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Arrival in Porozlo
055 - 1112: 0650 Hr's Local Time:
      Stateroom, Tukera Long Liner Equus,
      inbound to Porozlo Highport

Porozlo     The pattern repeated itself again as the Knights were awakened by a liner crewmember.  There was no need to look up to see the crewman was escorted by a lightly armed crewman.  'Lightly armed' meant a snub pistol, likely loaded with tranq rounds.  Those would knock a person out with a tranquilizer dart for a number of hours.  Different than any other such moment, the crewman greeted them saying that day would be better because they'd be debarking.  That demanded attention, as the crewman set down a breakfast tray and left the cabin, allowing each to slip into the 'paper clothes' provided by the ship and eat.  That was all the freedom they'd been allowed since being placed under cabin arrest.  Of course, they were only restricted because they had been pushed to armoring up and attempting an assault on the ship's bridge.

Just over a month before, they'd been outward bound from the Inthe System highport after a hard partying layover when...  None of the three knew how, but they were kidnapped and forced to perform a dangerous mission under threat of their lives.  And after that, they woke on the Tukera long liner Equus, in luxury and with all their baggage and possessions.  And a paid ride to the Rhylanor System.  But you didn't "just appear" aboard a starship.  Despite age old science fiction dreams, the idea of transporting anything from point to point never became reality outside of Zhodani space.  And since the Zho's hadn't been involved, the Knights were certain the ship's computers had the data to identify their kidnappers.  During their first interview with Captain Oforoa, Equus' Master, they were told that only he knew these details.  He also claimed to be honor bound not to reveal anything.

In the days that followed, each of the Knights had tried various methods, including bribery, seduction and even drink, to get the crew to talk, and failed.  Finally, completely frustrated, they decided to go after the sensor data in the ship's computer, because it couldn't be safely erased until after the ship emerged from jump.  And that data could only be accessed by taking the bridge or the main computer compartment, which were located together on a crew-only deck.  So they geared up with what should have been overwhelming force because they were devastatingly well-armed and armored combatants.  Then they made their way towards the bridge.  They were only stopped because the Captain had been expecting the move and prepared a trap.  By using the ship's internal gravitics systems, he and the crew trapped the Knights in the passage between bulkheads and sealed them in, with the gravity pulled out from under them and the threat of alternating it to slam them up and down.

The three found themselves in a situation where the force they'd need to breach the bulkhead would also have killed them in such an enclose compartment.  So, they stood down and followed the orders to disarm and surrender their armor and equipment.  Then, they were placed under cabin arrest by a Captain who did tell them he regretted it had coe to that point.  Their clothes, for the rest of the trip, consisted of the paper clothing often provided to patients under treated in the ship's medical department.  The Captain also used those clauses in space law, regarding the safety of his vessel and passengers, to justify ordering the Knights off the Equus at their next stop.  That was the balkanized world of Porozlo.  One parsec from the Rhylanor system, it was often referred to by many as "War World", thanks to the constant number of conflicts tearing the world's surface apart.  Still, as soon as the Captain was able, he began to send messages to the local Imperial Scout Base asking for help.

      Horizon Main Deck Cut Away        Horizon Main Deck Cut Away

055 - 1112: ~0700 Hr's Local Time: Kyle
      Van Ryddoth's Stateroom,
      Dawnstar Horizon, Porozlo Downport
      IISS Berth CO-192, Rhylanor

     It was early in the morning, just like every morning.  Ryddoth woke to see if the port master or scout command had a job for him?  Just when he reached to open the hatch and leave his stateroom, his comms buzzed.  Ryddoth considered the timing as he answered, and found himself speaking to one of the scout port admin officers.

     "Hey Kyle, sorry to grab you early but we have something on the chart and need
     your ship.  Just so you know, this one's different and, per regs, we're reactivating
     you."  The reactivation caught him by surprise and Ryddoth waited silent, letting
     the other man continue.  "We have a Tukera Liner coming in with a bit of a
     diplomatic problem.  The Captain wants to kick some Imperial Knights off his ship
     for "behavioral issues".  We're not sure what the situation is, and we need
     something more than a hired boat."

Gathering his thoughts, Ryddoth wondered how deep this went?  He only answered, "OK?"  The one word prompted the speaker to continue.

     "The base commander activated two scouts, including the recently retired Admiral
     Meshrumiikiim,"  That was a former Scout officer who'd worked on Porozlo for
     the past year.  "..and a retired Port Executive.  They should be arriving at
     your berth in 30 mikes or so."

Set back a bit by the titles, Ryddoth found comfort in reaching for facts and asked, "So what are the details?"

      "Just out and back actually.  Pretty mundane except that they're Knights.  We
        don't know what the situation is and we're getting noise from the liner.  She
        arrived in-system an hour ago.  You need to fly out to meet the liner.  Then
        let the Admiral and Port Exec investigate things, if they need to, and return
        with them and the Knights back to the port.  Just be diplomatic until we know
        what the situation is?  Hard copy is being sent to your ship's print console now.
        Good luck!

        And per the regs, your account will be paid standard rates...and command
        will keep a berth and refresh open for The Horizon as well."

The controller asked if Ryddoth had any questions and he didn't, so Control signed off.  Ryddoth went to the ship's computer and logged in to receive the promised files.  He sent them to the print console and grabbed the flimises to, read his orders.  But Ryddoth didn't get far before he heard sensor chimes, warning of an arrival at the ship's berth.  Ryddoth laughed to himself and decided base admin had certainly been moving fast!  Moving down deck to the aft cargo bay, Ryddoth checked out the open door to see a team of technicians, led by a 3-term Scout.  As they arrived, the group leader stepped up and offered his orders.  It seemed base command wanted Ryddoth prepped fast, so they'd sent a team of techs to help button up and secure for operations.

