parts of the suit against his own body.  Quickly enough, he grunted in annoyance and even Mikah could have told him the suit wouldn't fit.

Next, he walked over to the weapons and checked them out.  Without asking about the electronics on it, the man pointed and asked, "How much for this?"  Mikah realized that was the rifle Emkir had the holographic projector installed on and they'd not removed it so she offered him a price of Cr 10.000.  The man wasn't pleased with that price and offered her Cr 5,000.  Mikah only shrugged and shut down his attempt to negotiate, saying, "I'll see what else I can get.  You're only the first person in here."  Pointing to the semi-automatic snub pistol, the man again asked, "How much for that?"  When Mikah said Cr 2,500, the man snorted at her and walked out of the cutter.

Seeing the dark look on the man's face when he left, and hearing him grouse about prices, Jocelynn sparked up her comms and pinged Mikah saying, "Remember.  We're trying to make friends here so don't piss everybody off."  The next man boarded the cutter and looked around before pointing at the large fighting knife.  When he asked how much that cost, Mikah said Cr 250.  When the man offered Cr 150, Mikah countered with Cr 200.  Hearing that, the second man turned and left the cutter while Mikah shrugged and watched him go.  When the third man moved up into the cutter, he'd seen the first to leave empty handed and was doubting he'd do any better?

Looking around, that man moved over to the inertial locator they offered and asked, "What is this thing?"  When Mikah simply said it was an inertial locator, the man asked what it did?  After Mikah told him how it worked, he asked how much she wanted for it?  When Mikah asked for Cr 1,500, the man asked if she'd take Cr 1,200?  Mikah pushed for Cr 1,350 and the man offered Cr 1,300.  Mikah nodded and said she'd take the Cr 1,300 for the locator and the man seemed satisfied.  The man then checked the combat armor suit but it wouldn't fit him either.

Moving to the gauss rifle, the man asked how much for that weapon and Mikah said, "You seem like a good negotiator.  Let's start."  Mikah then gave him the same Cr 10,000 price she gave the first man.  Looking her over then looking at the weapon, he asked her about the electronics on the rifle?  When Mikah explained the projection system to the man, she could tell he liked the idea a lot.  Still, he only offered Mikah Cr 4,000.  She turned that down and came down to Cr 8,000.  Considering that, he came up to Cr 5,000 and said that was the most he'd pay.  Mikah said she wouldn't go below Cr 6,000 and the man shrugged before saying, "I guess I have to do without it then."

Hoping to salvage the deal, Mikah offered Cr 5,500 but the man said he only had Cr 5,000 left.  Nodding, Mikah said, "you drive a hard bargain sir."  Seeing she was smiling, the man asked if that meant she'd take Cr 5,000.  Mikah said she take that on the condition he tell the others that negotiations were a fun thing to do.  That despite the fact the first man had counter-offered her Cr 5,000 for the same weapon and she'd shut him down.  So, she'd been the one not negotiating with the first two men.  The man paid his tab and smiled while picking up his gear before he left the cutter.  On his way down the ramp, the man who'd been in the cutter first saw the rifle and called out something.  The man leaving the cutter simply yelled out, "Well, you should have learned how to fuckin' negotiate."

Now excited because they saw the chance to buy things was real, the fourth and fifth men tried to move up the ramp together, but Mikah stopped them and said "One at a time."  So, the fifth man went back down the ramp to wait while the other man went into the cutter to shop.  That man walked over to the training suit Emkir had left behind and asked, "What is this thing?"  Mikah said it was a training suit and explained how it worked based on what Emkir had told him when he'd bought it.  The man really liked it but never got to ask how much because he measured himself against it and saw it wouldn't fit him.  Next, he asked about the snub pistol and Mikah asked for Cr 2,000 while she wondered if he'd paid attention to what the last man did?

Before reacting to the price itself, the man asked if he could handle the weapon?  Watching the man check the gun out, it was obvious he was experienced with snub pistols.  The man considered the price and the weapon before offering Mikah Cr 1,750!  Mikah was surprised to get so much for a Cr 250 pistol that she just said "Sold" while fighting to keep the surprise out of her voice.  He then picked up the 9mm revolver next to it without asking permission.  When Mikah quickly said, "Put that down." he quickly looked it over before saying, "I'll pay Cr 1,000 for this so I don't have to put it down."  Again, Mikah was happy the man was vastly over-paying for what she saw as basic weapons so she just said "OK".

Looking around more, the man pointed to the control panel the crew had found aboard the Cedna and asked, "What is that?  When Mikah said it was a control panel, the man asked, "To what?" and Mikah couldn't stop herself from breaking out in the giggles.  Getting control of herself, Mikah said, "It's for something we don't have any more.  It's kind of a souvenir, but it's a control panel for a pirate ship if that helps you?"  Much less interested in the part, the man admitted, "Well, I don't think I'm gonna be seeing any pirate ships any time soon..."  He next moved to where they had the comms and looked over the Tl 13 unit with the earbud, which Mikah was able to say had a 50km range.  When he asked, Mikah said Cr 1,600 and he picked it up to check the settings.  After satisfying himself, he paid the Cr 1,600.

Next, to Mikah's disbelief, the man walked over to the blender!  When he asked how much she wanted for that, Mikah tried to keep her face straight while asking for Cr 3,000.  Sadly, she couldn't play the joke straight and busted out laughing.  The man also busted out laughing too, because it was an obvious joke.  When Mikah got control of herself again and said Cr 100, the man bought it for that.  After that, the man paid his bill and left the cutter.  As the rest of the men came aboard the cutter to shop,
    the TL-13 wrap-around comms sold for Cr 300,
    Emkir's generic vacc suit sold for Cr 14,000,
    the TL 5 Radiation detector sold for Cr 50,
    the TL-6 IR Goggles and TL-7 LI Goggles went for Cr 100 each,
    the snap-in HUD sold for Cr 1,600,
    the wrist watch sold for Cr 5

One man asked the price on the TL 8 hand-held metal detector, and Mikah first asked Cr 20,000 for it.  The man offered her Cr 200 and Mikah lowered the price to Cr 16,000 but he passed it up, not happy with that price.  Another man matched Emkir's build close enough to ask about the training suit?  After Mikah explained the suit and told him what it cost, she could tell he wanted it, but didn't have the money.  He nodded and didn't make an offer on the suit.

The village Ashshu also came onto the cutter to see what hadn't been bought.  He was interested in the silver stylus and leather-like document pouch Emkir had been allowed to keep by IRIS.  Due to their age, the very mundane items could also be very expensive antiques to the right collector.  Sadly, Mikah and the crew were limited in what they could tell interested buyers.  Mikah told him, "That is a very old piece and we have to charge for its intrinsic value as an antique as well as its silver value."  Hearing that, the man moved to the cutter's entrance and called out a name.

They waited until a very old man came out of the village and approached the cutter ramp.  When the Ashshu waived him into the cutter, the old man made his way up the ramp.  When Mikah looked from the old man to the Ashshu, the younger man pointed to the older one and said, "This man is very old.  Can I trade him to you for intrinsic value?"  Despite the smile on the man's face, Mikah saw this for the trading tactic it was, and realized that Imperial perspectives on antiques meant nothing to the Ashshu.  Eventually, they agreed a deal wouldn't happen and the Ashshu and old man left the cutter to return to their duties.

Surprisingly, after all was said and done, they'd sold Emkir's old vacc suit, but not Terin's combat armor.  Of the men the Ashshu allowed to shop in the cutter, no one was the right size for it.  After not selling any of their "Big Ticket" items, the total for everything sold came to Cr 41,305.  Mikah kept that aside against any expenses they might "create" while in the village.  She had no issue with the idea of touring the place to see what they could buy for cheap and hopefully sell for profit in more affluent Imperial systems?

During the hour and a half the selling went on, Aiden kept an eye on things from the cramped flight deck of the cutter.  Aali kept busy helping keep the "sales floor" organized when items were bought, while also listening for anything of value she might overhear, and keeping an eye on the hatch for security.  Sekea simply stood in a corner concentrating on each person who came into the cutter to memorize their faces, appearance and mannerisms in case that person was the fugitive.  Because wanted fugitives always wandered into the holds of strange Imperial ships visiting villages in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason.  After the sales were done, none of the people who visited the cutter turned out to be the fugitive.

Sealing the cutter, Mikah asked the Ashshu if they had a pub in the town and the man told them of three they could choose from.  Mikah chose the one closest to the cutter and invited the Ashshu to let her by him a drink.  Before they left, Aali volunteered to stand guard on the cutter and Mikah told Aiden to keep her company.  When Sekea said he'd go with Mikah, she said "As will Jocelynn."  Sekea planned to continue memorizing faces in hopes that any face he saw would either be the fugitive himself, or be helpful in locating the man later.  Though, he never suggested how committing random faces with minimal information might lead to finding the fugitive?

After they settled in and the first round of drinks were served, Mikah started asking questions under the guise of this being their first visit to Denotam.  Some faces around the table darkened when she said they'd had some dealings with Clan Glas, and that reminded Mikah the clans were often at war with each other.  While Mikah and Jocelynn actively chatted with the Ashshu and others, Sekea kept himself to answering questions and small talk while he continued to scan his surroundings and check each face against his mental image of the fugitive.  In the end, he was regarded as 'distant and aloof' by the villagers and they soon stopped trying to talk with him.

