background: url(images/nightsky.jpg) no-repeat center center fixed; background-size: cover; height: 200%; overflow: hidden;
Welcome to the

Last Updated     Dec 2 2023
The Characters
The Ship
Campaign History Page
Granted Rights
The Frontier Wars
The Spinward Marches
About Legends
Artist's Credits
House Rules
Recent Updates
Email Me
Parties, Bombs And A

Unplanned Elevations
     The day began early for Zimzod, who was told he was going to have "a busy day today".  That surprised him because he'd only expected to endure one more day of cleansing before he got a second Slow drug injection the next day.  Things got even stranger when the ship techs started setting up electronics and they actually re-rigged his restraints so he was sitting up.  The most bizarre thing was when someone from another ship department came in to rig what looked like an Imperial Army NCO's dress uniform that discreetly covered his medical restraints.  And, each time he'd asked what was going on, Zimzod was told he'd be briefed when it was time.  Used to the way the military worked, Zimzod could only work with his medical team whenever they could get a task in edge-wise.

Everyone else, aside from Rol, was asleep in the berth in the Denotam downport, but knew they too had to wake early and prepare to attend the Court of Prince Lucan Alkhalikoi Alkhalikoi.  A message on the berth's computers waited to tell Sekea, Colinne and Aali that their garments had been delivered earlier that morning, and could be worn to the planned event that day.  It also said they'd been billed for the garments on delivery.  That was Cr 3,500 for Aali's gown, Cr 5,000 for Sekea's suit and Cr 3,000 for Colinne's gown.  With those delivered, the crew went through their morning routines and were soon ready for an official vehicle sent for them.  Still, when it arrived, they were surprised to see it was an armored car!

Riding to the base, the contrasts were many.  They'd left from a parkbay on the starport, all steel, tarmac and ice.  If they'd moved from the port to the village that had grown around the port and base, there would have been installed planting on a scale that made vegetation look natural.  That, and the natural materials used to construct most of the haphazardly placed civilian structures, belied the fact they were built on ice.  Specifically, on an ice shell expanding out from one of a number of mountain tops which had pushed through the ice covering the global ocean.  But, they'd passed directly from the port to the base.  Those structures were all made from specialized materials from interstellar sources.  Every building there had a purpose and were organized by use, like on the starport.  And, unlike the village, the base ran along the ridge-top of an ice-piercing mountain range.

At the base, a mid-level officer led them into the event, since the base command had learned the crew were more important.  At that, Mikah smirked, "Took them long enough."  Of course, the smirk didn't last long when she heard the officer say their seats for the event would be up "on" the dais.  They were told they would be part of the Arch Duke's entourage.  Mikah could only think 'right near the guillotine'.  Jocelynn grumbled about the press getting a good look at them.  That was followed by a number of snickers about where their seats were until Colinne quipped, "Not to worry.  It's just thin ice over a crevasse."  Having been directed to their seats, they watched as others arrived and the venue slowly filled.  The press arrived, and they were certainly captured in media-oriented clips.

Finally, the crowd settled and the ceremony began with some opening statements from local senior officers.  They then came to the point, saying this convocation had been requested by His Highness, Prince Lucan.  With that, the other officers left the stage as the Prince moved to the center.  Prince Lucan then delivered a number of high-level congratulations and other recognitions.  After that quieted down, Prince Lucan reminded those present of the new class of Imperial warships to be constructed in the Regina system.  The troops and officers applauded politely before Prince Lucan announced that the first run of such craft would be split between the Regina and Denotam naval bases.  That got even more and enthusiastic applauds, especially when he said some crews would be selected to train with the ships in the Regina system.

While Jocelynn was surprised at the size of the crowd, Aali looked around to see who were filling it out?  Part of that answer were the many officers attending, from not only the Naval base, but the Marine and Scout bases too.  The many officers each had sections of enlisted attending them, because this was a significant Imperial event.  This was the edge of the Empire so you didn't often get to see a Prince of the Empire on-world.  Civilian authorities were also there, with many of those working in Imperial offices.  Even Clan Arnstruther was there, with a delegation led by "The" Arnstruther himself!  That surprised any of the crew who saw it.  For Jocelynn, that was the moment in her mind when she realized shit was real.  Still, she laughed whenever the clanners booed any award or commendation given to someone stationed at the base.

After that applauds was done, the Prince seemed to straighten up, and no one laughed when he quipped, "And now for the serious stuff."  Suddenly, two persons in the uniform of His Highness' Personal Guard stepped up to where Lucan was standing.  At first, it looked like they were helping the Prince with his uniform.  Then, more and more in the crowd realized they were mounting something into Prince Lucan's stent!  What they saw next was something they'd heard of but almost no one had ever really seen.  The attendants stepped back while Prince Lucan seemed to suddenly stand taller and look more sternly out over the gathering.  The next words he spoke even came out in a very different sounding voice, shocking them all when he said, "We are present."  Aali realized what was happening well before the rest and let out a surprised "Oh!"  Then, the herald stepped forward to call out, "Here begins the Court of His Iridium Majesty, Emperor Strephon Aella Alkhalikoi, Ruler of the Third Imperium!"

The man who had been Lucan took a step forward, and said, "Be it Known that We have granted our Prince control of this personality for suitable occasions and this appears to be a correct moment."  Surveying the crowd, the Emperor explained that Prince Lucan had been instructed to look for suitable moments before they arrived, inserting the Emperor's disk to allow research so Emperor Strephon would be fully briefed when the moment came.  So it was, he felt fully briefed on dealing with what he then said was a rather specific person in the gathering that day.  Those gathered looked around in surprise to try and spot the person.  After the briefest of pauses, the Emperor continued, "We are certain you won't guess in advance who, since this person is no more special than anyone here.  Not special except for the stroke of extreme luck and fortune."

Taking a moment to let the crowd mumble in confusion, the Emperor said this person had been with Imperial forces during our victory over the combined forces of the Sword Worlds, and had served in the defense of the Lanth system.  That also got a mild round of applauds.  When that settled down, the Emperor nodded to the herald.  That man then called out, "Will the Dame Jocelynn Guerrek, late a Sergeant in the Imperial Marine Corps. enter court and kneel before the Ruler of the Third Imperium!"  Even before the herald finished, Jocelynn could only get out a surprised "What?"  She then pretended not to hear, craning her neck looking as if she expected someone else to rise.  While Jocelynn did that, the reactions from the crowd had been varied, from surprise and confusion to curiosity.

Still, all the key members of the event and their people were looking at her.  So, Jocelynn moved and was now kneeling before the personality, if not the person, of the Emperor himself!  And, had no clue why?  Looking down at the kneeling woman before him, the Emperor said, "We understand you are the lone survivor of the Strike Carrier Regina's Storm.  With that, Jocelynn could suddenly hope she had a clue what she could blame for getting her where she was.  The Emperor's words called her back to the present as he continued, "So, you and your crewmates survived the defense of the Lanth System.  And you all survived fighting your way to the Asgard system in the Sword Worlds.  And then, they all fell to a misjump."  In the pause, Jocelynn could tell he had not only her, but all gathered, in his hand like putty.

There was another pause before the Emperor waived out over the crowd and said, "We are honored that one such as you all, who rose to serve Our Imperium and its people survived to be called before us.  And, like Dame Jocelynn, you can all rise to such heights and even higher.  Sadly, the crew and officers of the Regina's Storm cannot be present here, except for one.  And in the form of that one, I would like to grant Dame Jocelynn permission to style herself as "Commodore Storm".  Thus, she continues the finest tradition of the Imperial Navy and the spirit of her former crewmates."  After another round of applauds, the Emperor continued, "Still, there are witnesses to the fiber of this woman who We would have join me before her.  He then called forward Arch Duke Norris and Count Alaranjados.  When they'd taken places next to the Emperor, he then said, "We also request the crew of the IMS Upgrade join us as witnesses.

Despite already rising, Aali muttered, "We can see just fine from here."  And despite the situation, everyone in the crew heard her and some couldn't stop themselves bursting out laughing.  With Prince Lucan and Count Alaranjados looking on, Arch-Duke Norris addressed the crew, saying, "In the brief time you have been in the Denotam system, you have all become known as rescuers, working to save lives from the shattered IMS King George.  This action received the endorsement of Baron Aluu Murema and his Lady daughter.  Beyond that action in the Tremous Dex system, reports from the Arden system cover a successful assault to recover information important to Imperial agencies against a legal fortress while out-gunned, undermanned and with wounded personnel.  Added to that, when threatened in Tremous Dex, you faced and destroyed a piratic threat despite being out gunned three to one."

The Arch-Duke continued, "Here on Denotam, you have made and used connections through novel methods which allowed you to recover a long and illegally held piece of Imperial military armory.  Following that, you were able to track an kill a political assassin who had evaded all Imperial attempts to detain.  All while suffering wounds and death in service to the needs of the Imperium.  Both your most recent achievements, like the assault in Arden and fighting against tall odds in Tremous Dex qualify as actions against fortifications or fortified positions.  Add to that, the actions here on Denotam, which we can certify as assaults of a novel quality against fortifications of silence and secrecy.  Because of that, you will all kneel as this action seems most appropriate."

Norris then finished, "With the permission of His Highness, Prince Lucan, We create you each Companions of the Order of the Tower and Sword.  Empress Marava created this Order to reward the commanders of the assault on the Grand Palace of Martin II in 620 TI.  Empress Arbellatra expanded the Order to reward military personnel for either capturing or defending fortified positions."  With that, each of the crew were given a badge for the "Knight Victor" branch of the Order, marking their achievements as attackers.  The Knights Guardian branch of the Order defended positions.  The badge for their new Order showed two gold swords crossed behind a ruined tower enameled in black.  Knights Guardian bore a badge with the tower in gold and with the black swords crossing in front.

With that ceremony done, the two attendants again stepped up to the Prince and removed the personality chip which had been used to bring the Emperor's personality to the event.  While they did that and Lucan returned to himself, the herald announced, "Here ends the Court of His Iridium Majesty, Emperor Strephon Aella Alkhalikoi, Ruler of the Third Imperium!"  Giving the Prince more time, the herald called out cheers for the new Knights, and all others honored that day.  Leading the crew back to their seats, one of the staffers helped Jocelynn understand the title "Commander Storm" was simply a personalized title.  It was an honorary rank of "Commander" attached to a stylized name.  So, "Dame Jocelynn Guerrek" had the title "Commander Storm" as well as her other titles.  As the ceremony ended, it was announced there would be a lunch buffet after a reception for those honored.

While moving on and hoping to get past the bizarre turn of events, Jocelynn and the others were told they were expected to stand on a receiving line, to accept the greetings and well wishes of the attending dignitaries and others.  Thanks to his condition, Zimzod was the only member of the crew spared the reception line.  In a moment of comedy, "The" Arnstruther reached the crew and first stood back to evaluate them.  Nodding, he told them, "I've heard of you." in a tone which gave away nothing.  He then asked, "Are you for hire?"  Mikah sharply said "No" while Fesic quipped, "My toaster prank precedes me."  Nodding to Mikah, The Arnstruther ignored Fesic and his nonsensical comment.

Still, he and every member of his delegation congratulated the crew, but left each with a feeling of having been visually assessed in passing.  "In the party", after the reception line, the Arnstruther group largely kept to themselves.  The party was a standard political mixer with a heavier attendance only thanks to the chance to associate oneself with the Prince or Arch Duke.  That alone demanded all social climbers attend, and bring their staff members along.  Of all the crew in attendance, Fesic was the only one who wanted to leave the party and get back to "regular life".  That ended when he heard they would be providing a lunch and decided he'd stay for the quality food.