Hurry Up And Wait

          By 0715 hrs, Ryddoth had met the tech team and taken care of the basics.  He'd gotten a sense, as the leader talked, that they were well skilled in the tasks involved.  They planned to handle the fuel "top offs" while running a soft hand over the power plant, life support and maneuver drives.  And they were fully armed with a previous service report on the Horizon, so they were ready to work.  As Ryddoth greeted them, he tried quietly to mine for info on the Admiral, Port Admin and general rumors.

Not very skilled at such subtleties, it became obvious he might as well have just asked his questions outright.  As far as the Admiral went, it seemed he'd arrived on-world a bit more than a year before and set up house with an experimental program to help unify Porozlo's warring factions.  No surprise, the experiment failed and word was they cashiered the Admiral for it, even though it could hardly have been his fault.  None of the techs served with him directly, so they couldn't, or wouldn't, give a read on the guy.  As for the "Port Admin girl", she'd been all over the vid's for the last month.  The media covered the grand parties and receptions leading up to her retirement from the port, and the "hand over".  Other than that, Ryddoth caught a whispered comment, "I'd do her" between two of the techs.

As the Scouts worked, Ryddoth adjusted his personal comm unit to the technician's general frequency and moved to the bridge.  There, he began the few-minute power plant ramp up from idle to pre-flight.  He cleared a visual path to the fuel readouts and periodically checked the engineering status board.  That done, Ryddoth was ready to do some basic navigational plots before contacting port control for the liner's stats.  Porozlo was far enough from her sun that the star's gravitational effects wouldn't interfere with regular travel.  The entry point for an arriving ship was roughly 1.28 million kilometers distant.  Ryddoth knew the Horizon could make that, at max-burn, four hours, twenty four minutes after launch.  Plus or minus 15 minutes.  Ryddoth then called port flight operations opening a channel on the ship's comms.

         Horizon: "Break, Break.  Port Control from Dawnstar Horizon, Requesting
            data, Reply as possible."

         Control: "Copy Horizon.  We have you cleared to lift once we have your
            plan.  Advise, we have a plan in place, you may download on your
            accept?"  Ryddoth considered their offer of a pre-laid out flight plan
            and knew it couldn't hurt.

         Horizon: "Copy control.  Advise which channel for broadcast.  Copy lift
            clearance and advise, we are standby pending boarding personnel,,
            will advise on pre-launch."

         Control: "Copy Horizon, we designate you SC-Alpha-215 on our boards.
            Update us on launch minus five mikes, download your plot on freq:
            51.2 megahertz, expected transmission 18 seconds.  Control pending
            your pre-launch out"

         Horizon: Horizon: "I copy, and making my setting 51.2 megahertz for download.
            I copy designation SC-Alpha-215.  Will update a launch minus five
            mikes, SC-Alpha-215 out.

That done, Ryddoth secured vox-comms and made the settings for the bridge computer to download the broadcast navigational data.  That ready, he switched the channel on and downloaded the plot to a file.  He then opened the plot on the bridge nav-panel, and gave it a visual check out himself.

      The TMS Equus was a Maneuver-1 "Long Liner", standard for Tukera's passenger
         fleet.  She'd been inbound since approx 0635 hrs local, and could make the
         transit from her precipitation point (just outside the standard jump safety
         margin) in six hours, twenty five minutes.  So having been in flight for forty
         minutes, she was currently early in her acceleration curve.  The sooner he
         launched, the sooner he could set firm plans.

At the moment, the pre-generated plot the port has sent was a "set of variables" that would be changed as new data were plugged into them.  This was because they had to match speed "and" vector with the Equus. Her course would steadily increase her speed for roughly two and a half more hours before the ship flipped end for end.  Then, they'd start to decelerate towards orbital arrival at a velocity that allowed them to insert the ship into orbit and dock with the highport or drop into the atmo to land at the lowport.  Ryddoth would have to burn out to a point in space where his speed and vector could be matched with Equus', because forcing the liner to match him would cost much more fuel loss to the commercial vessel.  A vessel owned by a very powerful MegaCorporation.

The good news was that Equus wasn't escorted by the refitted former "military escorts" of Tukera's security force, 'Vermaine'.  Relationships with those ship crews could, at times, get, dicey.  As things stood, Horizon would need to complete her two hour twelve minute out-burn before spending forty odd minutes in decel before burning to roughly match speeds with Equus.  Closer calculations at the moment were not important because the crew weren't present.  So, Ryddoth didn't have either launch or intercept burn inception times.  So he spent the next 20 minutes or so plotting his own flight plan, to see how his compared to theirs while he waited.  When he had a plot, and compared the two, he found they were fairly similar.  Good job that!

At 0735. Ryddoth's comms sparked up,

       Control: Break SC-Alpha-215 respond.

       Horizon: SC-Alpha-215 copies Control, over.