The one spark of life Sekea showed was when he would ask about jewelers or dealers in gemstones?  Thanks to that, there were a small handful of people who were able to get him to chat about his interests and local gemstones.  Soon enough, a man who'd started talking gemstones with Sekea said he had a shop, asking if Sekea wanted to visit?  When Sekea asked, the man generally described the shop as being a short walk down the road they were on, "just past the grocers".  Sekea was interested and told the man he'd check with their manager and see.  At the same time, Sekea realized he'd assumed they'd stay in the village that night but hadn't asked Mikah if that was true?

Sitting at an end of the same table where Mikah and Jocelynn were chatting, Sekea got Mikah's attention and asked if they were staying overnight?  Mikah considered the question before saying it sounded like a good idea.  She then turned to the Ashshu and asked if the town had a hotel or some place to rent rooms?  Not used to ships randomly landing in their village to start with, the locals were surprised Mikah's people wanted to stay overnight.  Their village was a small one, under two thousand people, and trade with them were largely people visiting other villages and markets or coming to the village to meet with local partners or contacts.  So, any visitors were largely known to the people being visited, and stayed in the homes of those they visited.

Nodding, Mikah said it was sometimes nice to get off their ship to spread their legs and walk a bit.  She then said they could sleep on the cutter if it was OK by the townsfolks?  The Ashshu was good with that, and also suggested they could also 'return to their base' to come back with more goods to sell.  Mikah nodded at that, and asked Jocelynn what she thought of the idea?  Jocelynn, who'd been half paying attention to Mikah's conversation and was also chatting with another person, heard the suggestion they stay on the cutter and said she was good with that.  Left unsaid, she preferred to stay on the cutter because they would be more free to come and go without their "hosts" watching their movements.

Sekea also stepped in, suggesting they could tour the village and look for goods to buy.  He pointed out they could likely find a number of goods that were locally cheap and would sell well on other worlds.  Mikah agreed with that enthusiastically, and Jocelynn admitted they'd brought everything they had left for sale and still had a few items unsold in the cutter.  The Ashshu said the town had no issues with the crew living out of their cutter and even offered them a tour of the market portion of the town.  Mikah and the others were very pleased with that offer, which gave them something to do up until lunch.

Getting up and moving, Jocelynn also joined in with Sekea scanning faces as they moved through groups of villagers, or into the shops along their main market road.  Wandering along, they soon past a grocers and came on the shop the jeweler had told Sekea about.  While they moved up to the shop, they could see the jeweler had freshly opened the shop and uncovered all his goods not long before.  Even more casually, the man had obviously left the pub with his mug of brew, taking it down to his shop where more regulated societies would force the man to finish his drink on premises or leave it.

Walking into the shop, the crew began looking around and were certainly not overwhelmed.  The man's technical skills were there, but nothing seemed an outstanding work of art or shining example of style.  The stones were largely from variations of the agate family, with a few less noticeable examples of other gemstones.  And none of them were samples of stones that would be valued on other worlds.  Mikah beat Sekea to it when she asked if the man had any indigenous gemstones?  The jeweler pointed to the agate-like stones and said those represent some of the best native gemstones we have on Denotam.

Anyone who'd studied oceanography would have bet good money there were amazing corals and the like under the frozen seas, but there were no tides washing stones up from the deep onto Denotam's beaches.  That meant there could well be a wealth of diversity if Denotam supported enough industry to provide for venture exploration and support a submersible industry.  Another issue for both Mikah and Sekea, though more so him, was that all the gems they saw had been built into jewelry, and there didn't seem to be loose stones.  And, they both had stone collections.  Seeing that, Sekea was the first to ask the man if he had loose stones to show?

The jeweler said he did have loose gems and they could see three of the nine pieces were rounded, faceted and translucent gemstones while the other six were unshaped and agate-like.  looking the pieces over, Mikah saw one unworked agate-like stone that was palm-sized and had highlights of small perfect red spiral-like formations as if crystals started forming rounded pyramids across the stone's surface.  When she asked what he wanted for the stone, the man asked for CrI 3,000!  Mikah considered that, along with the events earlier when she'd been selling, and offered CrI 1,000.  The man quickly accepted her offer and sold Mikah the stone.

Sekea looked over the other stones and liked the look of one of the faceted, translucent stones, which had a brown color to it.  Looking closer, he saw it was a very clear stone, and a decent souvenir.  When Sekea asked, the man asked for CrI 2,000.  Sekea also countered with an offer of CrI 1,000 and the man took that offer as fast as he took Mikah's.  Both Mikah and Sekea had to get the feeling they were paying more for "good will" than they were for the value of the stones, but they needed good will if they were gonna get away with what they hoped to try.

Chatting with the others while Mikah shopped, Jocelynn asked about places where one would buy an indoor plant or planter system for indoor plants?  She was told there was no "pleasure horticultural" industry on Denotam, because all plants were either grown in greenhouses and grow-rooms or grew in the natural environment despite the frozen environment.  Moving on along the road through the market, they stepped into a grocers so Sekea could check for a cook book or recipes.  What he found was that this was a classic "grocers", who specialized in vegetable ingredients and left "related goods" to general stores.

When Sekea asked about spices, he was directed to some bakeries and millers nearby.  Walking towards the nearest bakery, they soon saw it along with a nearby weaponsmith!  Going into the bakery first, Sekea asked about local spices and herbs and was reminded - again - that almost all they had was local.  That was because importing to Denotam from the greater Imperium was too expensive.  The people here were just too poor to afford much.  It was a lesson the others couldn't believe Sekea hadn't figured out yet.  And, what they did spend money on were weapons and other combat enhancements.  Not herbs and spices.

Still, Sekea did get a collection of ten packets of spices and herbs native to Denotam cooking and specializing on those spices used by Clan Erskin.  He paid Cr 300 for that.  Looking around after that, Sekea suggested they consider the baker's goods for breakfast the next day, since they'd have to eat something.  When Mikah agreed with him, Sekea asked the baker how much it would cost to provide a crew of five pastries for the next morning?  Before Sekea actually got to ordering the pastries, or even asking prices, Aali reminded them they had no cooking facilities on the cutter.  And, they had to get through lunch and dinner of that day before worrying about breakfast.

When the crew started considering that, the Ashshu said he had a welcoming hall, and he could host them there for lunch and set up a "sales hall" where sellers could come and offer them merchandise they might want to buy, to sell on other worlds.  Mikah was very happy and thanked the man saying his offer was very generous.  Done with that conversation, the next day's breakfast was entirely forgotten when Sekea said, "So, shall we visit the weapon-smith?" and they left the very hopeful baker and his shop behind.

Arriving at the weapon-smith, they saw the shop offered everything from hand-hammered blades to crude "shop-made" fire arms.  Their interstellar skills were relegated to repairing bullet holes in more modern composite armor.  Seeing they hand-made blades, Jocelynn decided she wanted a hand-made weapon.  When one of the men working in the shop asked her what she wanted, Jocelynn described a large hand knife with a bowed blade and double-edged clip point.(IE: Bowie Knife)  Since a good part of the spine of the blade wouldn't be edged, they asked if Jocelynn wanted the hammer marks ground out or left visible?  Jocelynn said she wanted the hammer marks visible, and paid the Cr 2,100 for the order up front.

Having heard the crew talking about buying for cargo when they walked into the shop, the next question she was asked was, "How many would you like?"  They said they could do three knives by working over-night, and could sell them to her at Cr 700 per blade.  Sekea had training in the weapon named "Blade" and discussed with one of the smiths what was possible?  That was more of a weapon than a tool, like Jocelynn's knives.  Since the blade was nearly a short sword, and double-edged, they didn't offer to leave the hammer strikes visible, since that would make sharpening the blade difficult.  When Sekea agreed with that, they showed him a blade they had ready, with metal cross-quillons, sharpened and ready to use.

Looking that weapon over, Sekea reflected on the three blades he already had.  The first was specifically customized for him, and felt almost like a piece of his body when he used it.  Because of that, nothing he bought on Denotam could compare at all.  The second blade he had was more generic, but still of interstellar manufacture.  That promised the metal would be better refined and worked, and some level of gravitics might have been used in its forging.  So, it was most likely superior to anything a clan smith could offer.  The last was his "smuggler's blade", which could be snuck past many security systems.  After he got it inside a security cordon, he'd have to find a place where he could "assemble" the blade and hide the "spare parts".  Then, after using the blade, he'd have to recover the spare parts, disassemble the blade and re-build the fake-out structure.  So, the Erskin smiths had nothing to compare to that.