Parties, Meetings And Suspicions
     The lunch was served as a buffet, and each member of the crew reveled in the best quality of real food after their months of either "barely edible food" or vat food.  Still, things did happen and, not long after he'd had a plateful, Sir Sekea felt a tap on his shoulder.  Looking up, Sekea realized from the uniform and markings the man who'd approached was a member of Prince Lucan's entourage.  With Sekea's attention, the person asked, "Would you come with me?"  Agreeing, Sekea followed him to a secure room in the building where he saw the Arch Duke and the Prince chatting.  With Sekea in the room and the door closed behind him, the Arch Duke said, "Sir Sekea.  Kneel before your Emperor."  It was then Sekea noticed the Prince was standing more firmly, like earlier on the dais.

Kneeling quickly, Sekea again heard the difference in voice as the Emperor asked, "Sir Sekea.  I understand you are a member of the royal family of your home world?"  The Emperor then asked, "Why are you not working for the advancement of the government on your home world?"  Sekea answered, "Because I thought I could do even greater things for the Imperium with the crew I'm currently with.  Nodding, The Emperor asked, "And, how would you describe the crew you are currently with?"  Sekea answered, "I would say they are exceedingly brave.  From reading publications of their work before I joined the crew, which was one of the things I did before I decided to join the crew.  They have done many valiant deeds."

Sekea continued, "They have been on a learning curve, learning to work more effectively as a crew."  I thought I could contribute to this and help the Imperium by joining this crew.  More than I would have if I'd stayed on Carse and followed the natural path my life would have taken.  I just thought I could do something more for the Imperium that would affect the Imperium as a whole, rather than just my home world.  And, by effecting the Imperium as a whole, of course, it would affect my home world."  The Emperor nodded and asked, "As you are aware, the Arch Duke is reviewing the records of those who hold worlds in fief within his domain.  As one of those worlds is Carse, how would you describe the royal family and your Aunt, the Baroness?"

Clearing his throat first, Sekea said, "She is a very good ruler.  As you may know, Carse has limited resources, and through her leadership we have maintained a prosperous environment for everyone.  And a stable environment.  There are no insurrections or negative public actions on world at this time.  The Emperor asked, "Knowing that we're going to visit that world, you would say there were no insurrections or unhappiness on the world?"  Shrugging, Sekea said, "Of course, there is always the issue of the Jonkeereen.  Although we've tried to integrate them into our greater society, this is more difficult due to historical events."  Still, they actively work in the solar power structure and though they don't mingle with the other societies on Carse, it is a mutually beneficial situation."

Nodding, The Emperor said, "We are well aware of the issues between the Jonkeereen and the races that created them." in a saddened tone.  The Emperor then thanked Sekea and said he was free to rejoin the party.  Sekea thanked him for the honor of being allowed to attend him before leaving the room.  Out in the party, Jocelynn was approached by an officer who introduced himself as Lieutenant Colonel Kushnanka Gishuu.  The Marine officer said he wondered if he could ask her a few questions?  Not sure what the man needed, Jocelynn still said, "Absolutely, Sir." as if she were still in the fleet.  The Colonel said he hoped to set a time later that day or the next when he could pick her brains because he was the man tasked with the mission to recover Cenawo Adsi and his cargo.

Hearing that, Jocelynn was immediately sorry for the man but felt that was better because she felt he'd have a lot more resources than they had.  When Jocelynn said she'd work with him, he was pleased and they exchanged contact data.  While they did that, the Colonel waved and three sergeants stepped up.  He introduced her to them as the three men who would lead the teams he had into the Erskin village.  While talking to the NCOs, Jocelynn realized they had three five-man teams which would each have separate missions to pull off and gave them an "A" for bureaucracy.  They wanted to learn about the people and conditions her crew faced in the Erskin town of Wezsaen.  Especially the level combat readiness of any forces they'd seen in the village.

Mikah had also been mixing through the party when she was told Zimzod had been updated about events by a messenger from the Prince's staff.  She was also told, as were all the others in the crew, that members of the seneschalate would be working with each of them to handle the administrative work to settle their new elevations.  Those meetings would also handle explaining any new rights which had been awarded.  Beyond that, Jocelynn spent much of the party being asked stupid questions like what it had been like to be in suspended animation that long?  Jocelynn really didn't like exploring the many ways to say "I don't know because I was asleep."  Especially since she often had to bite her tongue instead of saying, "I can show you if you stay right there while I swing my fist."

One of the hardest challenges Jocelynn faced was to try and be aspirational instead of delivering blunt and honest body shots to the guts of so many clueless fools.  Not a "star of the moment", like Jocelynn, Fesic was able to slip out and get a ride back to the berth after sharing in the lunch.  There, he started working on his lock pick studies.  As the clock moved towards dinner time, it seemed the party had been fading and they were looking at moving the crew back to their berth.  Mikah joked about not getting a dinner out of the party and Jocelynn was mock insulted about them not having planned a ball.  When Jocelynn joked about that a bit louder, she got laughs from some of those who heard her.

Still, one person excused himself from the group and stepped away to return shortly after.  Approaching Jocelynn, he excused himself and offered, "If you would like, the Count and Countess would enjoy sharing their dinner with your crew?"  That caught Mikah and Jocelynn by surprise.  Jocelynn was briefly speechless before wondering if the crew were all nearby, since Fesic had left.  When Jocelynn said she'd enjoy that, they started looking for the others and spreading the word.  They found out Fesic was the only one to have left.  When Colinne asked if someone was gonna call Fesic, Mikah said "Nope!" in an authoritative tone.  That got laughs all around before Jocelynn said she'd call Fesic.

Working on his lock picking work, Fesic wasn't very pleased when his comms buzzed.  He saw it was Jocelynn and when he answered, she said the Count and Countess had invited the crew to join them for dinner.  Realizing he shouldn't refuse that, Fesic said he'd be there as soon as he could.  When Jocelynn hoped he hadn't changed from his party clothes, Fesic said he had but could change back.  Soon enough, they piled into a ground car and went to pick up Fesic before arriving at one of the County residences.  Along the ride, Jocelynn did whisper to Mikah that it was funny they couldn't get the Count on a vid screen when they arrived, and now they were being invited for dinner and all.

At the residence, they shared dinner with the Count and his family, who again congratulated them all in the rise of their estate and wondered what the crew's plans were?  Mikah told them the first thing they were concerned about was Sir Zimzod's recovery and return from the Imperial Navy hospital ship.  That got nods and words of sympathy.  They would then be waiting for the shipyard to finish with their ship's repairs and upgrades.  Past that, Mikah said they planned to jump to the Ghandi system on their way to Lanth.  Mikah then suggested they might present the head of the assassin to the Duke of Lanth and make him very happy.  Hearing that, Jocelynn reminded Mikah the medical staff at the port had taken the head and they no longer had it to bring to Lanth.

When Mikah turned to the Count, asking him for help getting the head back, the man waived her off and told her she didn't need the head.  The report on closing the assassin's case would be enough.  When Mikah suggested how much the Duke would enjoy being handed the man's head, the Count said he was certain the report and news of the assassin's death would arrive in the Lanth system much sooner than they would.  Colinne suggested they use the maker shop aboard their ship and make a skull to give the Duke.  After some chat about 3D printing a skull or more for the Duke, they settled in to more polite dinner chat.  Eventually, when the evening ended, the Count and Countess had most been impressed with the level of Sir Sekea and Dame Aali's "polish".

Riding back to the berth, they could all be pleased that none of them had insulted the Count or Countess.  The couple had even told them that those who'd not been born to the aristocracy had done well to rise to the social graces expected.  There had been 'thank you's' all around the table though Mikah eventually said, on the ride back to the berth, she wasn't sure if that had been a compliment or not?  Colinne waived it off, saying you had to be born to that station to understand it.  Back at the berth, Mikah called Zimzod to talk to him about the elevations.  Zimzod smiled and said, "Well, we can get better hooch now."  That made Mikah laugh, and they agreed it sounded like more headaches than anything else.  They spent the rest of that call talking about his planned treatment and return to the crew.

After getting back to the berth from the party, Sekea sat down and wrote his family about the recent events.  He especially wrote about the experience of being "in the presence" of the Emperor.  In his writing, Sekea continued to detail his adventures since the letter he'd written on the 19th day of the year.  Then, he and the crew had arrived in the Denotam system, and been moving the ship from the naval port to the system's highport.  Done with the letter, Sekea connected to the x-mail system and paid the Cr 8 to send it.  After that, Sekea connected to the local network to check on his fentanyl order.  He saw that the authorization for the sale had been put on hold until they could speak to the ship's official doctor for the Upgrade.  So, he had to connect them with Mikah.  Since it was late enough that day, Sekea realized he'd have to get that done the next day.

When she'd gotten back from the party, Aali decided to sit and go over everything that had happened.  She also decided it was time to drink, now that she wasn't in a public place with high ranking people watching her.  Stepping to where they'd moved the many bottles of her collection, Aali selected a bottle of chambord, to drink and share.  Aiden decided to do as much as he could of a work out in his bedroom before joining the others, relaxing and watching the vid in the berth's living room.  Jocelynn changed out of her gown into a pink fuzzy sweater and slippers.  She made sure the gown was clean and hung it up.  She then went to sit with Aali and share in the drinking.  Done with her call to Zimzod, Mikah changed into something comfortable and brought a bottle of white wine to share with the 'lady's drinking club'.

After he got back and changed, Fesic sat down to do some more hours of lock pick studies before going to bed.  Colinne went to her room to meditate.  Having stepped back into the open space in the berth, Jocelynn watched Colinne go to her room before muttering to Mikah, "There's something about her that's off to me."  Hearing that, Mikah made a face which made Aali laugh before Mikah said, "She's an odd duck.  Just accept her for what she is."  Shaking her head, Jocelynn said, "I'm not saying I want to shoot her, but it's just...  I don't know.  There's something about her.  I just don't know."  Mikah answered, "You probably wouldn't want to." in answer to the idea of shooting the woman.  Hearing the tone of Mikah's voice, Jocelynn asked, "Do you know something?"  Mikah waived that off, saying, "I'm not saying I do.  I'm not saying I don't.  Just accept her because she's a little weird."

Jocelynn then asked, "Is she a danger to our crew?" and Mikah firmly said, "No."  Surprising Mikah, Jocelynn then asked, "Are you telling me the truth?"  Mikah gave Jocelynn an 'Are you kidding me' look and in a matching tone, emphatically said, "Yah!"  Leaning back, Jocelynn said, "OK.  I'll take your word for it for now."  Hearing the conversation, Aali said she'd heard Colinne say some odd things, but wasn't really certain what she thought.  Jocelynn then said, "She just knew things about that fight that nobody should have known.  I don't know how she knew them.  She said it was scanner readings, which, yeah.  OK.  But...  I don't know.  It just seemed weird to me."

Finally hearing something she could give an opinion on, Aali asked, "Which scanner?"  But Jocelynn didn't know and only said, "It just seemed like something a saboteur would know."  Aali shrugged and said, "If she wants to sabotage us, she sabotages us.  If you see her running around banging wooden shoes against the walls, you know we're in trouble."  In a tone she hoped would help Jocelynn feel more comforted, Aali said, "Well, we just keep an eye on her, I guess."  And in a near-joking tone, Aali continued, "And, keep her away from my engines!"  Mikah's tone said she had zero concerns as she said, "I don't think she has any issues.  In fact, you know who we should keep away from the engines?  Fesic!"  At that the three laughed.