       Control: SC-Alpha-215, Your roster has been compiled followed by your
             expected Passenger list:
          Transmitting now
             File 1:
               Captain: Kyle Van Ryddoth(Scout)
                Crew: Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim(Scouts)
                Crew: Administrator Inger Martinusdtr Vik(Starport Authority)
                Crew: Aidan Radetsky(Scouts)
             File 2:
                 Dame Mikah Kirlim
                 Sir Brian Montgomery
                 Sir Zimzod Egosion

After that Ryddoth again checked the nav-display on the bridge for anything he might've missed the previous two times.  Deciding he could do no more, he hit a button on the multi-function display and the plot for the Horizon vector to the Liner was replaced by sensor feeds from the port's close sensors.  Those showed the local traffic conditions being broadcast by station beacons.  The patterns were not overly crowded, but Ryddoth knew conditions could change quickly.  The fact that a Liner needed his ship to come out on such short notice was proof of how things could happen with little or no warning.

Ryddoth had stay aware of the situation, in case he needed to rush the lift even as he prepared to launch.  Unconsciously, he touched his chest near where a Zhodani blade had come close to ending his life during the war, only a year before.  The wound still bothered him on occasion and the base doctor said he needed to keep doing the exercises they'd taught him if he wanted to ever fully recover.  Grunting, Ryddoth abruptly stood up and keyed the bridge hatch open.  Moving aft, through the corridor where the crew staterooms were, he entered the ship's common lounge and scanned the room.  The rectangular table was cleared of clutter and ready for use by the "crew" he hoped would arrive soon.

Above the table, a screen showed various reports on the ship as well as some of the port's local media channels in split-screen.  Reaching up, Ryddoth activated one of the comm remotes, and listened to the chatter of the tech team in engineering.  From the sound of things, they were almost done and would soon be ready to leave.  Deactivating the comms, Ryddoth walked to the open hatch at the aft of the lounge, and passed into the corridor beyond.  That cut left to right across the vessel and he turned right.  Stepping down through a hatch there, he descended and walked through the Horizon's lower after-compartments.  As he moved, Ryddoth scanned every part of the ship for anything out of place, or that might threaten the launch.

Reaching the aft engineering area, Ryddoth toggled open the outer iris valve, and let the morning air and bright daylight of the port into the ship.  He scanned out at the landing berth the ship occupied.  As he'd walked, Ryddoth got an update from control.  His original departure time had been pushed back thanks to 'delays in locating his crew'.  Ryddoth leaned against the side of the hatch and couldn't help wondering what was happening?  No doubt the base had their hands full tracking down his newly assigned crew, but Ryddoth knew the last thing they'd want was him asking for constant updates.

After a moment more enjoying the fresh air, Ryddoth stepped back and activated the control sealing the hatch.  Heading back to the lounge again, he poured himself a cup of caff from the auto-serv and took it forward, into the corridor and touched the entry control to the Bridge.  Settling into the acceleration chair that served as either the pilot or navigator's position, Ryddoth sipped from the cup and activated the ship's on-board diagnostics.  He started a series of automated quick checks of the flight systems.  If he had to wait, he'd make sure the ship would be that much more ready for whatever came.

Visiting Officer's Quarters, Porozlo Scout
        Base (Rhylanor Subsector)

     Early up and into the job was a hard habit to break.  So it was that Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim was awake when his room's comm unit buzzed.  Wondering who would call so early, since he was now retired, he answered and had the following conversation:

          "Admiral Meshrumiikiim? This is The Admiral's office."

Emkir didn't need to ask "which Admiral", as the voice on the comms was that of his former assistant until his recent retirement.  Still, this call was starting out unusually, so Emkir relaxed and asked,

          "What can I do for the Admiral today?
          "We have a situation, Sir.  Per Imperial Regs we need to re-activate you for
             at least the next seven standard days.  You will need to proceed with your
             gear to the IMS Dawnstar Horizon, berthed at the Porozlo Downport, IISS
             Berth CO-192.  I am instructed to tell you that further information will be
             given to you there Sir."

And there it was, 'Needs of the service'.  Emkir answered,

          "I understand.  Thank you."

          "Sir?" the aide continued, "Per regs you'll be paid a standard month's pay,
             forwarded to the Imperial Bank of Rhylanor, and able to be drawn on any
             bank in the main X-Boat network.  Sorry you got caught in this small bump,
             but it will pay well."

That surprised him, suggesting that his former aide knew something of the mission but couldn't talk.  Saying what he had, Emkir could read more from the comments.  He grabbed a quick shower and threw on an unpressed uniform before the Charge of Quarters buzzed that his transport had arrived.  Junior scouts loaded his scant luggage into the staff car and he was off.  he'd been sent an additional note that he'd report to a 'Scout Ryddoth' aboard the Horizon.  Not knowing the name, he considered the prefix "IMS".  "Imperial registered Merchant Ship".  Emkir guessed Ryddoth was a retired scout with a detached S-class ship.  He wondered as he rode how old Ryddoth was, and spent the ride preparing to convey confident calm when he met the Scout.

Spacer Layover hostel, Porozlo Downport (Rhylanor Subsector)

     Sleeping in,
Aidan had planned to try it, as a civilian for at least one morning, but fate had other plans.  It seemed exactly 0700 hrs when a pleasant but completely forgotten dream gave way to the sounds of an urgent buzzing.  Through just-cracked eyelids, there on the side of the bed, Aiden saw the room's comms alert light flashing and buzzing away.  At first, Aidan considered ignoring what obviously had to be a wrong number.  But he finally reached out half swatting, half activating the speaker.
And then, Aiden Radetsky was wide awake.

          "Scout Radetsky", the caller began in that official tone all service members
             knew from years' experience.  "Per Imperial Edict 992, you're being recalled
             to service on this date, to serve the next 168 hours.  These orders have
             been approved by Scout Commander hault-Treeasliin.  Please acknowledge".