Sekea also had zero instrumentation with him to scan and examine the metal work of the blade, so there was no way he could evaluate the weapon properly. When he considered it aesthetically, it was a blade.  It was a weapon that was flat and angular where it had to be and wasn't made to look pretty.  It was made in a society where people hunted and fought to kill, so it was made to kill.  Not look nice while rusting on a wall.  When Sekea asked for something more "decorative", they pointed out they had no market for useless, pretty wall hangings.  They were a village of hunters and killers.  Sekea then complained he just wanted something indicative of their culture and they pointed out what they sold WAS indicative of their culture.  Some in the back of the shop suggested the customer learn how to listen to what he's being told.

Sekea then complained there seemed to be a lot more flexibility when Jocelynn was buying her knives and got looks of derision.  Jocelynn had asked for a knife, which could be a clip-tip, drop point or any number of "knife styles".  Sekea had asked for a "Blade", which is a double-edged blade that was just shorter than a short sword.  There were no other styles.  If you didn't want a Blade, you ordered another weapon, like a short sword, dagger, or knife.  And then, if there were various forms of that the knives Jocelynn had ordered, you got to choose a style.  The point made, they hoped Sekea was properly schooled in his expectations.  Beyond that, Sekea left the shop without buying anything.

Leaving the weapons-smith, they moved on until they saw a tailor's shop and Jocelynn excitedly said she wanted to check that out.  Sekea said he also wanted to go there too.  Moving toward the store, Jocelynn said she wanted "a long winterish coat with a with a big fur hood lining."  When she said that in the shop, they said they had something like that.  Jocelynn then said she imagined the skins on the coat's outside were just tanned hides and asked what colors the fur came in?  Holding up his arms, the salesperson indicated the room and pointed out that all their colors were dark and muted.  Blacks, browns and the like.

Happy with that, Jocelynn went looking for the darkest colors they had, because she needed a winter coat anyway.  One of the sales people came up to drape a coat over Jocelynn and it swallowed her and her vacc suit entirely.  It was long enough it hung down below her knees such that if she fastened the lowest buttons, it would trip her up if she tried to run.  She also realized the fabric wasn't entirely covered in hides, so the dark thick fabric would get heavy when it got wet.  The color was also mottled dark grey, so not as dark as Jocelynn hoped.

The fur inside was dark and the salesperson told her all about the small animals they had to kill to collect the pelts.  The "many" of them.  Jocelynn only nodded along and muttered, "Many boffins died."  Jocelynn asked if the coat could be treated to be waterproof and they said it was water-resistant, but had no idea if it could be made water proof?  When she said she wanted to buy it, Jocelynn was told they wanted Cr 5,000 for the coat!  She laughed out loud while seeing the shoe was certainly on the other foot.  They were making her overpay much more than the weapon smith had, and perhaps getting even for the prices they'd charged people buying gear from the cutter.  Still, Jocelynn offered Cr 3,500 and they countered with Cr 4,000.

Jocelynn tried for Cr 3,750 and the salesperson asked for Cr 4,000 again while an assistant started pointing out the high quality stitchwork and craftsmanship.  Recognizing the game they were playing, Jocelynn gave in and paid the Cr 4,000 for the coat.  Sekea said he wanted a pair of winter outfits so he could keep from getting cold even though the buildings in the village were sealed and pressurized.  Checking his measurements, the people in the shop told Sekea they could pull the two outfits he wanted.  They even started talking up adding a coat just like the one Jocelynn had bought.

Despite Sekea's refusal to consider the coat, they offered Sekea two outfits for Cr 750 each and a Cr 4,000 coat like Jocelynn's.  Frowning at the people when they talked up the coat, Sekea bought the two outfits for Cr 1,500 total.  While they worked with Sekea, Mikah had been admiring Jocelynn's coat and asked if they had something like it but a little more stylish?  After they paused and asked "Stylish?" Mikah asked them to show her what they had?  When they brought out coats that would fit Mikah and her vacc suit, the three they had looked very much like Jocelynn's.  There were slight variations, and the lead tailor pointed to one saying it was 'Style A' while another he pointed to was 'Style B'.  The only real difference Mikah could see were variations in the lay of the fur.

After looking the coats over, Mikah asked if they had matching fur-lined gloves?  One worker rushed off to get several pairs while the others said they did.  Mikah chose one of the coats while they brought the gloves for her to try on.  After Mikah made her choice, they told her they'd charge her Cr 5,000 for the coat and gloves.  Mikah agreed to that and bought the set and was trying them on together when the owner of the shop stepped up and asked her if she was looking for cargo for her ship?  When Mikah said she was, he surprised her and offered her his entire current stock for Cr 50,000!

Mikah stopped to consider the offer before telling the suddenly silent others, "That's a good deal." in a tone which was mildly surprised.  While Jocelynn started considering boots, Mikah decided to take the shop owner up on his offer and the man and his staff were thrilled.  Even the Ashshu was thrilled, and several other people were tugging at Mikah's vacc suit asking her to take a look at their shops.  Mikah was certain that they'd sell everything they bought, by the small numbers if not all in one lot.  Of course, now Mikah needed security while the man had his people move the stock to the cutter.  She needed people to make sure the stock went into the cutter, and that nothing that "wasn't supposed" to went out.

Mikah decided to walk with the lead members of the 'delivery train' and tell Aali and Aiden to handle it because they were securing the cutter anyway.  Meanwhile, Mikah called Aali and told her and Aiden to clean up the "for sale" gear because she was bringing over a large delivery.  After leading the delivery to the cutter, Mikah wanted to look for anything else interesting someone in the village had to sell her?  Walking along, they came to another weapon smith and the weapons in that shop were much the same as those in the earlier shop.  Noticing the fire arms, Mikah wondered if Aiden would like to check those out later, after the tailor shop had been delivered.  She figured she'd let him know when he wasn't working in the cutter.

Done with that shop, they moved on to another tailor's shop where this tailor was much more excited about her visit.  While they approached, Mikah muttered to Jocelynn, "Do you think they have anything stylish?" and they both laughed.  The second tailor's shop was much the same as the first, and they moved on.  Eventually, passing shops selling wood working goods and offering construction and other work, they passed shops and saw a book store.  Sekea was very pleased to see that and they went into the store to see what they could find.  Jocelynn joked about books on ice fishing or scaling mountains.  When they went in, they saw the books on this world were paper-based volumes instead of electronic books.

Sekea looked for cook books and books on the local flora and fauna.  Checking the price on the book, Sekea bought a copy for Cr 30.  Beyond that, there were no other books that anyone wanted.  So, after checking the place out and Sekea paying for the book, they left.  Beyond the book store was another jeweler and Sekea wanted to visit that shop too.  Walking into the jewelers, they were mostly neither over or underwhelmed.  Most of the pieces were so much like the first jeweler's pieces that Jocelynn was surprised when she came on something very different.

The piece was like a sleeve made to be worn from just below the elbow to the wrist.  It was made with bands of gold and silver, loosely woven into a pattern mixing the flow of waterways and branches like interwoven ivy.  The metal lattice also managed to leave most of the skin of the forearm exposed, except where they were filled with clear glass-like stones which managed to present a pattern like and unlike the sparkles if glitter.  When Jocelynn said she wanted to see the piece, the jeweler picked it up and let her hold it.  Taking it from the man, Jocelynn could tell it was heavier than it looked and that told her the gold was likely real.  Jocelynn was impressed, but not certain how "real" the precious metals were?

When she asked for a way to test the metal, Sekea stepped up and suggested the jeweler could scratch test the gold, and prove it was real.  He added the tests would even show the purity of the gold, if it was real?  Willing to do the test, the jeweler showed the gold was what an Imperial could call twenty carat gold.  Even Sekea was surprised because that was more pure than most common jewelers dealt with.  When Jocelynn said she wanted to buy the piece, they asked Cr 20,000 for it.  Considering that, Jocelynn asked if the man would take Cr 15,000 and the jeweler wasn't pleased with that offer.  Pushing, Jocelynn told the man to make a counter offer and he didn't look happy to do that either.  Still, he offered Cr 17,000 and Jocelynn agreed to pay that.

The others watched and it wasn't missed on them that Jocelynn had paid nearly half for that piece as Mikah had paid for the entire contents of a clothing and tailor's shop.  Unimpressed with any of the other pieces on display, Sekea noticed the clear, translucent stones in Jocelynn's sleeve, and saw them used in some other pieces.  That was a stone the first jeweler hadn't used in any of his pieces, or shown them in his loose stones.  Sekea wondered if that meant they were more rare or special and asked about them.  When Sekea asked, the man said he had loose examples of the stone but made it clear they weren't anything special.

While Sekea looked over the samples the man pulled out, he could tell they were gemstones, and not just glass.  Still, they were closer to glass than not, and not very special at all.  When Sekea asked how much he'd sell one of the stones for, the man first looked at him like he wasn't serious.  He then offered to sell one to Sekea for Cr 100.  Sekea then asked, "How about twenty?" which the jeweler thought meant Sekea wanted twenty stones.  So he just multiplied the Cr 100 by 20 and asked for Cr 2,000.  Shaking his head, Sekea clarified that he meant he'd pay Cr 20 for the stone.  The jeweler offered Cr 50 and Sekea came up to Cr 40, which the jeweler accepted.  Sekea then bought one of the stones to add to his collection.

