Over the week in jump, Zimzod continued his "stealth practice" while he and the others went about sharing their time.  On the second day of jump, it was Emkir's birthday.  And while she could care less about the Admiral, Mikah decided she wanted s'mores.  This triggered an impromptu quest through their stock of food stuffs for the proper ingredients.  It was, to everyone's surprise.  Rol who rose to the occasion, having kept his hobby of playing at the culinary arts secret.  While Mikah saw he'd taken part in the search, she wrote him off when he grabbed some discarded items and moved to the galley.  She, Zach and some others continued searching for those things the computer listed as "graham cracker" or "Marshmallow" analogs.  Their search didn't actually end until Rol returned with a tray of what looked and smelled very much like s'mores!  Eyeing them suspiciously, Mikah looked at Zach asking, "Do they really taste like s'mores?"  Zach, who was not feeling particularly like he was wearing a red shirt, said, "Try one and find out."  Mikah tentatively took one and, with surprising speed, jammed it into Zach's partly open mouth!  He sputtered in surprise and everyone else laughed.
Mikah said, "You're the cook" as she jammed it in.  Zach's panicked first response was to try and spit the mouthful out.  Of course, a warm, gooey, pseudo-s'mores was not easily ejected after it started adhering to the innards of his mouth.  Zach ultimately needed more saliva to reduce the hold of the goo.  But, as he started to chew and taste, the goo actually did taste like a s'mores!  And it and crunched in the style of a graham cracker!  Zach was completely impressed by what Rol had managed to do and said so once he could clear his mouth enough.  Satisfied Zach hadn't toppled over in disgust or intestinal failure, Mikah tried one and pronounced herself completely satisfied.  She then invited everyone to share in the treats while ordering Rol to make more and Zach to clean up the mess they made looking for ingredients.
Also during the week, Brian could be seen with a number of electronic tools and parts as he 'upgraded his stateroom door lock.'  At one point during the work, Zimzod wandered by and was heard to idly speculate on being able to pick the new lock with a grin on his face.  Inger and Aiden both explored the ship's vid-chip collection, finding all manner of comedies, action flicks, romantic flicks, musicals, culturally significant documentaries, historical significant documentaries and items of just about any description known to sophonts.  The quality of the vids were all of a "well older than new releases" class.  But, there were so many that no one aboard could claim to have seen more than a small percentage of them.
Sadly, the historical coverage of the Hiver/K'Kree wars wasn't included, as it had been on the Dawnstar Horizon.  Aiden again searched for anything highlighting mechanical hand weapons and he found a number of items to watch, either in the common area or on the view screen in his stateroom.  All the men kept up their various physical workouts and Mikah and Zimzod took advantage of the down-folded seats in the cutter to turn the grav off and have a somewhat smaller zero-g training area than on the Horizon.  Zero-g training was offered to those interested, and Brian and Mikah made periodic checks on the engineering systems.  The flight qualified crew took turns manning the bridge and observing the flight systems.  Zach joined Zimzod studying gunnery operations at times and helped Aiden with his navigational studies.
One significant item occurred on the third day in jump, after the s'mores-fest, when Rol asked everyone join him in the ship's common area.  Confused and with some concern, the crew gathered except for Emkir, who listened in on the comms while pulling bridge duty.  After they were gathered, Rol explained he'd gotten a message on his stateroom's comms soon after they entered jump space.  The unsigned message said,            "I know what you did in the Jesedipere System and think you should explain                it to the entire crew.  I have found you to be a valued crew member and do                not want anything to cause problems."
As Rol prepared to explain the history of his service in the Jesedipere system, Brian said he sent the message.  Mikah asked Brian, "What makes you think he is valued?!" in a voice that didn't at all suggest she was kidding.  Thanking Brian for coming forward and ignoring Mikah's comment, Rol told them his unit was part of the Imperial response to vargr insurgent operations in that important system during a war.