Aiden mumbled, clearing his voice, and acknowledged the order saying, "I understand.  Where am I to report to and when am I expected?"  The fog was clearing and he knew he'd heard of hault-Treeasliin.  In fact, Treeasliin was currently the Senior Scout Officer in-system to the best of Aiden's knowledge.  and the title "hault" meant his family hald a hereditory Baronial title in the Imperial Nobility.

          "Sir, please prepare for immediate departure to board the IMS Dawnstar
, berthed at the commercial starport."

Aiden thanked the stars for small favors as he glanced at his still packed luggage.  Having just "graduated" from active service the day before, there had been no chance to unpack, much less become established.  Pulling himself up, Aiden started to tell the caller he'd be calling for transport after he dressed, only to be told transport had already been called!  At the expense of the IISS!  Thirty minutes later, Aiden was rushing to finish cleaning up and dressing and wasn't disappointed when a call came from the front desk that his ride had arrived.

Questions multiplied and sharpened as a man was sent to help him with his baggage.  Someone certainly wanted Aiden up and on-deck fast.  Passing bags and instructions to the hotel worker, Aiden took the data-pad and signed for payment for his lodgings and expenses as they both started moving.  Leading the hotel man and his luggage pallet, Aiden emerged from the inn's front doors to see a waiting ground taxi.  Aiden let out a sigh because he knew how "entertaining" ground travel on this port could be and wished it had been a grav-car.

Soon Aiden and his gear were loaded and the ground car was on its way.  First through port entry security and then winding between burm-protected berths, terminals, transport tubes and other port facilities.  Thinking, as the ground car moved through or stopped in traffic, Aiden wondered what was so important that the Scouts needed to get him moving this quickly?  Porozlo was nicknamed "War world", and that could figure into things, but the brief bits of in-system news Aiden had heard since arrival didn't seem to support that.  Porozlo's problems all seemed surface-based or, at worst, atmospheric, and there were not hot wars going on at the moment.  As far as he knew.

Imperial Crown Royal Residence Hotel,
     Porozlo Starport(Rhylanor Subsector)

     Contrary to common opinion, the person at the top of the pyramid could never sleep easy.  That meant the Now former Executive Director Inger Martinusdtr Vik had developed reflexes that rarely allowed a comms unit to finish its first round of rings before being answered.  Despite the parties, the late night and the simple fact she was retired, this morning was no different.  Answering in a traditional business fashion Inger was sure she'd never loose, she was surprised to find herself speaking to the man who had so confidently stepped into her former position the day before.  That his face was apologetic didn't improve things as they exchanged greetings.  His tone showed he regretted having to call, but Mr. Saaried had as little compunction against moving forward as she did before handing the man her former position.

Eriis Saaried got straight to the point, explaining the wake up call he got from the head of Tukera operations in the system.  His Excellency, Baron Lasiram Kisrari Tukera Uumri was not angry, but presented an urgent and pressing need to assist the Captain of an inbound Tukera ship.  He presented the case requiring the removal of three Imperial Knights from the Tukera ship.  While Baron Uumri didn't demand any diplomatic handling on the port's part, Saaried felt the need to handle this with care.  So, he had a favor to ask of Inger.  For which she would be well paid by the port.

Considering her situation, Inger was glad she hadn't made plans yet for her future travels.  She'd planned on spending the future traveling space and touring the systems she could, until she found a place to settle.  So she'd not unpacked because she'd planned to leave soon.  This morning was supposed to have been spent checking out ships and travel itineraries.  This job would just delay that, and perhaps add some of the adventure she'd hoped to find when she retired.  So Inger gladly told Eriis Saaried she'd help out, and got the details before starting to making her own calls.  She was soon in a port-paid-for taxi on her way.

Dawnstar Horizon, Porozlo Downport
     IISS Berth CO-192 (Rhylanor

     Approximately fifteen minutes after Ryddoth toured the main deck, the team in engineering comm'd him that they were in the "final lap".  They needed him on the bridge to confirm readings as well as activating controls and flight "sim-sequences" to confirm functionality.  It was between these discussions that he got a beep on ship's comms. Checking the digital, Ryddoth saw it was port control and answered,

          Dawnstar Horizon: "Break, Break. SC-Alpha-215 to Control, Go. Over"

          Control: "SC-Alpha-215, be advised. Your corrected flight plan is ready for
             download. Please advise when you have completed download. Over"

          SC-Alpha-215: "Copy Port, Be advised, download commencing now. Over"

As he toggled the download feed and began the transfer, Ryddoth confirmed the file feed.  He watched the monitor to confirm the data transfer indicating feed from the comms to the ship's computer.  It barely took a second, but Ryddoth was called back to business as he realized the port tech had been speaking.

          Control: "....to tell you this until now but we are advised that your crew have
             not been informed of the mission orders.  As such, you are expected to break
             the news.  ETA on your personnel is by 0830 hrs launch.  Control Out."

Great!  Ryddoth thought, Just outstanding!
Ryddoth pulled up the pre-read on the projected flight plan as he considered the situation.