In the background, while Sekea bought the stone, others joked about him buying ground and polished transparent aluminum bits, or rare samples of the mineral "shattered vehicle windscreen".  Jocelynn also suggested they get moving before she decided to spend even more.  Before she did that, though, Jocelynn felt she should give Colinne a chance to get in on things even though she was stuck in the berth.  When Jocelynn called, Colinne picked up and joked, "Oh my God!  You're still alive!"  Then, Colinne faked an order, "Fesic, cancel the ship sellers.  we're not selling."  After those laughs, Jocelynn said she was calling to update her and see if she'd gotten into the Erskin networks yet?

Jocelynn also wanted to float the idea of bringing Colinne and Fesic out to the village with them, unless she was making progress or felt her work there was important.  Colinne complained, "What I've been doing is waiting for you guys to send me a computer message so I can actually get the headers from an Erskin clan computer network."  Remembering Colinne had asked them to send her an email from an Erskin computer, Jocelynn asked how she could do that and what else Colinne needed?  Colinne told her to see if a local had a computer and could send a message to her at the berth?  Colinne also told Jocelynn she didn't see any reason for her to be in the field with the others, but asked Fesic if he wanted to be picked up and go?  And, since they expected Jocelynn to send them something to actually work on, Fesic was good with staying in the berth.

Turning and getting the attention of one of the workers in the shop, Jocelynn suggested she had a crew mate on her comms and that woman might want something bought for her.  So, Jocelynn asked if she could take pictures with her comms and bounce them to the computer in their shop so the worker could send a message to the crew member?  At the same time, Colinne was listening in and had logged into one of her virtual servers.  Colinne then instantiated a message server and made the configuration changes to give it access to the port network.  So, when the worker asked for a message address, Colinne was able to feed Jocelynn the answer.  Jocelynn then took pictures of various displays and bounced them to the worker, who sent the message.

To help cement things, Colinne told Jocelynn to buy her any one thing from one of the displays she'd taken pictures of.  When Jocelynn asked if there was anything Colinne specifically liked, the other woman made it clear she was about to get to work and didn't care because the message headers was what she really wanted.  The piece Jocelynn chose was a gold flower broach with open petals and a stone in the middle.  That stone was banded and turquoise-like in color, where the cut of the stone made it seem the stone's color was exploding out onto the flower's petals.  The craftsmanship was certainly clever, but the piece was otherwise not very outstanding to anyone.  Jocelynn also worried the stone would be junk or "manufactured".  Still, the jeweler was pleased and charged her Cr 1,000, so he wasn't raping Jocelynn in thanks for sharing data on his shop.

In the berth, Colinne had gotten the message and could not only dig into the headers for that to see what they told her, but could also dig into the routing information the network gave her.  She could even send queries back along the network to backtrack the devices the message had traversed through on the way to her.  She was disappointed there was no way to geolocate the devices but she ultimately had the end point and didn't need to attack the network elements between her and Jocelynn, so things were good.  Now, Colinne had to start digging into devices to learn what other network end and access points were in the village where they believed the fugitive was hiding.  If she could find any broadcasting network cameras, that'd even let them face hunt for the fugitive.

Merchants Swapping Roles
     Having wandered the town's market shops and filled their jewelry boxes and some of the cutter, it was time for the promised lunch from the Ashshu.  While they walked, Mikah checked on the progress of moving the merchandise from the tailor's shop to the cutter to see it was in progress and going well.  Because Aali had volunteered to play security and Mikah'd assigned Aiden to do that too, they were supervising the deliveries and placement of the goods.  Mikah figured the two could lock up the cutter when the work was done, before the lunch ended.

Sitting down to eat, there were some minuses, like not being able to actually identify the vegetables in what they'd been served, but also the massive plus of being able to see they were eating real vegetables!  And, real meat!  Real cooked food with no relation to a vat or nutri-paste-based surrogates.  They were told the meat was a mix of fishing from the river and cuts from livestock in the fields.  So, everything was much more natural than they'd been used to in some time.  Starting to dig in, Mikah made it clear the food was so much better than anything they'd had in the Arden system.  Everyone in the crew agreed happily.

The first shop owner to offer them something to buy was a miller.  He offered sacks of milled flour and spices, and was sure he could fill their cargo space.  Wondering if he was boasting about the amount of flour, they knew he sounded sincere.  When it was suggested he had to be bragging because he didn't know how large their ship was, it was also pointed out he could be assuming the cutter was their ship.  When the man said he could add in some sacks of salt, Mikah nodded and said she'd take that under advisement.

The next shop owner was another tailor, who said he could bring them several hundred yards of tanned hides they could buy, then sell on other worlds.  When Mikah asked the cost, the man said he was sure they could work that out.  Interested, but not willing to let him know that, Mikah also told him she'd take his offer under advisement.  Next, came another tailor who offered several hundred yards of fabric.  The man also had some small samples of the rough-woven cloth he had to sell.  During the offers, Jocelynn did her best to quietly lean close to Sekea and they very quietly compared notes on their searching of faces.

Making sure they were not being overheard, Jocelynn said she wanted to get out of there before Kennot and his "group" arrived in the village of Apkope, because the Legate's people had said it was nearby.  Once that idiot set town, even in a nearby town, she was sure things could go to hell.  He'd start issues in that town and the word would go out that Imperials were in the area.  And then, if they were still in Wezsaen, there could be trouble for them too.  Not to mention Erskin fighters in the sky, pinning them in place if he started enough trouble.  In the meantime, the next shop owner came in carrying a small wooden model of some sort in his hands.

Looking closely, they saw it was some sort of wagon or cart.  The man was a builder of carts and wagons and offered to sell them as many wagons as their hold could fit, while using the model to demonstrate his hallmark work qualities.  when asked, he said he made them from wood, because while there were many automobiles around, they were still expensive to import.  So, the less wealthy who's needs could be fulfilled with carts came to people like him.  Listening to this man and the people before, they realized the goods being offered were nothing special.  This was not a trading hub, and these items were the goods the shop keepers had to sell on a daily, weekly and annual basis.  They were seeing some of the daily goods that were used every day by the town's people.

The next shop man had furniture he showed artwork representing along with enclosed lamps and candles.  From the man's pitch they learned the enclosed lanterns were electrically powered.  And Mikah might have been interested in nice looking lanterns but what this man had could best be described as "Utilitarian".  So, there was no interest.  And while the sales pitches continued, Sekea and Jocelynn kept chatting quietly.  Sekea told her he felt the quality of the jeweled sleeve marked it as odd.  She agreed when he suggested they go back to that jeweler and diplomatically try to learn more about how he got it?  Jocelynn agreed because she thought that was a good idea.  Sekea also showed he had little understanding of computer hacking when he suggested Colinne might be able to scan the shop's computers remotely.

At the same time, a last merchant was another clothing shop owner.  He'd come before Mikah's people with records covering everything in his shop, which he hoped they would buy just like they had the one merchant's shop.  He very happily offered everything he had for Cr 70,000.  Like the others, Mikah thanked him and told him they'd consider his offer before he left.  It turned out he was the last shop owner to come before them.  During the "festivities", Mikah had called Aali and Aiden to check if all the clothing got delivered and then told them to lock up the cutter and join them to get food.

After the selling offers ran down, and the jeweler hadn't shown up to sell them his shop, Jocelynn decided to excuse herself and go back there to ask questions.  At first, she stood and told the others she'd be back, and just wanted to check on something with the man.  Concerned she was going out alone, Sekea asked if she wanted to go by herself?  Not sure why he was concerned, Jocelynn was asking him why he wanted to know?  His answer brought questions from the others, and they saw he was worried about her safety.  That started a number of jokes that she was "the bodyguard" in the group.  Hearing those, Sekea backed off but Jocelynn misunderstood the comments, and decided she had to stay with the group she was guarding.  So, she decided to go back to the jeweler's later.

After the lunch ended, Jocelynn said she wanted to go back to the shop where she bought the sleeve.  At the same time, Aiden asked, "Did I hear someone mention a weapon shop?" which suggested he wanted to go there and didn't know how to say so directly.  Mikah and the others agreed to go back to the shops because Aiden and Aali hadn't been with them the first time.  When they visited the jeweler, he was very pleased to see them and Jocelynn said she had been enjoying looking at the sleeve since she bought it.  She then said it seemed so different from the rest of what he had to sell that she wanted to learn more about it?  That made the man even happier as he told her to hold on a moment.

The man then went to the back of the space, where his work bench was, and started moving things around to grab a wire-bound paper notebook.  Leafing through it while he came back to Jocelynn, he very happily showed her the series of drawings he had made while he had been designing that piece.  Looking at that work, and some of the other works in the notebook, Jocelynn realized the man "had the talent", even if he rarely had the time to make truly outstanding pieces.  So, the piece was one the man had made when he'd set aside the work time.  The man was thrilled she'd recognized his skill and really wanted to make another piece just for her.