After laughing, Aali got more laughs when she said, "He'll make great fuel."  Mikah laughed and nodded, saying, "Yeah, he'll take extra extra refining there." and took another sip from her glass.  Jocelynn giggled, and added, "He's full of enough hot air."  Then corrected, "hot gas."  The women kept drinking and laughing until the bottles were emptied and they went off to bed.  Eventually, Fesic finished his studies and went to bed too.

A Morning's Fun And Entertainment
     Like the day before, the first of the crew to be woken was Zimzod.  This time, however, they prepared him for his second Medical Slow Drug injection while his lead physician explained to Zimzod what was coming next?  As he knew, he'd be entirely out of it for the next twenty four hours.  in that time, he'd experience a month's healing before waking the next day.  Past that, he'd have another week's cleanse before he'd get the third injection.  Then, after being out another day, he'd spend one more day in their care before being handed back over to his ship's doctor.  In the coming week, after that day's treatment, he'd also begin physical therapy to start recovering his strength.

Ironically, while they had Zimzod awake and were preparing him, members of his medical team woke Mikah, to advise her of the steps they were taking.  Aware of the treatment schedule, Mikah knew what those steps would be, but was glad for the call since Zimzod was getting better.  Mikah was also told that Zimzod would be able to have visitors if they could get a shuttle ride to the ship during the week.  After that call, Mikah went into the berth's open spaces and turned on the vid.  She wasn't surprised at all when she saw that her crew "were" the news cycle for the day.  Lesser stories focused on others awarded or recognized, but Jocelynn and the rest of the crew were features for discussion.

And, with the rest of the crew waking up and eating, there were multiple calls to see if anyone wanted to take an interview with the media?  Or comment on their upcoming plans?  All those who'd been veterans of the Rhylanor circus made certain none of them accepted.  Mikah decided to spend her morning catching up on medical journals.  After he was awake and had eaten, Sekea called the office that had reached out to him on his request to buy fentanyl.  The person Sekea connected to said their office was a regulatory office and had to confirm the need for the drug to be sold.  Because of that, they wanted to speak to the ship's doctor.  When Sekea said that would be Lady Mikah, the other person was surprised because most ships rarely had more than one medical professional.  And, because they'd heard of Lady Mikah and now realized who "Sir" Sekea was too.

Sekea got Mikah on the line, and muted it for a brief period while reminding Mikah of the 'killer syringes' he'd made and used on Arden.  He suggested that he could use the drug to make even more syringes for the future.  Mikah didn't remind Sekea how foolish it would be to rely on something harder to use than a dagger.  She did ask him what she'd told them when he'd asked to buy the drug, and Sekea said he'd said they needed it for surgical events.  After she nodded and he unmuted the comms, Mikah asked why they needed her on the call?  The regulator on the line said they needed to confirm the ship's needs for fentanyl from the ship's official doctor.

After confirming what the regulators wanted, Mikah said she did want the drug and planned to use it as a 'last resort' drug.  Mikah also mentioned the unusual situations they found themselves in, and the person on the other end considered the news items they'd been part of the day before.  The regulator accepted that and said they'd deliver ten milligrams sealed in an air-tight container.  They then said the drug should be stored safely and unopened until it was needed, then any remaining doses should be sealed as air-tight as possible and kept in refrigeration for no more than a year.  When Sekea agreed to that, they charged him Cr 500 for the doses and they told him the drug would be delivered to him at the berth.

Being told he'd get ten milligrams, Sekea and Mikah discussed it and they saw that would be good for five fatal doses.  Colinne asked why he was set on fentanyl, when he could just buy more of the drugs he already had in his med-kit?  Those were stable, probably cheaper, and easier to work with.  And, he didn't have to get permission to buy the drug since it was standard in his med-kit.  Sekea said he'd consider that.  Done with that call, Sekea decided to check and see where he could get some range time to practice with his weapons?  When Aali suggested those with stents have a group class, Aiden and Colinne both said they were up for that.

Jocelynn said she was interested in the stent practice, but also had to make a call first.  When asked, she said she wanted to speak to the Lieutenant Colonel she'd met the night before.  When she connected with him, the officer said he was glad she'd called and hoped to meet with her to go over things he and his people could learn from her time in Wezsaen.  When she asked when he wanted to meet, he said he hoped to meet with her sometime that day or in the next, because that was the timeframe he had for his mission.  When he said it could be at her convenience, she suggested that afternoon, because she wanted to take part in the stent training.  The officer agreed to that and said he'd have a car sent.  He also said his sergeants would attend too.  Fesic planned to study his lock picking more.

Having checked what he could, Sekea found a number of weapons clubs and smaller organizations advertised their weapons ranges for practice.  Added to that, InstellArms also had ad to rent their many ranges with extra costs for specialty options.  On Denotam, most of those options were for specialty hunting including the iron buck.  Seeing that, Sekea was pleased because it would let him buy ammo to replace what he burned through in his practice.  After deciding that, Sekea asked if the others wanted to join him spending some time shooting?  When Mikah suggested they all go that afternoon, after the others did their stent session, Sekea accepted that and again started to consider what he'd do with his morning?  Eventually, he settled in to practice his forgery skills.

When it finally came time for lunch, the questions was if they wanted to do their own cooking or go out to find a restaurant?  Mikah said she'd prefer to limit their exposure on the world for a bit, to protect against news reporters or any more dangerous encounters, so they ate in.  Sekea even volunteered to cook, which was find for Mikah because she preferred the people around her be her servants.  After they ate, Jocelynn got ready to be picked up while the others prepared to have their weapons moved so they could do some shooting.  Especially Colinne, who now had the right to carry an honor weapon.  She planned to practice with her gauss pistol.

Talking Guns And Dummies
     After the ground car arrived and she rode to the base, Jocelynn was met by the Lt. Colonel and his people.  He had a Captain as his junior along with two lieutenants.  While those officers got things set up and managing the space and the Colonel's orders, he also had the sergeants there.  They were fully prepared with notepads and battle-comps, ready for a full mission briefing as Jocelynn told them what she knew or had experienced.  What they wanted to know were Jocelynn's experiences and observations on military and paramilitary operations in Wezsaen while she and her crew were in that village.  More technical questions would relate to what Jocelynn thought the "quality" of those groups might have had as different fighting forces?

Jocelynn told them she'd been aware of an organize militia of a sort, but had not really seen them in action.  She had seen they had a person who was, essentially, their sheriff and that man had a handful of deputies.  They seemed well enough skilled in doing their jobs and carried weapons, but she'd not seen them fight either.  Jocelynn said they could consider both those groups as 'armed and trained', though it might take longer for the militia to organize when an alarm went up.  She said they'd also be very enthusiastic until they were fully engaged.  They all knew that would be where experience would tell on the morale of any group.

Jocelynn also said she'd learned that Clan Erskin had deployed units of their regular army to sites where Imperials had been.  So, that meant they'd likely be facing one or more of those units in the village of Apkope.  Jocelynn had to be honest that she hadn't seen those units at all.  Jocelynn was also up front that she felt like the whole rescue mission was a set up.  She wondered why they hadn't jailed the trader they would be rescuing, why they'd left the hopper sitting out in the open and not secured the cargo pod.  To her, it was almost as if they were left out and available like bait.  While she spoke, Jocelynn could tell everyone in the room was taking what she said seriously.

She worried they wanted to lure Imperials in to either use as further hostages or even just kill and loot the bodies.  Jocelynn also suggested it was a specific lure to trap her crew, and kill them in revenge for the attack they'd carried out in the other village, Wezsaen.  The Colonel agreed with her thoughts about her crew, and admitted his people would also be illegally entering Apkope, and putting themselves in the same situation.  Still, he hoped the fact they would be going in as an Imperial strike team, and under conditions of surprise, would give them a bit of an upper hand.  The Colonel also asked Jocelynn what she'd overheard while her flight team were getting them out of the area?  What she might have heard from the flight deck about airborne forces and intercepts?

Jocelynn told them everything she could recall hearing, and openly admitted she wasn't qualified as a flight crew, nor did she have eyes on the sensors during the event.  It bothered the Colonel that enemy air units got a chance to fire missiles at Jocelynn's cutter even if it was in desperation.  He also admitted that the Imperial Legate had a good understanding of what Clan Erskin could field as far as air assets and weaponry.  He said they knew what they'd sold the clan and had good information on what might have been snuck in too.  Jocelynn nodded and, again, said the mission had sounded like a suicide mission when they'd asked Lady Mikah and her crew to consider.

Taking a different tack, the Colonel asked what items Jocelynn felt her crew had that might have made the attack easier for them?  Jocelynn had to think about that, because her focus had been on how few people they had, and how injured they were.  Jocelynn first admitted she had a set of enhanced battledress as personal gear.  She also said she had a couple of very good sharp shooters in her crew, and an "excellent pilot" at the controls of their cutter.  Jocelynn also gave them a verbal sketch of the operation and the level of surprise they counted on, along with blasting a hole in the target building.  The Colonel nodded and said surprise would be the basis of their operation too.

When Jocelynn said they'd caught their targets more or less without their armor and gear, the Colonel nodded and pointed out his people wouldn't have that chance.  Especially with an Erskin regular army unit in the village.  Jocelynn then told them her crew had EMP ordinance which they hadn't used and, in retrospect, likely should have.  Stopping her, the Colonel then asked her to explain the EMP weapons they'd had.  Jocelynn said they had three EMP satchel charges which could each take out the electronics in an area the size of an office tower floor.  Considering that would be "up and down", those could affect a good number of troops.  They also had five grenades which could affect a much smaller area.

The Colonel admitted those could be very dangerous to use, both for the targets and anyone deploying them carelessly.  Jocelynn agreed with that, knowing how it could trap and kill battledress-equipped troopers.  Ironically, the Colonel said he'd likely not use them just before Jocelynn said she'd wished she'd thought to use them.  When Jocelynn said the crew had another battledress-equipped team member who was in hospital at the time, the Colonel said he knew of Sir Zimzod's situation.  After that, Jocelynn did her best to recall and report anything she could remember.  When Jocelynn again said it looked like a trap, and regretted the mission had fallen to the Colonel's marines, the officer asked if there was anything Jocelynn's crew could offer in the way of help?

What he'd meant was, perhaps, some cultural element, or possible rift in the population they could use.  But Jocelynn heard his question differently, and offered something very different.  She said she'd have to check with her captain, but was willing to take part in the operation, in her battledress, if the Colonel wanted.  The Colonel brightened up at that, saying it would absolutely help them even as Jocelynn said she wouldn't speak for anyone on her crew without talking to them first.  He said he'd love to use her as a skirmisher or distraction.  Jocelynn also suggested she could use the ship's grav belt and EMP toys to create a distraction.

When Jocelynn asked if they had to get the hopper out intact, the Colonel said that was one of their hopes.  He wanted to get one of his men into the hopper to fly it out of Erskin space.  Even has he spoke, Jocelynn got the impression he had his doubts that would work out.  He said they'd throw a satchel charge into it and blow it in place if they felt they couldn't get it out.  Jocelynn then dug in to talk tactics with the officers and NCO's, and told them she'd ask the rest of her crew if they wanted to offer help.  But, she was clear she wouldn't speak for them.

Rounds Fired And A Battle Planned
     While Jocelynn was off to talk to the military types, everyone else in the berth was off to go shooting at InstellArms.  Because it was his idea, and InstellArms only "rented out" ranges, Sekea was told he was paying the Cr 50 rental fee.  Planning to have fun, Mikah brought her favorite laser pistol with all five batteries along with her gauss rifle and laser carbine.  She planned to enjoy the bug-eyed looks of envy as she fired an energy weapon that didn't need a backpack battery even if she'd only get 25 shots with it before having to recharge.  While the energy weapons wouldn't cost her anything, Mikah did plan to burn through Cr 1,000 worth of gauss ammo and buy replacements.