Rol said he'd bet none of those assembled could claim none of their actions were misrepresented by some media agency supporting a reporter's wild accusations.  He pointed out the recent "evidence" the knights and crew gave supposedly supporting a coming Imperial military invasion of the Inthe System.  Then he produced two medals for Meritorious Conduct under Fire and the award letters stating they were given for service in the Jesedipere system in 1109 and 1110.  When Zimzod softly said, "I got a few of those too" in a mocking tone, Rol ignored the meaningless remark and let the decorations stand as de facto Imperial approval of his actions.  He finished, saying he'd answer any questions he was allowed to, reinforcing the fact that the media would skew anything in order to sell a headline or crackpot theory.    Sunday 162 1112 - Monday 163-1112: Arrival And In-System Burn
Eventually the ship's computer put out an alarm warning the crew the end of the energy flow to the lanthanum grid was coming.  That would allow the ship's jump bubble to fade as they precipitated to normal space.  As events happened, Aiden was pulling bridge duty and began setting up to shift to normal space as he put out an announcement over "all ship" comms.  After transition, Aiden started shooting the stars and brighter glowing worlds near the ship with the nav-computer as they hoped to have arrived coreward of the Zenith point and above the orbital plane of Risek's worlds and second star.
Aiden also sparked up the external comms, hoping to hear the system's entry beacon transmissions as soon as the emergence interference faded.  Zach punched up his feed from the nav-computer as he joined Aiden in making certain they'd arrived where they want to be.  While the crew adjusted their gear for the return to normal space, Zach and Aiden both independently confirmed the geometry lined up and they had arrived as close to 'on point' as they could hope.  On the bridge, Aiden was dealing with another issue all together as he listened to the in-bound comms.  He listened to the repeating broadcast twice so he could correctly advise the rest of the crew.
Instead of the standard greeting from a beacon, offering arriving craft vectors in-system, official comm frequencies and system advisories, there was an Imperial Naval broadcast!  The broadcast ordered arrivals to switch frequencies and communicate with the INS Hounds' Fang.  Failure to do so would cause the destroyer and her escorts to initiate a disabling action.  The system was under emergency interdiction by order of Admiral Hoheluft Chauss, commanding all Imperial Navy elements in-system.  The rest of the crew sparked up electronics, reached for just a bit more of their personal "emergency equipment" or moved to where they could get more information or help react to what looked like it was gonna be a really bad situation.
In the interim, Aiden traded pleasantries with the Fang's comm officer, telling him the Pilot's Error was the personal yacht of their Lordships Brian Montgomery, Mikah Kirlim and Zimzod Egosion.  Adding that they ship was en route to the Mora System via Rhylanor.  Aiden also told the comms officer they were flying under a Regina-imposed mandate to offer assistance where needed.  Aiden finished by saying the knights, using his best verbal military bearing, would like to pay their respects to the Imperial Governor, The Marquis' Seneschal and the Imperial Naval Command in-system when it was convenient.  The conversation not only gave everyone aboard time to grab a comms and listen, but ate most of the uncomfortable silences between their interstellar tin can and the armed and ready destroyer hidden in the black aiming weapons at them.
That didn't last long, because the destroyer wasn't sitting outside civilian sensor range.  She wanted to be seen.  And soon, she was painted by the ship's sensors along with a number of smaller gunboat-type craft that could be SDB's.  There was also a vessel that could have been a cargo ship, if not for the cloud of smaller craft operating nearby, which had to be fighters.  The silence also didn't last long as another voice came across the comms, introducing himself as Lieutenant Commander Yokendam, XO of the Hound's Fang.  The clear message from the sensors shouted, "Don't make the mistake of thinking we are not serious".  The Fang's XO reviewed the comm tech's information with them before asking that most fateful of questions: "Do you have a doctor aboard your ship?"
In truth, the commander would know if a ship carried passengers, as Imperial safety laws required a medic aboard passenger vessels.  But the Pilot Error was a yacht so any mix of people could be aboard.  So it was with a sinking heart that Mikah identified herself and her medical specialties.  As soon as she did that, the commander's attitude changed and he stated their ship should prepare to receive tight beam communications.  Mikah continued, that she also had a nurse and paramedic team with her as she spared a glance at Zimzod and Zach.  As this happened on the main comms frequency, Aiden extended their laser comms dish and prepared to get the secure transmission the officer spoke of.