Hearing that, Jocelynn was taken by surprise while Mikah reacted by saying, "Go ahead.  Fesic will buy it for you." in a taunting tone.  The man then gave her an out by saying he could create a piece in a few weeks if she would answer some questions for him that day.  Knowing they had more weeks to spend on-world, Jocelynn also knew she didn't want to tell him or anyone else in the village that.  So, she did her best to give him a disappointed look and said they planned to move on from Denotam to another system in just a few days.  Diverting his attention, Jocelynn asked the jeweler how he'd come across so much gold and silver?  Especially since the shop was literally covered in pieces made with the metals.

The man only waved that aside, saying the metals were something they had on Denotam.  His attitude suggested it was an export despite the lack of land from which they could mine it.  He did admit, he had to trade for it because there were no mines near that town.  But, his tone didn't suggest the metals were hard to get in the quantities he needed.  Still, there would have to be a lot more gold and silver to fill a ton of cargo aboard their ship.  The sleeve was so well crafted it was barely more than half a pound of gold with the same amount of silver.  When Jocelynn asked for something small he could make quickly, the man held up his hand for her to wait and returned to the back of the shop.

Gold leaf Coming back, the man had a fold-over flat case in his hands.  He opened it when he got back to her and showed Jocelynn it held finished pieces the man didn't have on display.  Jocelynn first looked for something similar to the sleeve in style, and didn't see anything quite like that.  Still, she saw a set of very delicate dangling earrings that were a gold tracery of the veins and structure of a pair of leaves done in an open lattice style.  So, the gold tracery showed light through the voids where the leaf flesh would have been.  So, the piece was similar to the one Jocelynn bought, except it was based on the stem, vein and circulatory structure of a leaf instead of on a textile woven pattern.

With Mikah looking over her shoulder, Jocelynn asked how much the man wanted for the earrings and was told Cr 5,000.  When Jocelynn offered Cr 4,000, the man accepted.  Then, Jocelynn suggested she wanted to buy Mikah and Aali gifts, and Mikah shut that down hard.  When Jocelynn asked Mikah what she'd like, Mikah said she could take care of her own needs.  Aali also looked at the collection, but it was mostly gold and gold was very conductive.  Most of her "ship-board" jewelry was non-conductive, because she worked heavily with electronics and didn't want to risk a short or arc.  While Aali looked, Mikah asked if the man had any pieces with black stones and gold?

The man pulled out another broach, made from an unmarked gold rod running left to right when worn, and just over an inch long.  Three surreal lobes of gold flowed down from the rod as if melted.  The melted lobes didn't thin, but hung down, and between those were held long oval black gemstones stones speckled with silver striations.  Mikah liked that piece a lot, and asked how much the man wanted?  When he said Cr 5,000, like he had with Jocelynn, Mikah offered Cr 4,000 and he pushed her back up to Cr 4,500.  Mikah accepted that and paid the man.

Aali saw the man had nothing not made of metal, and she gave up looking for something for "shipboard" wearing.  She'd also liked the broach Mikah bought and wondered if he had something similar to that?  The man pulled out another broach based on a stone like the one Mikah had bought, that was agate-like and had many colors but predominantly red veins.  He'd cut the stone itself, revealing the colors and letting the veins lead him to creating a largely spiral topology.  That stone was mounted on a round silver backing which highlighted the chaos of colors through which bold lines of red color ran.

Aali asked for the price on that and was, again, told Cr 5,000.  She had to laugh before she offered Cr 4,000 and the man countered with Cr 4,500.  Aali pointed out that Mikah had paid Cr 4,500 for her piece made with gold and this piece was only made with silver.  The man nodded and said, "But, you're not paying for the materials, you are paying for the craft and workmanship."  Aali nodded at that and paid the Cr 4,500.  Done buying jewelry, Jocelynn asked the man about the stones in the sleeve she'd bought.  He dismissed them as naturally found stones on Denotam that he used because they gave the right effect, and of no more value.

Seeming to have no respect for the stones at all, he told Jocelynn they were easily found.  He quipped, 'If you can find a forest and go into it, you can likely find many of them on the ground.'  Not sure if he was serious or not, Jocelynn didn't push the point because she didn't want him to take her interest too seriously.  The jeweler's regard for the stones was the same then as it had been when Sekea had asked him about them when she'd bought the sleeve.  Just an artist choosing a material that had the right properties for the appearance he needed.

Sekea stepped in, asking, "Did you learn your skill on your own, or did you train under somebody?" and the jeweler said he'd studied with his father and others.  Nodding, Sekea asked if his father still made pieces and the jeweler said, "When he can."  Sekea then asked if the man's father had pieces on offer and the jeweler said they would be included in what was on display in the shop, hoping he could talk Sekea into buying one.  While he'd wandered the shop, Sekea had taken note of the jeweler's name, "Bynare", because he somehow thought it possible the man or his father might be a famous jeweler hiding away in a nowhere, po-dunk town for no sensible reason he could explain.  While the others shopped, Aiden looked around for any interesting rings or watches.  While he saw a number of different rings, he found no watches or mechanisms.  Sadly for Aiden, he found nothing that caught his interest.

Done at the jeweler, they went off to re-visit the weapons shops.  Of course, when they walked into each place, Aiden made a bee-line to the handguns while Aali made sure to "lick every item with her eyes".  Some of what Aiden saw made him a bit home-sick, because those were like the weapons he'd seen officials and officers using as a boy on Craw.  Sadly, nothing stood out as different or special and Aiden saw he'd only ever buy one as a reminder of his homeworld.  When Aiden asked for a price, he was insulted by what they wanted.  Of course, that was because he was used to buying weapons at InstellArms, where they could sell him a thousand machine made weapons.  For some reason, Aiden hadn't realized the Denotam economy was vastly different and items common on many worlds would be hard to get on that world.  And, they'd be priced that way.  Especially if the buyer wanted quality.

Eventually, Aiden haggled over a revolver and got the smith to come down to Cr 2,500 despite the disgruntled look on the man's face.  When he agreed to that, Aiden then said he'd pay Cr 2,750 which the man was willing to take even though he felt it was only offered as an apology the smith wasn't willing to accept.  After Aiden took the weapon, he asked about the ammunition while somehow expecting hand-made weapons in a po-dunk town in the middle of nowhere would take standard Imperial ammunition.  Especially on a world where any weapon dropped by your dead enemy could be used against them if you had ammo that fit that weapon.

When Aiden was told the revolver took 4.5 mm rounds, he realized he'd have to have them custom made anywhere outside of that region of Denotam.  With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Aiden remembered the comment from the Ambassador on Arden about buying weapons.  While you didn't buy weapons on Arden because of the legal issues, most wouldn't buy weapons in nowhere clan villages lost in the ice on Denotam because they might not be easy to find ammo for elsewhere.  Still, Aiden asked about any spare ammo they might have on hand and the smith said they had a few 100-round boxes they could sell for Cr 2,000 each.  Nodding, Aiden bought one of those boxes from the now more smug weapon smith.

Aali looked around to see if anything was interesting, but didn't find anything that leapt out at her.  Switching to the hand-made tools, Aali looked those over and saw a multi-tool that looked interesting.  Asking to see it, Aali checked all the tools and saw it didn't have any blades at all.  The craftmanship was excellent, and the joints of the weapon opened, closed and locked as expected.  But Aali already had favorite versions of the tools.  Saying "Not today" Aali handed the tool back to the smiths.  Sekea asked about places they might go to get more locally made vacc suits, since their Imperial-made suits made them stand out like sore thumbs.  Mikah was good with looking for vacc suits, because Sekea needed one that fit him too.

The Ashshu, who was still with them, was happy to lead them to a shop where they could get vacc suits if they wanted.  When they got to the shop, the place was filled with all sorts of fittings, parts, materials, etc...  There were even half-done suits they were working on to fill orders.  What they didn't see were any finished vacc suits for sale or on display.  After the introductions were made, those there said they'd be very happy to make anyone of the crew a vacc suit, while admitting they'd never be able to match the quality of the suits the crew were wearing.  The lead suit maker spotted Sekea's "issues" right off and Mikah told him it had been a hand-me-down after he lost his gear in a recent disaster.

Nodding, the man who seemed in charge of the group at the shop said, "I can take your measurements and certainly have a vacc suit that will fit properly ready for you by the end of the week."  Given that it was now Saturday, that meant he was talking about the coming Friday or Saturday, not the next day.  Since they'd told other people that they planned to lift and leave the system in two days, they couldn't change that without those people wondering at their honesty, at the very least.  So, they thanked the man because they wouldn't be available at the end of the week, and left the shop.  Planning to ask the Captain where the Imperials working out of the safe house got their local-looking vacc suits, Sekea decided to take pictures of the locals in vacc suits.

Considering Offers And Making Plans
     Without other plans, Mikah was seriously considering buying the lot of several hundred yards of hides from the one shop owner.  Wanting to see how much the man wanted to charge her, Mikah asked for directions to where that shop was?  When they got to the shop, there were enough stacks of furs on the floor to promise the man was honest when he said "several" hundred yards of tanned furs.  Mikah was certain there would be more than enough worlds where they could sell some, if not all, of those.