          Equus had made system entry at 0635hrs at zero velocity and made full 1G
          burn for Orbit-Prime. The Dawnstar Horizon was scheduled for launch at
              0830hrs, achieving full out-burn at 0845
          Equus would flip for deceleration at 0941hrs towards a
              scheduled 1247hrs arrival in Orbit-Prime
          Dawnstar Horizon Dawnstar Horizon would flip for deceleration at 0951.5 hrs
          Dawnstar Horizon would flip on her intercept "out-leg" at 1048hrs
              accelerating on the "catch leg"
          Dawnstar Horizon and Equus would match positions and vee at aprox
              1128hrs to do the transfer
          Once undocked, Dawnstar Horizon would make orbit at 1154.5 hrs
              plus passenger transfer times
          Regardless of transfer times, Equus would enter orbit at 1247hrs

Yet Another Mystery

     And there was the missing part.  His crew should arrive any time, and he was expected to be buttoned up and ready for launch at 0830.  That gave Ryddoth about 40 minutes to go.  Considering what to do with so vast an amount of time, he thought about rechecking his own math against the new plan when the comms console beeped again. Checking the readout, he could see it was off the public net.  And blocked!  After considering it briefly, Ryddoth answered:

          Ryddoth: "Dawnstar Horizon, can I help you?"

          Caller: "Hello Sir, I am Aleksander Ropeik, a reporter with "The
                  Orbital Citizen".
             Word on the street is the planetary governor has assigned you as a special
             courier, to escort VIP's in system?  Can you tell me how your crew aboard
             feels about this honor?  Are you honored to be transporting a number
              of Duke Norris' most recently famous troubleshooters?"

Ryddoth shifted uneasily in the accelleration couch as he considered the call and the questions the reporter asked.  Most reporters were only too happy to announce who they were, since it opened doors that otherwise would remain closed.  It also served to spread the name of their news service.  There were also those who had a legitimate need to prevent their identity being known before presenting their case, mostly due to their reputations.  Ryddoth wasn't a follower of the local news-nets, so he did not know of Mr. Aleksander Ropeik.

What bothered Ryddoth was that the reporter was apparently more informed about this run to the liner than he was.  And the fact that the caller had intentionally blocked his number, making it impossible to verify made him suspicious.  Perhaps it was nothing, but a person didn't last very long in the Scout Service if they didn't develop a healthy respect for unknown situations.

          Ryddoth: "Mr. Ropeik, I understand that it might seem odd that the Imperial
             Scout Service would be transporting VIPs within the system.  But all Imperial
             services do this as assets are available, and it's not unusual to have a ship
             that is not committed to a current mission take on normal or official
             passengers who need to travel faster than commercial traffic lanes offer.

          I can tell you from experience that such jobs are pretty common, and rarely
             involve more than simply transporting people from one place to another,
             with little more involvement between the crew and passengers than on a
             commercial shuttle.  We try to make it as comfortable as possible, but most
             people who opt to travel on a one hundred ton Scout are more interested
             in where they are going than what they are going there in.

             As far as Dawnstar Horizon is concerned, I can say that we have received a
             request from the Port authority, via the ISS, to provide transport assistance
             within this system.  Since this ship is still technically part of the IISS, I
             felt obliged to help out as much as I could.  While I can't speak as to how
             credible the word on the street is, I can definitely say that every member
             of the ship's crew I have talked to views our assistance as a service to
             Porozlo and the Imperium."

While he spoke, Ryddoth wondered why these Knights were of such interest to the reporter?  If the troubleshooters he was referring to were the crew he'd be taking to the liner, or those on the liner they'd be meeting?  Ryddoth also wondered why the 'reporter' blocked his ID?  He was very wary of giving out any information about the mission beyond confirming the Horizon was readying to depart Porozlo.  The ship would be traveling to the TMS Equus and she would be transporting passengers and crew to and from that ship.  But that was all public knowledge.  During the conversation, Ryddoth attempted to avoid lying, simply saying "I'm afraid I can't answer that at this time" when a question the reporter asked dug too far.

Dawnstar Horizon, Porozlo Downport IISS
   Berth CO-192 (Rhylanor Subsector)

     After the short trip to the ship's berth, Emkir straightened his uniform while exiting the car and took stock of his surroundings.  In a medium "basic services" berth, the ship was centered in the pad.  It had a "haul cable" ready to lead it out to a launch station.  The port services (except basic comms) had already been disconnected.  The Horizon was a basic 100 ton S Class Scout ship, like the ones he'd spent two years on.  It was a fairly old and used vessel, worn and well scored with re-entry and other service marks despite its apparently recent paint job.

Approaching from the open aft cargo port, Emkir saw several Scout techs exiting as he received his bags from his driver.  In the lock Emkir could see a man, standing in ship's undress (Jumpsuit) with no patches or markings.  He was short, to Emkir's perspective, thin with black(Negroid) skin and medium length brown hair, with a beard and mustache.  As he spoke to the engineers, Emkir noticed the man's big flashing teeth.  The techs answered as they left, ignoring the Admiral except for salutes as Emkir approached the apparent crew member.  The man stood just inside the hatch as Emkir closed and came to a relaxed form of attention while throwing a salute.  He greeted Emkir saying, "Good Morning, Admiral.  Scout Kyle Van Ryddoth, Captain of the Dawnstar Horizon."

Emkir saluted back with, "Good morning Ryddoth, call me Emkir.  Let's get on board so you can fill me in on the situation."  As the Admiral boarded, the scout replied, "Very well, Emkir.  I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but as Captain, I have some duties that I can't avoid.  May I see your ID?"  Emkir offered his Ident card saying, "Certainly, here's my card", with an easy smile.  He waited as Ryddoth thumbed through the Identicard(Ident), glancing up once or twice to presumably compare images and appearance.  While that happened, another ground car pulled up.  Emkir saw a woman of medium height in her mid-30's emerge as the driver pulled her luggage out.  He noted that her long red hair was set off by the brightness of her pale complexion.  Definitely the indoor type.  She was dressed in a civilian style business suit, at the same time severe, professional and a bit soft.  And very clearly expensive.  It didn't take him long before Emkir realized who she was.  Though she was well out of any settings he might have met the port's Executive Director in before.