Sekea had brought his snub pistol and gauss rifle.  He also balanced off his ammo usage so he could spend Cr 1,000 to replace what he'd used.  Aali had not only brought her gauss rifle, but also grabbed the gyro-stabilizer off Terin's gauss rifle before they sold it, but Rol was being cloned so he couldn't connect and set it up.  When they arrived, Aali asked if they had a tech who could get it connected and how much that would cost?  Aali had also brought her bullpup shotgun, to get better used to firing it.  Aali planned to fire off Cr 100 worth of shotgun ammo and Cr 500 of gauss rifle ammo.  Aali eventually paid Cr 50 for the work with the gyrostabilizer.

Aiden brought his LAG, custom snub pistol, his snub rifle and the 2.4 mm revolver he'd bought in Clan Erskin territory.  The last item cause a bit of surprise, because they had to dig for appropriate ammunition for him to replace the 100 rounds he'd bought.  When Aiden said he wanted to burn through Cr 1,000 of ammo, they had to do some math to make sure they could get him the 2.4mm ammo.  Adding to the "excitement" in the range, along with Mikah's laser pistol and Aiden's clan pistol, Colinne brought both her gauss pistol and the Zhodani gauss rifle she'd gotten from the scavenger.  The weapon was so interesting, some of the armorers even wanted to examine it with her permission.  To "certify it" safe as their excuse went.  Colinne said she'd burn up Cr 500 in ammo.  Fesic brought his accelerator rifle and snub pistol, and planned to burn through Cr 500 in ammo for each weapon.

Eventually, they all had their fun and made it back to the berth to find Jocelynn there waiting to have a conversation.  While they unlimbered and started cleaning their weapons in a crew GI party, Jocelynn told them what the Lt. Colonel had to say, and that she'd agreed to go along and "be a distraction".  She also told Aali she wanted to use the EMP satchel charges Emkir had bought, to take a large section of the Erskin Regular army troops out of the fight.  Jocelynn also told them very clearly that she'd not volunteered any of them into the battle.  And she said she'd only promised she'd use the ship's grav-belt and Aali's satchel charges.  Since Aali hadn't been all too pleased when Emkir bought the EMP weapons, she was happy to see them going to "a good home".  When she put it that way, she got some laughs.

Hearing that, Aali only shook her head and sadly said, "Marines." with a sigh.  Then she smiled, looked up at Jocelynn and said, "You go girl!" which got laughs for the whiplash change of direction.  Jocelynn defended herself, saying, "These are Marines, fellow Marines and I felt I should offer any help I can."  Aali nodded approvingly and made it clear she was willing to mourn Jocelynn when she was gone.  Then, Fesic chimed in saying, "I think the Navy should keep you Marines safe so I'm going along."  Jocelynn snorted and said, "You will certainly get beat up."  That caused everyone to burst out laughing.  More darkly, Colinne said, "No, he's looking to upgrade his treatment and get himself shot."

Sekea then volunteered to go along, as a medic, which was foolish for the simple reason that if there was shooting, everyone would have to be a combatant.  While he had no idea that Jocelynn's plan "hoped" to avoid direct shooting, there was no promise that would come to pass.  And, if he was there, he'd have to be certain he was ready for hard-core combat out in the open without a ship around him, on the ground and outnumbered.  With battledress, Jocelynn had the chance to get out alive.  Without serious combat armor, Sekea...didn't.  Arguing against Sekea taking part, it was made clear by several people that there would be no craft for Sekea to hide on until he was needed.  He'd have to be out on the ground and running because Jocelynn wouldn't be in the same location as the Imperial unit.  And they had their own people.

Colinne admitted she felt her skills were not a good match for the job Jocelynn described.  Still, she made it clear she'd kept up some level of intrusion work.  The problem she had was that she'd not been looking for networks extending into the village of Apkope.  So, she didn't feel she could help at all in the time available.  Contrasting with that, Mikah sighed deeply and said, "I guess I have to go."  When Jocelynn said that wasn't true, Mikah said, "I have to protect my cutter, and my body guard."  Jocelynn again protested, saying they didn't have to take the crew's cutter.  Mikah countered that, saying, "Yeah, we do." in a firm voice.

It was pointed out that if it were just Jocelynn and the grav-belt, none of them would be needed.  They also joked about Fesic being pushed out the door without grav-tools after Jocelynn left the Marine assault craft.  They also said he could use their grav-chair, and Mikah laughed at the idea of him being a literal sitting duck.  Getting past the jokes, they had decided that Jocelynn would be helping the Marines and Mikah and Fesic were also going, and using their cutter.  Jocelynn said she would bring and use the EMP weapons while Fesic said they should bring breaching charges too.  Mikah agreed with that.  Sekea said he should go, as a medic, instead of Mikah, which missed the point Mikah expected to take part as a combatant.  He also missed the fact that "Everyone who went would be a combatant.  There would be nowhere to hide as "just" a medic.

Accepting the fact others in the crew would join in the attack, Jocelynn said they should set up another meeting with the Colonel and his people.  Sekea said that was a good idea, and suggested they could see what additional resources they might get from the Marines?  That was put down hard, and he was reminded they were joining in to help the Marines, and that unit wouldn't be a "goodies bag" of supplies for the crew.  They were volunteering to "add", not take away.  When Jocelynn then called the Lt. Colonel, his first reaction to the volunteers was, "Outstanding!"  Then, he agreed that any of the volunteers should meet with his people the next morning to make plans.

After the call, in a moment of confusion, Colinne said she'd go if everyone else was.  She was told Aali wasn't going, and she'd be staying back and mourning anyone killed.  She looked forward to signing the sole ownership papers on the ship if the others were all killed.  Laughing at that, Colinne said she'd stay behind with Aali.  With the idea of helping the Marines decided, and the meeting set for the next day, Jocelynn wanted to work with her armory training for the rest of the day.  Aali plugged herself into the work being done on the Upgrade and read or reviewed all the reports collected by their androids.  Sekea logged into the berth computer and looked for any programming exercises to practice his skills with.

Fesic went to his bedroom to go back to his lock picking studies.  When she passed his door and saw that, Jocelynn asked, "Is that all you do?"  Fesic suggested, "If you step in, I'll pick your locks" and Jocelynn only slammed his door closed and moved on.  The others relaxed or went about their hobbies or tasks as the evening passed and soon enough they'd all gone to bed.  Alarms were set for early, to meet with the Lieutenant Colonel and his people and plan what they could do to help the Marines as one or more distractions.

Making Plans And Decisions
     Like the previous morning, Zimzod was the first to wake up as his medical team moved in to manage his body's transition, returning to normal metabolic rates.  The crash from a speed of "one month each day" back to a one to one ratio was hell on any patient's healing body.  The only reason the doctors had considered the marathon series of injections was a demand from non-medical nobility.  And, they only worried about the man's performance instead of his over-all health.  So, their mission was to clean him out for yet another week before injecting him again.  In the end, they had him for another week of clean-out, plus a day of clean out and evaluation after the next injection.  So, nine more days and they were done with this distasteful task.

Like any other morning where Zimzod's condition changed significantly, a member of the team called Mikah and woke her early, to discuss their work.  The difference, this time, was that Mikah was told the crew could fly up to the ship and visit him for some hours, during his treatment.  They also told Mikah that would involve hours of physical therapy, so it would be good to warn the team if the crew wanted to visit.  Mikah figured that if they survived their volunteer mission, they'd do that.  Jocelynn got a message from the Colonel, saying his team's mission launch was 8am the next morning.  That would be sunrise over Apkope, and they had to have all their plans set the next day.

Jocelynn wasn't surprised with the time crunch, but knew they had a limited amount of time before the Clan acted and they wouldn't be able to rescue the merchant.  Hearing that made her more suspicious the whole thing was a trap.  Still, it was a trap the Imperials had to test, in order to make a point with all the clans on Denotam that they were not in over-all control.  No clan could be encouraged to stand up to the Imperium by taking hostages.  The Colonel's message said the Count's people had scheduled a team of diplomats to go out to Apkope, to speak with the merchant.  That would not only be 'proof of life', but would hopefully get them intelligence, like where the clan authorities were keeping the man?  Or, any status changes on the hopper or the cargo pod.

Joining the rest of the crew as they came out of their bedrooms to eat, Sekea suggested their cutter might be recognized thanks to the stripes painted on the cutter.  He suggested that might make them more of a distraction despite the fact a huge number of spacecraft had stripes or other line decorations.  Still, they agreed they'd draw fire and Jocelynn said that was the best reason to have Aiden flying instead of Fesic, who admitted he was more of a basic pilot.  Some agreed with that while others said it didn't take much of a pilot to fly across the enemy's sky at a their best speed while drawing fire.  Others complained it might be best to have their most skilled pilot at the controls while dodging that fire.

Apkope Village When Jocelynn and the others met with the Colonel and his people, they had the room set with everything they needed, including a holographic "sand table".  That showed the village of Apkope.  What Jocelynn and the crew could see was that this village was much more industrialized.  A "chief industry" were "mined" minerals and other goods recovered from a shallow ocean shelf under the ice crust where the village was built.  The location was also surrounded by forests growing from loam imported and built up with the aid of Imperial programs to terraform the global ice crust.

New things the crew noticed were a marked space where Kennot had landed the hopper.  Close to that, they were told the cargo pod sat on the tarmac.  They could also see where Imperial information said the Erskin had moved in a company of regular army troops.  The marines were puzzling over how to get the cargo onto either a cutter or the hopper and get those out of the AO.  Past that, they had to decide if they'd get the hostage out aboard the same craft or aboard one of their cutters.  They were bringing in their troops on three of their own combat cutters.  Those were modular, and able to be organized into different configurations.  These would all be configured for quick deployment of a standing contingent of troops.

Modular Cutter Forgetting they were the distraction for the moment, Jocelynn verbally toyed with how the crew might help with that part of the operation.  She was told that if they also had Zimzod in his battledress, they might shift a one ton cargo pod into their cutter, but would do it under heavy fire while they went from distraction to one of the primary targets.  Of course, they'd be one of four cutters then, if everything went as planned.  Still, they were supposed to be a distraction.

Mikah also pointed out the Marines had the hopper and three cutters to get the cargo out on.  And fifteen troopers along with whatever gear they brought in.  So, even if they didn't get the hopper out, they had a good enough chance of getting the rest out, and didn't need the crew's help on that part of the mission.  The Colonel confirmed the merchant was the single high-value recovery target.  They also wanted to have the cargo and hopper, but he said the hopper was the lowest value recovery target.  Realizing the port could accept losing the hopper, Jocelynn floated the idea of dropping the EMP bombs in the square.  While she suggested it would be OK to EMP the hopper, she was reminded the goods in the cargo pod might be electronic too.  So, if she bombed that, it may be useless after that.  And, she was meant to be bombing the enemy troops, not the recovery objectives.

Jocelynn admitted that was true but also asked if they had any idea what was in the cargo pod?  Even the Colonel admitted, no one seemed to know, and one of the NCOs suggested it was like the man was a smuggler.  Jocelynn scoffed, "He's definitely a smuggler."  Getting the discussion back on track, the Colonel pointed out they had no real definition of enemy emplacements.  They were certain the militia would have hard points, and the Erskin army unit would have patrols as well as AFV's.  So, those would be mobile hardpoints when compared to their forces.  The advantages were that the militia would be spread out across the village and their heavy forces concentrated on the village's administrative center.