So, Mikah wasn't worried about buying a large lot from the man.  She just had to fit the furs in with the lot of clothing she'd bought and still have space in the cutter for the crew.  Mikah first tried to play on the fact that there were lots of animals, so the furs were easy to get.  The merchant wasn't falling for that, because simply catching the animals was one thing.  Tanning the hides without damaging the fur was something else, and doing all that while dealing with invasive clan attacks from neighbors and other issues was even more.  So, if she wasn't willing to meet his price, he could just tell her to go catch her own.

Nodding, Mikah asked and the man offered each hundred yards of fur for KCr 20 each.  Mikah saw the man wasn't going to move far at all on his price, and wanted to get as far as she thought she could.  And, she knew that bundling buys was a good way to find some leverage in situations like that.  So, Mikah said she'd buy three hundred yards of fur if she could pay KCr 18 per hundred yards.  Hearing that, the man nodded and accepted the offer.  After Mikah paid the KCr 54, the man got his staff busy pulling out carts and moving stacks of furs from the floor to get moving out to the cutter.  Also, lucky for the crew, the man's workers were happy to help re-organize the cutters cargo space to fit things in.

After everything was delivered, the crew announced they'd spend some time in the craft re-arranging things so they had space to sleep that night.  After they closed up the cutter, Sekea brought up sparking up a comms to call the safe house, but was told they'd not gotten a comms frequency to use.  The night before, the Legate's people had only given them coordinates.  And, they hadn't asked that morning before leaving the building, nor had anyone seen the Captain while they toured the town.  And, they'd never met any members of the Captain's team, so they had no idea if they'd met any of those people?

Mikah pointed out they could easily walked the short distance from the cutter to the safe house, and planned to do that after dark that night.  Sekea was concerned about getting local-looking vacc suits so they could be less obvious when they wandered around.  Mikah reminded Sekea the safe house may not have spare vacc suits.  The issue may have been one of planning, because such expeditions generally planned for needs like that before they went into enemy territory rather than just expecting anything they needed to be available once they were on dangerous ground.

But, the team hadn't planned their mission out.  They had simply gotten the location from the Legate and flown out without making plans, checking and getting what gear they'd need or bringing their best pilot.  Because of that, they'd had to flee after their first landing and come back with Aiden flying.  And now, the vacc suit issue could blow up in their faces.  At the moment, Mikah was hoping Colinne had found something now she had an address to follow into the Erskin network.  Sekea then asked about the capabilities of Jocelynn's battledress, because he knew there were different models.

After she gave him some basics on the suit, Sekea suggested they leave and come back covertly.  Then, Jocelynn could scout the building in her battledress with its stealth and camouflage technology.  But there were serious downsides if things went south, and Jocelynn didn't think much of Sekea volunteering her to go out alone in hostile territory.  When Sekea persisted with the idea, Jocelynn said, "There's a bunch of reasons I shouldn't do that."  While she admitted the idea was good and the camouflage would help, if they caught her they'd move the stars and planets to kill her and loot her body.  She added that the villagers would follow her to the rest of the team, and attack the crew and cutter.

Jocelynn also said she agreed with Sekea about having to blend in, but also said everyone in the village already knew who they were.  She didn't mention that someone could also be watching them, for many reasons including protecting the fugitive.  But, also not related to the fugitive at all.  And, they could even be being watched by the Imperials for their reasons too.  Sadly, Sekea pushed the idea of leaving and getting facsimile vacc suits before coming back to the village, despite the fact they'd told these people they'd be leaving in two or three days.  So, staying overnight, that left them less than two days to try to do that and rushing it would only open the doors to more mistakes.  So, getting 'vacc suits' to blend in wasn't going to work without the help of a ready and stocked wardrobe department.  Sekea had to stop pretending and come up with a realistic idea.

The idea was floated that they get the frequency to call the safe house, then leave the next morning as planned.  Next, they'd return to the ship and dump the loot they'd gotten while also grabbing Jocelynn's battledress.  They could then return in the dark of night where someone in battledress could cross the distance quickly and let Jocelynn out to do mayhem.  On the ground, Jocelynn could use her enhanced speed to get to the target buildings and rig them with explosives.  After that, she could pull back a distance before blowing up the buildings before returning to the cutter.

And, the staff in the safe house could be part of the villager's rescue and recovery while checking every person and body recovered to see if they were the fugitive?  If they did find the fugitive or his body, they could land a second time and Jocelynn could go in wearing her battledress.  If the man was still alive, the people in the safe house could keep track of where he moved to.  And if not, Jocelynn could sneak in and steal the body, even though it would be worth half a million less.  Jocelynn and Sekea didn't like the idea because of the intentional slaughter of innocents.  Especially if the fugitive turned out not to be in any of those houses.  Mikah liked the plan and wanted to go with it.

When Mikah heard no one speak up with a better idea, she started planning that she'd walk over to the safe house and get their comms data.  Then, she said, they'd spend the night in the cutter, grab breakfast the next morning and pick up Jocelynn's knives before leaving.  Then, they'd return the next night and commit mayhem.  While Jocelynn did admit she was always up for a bit of mass homicide for a good cause, she was less pleased with the fact some would be innocent, and they'd just spent so much time making friends.  Mikah pointed out they'd only blow up a few of them and got laughs.  After the laughs, Jocelynn said she had some ideas she wanted to talk about that could change things.

With their attention, Jocelynn pointed out they had been told to look at five buildings near the south-western section of the town.  So, they currently had no idea which building the fugitive might actually be hiding in?  She went on to suggest they had to do reconnaissance, and suggested they do that during the coming night.  That would, at the least, give them a chance to decide which building the fugitive might be in, and reduce the target buildings they had to consider blowing up.  Sekea then asked if they had cameras or other "eyes" they could plant and was told they didn't.

Jocelynn had brought the tracking balls from the spy box in the ship's locker.  It was mentioned they could ask the Captain about the person of interest they'd been told the Captain's people were observing.  They could even ask the Captain to have one of his people plant one of the tracking balls near the house that person lived in, so they'd be able to narrow down the target instead of indiscriminately blowing up five buildings to get one man.  After Sekea, Aali was all for returning to the ship to stow the goods they'd gotten and then look for anything they had there which could help them spread cameras or sensors around the area to help find the fugitive.  She also wanted to find out what Colinne and Fesic might have found before deciding on a plan.

Because Aali mentioned bringing everyone into the planning, they opened comms and added Colinne and Fesic to the conversation.  After explaining the moment to the two, Colinne said she had ten bugs which were full video receiver/broadcasters.  Nodding, Mikah said she felt they had to do whatever they were planning to do that night, because she worried Kennot would arrive and make a mess of everything.  Colinne was the first to remind Mikah that Kennot was headed to a different village, which was nearby, but not "this" town.  The truth was that if Kennot made a large enough mess, it could spill over to the village they were in.  And, if he caused so many issues the Erskin military had to move in, they would likely show up in Wezsaen too.  So, they would likely get in the crew's way too.

Fesic did his best to roll the conversation back, suggesting they "find ways" to set surveillance in the area of the suspect buildings and watch for the fugitive.  He continued to push the idea that he believed the man would need to see the sky and show his face eventually.  Of course, Fesic never suggested how long "eventually" was, or accepted the fact that could be weeks or even months.  Or the fact the fugitive could be somewhere else while they sat there for weeks or months.  Fesic also glossed over things they'd already covered, like the need to leave the village, gather cameras and devices and return to set them out before they simply sat and burned time waiting.  Eventually, Fesic did suggest Mikah ask the Captain if the safe house had any cameras and they agreed that was a good idea.

Coming to a decision, Mikah said she would walk over to the safe house and get their information, and anything else they could give her.  Next, she said she and Jocelynn would "take a walk" to see if they could get close to the cluster of houses which had been suggested to the group.  Mikah said it would just be the two of them, because larger groups would stand out more, and be dangerous.  If they could see or learn anything, that would be good.  Otherwise, they'd continue with their plans to leave and then do what they do.  Until then, they'd plan until dinner time, then go to the pub they'd visited for drinks earlier.

When Aiden suggested they could use clothing from the stock they'd bought for camouflage, Mikah snapped that they wouldn't need camouflage.  She pointed out they'd go to the pub, after which she and Jocelynn would wait until after dark and "go for a walk".  Keeping quiet, and under the cover of darkness, Mikah said they'd be as covert as they needed to be.  Jocelynn suggested she and Mikah could wear the coats they'd bought over their vacc suits and Mikah disagreed.  Still, Jocelynn said they should and even joked, it would be fashionable.  Mikah accepted that and the two planned to wear their coats.

With that winding down, they asked Colinne what she'd found in her work?  Having had the network address information for hours after the message was sent, Colinne had been searching for the structures of that network, from the top level down.  At the higher levels, she hoped to identify resolution servers that identified destinations for traffic on the network.  She also targeted routing devices for active and archived information on servers.  A major advantage she had was the fact that the 'Erskin infoscape' was enclosed.  That meant she wasn't dealing with address schemes which were spread over the entire world.  "All" that network's addresses would be Erskin addresses.