That message gave them a new comms frequency to connect to, and a course heading they should follow.  Aiden told the Fang he'd be shifting their voice comms and The Lt. Commander acknowledged that.  Aiden worked his controls as he altered their flight vector, conforming with the Navy supplied flight vector.  Aiden saw the new course would still bring them on an approach course to Risek Prime, and told those outside the bridge.  The passage in-system was a forty-eight hour long run, and the team were only at the start.  So the flight pilots took turns in the bridge as the others complied with a request to tally their on-board food and medical supplies without any details about what was happening?
Things got worse some sixteen hours into the in-system burn as Emkir was on the flight deck.  Scanning the system's known frequencies, Emkir locked onto what sounded like a panicked person begging someone for mercy!  While Emkir got the crew's attention, and put the feed on "all ship", the 'someone' answered with a very controlled voice.  He warned the panicked party to bring their ship about and leave SuSAG controlled space.  Those aboard the Pilot Error listened as it became clear the panicked ship was fleeing a station in-system and trying to make port at a SuSAG facility without authorized passage.  They listened, certain things wouldn't come to a horrifying end even as the situation slowly crept closer to disaster.  Everyone expected something to break, and a resolution to be offered.
The crew continued to listen, horrified yet hopeful, until the words and screams flowed out of their speakers, and they knew there'd be no happy ending.  Immediately, everyone was demanding information of Emkir, who'd been joined on the bridge by Aiden.  With Aiden's fine tuning, they saw they were about a week's flight time from the scene of the incident as the details flowed in.  The "intruder" was drifting, three days from "willing" rescue and her survivors were in vacc suits in a ship voided and disabled by weapon fire.  SuSAG, who owned the entire outer system, held the rights to secure their part of the system with deadly force.  And they seemed to have no interest in doing anything except pushing the disabled vessel back in-system at a drift.
Because of the communications delay, Aiden knew that had already happened and, at its current rate of travel, the disabled craft wouldn't arrive at an in-system arcology for the next three years.  With SuSAG unwilling to rescue the craft's survivors, there was no possible rescue, and all aboard would die when their vacc suits ran out.  It was Sir Brian who proposed offering SuSAG all the data he'd collected in the Inthe system as payment for rescuing those aboard the crippled ship.  The response, from upper SuSAG management was that there was some kind of plague in-system, significant enough that the Imperial Navy interdicted the whole system.  Because of that, management saw no reason to risk infection to SuSAG's large investment or workforce simply in the hopes they can discern what the issue was and cure it with no available data or research to work with or build on.
After that initial offer, any plea or offer the crew made was turned back with the logic that saving a handful of likely exposed and doomed intruders for a few more days would only let them transmit their exposure to SuSAG people and facilities.  What "seemed" a logical mercy for a handful might condemn additional tens of thousands to death.  SuSAG firmly held to the policy that, 'if someone was to make that mistake, it wouldn't be a SuSAG employee.'  In the end, the team couldn't even attempt a rescue before the survivors would die and even the Imperial Navy wasn't lighting a thruster to change the situation.  The mood on the Pilot Error sunk even a bit more as they switched the comms away from that particular channel.
To take their minds off of the events they'd overheard, Aiden and Emkir tried to figure what was going on in the system as best they could?  But much of what they ran into was the white noise characteristic of naval interdictions.  They figured in-system forces included four massive Plankwell class battleships, three Antiama-class fleet carriers with up to 900 heavy fighters, four Migekaruu class heavy cruisers, four Ghalalk class armored cruisers, six Melika class light cruisers, twelve Midu Agashaam and twenty-four Lucifer class destroyers.  These seven capital warships, fourteen heavy escorts and thirty-six light escort class vessels comprised two of the nine minor fleets that made up the 212th Imperial Fleet, assigned to the Rhylanor subsector!  And that didn't even begin to catalog the logistic ships filling out the support divisions of each of the fleet elements!