Ms. Vik made her way to the hatch as Ryddoth finished with Emkir's Ident.  Between Emkir's luggage and hers, it was looking like a hell of a slumber party.  The woman seemed not to expect help with her gear, which appeared well packed for mobility.  Not sure if Ryddoth noted her approach, Emkir nudged the Scout to alert him as he got back his Ident.  Ryddoth turned, with a prepared "official" face for her and, seeing the luggage, asked Emkir, "Admiral, exactly how long did they say this mission was estimated to take?"  As he finished, the civilian pulled up saying "Hi.  I'm looking for the Captain?"  At almost the same time another ground car arrived and they watched as another Scout, tall and of average mass, albanoid with long white hair, stepped out of it.

Ryddoth replied, "You've found him.  Kyle Van Ryddoth", and she turned a bit, extending her hand saying, "I'm Inger Martinusdtr Vik, Captain Ryddoth.  I've been sent to your ship to meet some of your VIP passengers.  Mr. Saaried sent me."  Ryddoth shook hands saying, "Miss Vik, I hope you'll understand that we don't have a great deal of time for formalities, and I don't have time to brief you on shipboard procedures for the Horizon.  As soon as our new arrival tells me who he is, we should be ready to board and can go over exactly what we're doing.  May I see some form of identification, please?"  Emkir noticed Ryddoth didn't correct her calling him "Captain", but wasn't concerned.

As Ms. Vik pulled her Ident, the newcomer arrived saying, "Hi, I am Aidan Radetsky, who do I report to?"  Emkir began wondering about stowing luggage, since it appeared they might be short on time, but waited for Ryddoth.  Ms. Vik handed her Ident to Ryddoth, who examined it as the new arrival introduced himself.  Radetsky also presented his Ident, holding it for Ryddoth and noted Emkir watching him.  Ryddoth finished checking the Idents and said, "OK, it looks like everyone is here.  Let's go on up to the lounge, and we can talk a bit before we lift.  You can bring your things with you, or leave them here in the cargo hold.  But I'd like to close up so we can leave as soon as we need to."  He then stepped aside allowing everyone to enter with their things before beginning to close and secure the bay door.  Emkir said, "Thank you Captain.  I suggest we all secure our gear until we're underway.  No sense lugging it all over the ship."

Emkir moved to the compartment's forward bulkhead, furthest in, and began using the webbing to secure his goods.  He was followed in by Inger Martinusdtr Vik and then Scout Radetsky.  Radetsky paused in front of Ryddoth asking, "Will the mission require depressurizing the cargo bay while in flight?"  With a pause, Ryddoth said, "Unless there's something that changes what I've been told our mission is, this should be a single-day mission that involves possibly taking on passengers in excess of our normal complement and transport of personal items that I can't be certain would withstand a pressure drop.  I don't see depressurizing the bay as necessary right now.  Of course, that may change if the situation changes.  Is there something of yours that you're concerned about?"

Radetsky answered, "No, I Just want to be sure I can get to my gear in mid-flight if need be, Sir."  He then moved past Ryddoth, into the bay to secure his gear.  Scout Ryddoth started closing the cargo bay hatch.  During the process of stowing his gear Emkir noticed Radetsky drawing out a hand gun, though not for combat, and heard Ryddoth say, "Mr. Radetsky, if you are going to draw a weapon on my ship without my orders to do so, I'd like to think there is a good reason.  At the moment, the only two reasons I can see are that you are expecting to use that on someone currently on this ship, or someone about to come aboard this ship.  Which did you have in mind?"  Ryddoth stopped the closing bay hatch as he spoke.

Emkir remained kneeling, discreetly watching Radetsky while he also swiveled slightly towards Ryddoth.  With the turn, Emkir couldn't see Radetsky's weapon any longer, but didn't see anyone tensing for action.  Radetsky answered, "Just planning to stow it in the ship's armory after the briefing Sir.  Do you wish for me to leave it here instead?"  Ms. Vik stood, turning with her back to the bulkhead and nothing in her hands.  Ryddoth told him, "No.  You can keep it until we can stow it in the locker.  I hope you understand that, on many ships, an unfamiliar passenger working a weapon will find themselves off-ship before they realize what they've done.  At best, with little or no serious injury.  I'm assuming you've been on ships enough to understand the worst-case situation that can happen, and I'll leave it at as simple caution that you think twice before taking actions that could be misinterpreted by people who may have just met you."  Ryddoth then began closing the hatch again.

Radetsky acknowledged Ryddoth and finished securing his gear as the others finished theirs.  Emkir stood at an "easy" stance, projecting an air of "I'm ready, you?" as he looked over the others in the bay.  They could see he had a rifle case over his shoulder and was holding a hand gun case too.  The cargo bay was lit by standard "solid core" light rods (engineered to operate when the bay was pressurized or voided) and was well maintained, if old.  At the hatch, Scout Ryddoth wore the piping of a "Detached Scout".  This meant he had left the service but been entrusted with one of the service's older ships.  Such detachments meant the ship would be kept in serviceable order as Captain Ryddoth used it commercially.  Those detachments could be called in to react to a crisis where ships were needed to serve.