Of course, that didn't mean all those addresses were in or near that village.  The network covered an area 4,400 Km north to south and as much as 3,600 Km wide.  That was a lot of land over which the Erskin cities, towns and villages were scattered.  And, the network of systems spread across a nation that wasn't very "friendly" to exploration from the port.  Colinne also had to work to find out if the shop's specific address was geographic or part of a merchant-net, or other logical group?  If it was geographic, similar addresses might be the computers next door, or within the town.  If they were logical, similar addresses could be other shops - perhaps even jewelry shops - across the entire nation.

Added to that, Colinne had set up a data grabber that filtered all the packets she could get into a two-column list where the lead column was the packet's header data and the second was any sophont-readable information from the payload.  Fesic filtered that even more, dumping payload data that was entirely encrypted and highlighting anything looking like an address.  Fesic would then scan through all the readable data while continually updating his address filters.  Any time Fesic could tie a message to a location, he'd update Colinne on a confirmed geolocation for that address information.

One thing Colinne was noticing was that there seem to be little to no devices supporting streaming data, if that wasn't on an entirely different network?  Another "gift" Colinne got from the message was application based.  She was able to have Fesic use the local port applications to send her messages so she could compare them with the message from the jeweler.  That let her find data in the header which told her if a packet of data was from a messaging program, or some other application?  Thanks to that, she also set up a filter looking for messages and messaging-based servers.  Attacking those, Colinne was able to find several servers before working to get into those and hunt for archived data.  Those would give her specific addresses and sophont-readable data that would help her and Fesic tie addresses to locations based on the data in the messages.

To the disgust of the rest of the crew, the hacking work was taking a longer time that they expected.  That didn't surprise either Colinne or Fesic because popular vids taught the uneducated that hacking was always instantaneous.  Still, they were geolocating more addresses and building address maps that were helping them dig into what they'd need to find network devices in or near the town of Wezsaen.  From there, Colinne could again look for devices devoted to or supporting streaming while also looking for messages that might even lock down the fugitive.  After all, he might well have warned his friends if he were coming home to hide.  And if he had, that message might be in the archives of a messaging server.

Back in the cutter, Jocelynn agreed that Mikah should visit the safe house but also said she wanted to go with, and ask them questions.  Jocelynn also remembered the clear translucent stone called "Femselthe" with the glass-like appearance and came up with an idea.  She reminded Mikah the jeweler had told them they could find those stones on Denotam's forest floors.  So, they could always claim they were looking for stones while they were in the woods around the village.  It also gave them an excuse to wander the forest with a light to avoid tripping and also look for reflections from stones on the ground.

Hearing that, Sekea pulled out the stone he'd bought and offered it to Jocelynn.  That way, if they did get stopped and questioned, they'd have a sample of the stone and could either show what they were looking for or even claim they'd found one while looking.  After that, they chatted and relaxed until dinner time, then went to the pub to order what turned out to be Cr 50/each meals.  The high points were "real food" and the grog, with a higher than usual alcohol content, that was served with the food.  The beer they were served were also more alcoholic than expected.  And because the people in the town had a vested interest in getting them 'sloppy', the crew worked on drinking carefully.  Especially Mikah and Jocelynn, because of their plans later.

After eating, they went back to the cutter and all agreed they should be ready to mount a rescue run in case something went wrong.  Calling Colinne and Fesic, they learned the two had started identifying servers in Wezsaen and were making progress identifying some local network structures.  At the same time, Colinne and Fesic were digging into the servers they'd identified, to see if they could find any data tracking to their search.  When it came close to time for Mikah and Jocelynn to take their "walk", Aiden got ready to move the cutter, if needed.  And he had Sekea for a second seater, because he was the only other one left behind with flight skills.

Taking An Evening Walk
     Leaving the cutter, Mikah and Jocelynn had on the coats they'd bought and casually made their way to the safe house.  After they knocked on the door, there was no response.  After knocking again, the door opened a crack and they saw the Captain looking out as he muttered, "I didn't expect to see you."  With that, he stepped back and held the door open to let them in.  Through the air-seal, they walked into the building's main room to see four other people in unbuttoned vacc suits.  And, those vacc suits seemed to be of local design.  Seeing three of them were men and one was a woman, Mikah asked the Captain, "Are we good to talk?"

When the Captain said they could, Mikah asked for a comms link to the safe house.  Suddenly guarded, the Captain asked why she wanted it, in a tone that suggested the information wasn't commonly shared.  Mikah answered, "So we can get in contact with you if we find anything that might be of interest."  The Captain then made it clear her crew's mission was theirs, and not related to the mission of those in the safe house.  He'd been told to help Mikah's people get situated, which he had, and to assist "if needed".  But the Captain expected a complete separation of operations, not putting his work at risk.  When Mikah pushed that she just wanted a way to contact them if her crew found something, the Captain said they didn't need to know about events related to her mission.

Hearing that, Mikah was annoyed and ready to leave but Jocelynn said she wanted to ask a question.  Jocelynn asked if they had any small cameras or surveillance gear that could be easily hidden?  When the Captain asked why they needed the gear, Jocelynn simply said "surveillance".  The Captain prodded for more and Jocelynn told him they wanted to set up surveillance of certain areas.  The Captain considered that before offering two configurable cameras and asked if Jocelynn could tell him where she planned to set the cameras up?  Jocelynn said they'd be covering the houses he pointed out to them, and the Captain asked what configuration they'd set the camera up in?

Mikah suggested they'd decide that when they got to the houses.  She pointed out that was needed because their map wasn't indicative of what they'd actually find.  Moving to the map the Captain had of the village, Jocelynn described how she thought to set the cameras while the Captain gave advice and Mikah stood firm they'd have to decide when they were near the houses and could best decide.  Mikah was also perhaps more dismissive because the Captain had pissed her off not being willing to share a comms code.  During the talk, the other four in the space had been politely quiet until the Captain turned to one of the men and asked his opinion on Jocelynn's plans?

When that man stepped up, made it clear he was at least part of the team surveilling those related to the fugitive.  He leaned over the map and pointed to a specific building saying they should concentrate on.  Neither Mikah nor Jocelynn could miss the confidence in the man's voice, suggesting he was certain of his information.  Jocelynn said she certainly wanted one camera behind and facing the back of that house in the stand of woods.  Sadly, the map didn't give them enough details to decide how to place the front camera, to get a good enough view of the front of the building.  The big issue was that the other buildings bottlenecked any view from a distance.  And, they didn't know anything about the other buildings and their out-buildings.  Mikah wondered if there was a smoking shack or other structure they could use?

Thanking the man for the new information, Jocelynn asked if they had any more information, or had seen the fugitive?  While the man said no one had actually seen the fugitive, he did say three brothers lived in the house and were known to be friends of the man.  They were watching the men there because they felt that if he was in the village, he'd be hiding there.  Jocelynn asked about explosives they could remotely detonate and the Captain wasn't happy with that idea.  He said their supplies were limited, and if they set up a radio-controlled bomb, radio users in the town could get on the wrong frequency and accidentally set it off.  He also worried that they had no idea "if" the fugitive was in the village, and explosives left lying about could get unstable.

When Jocelynn asked about the people living in the nearby houses, she was told that was a family cluster.  So, they were all aunts, uncles, cousins, etc..."  Happy with the new data, Jocelynn thanked the Captain and other man, and then told Mikah she was good to go.  Getting their coats organized, they left the safe house and wandered to the road before moving south-east, towards the river.  Getting to the river crossing, they turned south -west, off the road towards the woods.  Leaving the road, Mikah and Jocelynn moved through the stand of trees and out of the village before cutting south.  They didn't run into anyone during the move south and didn't even hear sounds of anyone until they got into the stand of woods behind the house.

Map Inset Because the sounds could have carried from anywhere, they lay low and waited to see if they could figure out where the sounds were coming from?  It took a bit of time, but they figured the sounds were coming from men doing something between their target house(A on the map) and the house south-east of that building.(B on the map)  Wanting a closer look, the women moved up to the edge of the tree-line to see if they could get more information.  What they saw were five men working at wood-working projects between the two houses.  They also didn't seem to be aware anyone was watching them.

Liking the view of the men and the back of the suspect building, Jocelynn decided to plant the first camera, setting it to a pre-set frequency.  Jocelynn also wanted to hide it well because the town had many hunters and trappers, so her's was a valid concern.  While setting the camera in place, Jocelynn set it to one of the team's comm frequencies, so anyone on the team could receive the video feed.  After doing that, Jocelynn asked if Mikah could recognize any of the men, but they were too far away to really see if they were anyone they'd met while shopping?  Giving that up, Jocelynn suggested they move north along the tree line, to where the trees were closer to the suspect building.  Then, she'd try to sneak closer to the building and see if she could look into any windows?

When Mikah was good with that idea, the ladies retreated back into the woods a bit before moving north to where they could move closer to the house.  At the wood's edge, they crossed to the house, and got close to one of the two windows on the building's back wall.  One of the windows was close to the wall's north corner and the second one was ten feet south along the wall.  But, fully half the wall had no windows or doors, so it suggested the internal structure of the building held rooms like closets and bathrooms where windows wouldn't be proper.  Before looking in the window, Jocelynn suggested setting up a camera in the woods that could see the back of the house and also shoot into the window.  Mikah liked the idea, but when they looked back at the woods, they realized they'd have to have the camera raised off the ground, and that would make it hard to hide.  So, they wrote off the idea for the minute.