Fesic suggested they fly a circle over the village, and briefly land in a visible location, to become as big a diversion as they could.  Even lay down some fire, to get the enemy's attention before boarding and flying away.  Sekea joked they could fly in claiming they wanted to trade with the village.  Jocelynn admitted Fesic had the right idea, but reminded them they wouldn't catch everyone's attention.  Jocelynn admitted the militia would be scattered across the city and they only really had to worry about the Erskin company.  Hearing that, Fesic suggested they do a fly over of the company from the north to south.  When Fesic suggested landing in the open, to the south, one of the sergeants asked if they really wanted to land in the open and be targets, or land in the forest to make the enemy come hunt them out?

The Colonel also pointed out the Erskin military unit would have forces "At the ready", so there wouldn't be the level of surprise Fesic seemed to be counting on.  Accepting that they could almost immediately come under fire, Fesic suggested they approach from the south west, where the forest covered the horizon.  Fesic also wondered if they could even land the cutter in the forest, but was reminded they could hover low, inside the canopy of the forest, without landing.  Nodding, Fesic said they could land far enough away to be outside the range of fire and draw the Erskin company towards them.  Of course, that ignored the vehicles the company would have, and their longer range, but it did get the others thinking in that direction.

Sekea asked if they had information on the Erskin ground to air fire, and was told it was safe to say a company of regular troops would have shoulder mounted rockets, on top of their vehicle mounted weapons.  While he asked about that, Jocelynn interrupted to suggest they do a fly-over of the company and drop the EMP weapons on them.  She was told they could do that, but would still draw some fire while making their pass.  Jocelynn still liked the idea because it would draw attention away from the village center, where the hopper was.  When she suggested she make the pass alone, Mikah said they still had to use the cutter to draw fire so Jocelynn's battledress didn't get all shot up.  Not to mention Jocelynn getting all shot up too.

Fesic also asked how many troopers the EMP weapons could get?  When they checked the area of effectiveness of the weapons, they saw that only the satchel charges would really be effective.  The idea was then floated that Jocelynn make a run, alone, at an altitude of over 100 feet while dropping the EMP charges.  It was suggested she could pass over the Erskin company and then drop into the village's eastern borders so the troopers couldn't see her.  Then, she'd have to make her way out the southern edge of the village to get picked up again.  It was pointed out that risked her running into militia units, but Jocelynn wasn't really worried about dealing with them unless they got lucky.

Having asked about the Erskin anti-air weapons, Sekea suggested any "attack" be made above the five thousand foot height and was reminded they were trying to be a distraction.  That meant they had to be visible, in order to distract the enemy.  Added to that, any weapons they dropped had to be on target, and the higher they flew, the less accurate their bombing run would be.  So, as much as he wanted to be safe, this was combat and they had to take the risk of being shot down.  Their best defense would be a sudden appearance and a high rate of speed.

The idea was then floated of a "double distraction".  In that plan, the cutter would appear over the forest to the south west of the Erskin company and fire on the encampment.  After they fired on the company, they could drop down into the tree canopy while Jocelynn made a high speed run from the north with the EMP weapons.  Because of the fire from the cutter, most of the Erskin troops would be facing south while Jocelynn came in from the north.  That, with her speed, would be her best protection against aimed anti-aircraft fire, and catch the enemy unit in place for her bombing run.  Since that required flying and firing, it was suggested Aiden be the pilot and Fesic the gunner.  Mikah added that they could move in to scoop Jocelynn up and then make a getaway.

When Jocelynn asked the Colonel what he thought, the man said their part of the plan was coming along nicely.  After they played their part, he expected the crew to get out of dodge while his teams moved in from the north to grab the objectives and get out themselves.  He was happy Jocelynn's people wanted to engage and distract the bulk of the trained troops.  He hoped that would lighten the load on his people when they made their attacks.  When Aiden asked about the air cover clan Erskin had in the area, he was reminded they were scattered over a large area.  Aiden's questions assumed the clan knew they were coming, where that wouldn't be the case until they saw something happening there.  If the surprise was intact until they started shooting, the clan wouldn't have a reason to cluster over Apkope.

When Aiden held onto the idea that the air cover situation might change, he was reminded that was always the case.  Aiden even suggested the cutter move to and attack another town to distract the air reaction.  That ignored the fact that Erskin air units could move as fast, or faster in some cases, than the cutter.  So, it would only add random actions to an already-tight plan and increase the number of moving parts that could go wrong.  Especially since the cutter couldn't pick up Jocelynn if it moved to another village.  When his hopes even suggested they get information that wouldn't be available until a future point, he was reminded they didn't have Zhodani precognitive there to tell them what the future held.  Not speaking aloud, some of the Imperials in the room thought to themselves that this "Sir" Aiden had to remember that combat was dangerous.  Period.

When the plan firmed out, they decided they would fly in low and quiet to a point north of the village.  There, they'd drop Jocelynn and leave her to prepare for her "bombing run".  They would then, again quietly, move the cutter around to the south west of the village, hanging low into the canopy of the forest.  When they were all ready, including the Lieutenant Colonel's people, they would pop up in the cutter.  Aiden would cant the nose of the cutter downward so Fesic could fire on the Erskin army camp.  Fesic would take a number of random shots into the cluster of troops and seriously get their attention.  Aiden would then shift the cutter's position and drop it back into the canopy of the forest.

After that happened, Jocelynn would make a high-speed run directly above the Erskin encampment and drop her EMP weapons.  She hoped for extreme protection from her speed and the fact that the Erskin troops would have turned to face the threat from the south.  They hoped the EMP bombs would fry a large amount of the company's electronics and weapons while her speed would keep her from being engaged.  After her run, the cutter would rise up, scoop her up and they would then lift for orbit while.  At the same time, the Lt. Colonel's people would execute their strikes in the midst of the distraction and confusion with defenders in the village reacting to the distraction attacks.

When they presented that to the Colonel and his people, the officer said he had only one change, but liked their plan a lot.  The one change was that they'd been offered two battledressed troopers from the Prince's guard.  The Colonel wanted those troopers, who'd have their own separate mission, to ride in with Jocelynn.  When Mikah's cutter dropped Jocelynn off, they'd also dismount and carry out their mission.  After that, those two would fade north and make their way to a pick up point to the north.  Picking them up would be the job of the Marine cutters, so Mikah's people would only fly them in and drop them off.

Mikah quickly agreed to the change and they started fine tuning some elements of each part of the plan.  The Colonel said he was waiting for an update from the diplomats sent into Apkope, to confirm exactly where all the objectives would be the next day.  That would let his people slip in and grab the man, cargo and hopper and get out.  After everything was set, the Colonel told them to organize at 5am the next morning so they could gear up and get the operation moving.  They hoped that a strike at eight the next morning would mean everyone would be back at the naval base by 9am with few losses thanks to the sudden strike and distractions.

Fesic brought up the next topic when he said there were members of his crew who were coming along even though they had no role in the plan.  He recommended people not come along unless they were actually needed.  When he pointed out neither Mikah nor Sekea had a role in the plan, Mikah was happy to announce she'd stay behind.  Sekea argued that their team needed a medic "just in case", but ignored the fact every combat medic had a combat role first.  That role was only set aside if someone else was injured.  And the combat medics also took the same risk of being injured that the others took.  So, if the cutter were shot up and forced down, it was just as likely he'd be injured or killed, while he'd have no job and only be in the way until that happened.  Especially since, if they were forced down, they'd be swarmed by enemy troopers.  Jocelynn agreed with Fesic, and it was decided both Mikah and Sekea would stay behind with Aali and Colinne.

With that agreed, the crew went back to the berth to prepare their gear and relax for the rest of the day.  Sekea went back to practicing his forgery skills.  Colinne split her time between meditation and working on hunting computer networks in the village of Apkope.  Aali spent the evening checking out the cutter and its systems to be sure everything would work the next day.  Aiden joined her in that work and they both relaxed after getting that done.  Aiden also prepared for the next day in his free time.  Jocelynn spent her free time going over her gear and checking her battledress systems.

Fesic also prepared his gear before getting in a bit more lock pick work.  Mikah joked about practicing to write letters of condolence.  Mikah then suggested she get DNA samples and mind image updates for everyone who had a stent.  Of course, the DNA for those who didn't have stents could help her identify anyone killed in the fighting.  So, with each process taking more than half an hour, Mikah spent the rest of the day backing up mental images.  Eventually, each of the crew dropped off to sleep.

A Bit Of Morning Devastation
     Going on the mission or not, everyone had their clocks set to wake them very early, so they could be ready and equipped, to get to the base by 5am, as the Colonel had said.  When Colinne woke, she jumped into working to find computer networks in the Apkope village, in hopes of providing the others some help.  Aali had helped the others board and do their final checks before they buttoned up and lifted for the naval base.  Before the flight, Aiden worked to psych himself up for the mission while Jocelynn swapped her weapons for her laser pistol, gauss rifle and shotgun.  Fesic also swapped out his machete for his blade.  He also made sure they had a breaching charge and four of his HE grenades aboard the cutter before they lifted.

Mikah had gotten up with the others and made caff, to make sure they faced their possible deaths bright eyed and ready.  After they lifted, Mikah made sure they kept a comms channel open to her and then called the Marines to set up a cross-communications nexus with her.  That way, she planned to make sure they each knew what was happening.  When she got the Marine officers on her line, they said they would insure all teams had cross-comms channels so they could interact and share direction.  That would reduce confusion.  Accepting that, Mikah asked for connections for herself, so she could listen in and they agreed so long as she didn't take actions which caused confusion.

Mikah also reminded her people that the Marines had their own mission, which they didn't share.  So, she didn't want any of her people getting involved with theirs.  After the cutter lifted, Aali joined Mikah and offered to be tech support in case it was needed.  After buttoning up, Aiden lifted from the port with permissions that almost arrived before he asked for them.  With that, he was given a beacon to follow which led him to a landing tarmac on the naval base.  During his approach, he could see a space available for him along a formation of three naval cutters.  Those were modular cutters, which could be reconfigured for everything from mobile medical units to flying HQ's to AFV carriers.  In this case, they were fast deployment carriers with eight doors on either side and 'standing posts only' inside.

Closing on the space over his intended landing site, Aiden could see a number of technicians and other specialists moving about getting their work done.  He noted one ground ops tech just before that person shot a laser pointer to the "attention plate" in his cockpit.  That was designed so ground crews could get the attention of in-coming or transiting flight crews.  Even as Aiden "wobbled" their cutter to acknowledge the tech, that person lit up a pair of batons and began the hand signals needed to help guide Aiden into the cradle he'd land on.

As soon as they settled in and shut down, naval techs moved in and connected fueling lines and other feeds.  When Aiden unbuttoned the cutter and went to the lock, he was met by the Colonel, in sealed combat armor, who was followed by two battledressed troopers.  He introduced them as specialist assault commandos who'd be riding along with them to the AO.  Remembering their role from the discussions the day before, Aiden welcomed them aboard and they took spaces where they'd not be in the way or blocked from moving back to the airlock when it was time to disembark.

While they entered and settled, Jocelynn moved to greet them and introduce herself.  As she did that, the names "Adkham" and "Ridada" appeared on her HUD, as the battlecomps in their suits synch'ed with hers.  The appearance of the names brought a lump to Jocelynn's throat because her former fire team used to appear there.  She pushed that aside and got on with the mission.  After everyone was secured again, they each had an interactive screen at their seat, or in their HUD for the battledressed, that showed them an animation that took them through the expected operation step by step.  Each person could use their controls to specialize their view and key into what was expected of them.