The simple truth was that no merchanter had power here with the Imperial Navy flexing its muscles in the way it was.  So, with no real data other than the need for medics, and that those who panicked died, the crew buckled down and did what they could to prepare for their fate.  Once they closed on Risek proper, they were passed by patrol craft from the Nation of Podesta, a representative democracy consisting of a huge collection of space arcologies and stations clustered mostly in the area of Risek Prime.  Periodically, they would see craft marked for the Tarallo Alliance protecting one of that government's commercial stations or arcologies.  But no one so much as opened a hailing channel so long as they followed the naval beacon towards their destination.  That was Imperial Naval Station 371, orbiting Risek Prime.  The spirit aboard the ship was a muted anger as Sir Zimzod quietly celebrated his birthday, without involving the rest of the crew.    Monday 163-1112: Arrival at Naval Station 371
Eventually, the crew were directed to dock at an Imperial Naval station where they were escorted in by a pair of Rampart light fighters as the flight ended.  Once they'd docked and equalized pressure, they opened the hatch to meet with the crew chief in the bay they'd been settled into.  He told them, "hang out here" and they'd be taken care of in a few minutes.  As they spent the few more minutes without information, and watched the bay crew going about their duties, they soon saw a full Captain making her way through the hoses and umbilicals to their ship.  Once she arrived and greeted them, the officer introduced herself as Captain Mirjam Kristianson. the formalities done for the moment, she asked them to follow her.
Mikah, Zimzod, Brian, Rol and Emkir all recognized this woman was fully qualified to command ships as devastating and massive as a Tigress class battleship.  The fact that such people were not delegated to "greet and escort" duties added another very strange twist to the situation they were finding themselves in.  Very quickly, the Captain led them in-station and, after some walking and some transport on moving floors, they arrived at what appeared to be a briefing room decked out with workstations.  Asking them to have seats, Captain Kristianson turned and, taking a breath, explained the situation.
She said that an illness outbreak had broken out in a public arcology which was part of the Podesta nation, just over three days before they'd arrived in Risek System.  Initial medical responders were not aware of the nature of the disease they were dealing with, and were also completely unprepared for the sudden spikes in cases throughout the arcology.  That station's population was in the area of 110,000 sophonts.  Soon after, the outbreak became a tidal wave. Reports started coming from the arcology that the station's medical support infrastructure was beginning to collapse.  That was followed by desperate pleas for help.
And just as quickly came the withdrawal of any connections shared with the arcology.  As well, there were demands from the other stations and arcologies for protection from infection by the Imperial Navy.  As far as the Imperial Navy knew, every social structure aboard the Podesti Arcology had begun breaking down.  While naval information technologies had been able to break through the firewalls and gain access to all of the station's computers, this didn't allow them to control a population gone wild.  For some time, they could see some doctors, still functional and buried in the panic.  They were desperately treating the symptoms by working with already infected people but no one was working on finding out exactly what they were fighting?
It was at that point that Dame Mikah pushed aside the sinking feeling in her heart to ask, "So what do you want us to do?"  And there it was.  Captain Kristianson said that Dame Mikah's qualifications were more than sufficient enough to lead work to figure out what this disease was?  That drew an immediate response from Mikah, "You want us to go over there?!  We're not going to risk our lives while you stand by keeping everyone else out.  What the hell are you doing with all the ships and people you have here?"  Kristianson told her the navy was stretched thin maintaining the quarantine and trying to stop events like the shoot down of fleeing ships.  They didn't have the spare forces to deal with the outbreak.  So they were back to what the navy expected of the team?
Kristianson said the briefing room they were in was to be their headquarters.  From there, the Imperial Navy would connect them to whatever resources were available and whoever was willing or able to help with their work.  She reminded them that no one was leaving the system until the situation was resolved, but said they did not need to go "to the arcology."  It became increasingly clear the team would be doing the work one way or the other, but the Captain had started out by being polite.  So they got down to business, asking about the naval and civilian responses in more detail.  They considered the possibilities from an 'intentional attack' to an 'ill passenger arriving or passing through' the arcology and infecting locals.  The Admiralty also realized the quarantine wasn't put in place before some people from the infected arcology left, and could be carrying the disease to other systems.
So many of the couriers and scout craft attached to the fleet had jumped out to every system to which ships had left in the last week.  Of course, the ships which left a week before would be up to four days ahead of the following naval warning, but it was the best they could do with current technology.  The ships with faster maneuver drives were dispatched to those systems where transports able to enter atmospheres jumped.  The hope was that a fast ship could overtake an earlier arrival in normal space and disable it if needed.  Those ships were also tasked with spreading the word that the fleet command in the Risek system needed help.  The soonest of those reinforcements would not arrive for another eleven days at the present.