Ryddoth stood 5'5, with a Negroid complexion, average build, blue eyes, medium length brown hair, and a beard and mustache.  When he spoke, one would notice his big white flashing teeth.  Large enough to be out of place and bright enough to counterpoint his skin.  He seemed right-handed, and comfortable with operating controls.  He wore "space ship casual", in a jumpsuit and a light jacket with a shoulder patch indicating The "Dawnstar Horizon" and a belt secured with the IISS belt buckle.  (bearing the grey disk of a Detached Scout and the Orange Dragon indicating 4 terms of service)  As they looked him over, Kyle returned the favor with his temporary crew.

Ms. Vik had watched events from the starboard side of the bay.  She returned to her gear once Radetsky answered Ryddoth and, when done stood, casually holding a small arms carrying case and a bladed weapon case.  The Admiral, in full undress uniform, was tall, thin and had short blond hair.  He appeared in his 40's, and mostly worked with his left hand.  He'd gone to the far end of the bay from the hatch and was securing his gear in webbing in that corner.  Eventually, he stood and slung his long arm case over his shoulder, holding a small-arms carrying case.  Scout Radetsky was tall, average weight, in his apparent late 30s or early 40s and an Albino.  He had long white hair, and wore a standard scout uniform with an orange disk on his belt buckle.  Like Ryddoth's, it indicated 4 terms of service.  He seemed right handed, and slung the straps to a long gun and sword case over his shoulder before standing with his holstered pistol before him in both hands at apparent parade rest.

Taking Stock Of The Crew

     With the bay sealed, The Captain turned to survey the group and said, "If you will all follow me up to the lounge before launch.  I see you all have gun cases which you should bring with you and should remain sealed."  With that, he led them to the rear of the bay.  There, a rung ladder rose upward, leading to the ship's main deck through a hatch.  Ryddoth climbed up through the circular hatch. While carrying cases, Emkir turned slightly behind Ryddoth and took a position by the ladder.  With a sweep of his hand, Emkir indicated it saying, "Lady and Gentleman?"  Obviously, he was indicating he expected them to climb up before him.  As Ryddoth cleared the ladder and disappeared from view, Ms. Vik started climbing and Scout Radetsky moved to the ladder.

While she climbed, Radetsky reached the ladder.  Ms. Vik disappeared through the hatch and shortly after that Scout Radetsky began climbing up to the main deck.  Emkir decided to wait until he'd entered the valve before beginning his climb.  As he did, he heard only scattered and disjointed words from above.  Clearing the hatch to the main deck, Radetsky saw Ryddoth finishing as he secured weapons cases, presumably Ms. Vik's, in the ship's locker.  Looking around, Aiden saw this was a standard S class Scout/Courier, like any he'd been on, give or take a scar.  The main 'port to starboard' passage was almost as long as the ship was wide.  They came up through a hand-locking hatch with an Iris valve to their back (to Engineering) and a hand locking hatch to their front(to the common lounge).  The passage seemed to have an iris valve further up and to the right, ending in the ship's weapons locker which Ryddoth had opened.

The Ship's Lounge As Emkir finished climbing, Ryddoth asked, "Could you please secure the hatch Admiral?  We'll be boosting in a few minutes, and I don't think anyone else will need to go back down until we're on our way."  Handing his weapon cases to Ryddoth, Emkir closed and dogged the hatch securely before standing, turning towards Ryddoth and straightening his uniform a bit.  Ryddoth stowed the weapons and asked, "Admiral?  Have you ever worked with Radetsky or Ms. Vik before?"  Emkir said, "No", conversationally and asked, "Why do you ask?"  Ryddoth shrugged and said, "I like to know the crew I work with, and if you'd worked with either before, it might help."

Ryddoth made one last visual scan of the locker before securing it and gestured Emkir through the hatch to the lounge saying, "If you would, Admiral.  I think it's time we had a quick meeting."  Emkir led through the hatch looking left and right as he entered the crew lounge.  To his right he saw a table folded down from the starboard bulkhead.  Seated at it he saw Ms. Vik ( seat D ) and Scout Radetsky ( seat B ) , who seemed to be chatting.  Emkir noted she wasn't wearing any Starport Authority ID logo, which she should be if she were there representing the SPA.  Scout Ryddoth followed him into the lounge, securing the hatch behind him as he did.  Emkir sat in ( seat F ) opposite the others.  Scout Ryddoth had the floor.

Kyle looked at all in the lounge and said, "Again, welcome aboard the Dawnstar Horizon.  We only have two minutes until our boost window comes up, so the meeting I wanted to hold will have to wait until we're underway.  One thing I do need to know before I take the ship up is what experience each of you has working aboard a ship?  Particularly Scout-class vessels like this one?  If we get into trouble, there won't be time to ask."  He then looked to each of them for their answers.  Emkir stepped up first, saying, "I'm better than competent with a ship's computer and old friends with the S-class, if this one isn't modified.  I've served aboard one as a communications officer, managing the intel connections between Lanth and Frenzie, before it was cut off in the war.  I might add, I was at the flight controls once when things got nasty and I cut a mean line of thrust getting us out of that spot.  Of course, I am not really a first line flight officer.  I am good enough for the basics with a vacc suit too."  The answer was "low key" for Emkir, because he'd just met these folks.  So he simply asserted that he was familiar with this class of ship.