If they followed their role only, they saw their cutter would be part of a four craft formation that would climb to orbit and transit to a "dive" point.  There, they'd execute a hard dive into the atmosphere and pull up over local terrain in Erskin territory far from the target point.  That was just like they'd done with the attack on the other village.  Flying below Erskin radar and scanners, they'd close on the target while their cutter took the lead.  Entering over the forests north of the village, they'd deploy Jocelynn and the other two commandos.  Those who were curious could see the two troopers would move to a point close to the village's administrative building cluster to prepare a distraction attack.  Jocelynn would move herself into her assigned position while Aiden moved the cutter in a wide low circle to the east then south.

Aiden would circle them into the forests south of the village and keep the cutter at "tree canopy" altitude, so they'd be invisible to any look outs.  After he was in place, he'd signal Jocelynn that they were ready.  When Jocelynn replied that she was ready, Aiden would pop the cutter up and cant it 'nose down' so Fesic could target the large encampment of troops.  There'd be no real time to target except "center mass", and Fesic would repeatedly fire, as quickly as the weapons could cycle.  After as many as three rounds from both barrels, Aiden would signal their "drop" back into cover while transiting the cutter sideways, in case any enemy vehicles had locked onto their position.

With all enemy forces in the encampment except possible look outs and sentries, looking for the cutter, to the south, Jocelynn would launch her mission.  At an altitude of 200 - 300, while transiting over the Erskin formation, she's drop each of the three EMP satchel charges.  At a high speed she'd try for a pattern that would spread over more than half the formation to take out all electronics in those zones.  After dropping the charges, she'd burn hard to the forest to be lost to enemy sights and move to link up with the cutter.  And when she was aboard the cutter, Aiden would stand it on its tail and burn for orbit with their part in the mission done.

While the Erskin army unit reacted to Jocelynn's run, the assault cutters would move in to carry out their mission.  Expecting some resistance in the square, they planned to engage any forces there and take the square.  At the same time, the two commandoes would start firing on the village administrative complex, making it seem attacks were popping up all over the village.  In that confusion, the marines hoped to achieve their missions and then bug out.  The commandoes would disengage and move north of the village, to a rally point where the naval cutters would pick them up before burning for orbit.

Aiden flew with Fesic as he second while most of those in the back watched the animations and updates that came across their screens.  Of course, the animations relied on things going as planned and it didn't take long for problems to develop.  Diving down from space, the formation had pulled up into level flight over a forest and one of the cutter flight crews hadn't managed their terrain spotting as well as the others.  Because of that, they'd taken damage from impacts with trees that affected their grav systems.  Despite that, the formation pushed on.  It wasn't long before the damaged cutter signaled issues were getting worse and they couldn't maintain low level flight much longer.

The decision was made to land the naval cutters and abandon the damaged craft.  It would be rigged to detonate on a timed command after the attacks began, or if the craft were tampered with.  All those who'd been in the damaged cutter were divided between the two remaining naval cutters, and that work was done quickly.  So, a craft down, they were soon back on the route and burning hard to make up lost time.  Despite the loss, the cutters made it to the drop point, where Aiden had to open the doors and let Jocelynn and the other troopers go.  From there, the remaining naval cutters started moving in low, towards the village's northern border.  Aiden piloted around and low to the east, hugging the terrain, before cutting back to the forest south of the village.

From there, while Aiden flew, Fesic was watching his passive sensors hoping to get any information he could.  At the same time, Jocelynn was on the dirt, moving quickly through the forest when the name "Cadman" popped up on her HUD!  Only...  Jocelynn knew that wasn't possible!  Idshu Cadman had been a member of her fire team back on the Regina's Storm!  Idshu Cadman had died aboard that ship, or aboard one of her small craft.  For a moment, the universe rose up in Jocelynn's mind, and threatened to swallow her whole!  But only just that brief moment before she reminded herself those questions didn't matter because she had an operation to carry out.

Pushing past the surprise and on to her point, Jocelynn soon reached her designated jump point and called Aiden to say she was ready.  After that, she had to wait for Fesic to start opening fire, which would be her signal to make her run.  Jocelynn only had to hope the cutter was in position or would get there soon.  On the cutter's flight deck, both Aiden and Fesic heard Jocelynn give the go code, and Aiden began to lift the cutter up over the forest canopy.  Fesic took a deep breath, wanting to have his guns clear before he flipped the sensors to active and let the whole world know they were there.  The good news was that Fesic could see he didn't really need active sensors to target clusters and hit them.

All Fesic had to do was aim at the smudge on the fields in front of them and fire and he'd hit "something".  The active targeting would give him a chance to hit something big, though he'd never know it from there.  Still, the slight delay kept the distant units from targeting them and opening fire, giving him that chance to get off one extra shot.  Fesic hit the active sensors a split second before opening up with both lasers.  The twin beams burned down toward distant explosions even as turrets turned on vehicles with their own sensors and return fire forced Aiden to dodge and slip the cutter.  Still, the capacitors recycled and Fesic got two more rounds off before he had to shut down.  There had been at least one very satisfying explosion they had seen as Aiden moved the cutter again and settled into the trees.

On the north side of the encampment, Jocelynn saw the first explosions and reacted.  She rocketed up to 250 feet quickly even as she shot forward out, over the Erskin formation.  Almost immediately, she had to drop the first charge as she still rose and moved.  She then had to jink and shift thanks to the explosion of a large armored vehicle, and muttered "Good shot Fesic!"  She then dropped the second charge.  Jocelynn was now sure the cutter was dodging return fire and hiding while those below her had to be wondering what the hell was happening?  Still, someone had seen Jocelynn making her run and she knew she had to dodge and shift the incoming fire.  She still continued her burn, dropped her third charge and then opened the throttles to get out of dodge.  In the end, she took no hits at all.  The good news was that she'd dropped EMP's on large clusters, but she was still drawing fire so only a part of the unit had been affected.

In the cutter, while Fesic shut his station down as much as he dared and Aiden worked to dodge the incoming fire, the missiles flew past to explode in the distance while Aiden reacted to an alarm!  Checking, he saw an alert said they'd had scoring along the outer hull!  So, they'd been burned by a laser shot.  Aiden let go the breath he'd suddenly held when no other alarms rang out.  Nothing was damaged, no holes burned into their hull.  From the alarms he had, they'd had a new stripe burned alongside their hull, but nothing more.  At the same time, sensors told him the still incoming fire was off their line.  So, the heavy fire from the Erskin vehicles had lost their target.

They could still get lucky, but the odds were better if they burned for the rally point, where Jocelynn would board, then burn so hard no one would hit them.  That was Aiden's choice and he took it, because it didn't change their plans.  The only assessment Fesic had was that he had seen a fairly large explosion down-range.  Fesic couldn't say, for certain, it was due to his fire, but it made him feel good none the less.  In the air, Jocelynn's battle computer put the two commandoes north of their location, near the administrative complex.  Cadman was also painted in a third location, near the point where the marines would carry out their attack.

Within the next ten minutes, she'd not been fired at anymore and linked up with the cutter.  During that time, Aiden had found a depression in the forest and settled in there while listening to the comms.  The Marines had moved in as soon as Jocelynn reported her second drop, and found themselves attacking a formation of militia, some Erskin army vehicles and their crews.  So, the shooting instantly ramped up from both sides.  Listening in as Jocelynn boarded the cutter, Fesic wondered if they'd have enough cutters to get their people out?  Jocelynn said they'd be able to get out with the resources they had though she knew the plan could have gone wrong.  She also knew listening to the confusing sounds of battle never gave a clear picture of what was happening?

In the town center, the lead of the two cutters took a nasty beating from the vehicles clustered near the hopper and cargo pod.  Comms from the two other battledressed specialists told them those men were opening fire on the village administration offices.  So, they could bet the civilians were screaming for help too.  Jocelynn realized they had shoulder missile launchers and decided she'd find a place where she could buy those for her battledress too.  Still, Jocelynn had arrived and Aiden called out for everyone to secure themselves as he stood the cutter on its tail and burned for low orbit.

An After Party Puzzle
     Of course, Aiden had been watching the sensors and knew Erskin air units had been pouring in towards them from their patrol patterns.  Some were close enough and launched missiles while the comms was suddenly jammed with challenges and demands for the cutter to land and stand by for arrest.  Even as Aiden noted missile lock-ons and the reactions of Erskin officials, he took grim satisfaction from the fact that most of those assets had been responding to the marine attack.  They seemed to not realize their cutter was in the area.  Their sudden appearance would also pull some of those responding fighters off any line of attack on the marines.  From the comms, they could barely tell what was going on with the marines, but it sounded like someone had been tasked with getting the hopper off the ground.  So, some parts of the plan were starting to work out.

Any energy fire targeting their cutter went wide and the air to air missiles fired were not designed for a hard vertically rising burn.  And, since they were rising to low orbit, the missiles failed off even as they saw constellations of Imperial space fighters warding off Erskin space fighters in the area.  The whole sky was a hornet's nest of fighters and small craft looking to respond to their orders or take advantage of the confusion.  It wouldn't have been a surprise if small craft from any of the other clans had moved in to take advantage, if they saw they could.  Still, Aiden's flight plan was to reach low orbit, re-orient the cutter and then dive for the naval base.  Their part in the operation was done.

During the flight, Jocelynn saw the names on her HUD quickly wink out due to the range.  For the time, she kept quiet on what she'd seen.  When Aiden said they'd hit orbit and asked, Jocelynn ordered him to land at the naval base.  There, they'd be part of the mission debrief.  Soon enough, they settled down and technicians swarmed the cutter assessing any damage they could find.  Medics asked if any of those inside the craft needed medical support?  Hearing that, the crew said they were all good, and were ordered to debark and report to a conference room for a debrief.

In that room, a one star general sat, surrounded by his staff while they monitored and documented every part of the on-going operation.  When they came in, he nodded to them, as civilians, and told them to have a seat while they waited for the Colonel and his people to return to the base.  That seemed to be happening at the moment, from what they could tell, but they could all see some things had gone wrong with the plan.  The first major issue had been the Erskin army vehicles in the square, that opened fire on both operational cutters as they came in.  Of course, they came in firing and quickly chewed up the vehicles and any troops who tried to use them for cover.

Next, a team rushed to rescue Cenawo Adsi, but found him defending his position in battledress!  That got everyone's attention, no more than Jocelynn.  When they first moved in, Adsi was fighting both the Erskin and Imperials.  They finally got him to stand down, and he cooperated in getting his cargo pod onto one of their cutters.  One of the flight trained troopers was assigned to get the hopper in the air and managed to do that before he was intercepted by an Erskin fighter.  That craft shot the hopper down and the trooper was killed.  One of the cutters took heavy fire to its flight deck but the flight crew maintained their stations and work until they'd been killed.

Still, that got the cutter down safely enough for all the troops to deploy, and they'd be decorated posthumously.  Other troopers were lost in the fighting to control the square, and they finally rallied to the remaining cutter.  At that point, Adsi told them he'd make his own way out of the village in his battledress and told them he'd make his way back to the base.  He demanded his property be "loaded onto my ship", which they assumed meant Kennot's ship.  There had been a "discussion" at the moment, but with Erskin forces moving in, that had to end quickly.  So, the Colonel had agreed and the remaining cutter got off the ground with the cargo pod, troopers and collected bodies.  After the lift, they managed to evade or counter all fire against them and return to the base.