Looking into the first window, they saw a bedroom.  There was a door opposite the window which was closed.  No one was in the room, and what they saw told them little more than the structure of the building.  There were no weapons or tech toys in the room beyond a vid-viewing screen and a desk comms on a desk in the room.  The bedroom walls showed the next window would be another room.  Jocelynn wondered if there were windows on the north wall of the house and started edging around the corner to look for any of them.  It was just after the two had edged around the corner and was looking that they heard a male voice call out, "Hey!  Who's over there?"  Paraphrasing the words of Terin in her mind, "She was spotted."  Another voice answered, "I don't see anyone, let's look."

Thinking of bolting for the forest first, Jocelynn grabbed Mikah and gestured that they should slip back around the corner so they had the building behind them when they ran.  When they moved, Jocelynn's foot hit a depression and had to stop and steady herself against the wall of the house while Mikah slipped around the corner.  Because of the stutter step, Jocelynn was much more visible, and was spotted!  Behind her, she could hear the two men start shouting and braking into a run, to chase her.  That meant there was little reason to duck behind the house as she and Mikah sprinted into the woods.

When they got into the woods, they both knew that hunters from this village would easily track them by the noise they were making while they ran.  Mikah grabbed Jocelynn and pulled her off their line of march and down, whispering to her to hunker down and see what happened next?  This was the first point where Jocelynn considered drawing her pistol.  They each took a position behind a tree and on the ground as close into any exposed roots as they could get.  The men had run inside the tree-line and then heard the "crashing" stop, so they stopped to listen for what they could hear?

While the women hid, they heard one of the two men call out what sounded like a name.  They heard an answer sounding like it came from the five men they'd seen working along the side of the house.  Then the man called out, "We think someone is sniffing around your house.  Come help us, 'cause we think there in the woods near here."  Hearing that, Jocelynn and Mikah realized they couldn't stay where they were.  At least some of the men, now seven in number, would likely have some hunting skills.  So, if the two stayed where they were, that gave the men all the time they needed to create a search line and sweep the woods until Mikah and Jocelynn were discovered.

Mikah was the first to suggest they try to sneak out before the other five men joined the first two.  Agreeing, the two started crawling to the north, trying to be as quiet as possible while still making some sounds.  Things started out well enough since it didn't seem like the two men at the edge of the woods heard them at all.  But even as they crawled, both Jocelynn and Mikah knew they'd soon run out of woods.  And, no matter what direction they went in, they knew they'd be out in the open and easily visible.  So, the men would see them and easily be able to chase them.  Mikah's plan was to make a run for the road and hope they got there before the guys came out of the woods.  Then, she hoped they could just pretend to have been out for a walk.

Crawling and being quiet was slow going, and they could hear it when the five other men joined the first two and were told someone had been lurking around the house and bolted into the forest.  They also said when they gave chase, whoever it was went to ground and can't have gotten out of the woods yet.  So, they figured whoever it was were trapped, hiding and had to be flushed out.  They then started talking about spreading into a line and sweeping into the woods to flush out anyone hiding there.  With the men getting on the move, the odds were also stacking up against them and soon enough, Mikah put pressure on a stick before realizing it!  The snap was loud and distinct, and they heard the men react and start moving in their direction quickly.

Realizing they'd not make it out of the woods, Mikah told Jocelynn to stand up, turn around and walk in the direction of the on-coming men.  Not knowing what Mikah had planned, but trusting her, Jocelynn did as she was told and both women were quickly met by the men.  Just before they came face to face, Jocelynn realized they could now pretend to have been out stone-hunting.  When the men saw them, one of them angrily yelled, "Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?"  Trying to react as if surprised, Jocelynn lifted her hands while saying, "We're the traders."  She figured that was enough and counted on the whole village knowing who they were.

As the men closed around the two women, Jocelynn held out the stone Sekea had lent her and said, "We're looking for gemstones."  That brought the men up short before one of them demanded, "Then what were you doing over by the house?"  Jocelynn mocked innocent and asked, "What do you mean, by the house?  What house?"  Pointing through the woods, the man said, "That house.  Right there.  I saw you."  Looking the man in the visor, Jocelynn said, "You didn't see me.  We were only in the woods the whole time. Are you sure it wasn't an animal?"

Taking a step back and less defiant, the man said, "Well, it could have been.  But it's a bit convenient you being here."  Jocelynn shrugged and then claimed, "I thought I heard something pass us in the dark but I didn't see it.  Maybe, that's what it was?"  Another of the men stepped forward and half-demanded to see the stones she was looking for and Jocelynn showed him the one Sekea had loaned her.  Looking at the stone in what little light there was, the man cursed and said the stone was worthless.  He then asked, "Why in space are you looking for this trash?"  Jocelynn smiled and said, "I just thought they were pretty" in a cheery voice.

Giving the stone back to her, the man said, "Well, you have one.  Why do you need more?"  Jocelynn answered, "To make a necklace."  Shaking his head, the man said, "Well.  Be careful.  You don't want to get shot by mistake."  Jocelynn thanked him and said she was sorry to have disturbed the men.  Still eyeing the ladies, the one man said they'd be staying there until the two of them moved on.  Both women shrugged and Mikah said "OK" to the man before turning to Jocelynn to say, "Rock hunting is done for the night."  Jocelynn only said "Yes" while they started walking towards the road.

With that, Jocelynn and Mikah made their way out of the woods and casually walked back to the road leading north toward where the cutter had been landed, not far from the safe house.  After Mikah and Jocelynn got back to the cutter, they said they'd only set one camera and shared the information, to be given to Colinne.  With that, she could set up a streaming connection.  After they called Colinne, she smiled while connecting a feed out and chuckled, "Pretty, pretty pictures."  While Colinne set the feed up, Jocelynn was concerned about the men from the woods.

Jocelynn was sure they'd be alert and watchful for the time being.  Especially while they and their cutter were in the village.  That added to the odd events of two nights before which only the crew and Imperial Captain knew the answer to.  Then, they arrived in the village despite that never having happened before.  And finally, Jocelynn and Mikah "happening" to show up near their house.  Jocelynn hoped they'd get some hard evidence in the short term, because they didn't even know "if" the fugitive was in the home, much less the village?  So, she hoped to get an answer soon enough to help them with their plans.

If that wasn't the case, they were stuck with bad answers, like going in with the entire crew in combat armor, carrying guns with Tranq rounds.  Landing the cutter close and storming the building, shooting everyone in the place while they hunted for the fugitive.  And hopefully Tranqing the man before he could escape, then setting explosives to blow the building and kill off any witnesses while they fled back into the sky.  When Jocelynn complained about being forced to use a plan like that, Sekea suggested using knock out gas to prevent anyone from being a witness.  Sadly, Sekea hadn't bothered to ask if they had quantities of the gas, or a way to deliver them?  So, his idea fell short because of his failed assumptions.

After that, they decided they'd at least gotten more information on where the fugitive was believed to be hiding, though no evidence he actually was.  So, they were happy for a small advance even if there were serious challenges remaining.  Beyond that, they still had planned to have breakfast at the bakery the next morning before going to the weapon smith to receive the three knives Jocelynn had ordered.  Then, they'd say their good byes and lift for the sky while deciding if they wanted to visit the ship and get Jocelynn's battledress and more significant weapons than they currently had with them?  Beyond that, they had ideas but not decided on a plan.

Meanwhile, Back In Space
     Recovering more from the effects of both the slow drug and the operation days before, Zimzod would have been bored if a management team had not been assigned to his care.  They were not only there to care for him as nurses and support, but to keep him engaged.  That was their official reason for being there, so they wouldn't be noticed.  During their discussions, Zimzod was introduced to Lieutenant Commander Dallpe, who was in charge of Zimzod's "enhanced recovery" processes.  Zimzod was told two medics with special psionic skills were on loan from the Arch Duke's escort fleet.  They were charged with 'enhancing' Zimzod's surgical recovery and the small team of seven medics were all aware of their role and trained to work with the pair.

Having Zimzod as a captive audience, they did let him sleep as much as he could but also kept him engaged while he was awake.  When he wanted, they fitted him with a headset and taught him to use his eyes to control a "puck" in computer games so he could compete with members of the group.  They also kept him up to date on the news.  Zimzod's key interest was for news from his home system, because the last story to arrive in-system said arrests had begun.  But, there were no new reports saying "who" had been arrested?  Nor had any information come including his father's name, like an earlier report had.  Zimzod asked about sending an x-mail asking for information, but was reminded that would take more than two months for that message to arrive.  That meant any answer would be in transit for at least four and a half months.  They could be on Lanth by then, if not already in the Sonthert system.

Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Mikah, Aali, Jocelynn, Aiden, Sekea: Asleep aboard the cutter in the Erskin village of Wezsaen
     Colinne, Fesic: In the berth working on hacking Clan Erskin network elements
     Zimzod: Under medical care aboard the INS Maadashmim Zikheaa - The end of day 3 of cleansing
     Rol: Cloning: 7 Weeks, 3 days until he can be decanted

Next: Ending With A Bang