When talk got down to the disease itself, the crew learned that very little was known at all.  The first known symptoms were a loss of energy.  Patients didn't "feel tired", but felt lethargic and without energy.  Initial known responses were simple physical examinations and recommendations to take some time off, rest and get more sleep.  That lasted until the clinics began seeing enough people with the exact same complaint to drive someone to connect the dots.  As the number of patients rose above tens per location, some of the more forward thinking clinics started to call around.  It was at this point realization dawned and the panic was born.  Some initial blood test data was received as the upper echelon medical establishment started reaching out for help.  But the outbreaks were spreading so fast doctors were being pulled off other duties to treat the mounting number of patients.
Unfortunately, that was never reversed, as the medical centers worked to treat the flood of patients.  The panic had turned to a madness, and had taken control.  Not knowing anything concrete about the disease, Admiral Chauss, the senior Admiral in-system, ordered a 100% quarantine, allowing the navy to act without infection to control the situation.  That order held because no source of real information could be developed.  But the quarantine had taken up so much of the naval resources that they could only hope to get additional help from outside the system.  "Unfortunately for you,", Kristianson said, "your team is the first of that help."  Realizing the situation they were all in, Dame Mikah was the first to admit to herself that the situation required someone to board the arcology if any real information was to be gathered.
But they didn't know if they would contaminate the outer surfaces of their ship and vacc suits by going over.  Or if they could detoxify anything that had been exposed to the virus.  According to Kristianson's description, the pathogen was airborne and seemed to occur in many parts of the arcology at the same time.  So no section of the station was safe.  This led to a discussion about getting a hold of ultraviolet lights, to be used with vacuum to create a decontamination system and safely rescue the uninfected.  Kristianson was firm that there were not enough supplies to even make a space safe for investigation.  Even when Zach and several others seemed incredulous at the idea there were not huge cargo containers of such materials just sitting waiting for such a disaster to occur.  The team seemed, to Kristianson, not to get the idea that any stocks of these materials would be jealously withheld or "lost" in order to protect their owners had the slightest suggestion they could use them the save themselves.  Resistance would leap from station to station rather than turning over supplies for a relief effort.  Especially when such a relief effort would result in people being pulled out of the infected arcology and brought to places of safety.
Everyone knew it would take just one mistake to accidentally spread the disease and cause new outbreaks that would threaten those who were safe.  No one was coming out of that station to infect them, and no supplies were going out to help the doomed.  Even if it meant taking up arms against Marines!  Finally, Captain Kristianson got through to most of the team, though Zach even tried to float the idea of sending a general message out to those who might be illicitly growing pharmacologically active plants.  He seemed to hope they'd say, "Yes, I am illegally growing drug bearing plants.  But come and wipe out my operation by taking all my lights so you can save people who I don't care about.  I'll expose my operation so I can't restart it afterwards, even if you do not arrest me in the process of outing myself."  The Captain did finally convince them the rest of the system would rather see those 110,000 people die if it meant they and their families would be safe.
And so it was that Dame Mikah started dividing the team, certain those without medical training would be largely useless so there'd be no need to risk them.  Mikah announced that she, Zach and Zimzod would suit up and take the cutter over to the arcology to search for a safe place to land while not exposing it to what they were now calling "the virus."  The rest would stay on the naval station and, with the help of naval technicians, organize an effort to learn as much about the situation as they could.  Sir Brian asked if there was a proper map of the arcology and was told they had a full 3D engineering simulation of the station from its own engineering management stations.  The navy techs assigned to explore it were a bit overwhelmed with figuring out systems that, while similar to ship systems, were not the systems they were trained on.
Brian proposed making a device which would use vacuum to kill most viruses, even if he couldn't get UV lights to complete the detox.  At the same time, all the records from the hospitals and clinics were available on the computer network and Ms. Vik and Emkir were aptly suited to dig into those for any patterns.  Rol was told to work with the naval techs to create a condensed list of all ships that arrived at and or left the arcology in the previous 20 days.  Aiden was told to help wherever he was asked to.  With five team members beginning their work on naval Station 371, Dame Mikah and Sir Zimzod returned to the ship and boarded the cutter.  Zach then piloted it across the brief open of space to the doomed station.
_________________________________________________________________________ Next: Thirteen Unlucky Hours