Everyone from the Upgrade felt bad about the losses, but also knew they'd only have added to the mess if they'd rushed in where people were already dying.  The fact was that moving in would have only added some of their bodies to the mix.  In fact, there was a line of carbon scoring along the port side of their cutter from where a vehicle-mounted laser canon had creased their hull plating!  They'd been a few inches to the side of being blasted from the sky themselves.  Making a decision, Jocelynn said, "I know who that merchant is."  Not sure what she meant, the General asked, "Excuse me?" and Jocelynn explained that the name of her old team mate had appeared on her HUD.

Jocelynn continued, saying she didn't know how he'd survived or come to Denotam.  The General said he understood she'd been the only survivor of the Regina's Storm and the man's name was Cenawo Adsi.  While Jocelynn said she was very curious how this was possible, the General hit a comms and called for intelligence personnel.  He also had a messenger sent to carry information to the Arch Duke and Prince.  The General then dictated the message, based on what Jocelynn had said, to be brought to Norris and Lucan.  Shortly after that, the base command let them know the surviving cutter was inbound for landing at the base.  Shortly after that, a team of intel officers arrived while the base said the Arch Duke and Prince would be arriving soon.

The General also had to make decisions, because their two battledressed specialists had been forced to remain in the field thanks to the loss of two cutters.  What they overheard didn't promise happy times for the pilot who'd blown his dive and damaged his cutter early in the operation.  Still, the General ordered another covert operation to recover those two men, who reported their condition as good and secure.  No one seemed to be worried except for the fact that Erskin air patrols had been strengthened.  Not long after that planning, Norris and Lucan arrived.

The Arch Duke cut through everyone to step before Jocelynn and ask, "Dame Jocelynn, can you explain this?"  Jocelynn admitted she couldn't, unless someone had recovered Cadman's battledress from either the wreck or from the man after they'd attempted an escape in one of the carrier's small craft.  Jocelynn had to admit she'd been put in low berth after the misjump, but before things had come flying apart.  So, she couldn't say what had happened to her team mate?  If it could be him or someone who recovered the man's battledress, but didn't have the skills to change the user ID or IFF settings.

When Jocelynn then jumped to her recovery from the wreck, she said they'd confirmed there were no other possible survivors.  Nodding, the Arch Duke tapped a stud on his comms and entered in a code.  In the berth waiting, Mikah got the call from Arch Duke Norris and wondered what could have happened to have him calling her?  When Mikah greeted him, Norris said, "Lady Mikah, we have your crew here and all are in good shape.  But we have a mystery here, and Dame Jocelynn here does not seem to be able to solve this issue.  We think, perhaps, that you might have more of the information she doesn't have."  Norris then told her to gather the rest of her crew and join them at the naval base.  Mikah could only nod and say, "Yes Sir."

Norris thanked Mikah and said he'd send a car before he broke the line and had someone call the base motorpool.  Eventually, Mikah, Aali and Colinne joined the others.  Mikah, Aali, Aiden and Fesic had been part of the crew during that misjump.  After they'd been told what Jocelynn had seen, the Arch Duke asked if they could add anything new to their understanding of the situation?  Aali theorized that Jocelynn's team member might have been on one of the small craft that had escaped the dying carrier.  She then said that while she doubted he would have survived, someone else might have found that small craft and scavenged it, or even killed those aboard before looting it.  She admitted it could be the man, but was very doubtful of that chance.

Jocelynn added that she found it hard to believe a Marine trooper would manage to escape the situation and then simply turn smuggler.  Jocelynn also said she knew the man and didn't think he'd abandon his duty, so she supported the idea his suit was scavenged.  Aali pointed out the tactical network data hadn't been changed, which suggested the person wearing the suit didn't know how to do that.  That also supported the scavenger theory.  Arch Duke Norris admitted that was a good working theory and supported what Jocelynn had seen in the field.

The other issue, which wasn't discussed in the room, was that most of the crew knew, as did the Arch Duke and Prince, that records of the suit of armor in question had been "lost", along with records on Jocelynn's battledress.  That opened the path to her "buying" the suit outside the Imperium and claiming it as hers.  So, if the man was the trooper or a scavenger, or third-party buyer, the Navy couldn't just step in and claim it from him.  If he had a legitimate sales record, like Jocelynn did, he could keep and use the suit.  With the theory that Cadman had gotten off the dying carrier only to die and have his gear found and scavenged, that discussion was sidelined when the Colonel and his troops arrived.

Colonel Gishuu wasn't surprised to see the General, but he was taken aback when he saw the Arch Duke and Prince.  He and his men immediately stopped and came to attention until they were told to be at ease and grab seats in the room.  Base command said they had loaded all video data into the room's computers so it was available for projection.  Still, the tension from the surviving troopers was visible when they would sneak glimpses at the two high nobility.  Other survivors, including one of the Lieutenants on the Colonel's staff and one of the sergeants, had been sent to medical support.  Their immediate input would be defined from video data their camera mounts had captured.

A quick review of the refined and interpreted data said Jocelynn had been wrong about the situation being a trap.  But it was also unfortunate they hadn't planned for the Erskin to station combat vehicles to cover the square.  The early loss of one cutter due to piloting error was also key to the failures that came on later.  Still, the attack on the town administrative complex pulled a large number of the militia north of the square, preventing that from becoming a disaster.  That had been on top of the early militia defections to the south, to chase after the distraction Mikah's people had provided.

The only data they had from the company of Erskin Army regulars was that the confusion caused had been added to when a large percentage of their communications net failed.  Without good or even basic intelligence on what had happened to them, the data collected by Imperial systems suggested some parts of that unit had turned on other sections of the company and there may have been a friendly fire engagement or more.  When Fesic asked about the large explosion he'd seen, the only person who could suggest an answer was Jocelynn.  She'd seen a vehicle explode and assumed it was Fesic, but there was no way to be certain why that had happened?  Now that she heard they'd started shooting each other, Jocelynn couldn't be sure it was Fesic after all, but she did mention it.

There was some discussion about Kennot's fate but they had no data on that.  As far as they knew, he could have been trying to walk back to Imperial territory even then.  He might have found a place to hold up in the forests, where Cenawo Adsi would meet him.  They may have planned part of what was going on.  All they knew was that they had the man's cargo pod and the Navy was trying to investigate it at the moment.  When Jocelynn asked if she could get a look at what was in the pod, she was told she'd be on the back of the line at best, if they got it open.  The Colonel said he'd noted a number of triggering devices, suggesting it might even have been boobie trapped.

They were also told the Navy had isolated the section of the port harbor where Kennot's ship was berthed.  So, no one could get into the area without being stopped and brought in for questioning.  So far, they hadn't encountered any members of that ship's crew beyond the missing captain and passenger.  And if Adsi showed up in his battledress, they'd certainly have many questions for the man.  Not the least of which was his actual identity and where he got the armor suit from?  When Jocelynn asked to be kept in the loop, the Arch Duke politely reminded her this was no longer her issue.  She was welcomed to update them with anything she could remember, but on distant Inthe, they even had the wreck of the carrier.  So, they had a lot of data to work with and Adsi would show up sooner or later.

Not knowing the technical details of the battledress system, Sekea suggested a number of "grasping at straws" ideas, but was told none of them would work because the mystery suit would need to be paired to a device and within range of that device before it would respond.  No on commented one the stupidity of designing a system that would automatically respond to broadcasts, because any enemy could then create such a broadcast in order to spot Imperial troopers.  Aali asked Colinne if she'd seen anything unusual, but Colinne wasn't in the field and was working on known Erskin networks.  She wouldn't have had any data from the battledress suits in use.

Mikah decided to cut the issue open, and asked if the delegation that had gone into the town the day before had met the man and had a picture of him?  She was told they didn't have a picture of the man, but could identify him from other pictures.  Mikah suggested they get any records they had on Adsi, and bring in some of the diplomats to confirm his picture.  Then, check with Jocelynn to see if he was the same man she'd served with?  Acting on that, the General started giving orders and people in the room reached out to the port and other teams.  Soon, they had an image from the port on Adsi's arrival data and some of the diplomats on the comms.  They were able to confirm both that the man in the image was the one the diplomats had met, but wasn't the marine Jocelynn had served with.

That meant the working theories were that Cadman had either died on the carrier or a small craft, and his gear had been scavenged.  Or, he'd survived and sold off, or been forced to surrender his gear.  Without having Adsi to question, they had no way to resolve the unknowns, and would have to live with that until circumstances changed.  They also knew that most of those people who were out in the "deep black" were there because they were hiding.  Only salvage trawlers or hunters tended to spend much time in places well outside the traffic patterns, where such a drifting small craft might be found adrift.

And when you had desperate survivors in your airlock, it would be easy to get them to strip out of vacc suits and armor before you opened the hatch or voided the lock of air.  So, even if some craft had found them while they were still alive, the odds were that any survivors from the carrier didn't likely survive the encounter.  That said, the debrief was over and they had an idea how Adsi had possibly ended up in Cadman's battledress.  From there, the Navy was certainly going to pursue the matter without including Mikah's crew because they were not members of the military or a law enforcement organization.  What Mikah's people would do on their own was none of the Navy's business, but Jocelynn knew she wouldn't go after Adsi herself, because she wasn't invincible.

With that, they were released to mount up on their cutter and return to their berth.  Jocelynn did say she'd want the man stripped out of the battledress if he was taken into custody.  Those in the room made it clear Jocelynn wasn't the only one who would want that.  But, again, that would be something delegated to the Imperial Navy and Marines.  Accepting that, Jocelynn nodded and they were led to their cutter.  On the pad, a team lead pointed out the laser burn and carbon scoring.  Aali looked over the data she was given by the tech and they talked about getting the cutter fixed while boarding and lifting for the berth.  The damage was all surface burn, and would have to be buffed out and repainted.  Aali considered having Fesic do it with his toothbrush, and that got a laugh.

Back at the berth, everyone who'd gone on the operation stripped out of and started cleaning their gear.  While that happened, Mikah relaxed and joined in on the chatter.  She asked questions and learned just what had happened as best she could.  Aali pulled out her own tool kits and started doing her own work to check the damage to the cutter.  While all that happened, Colinne started cooking up snacks which would become a meal as time passed through lunch and the afternoon.  While she worked, Jocelynn got a ping on her comms letting her know someone had sent her a file.  Seeing it was from the Count, Jocelynn opened the file to see it was an invitation.

If Jocelynn turned in her battledress to his people at 8am, she could retrieve it at 5pm that afternoon.  During that time, the Count would have his armorers install a grav-system in the suit.  They'd also install an integrated laser pistol and power system into the suit's right forearm.  Finally, they'd install a grenade launcher and 5 grenade magazine in the left arm of her suit.  Jocelynn would have to decide what grenades she wanted to load when the need came.  Jocelynn responded right off, that she would be pleased to meet his people and get that work done.  Reading through the invite, she saw there was an offer to let her work "with" the armorers on the upgrades.  That thrilled Jocelynn, and she responded that she'd take him up on the offer to work with his people.

While working on his gear, Sekea checked to see if the berth had received the shipment of fentanyl?  He learned that had not yet arrived.  After he was done cleaning and stowing his gear, Sekea worked on his computer skills and relaxed for the rest of the day and evening.  When Aali got done with her investigation of the burn, she had a list of the supplies she'd need and figured it would take two days with the right tools to work it down to the bare metal.  Past that, they would have to re-paint that section of the hull.  Aiden wanted to do a work out and grab food, which agreed with Jocelynn's hunger.  When she suggested they go out and celebrate, Mikah said, "So long as it is in the port and not in the village."

Getting moving, Aiden even admitted he'd have a beer or two while Fesic said he was up for getting mildly drunk.  The whole crew moved into the port terminal building and found a decent place within the extrality line to eat.  Added to that, the staff of the place treated them very well because they "were" the news these days.  Everything from the Knightings to bits and pieces of information about the morning's battles and their part in that.  Especially with all of them now armed, with Colinne holstering her gauss pistol.  She didn't want to advertise her hypogun at all.  While the spent the evening winding down, they also did their best to connect the dots they had, but only came up with more questions.  Eventually, they went back to the berth and racked out.

A Day In Transition
     Jocelynn set an alarm so she could wake up bright and early, to bag up her battledress and move over to the naval base.  She had breakfast and looked forward to spending the day learning about upgrading her armor.  She'd also brought with her the camouflage package, hoping to get that installed too.  Zimzod Was entering the third day of his "cleaning out".  He was also doing his best to look forward to his day of intensive physical therapy.  The medical team had eased him into the first day on Thursday, even as they'd managed to bring his metabolic rate down from the drug.  Now, they were going full bore and he had an idea just how much he had to recover from despite the surgeries.

In the berth, Sekea decided to see what he could learn about the outcome on the attack to recover the merchant Adsi and his cargo, since the hopper had been destroyed.  He was told they were not authorities on-world, and wouldn't be added to the investigation because they had no legal standing on-world.  Accepting that, Sekea decided to spend the morning relaxing, and waiting to see what came up.  Colinne offered another stent class and Aali jumped on board with that.  Aiden jumped in too.  Fesic considered looking for a park, but the crew were on the downport, on an ice-covered world.  Figuring that wasn't a realistic ask, Fesic connected to the network looking for a gym to work out in.  Mikah picked up from the morning before and worked on reading medical journals.

On the Marine base, Jocelynn was brought into the armory, where a number of the assigned armorers were ready to work with her armor.  For them, it was a request from the Count's office which was being treated as a practice and training session.  With Dame Jocelynn taking part, some of them were getting to try on the role of instructor.  That was part of the job for more senior ranks, so even gaining rank would be based on getting functional in that skill arena.  If you could do everything but couldn't teach anything, or much, you can't advance.

Added to that, Jocelynn was surrounded by a drool list of toys and equipment which could have her dehydrated in a small number of hours.  Having seen Zimzod wax destructive over the FGMP-15, Jocelynn knew Zimzod would be envious of her location with two full racks of that weapon class arrayed for maintenance.  While the more senior members of the group broke out gear, parts and tools, mid-range armorers were working to teach Jocelynn how to decide what they needed to access and how to do that.  They did that under the observation of a more senior tech who oversaw the instruction that Jocelynn was receiving.  She would enjoy the rest of the day working with that team on the marine base.

Aali took part in the stent class until that was done.  She would next jump on working to strip down the damaged sections of the cutter's hull.  Fesic found a gym the port offered use of to all paying port customers.  That included the crew of all ships berthed on-port.  So, like Zimzod, he got to work out his body while the others relaxed or worked out their brains.  When the stent class started, Sekea grabbed Colinne's book covering the flora and fauna of Denotam.  What he specifically checked on was if the plants and animals had evolved on the world or been adapted.  What he found were both.  A number of scientifically separate branches of both animal and food covered naturally evolved species on-world while other branches covered life forms which had been genetically adapted to survive and thrive on the world.

Some, like Fesic, had gone out of the berth and, except Jocelynn, returned after they finished what they were doing.  Aiden had gone from the stent class to exercise, while Colinne had done more meditation.  Everyone except Jocelynn and Zimzod had gathered in the berth for lunch while Zimzod was fed on the medical ship and Jocelynn on the Marine base.  When those in the berth asked what they wanted to eat, Mikah and Aiden both crowed out, "Astroburgers!"  When no one disagreed, the crew went out to the almost-always present Astroburgers venue in the port buildings.  There, they each spent Cr 20 on lunch and didn't buy a meal for Jocelynn "just in case".

After they shared lunch, Mikah, Colinne and Aali wondered what vids they could see, and started looking that up.  Aiden decided to look for anywhere he could practice his swimming, but found nothing at all for that.  While he did that, Fesic separated from the group and went to a liquor shop.  He also didn't mention to anyone that he intended to buy Cr 500 worth of booze.  Sekea decided to wander the shops available, both in the port structures and in the village.  His interest was mostly in shops which might sell pets or plants but, as he'd learned before, Denotam was not a world for horticulturists.  So, there were a few shops selling pets but no plant shops.  Still, there were shops that sold some plants along with their main products.

Looking for vids that appealed, Aali and Mikah were up for a comedy and Colinne was good with that.  Suddenly, Mikah's eyes went wide when she saw a title that was new to her.  She and other crew members had learned about the "K'Kree vs Hivers" series more than a year before, and became fans of the unabashed military, blood, guts and military combat devastation.  Seeing the on-net offerings had a new title from the series, Mikah pointed it out saying she wanted to save the new title for when Zimzod was out of medical.  Colinne decided to set up a search for new titles from the series, or which were similar.  What she found, she planned to download to their berth-comps so they could be loaded to the ship after the upgrade work was done.

Having snuck into town alone, Fesic went to a shop that he hoped could sell him what he was after.  With Jocelynn's birthday the next day, Fesic wanted to buy her something to go along with her terrarium.  He eventually worked with the store's clerk to find a non-flowering green plant in loam, planted in a "sticky pot".  The clerk assured him that could be affixed to any surface in a starship stateroom.  The clerk did make it clear the plant wouldn't survive depressurization.  When Fesic accepted that, the clerk charged him Cr 20, which Fesic paid.  The clerk then said he could have the plant delivered to the port for an extra Cr 10, which Fesic also paid.

Also in the town, Sekea was checking out the window of a shop that also advertised some "decor" that might include plant-based decorations.  To his surprise, Sekea could see Fesic in the shop, seeming to be buying something.  Having heard Fesic say he would be shopping for liquor, Sekea asked if he'd found what he wanted?  Fesic said he did, and Sekea asked if the man wanted to join him window shopping.  Fesic said he'd go along, and asked what Sekea was looking for?  Sekea said he hoped to find a shop selling something like a bonsai, or miniature plant he could care for in his stateroom.  Sadly, the economy of Denotam wasn't geared toward that horticultural specialty.

Sekea also considered a small animal which could be managed and handled as a pet aboard.  When they did come to a small shop that had animals of Terran stock, largely domesticated for in-home care.  Of course, almost all of them had to be kept in sealed environments because they couldn't survive Denotam's environment.  The mammaloid pets most represented were either fur-coated or had coats of stiffer, stubble-like or brush-like coats.  They also tended to rely on fat layers too, so they needed less feeding and could survive briefly in the environment.  When Sekea asked if he could take a picture of the creatures, the shop keeper said he could and said they had a "2 for 1" sale.

Sekea asked what they were like as animals and was told they tended to be sedentary and liked colder temperatures.  The shop keeper said they also tended to try and tunnel or burrow, so he recommended they be kept in a cargo bay instead of a spacer's personal quarters.  He said they were also a hazard to wiring, so care should be taken if Sekea wanted to buy one.  Sekea joked with Fesic about how Mikah would feel if he brought one of those back as a pet.  Fesic nodded and asked if they had any lizards or reptilian pets?  Because of the environment, Fesic was told they didn't have reptiles to sell at all.  Sekea asked about fish and was told they had some samples, native to the world's oceans.

When the clerk started explaining what he'd need to assemble to have a cold-water aquarium, Fesic muttered about managing it in zero-g.  Sekea nodded and agreed that would be an issue.  Sekea asked about cats and dogs and was told they really only had a collection of mixed breeds.  Still, where the species were new to him, Sekea took images of them for a collection.  Done with the animals, Sekea again asked about plants he might care for in his stateroom on the ship.  Not having much experience, the clerk he was talking to asked about what Sekea was looking for?  When Sekea didn't offer any help, the clerk asked if he wanted something flowering or not?

When Sekea said he preferred a flowering plant, the clerk asked for a color preference?  Unfortunately, Sekea ignored that question and went back to the default of "What kind of plants do you have?"  That annoyed the clerk, since Sekea obviously wanted 'something', but refused to answer questions of detail and kept backing up to the most generic of questions.  Because of that, the man was finding it increasingly difficult to deal with Sekea.  Eventually, the clerk did get enough out of Sekea to offer him a red flowering plant for Cr 25.  It was sold in a bio-stasis bulb which would let him get it back to his room at the berth.

The flowering plant came in loam, which would likely need to be re-potted once every year.  A booklet came with the "care and feeding" data to keep the plant living for at least a year.  It also flowered for several months a year, and dropped seeds which could also be planted or saved in a stasis device for future use.  The plant was several months old, and the blossom, which wasn't currently in bloom, would remain so for several months.  The man assured Sekea that the lighting in his ship's stateroom should be appropriate for the plant, but Sekea knew he should likely bring that up with Aali, to be sure.

After Sekea's purchase, the two men returned to the berth.  Since Sekea never asked about anything but the liquor, he could only guess Fesic would have anything else he'd bought delivered to the berth.  When Jocelynn and the techs finished up, Jocelynn again bagged up her battledress and returned to the berth, looking forward to showing her augments off!  She hoped the others would be very pleased, and that Zimzod would be a bit jealous when he saw what she'd had done.  Of course, on worlds where InstellArms and other firms had the toys to sell, both she and Zimzod could add more capabilities to their armor.  Even those with the spare cash and combat armor could have things added on, but combat armor would not have the strength augments helping to carry extra gear.

When she'd started bagging up her armor, they offered her a ride back to the berth, so she could "wear it in" and show it off to her crew.  So, when Jocelynn got back to the berth, she was wearing the armor and could show off the laser pistol integrated into the right arm, and left arm integrated grenade launcher and 5 grenade magazine.  When she had everyone riveted to the new toys, Jocelynn decided it was time to blow some minds and activated her new internal grav-system.  To the appreciation of the crew, she began to float and fly about the interior of the berth.  Jocelynn also showed off she could "hold" a weapon in each hand.  Thanks to her being ambidextrous, she could have a weapon in her right hand to augment the now-integrated laser pistol and a second weapon in her left hand with all three of those augmented by the grenade launcher.

Added to that, her augmented speed and strength meant she could rush opposing ground troopers and rip them apart if she didn't choose to get her blades bloody.  Granted, she'd be trackable in the sky while using the grav-system, and draw fire, but she could maneuver defensively and over-come ground barriers.  While Jocelynn was performing, Mikah captured a vid of the show to send to Zimzod.  Seeing Mikah filming, Jocelynn activated her camouflage package and started cycling through the different colorings, getting ooh's and ahhh's.

Since she knew Zimzod was likely being tortured by his PT crew and medical team, Mikah decided to call him and share the video.  The medics working with Zimzod were OK with giving him a break just before he was to stand down for dinner anyway.  Expecting huge jealousy from Zimzod, they were surprised when he only complimented the augments and talked about how they would help burn through the next bad guys they faced.  Given how shot up he'd gotten in his most recent fight, they could all appreciate the point of view.  Especially when Zimzod started thinking along the lines of buying and installing gear too.  And most of the crew approved of having two combat monstrosities supporting them despite Aiden's whiny predictions of disaster.  The call done, they settled down to decide what to do for dinner?

Where everyone is at the end of the session:
     Mikah, Aali, Colinne, Jocelynn, Aiden, Fesic and Sekea: In the berth deciding on dinner
     Zimzod: Third day of cleansing after the second injection, aboard the INS Maadashmim Zikheaa
     Rol: Decant in 6 weeks and 5 days

Next: Questions, Answers And Decisions