After Emkir answered, Scout Radetsky said, "When it comes to piloting a starship, I can get you there.  I served aboard multiple vessels during my service, mostly aboard Scout/couriers in such operations as defensive and border patrols.  I was on the Tracking Star at Caladbolg when the Sword Worlders invaded, and managed, despite being wounded in a boarding action, to get my crew safely out-system and bring warning of the attack to the Glisten subsector when the order came to withdraw.  Through my term of service on a survey cruiser, I learned a basic understanding of scanner work which was improved a little during the latter part of the war scanning for hidden ships.  I'm also competent with zero-g weapons and can handle basic functions in a vacc suit."

Ryddoth decided this was turning into a rather interesting crew.  Cutting Zho lines in the Vilis Subsector was a wild enough ride, but the fall of Caladbolg was an epic series of events.  Sword Worlds ships pouring in-system en mass, with surprise and might at the very start of the Fifth Frontier War, even as the opening moves were made in the Regina Subsector.  The outnumbered and out-gunned defenders of Caladbolg had been fighting for their very lives.  That any survived was a testament to the skills of the scout crews.  Rumor was that the entire compliment of the defending fleets would soon be awarded some kind of award by The Emperor, though not personally.  While much of the reality was not made public, any Scout would know well the horrors faced.  After Radetsky, Ms. Vik started.  First facing Scout Radetsky, "My name is Inger Martinusdtr Vik," before turning to face all in the compartment.

She had a smile on her face, though real or not was uncertain, as she continued, "I served with the Starport Authority for several years, mostly serving with Security.  And I have done some Administration work.  I can handle my 9mm fairly well and I have experience with vacc suits.  I've been on ships like this from time to time, but I've mostly flown in shuttles.  I know enough about engines to help out, if necessary."  She finished, looking in Ryddoth's direction.  Kyle Nodded at Ms. Vik as she finished, and said to all, "Thank you.  Hopefully, things will proceed smoothly and we'll have time to hammer out emergency duty stations when we meet next.  For the moment, if you all would like to make yourselves comfortable, I'll be taking us up.  You're free to use the on-board library or entertainment systems if you wish.  If you want to grab something from the auto-chef, please help yourselves.  Once we're underway and on course, I'd like to get back together to discuss the mission and compare notes.  If all goes well, that should be in about twenty minutes."

Getting Out Of The World

     Ryddoth then glanced at his chronometer and said, "Unfortunately, there's no more time, and we have to boost.  So please make yourself comfortable for the next twenty minutes, and I'll see you then."  With that, he moved forward to the bridge, leaving them behind.  They all knew it would take a few minutes to set for launch.  Nodding before leaving them for the bridge, Ryddoth arrived to see a flashing discreet on the panel indicating the computer was receiving a call on comms.  He looked over the systems displays, checking to make sure all systems were ready as he strapped in for launch.  Ryddoth also checked the passive sensor displays to see if anything was in the way of their flight path.  Then he answered.

          "SC-Alpha-215 to Port, request clearance for departure."

          Port Control: "Copy SC-Alpha-215. We have a flight path clear for you.
             Normally, we take civ ships up under computer control but given
             the situation, would you prefer to take her up manually?"

Kyle said he preferred a manual lift and was granted clearance.  He then opened a channel to the lounge, to tell the others, "We've received launch clearance and are beginning our lift to orbit."  He then took the controls and, keeping one eye on the passive sensors and the other out the viewport, lifted the Dawnstar Horizon out of the downport bay and into the sky.  As the local time hit 0830am, Ryddoth notified Port control they were ready to lift.

Replying, the port controller said:

         "Roger SC-Alpha-215, your lift corridor should be pinging...now.  Your
             lift corridor is free in...3, 2, 1, Now."

Ryddoth saw a slice of his scanning grid highlighted in a familiar pattern as he spoke, indicating their latitude and longitude restrictions during lift and a flashing angle discrete.  Ryddoth also saw a contact fading off the top altitude of the indicated zone, straying into the gray of a "remote contact".  Since they'd been grounded and scale was measured compared to the contact range from the tarmac this was not a worry.

Ryddoth then said, "Copy Port control, SC-Alpha-215 lifting now" as he pulled gently back on the control yoke while up-thrusting the vertical thrusters, to gain some height, before opening on the main thrusters to launch forward.  That done, he pulled the yoke back, to raise his nose and finally pushed the throttle to 75% burn out from Porozlo's atmosphere.  As they lifted, control counted off their progress as nominal and finished as they hit space, giving Ryddoth the channel to pick up Highport controllers on.  He was also given a channel they could use to reach the captain of The Equus at 3.2 light seconds voice-delay out.  With that, port control wished them luck and signed off.

Ryddoth breathed a short sigh of relief, as he always did once the ship had cleared atmosphere and reached the relative free maneuvering of space.  Then, he clicked the comm systems over to the frequency for Highport Control, and said into the mic,

          "High Control, this is SC-Alpha-215. Requesting clearance on transit to
             TMS Equus."

As he waited for a response, he checked the on-board system displays, to ensure the ship's systems were operating within normal flight parameters.  Ryddoth also announced to the lounge that they'd cleared the planet and were en route to the liner.  In his broadcast he told them he'd hold a meeting in 5 minutes, and then took care of house keeping duties before setting the autopilot controls.  After his first broadcast to Highport control, Ryddoth scanned his control readouts but didn't have long to wait.  He heard:

          "High control to SC-Alpha-215, welcome to our sky, Sir." as he confirmed
             normal flight vector.  "We have a nice hole cleared for you and are looking
             forward to seeing you pass again on the way back down."

As he said this Ryddoth confirmed there was indeed a nice open hole in the stream of ships burning in and out system.

          "We have a note here from Equus Actual, requesting you make contact
             at your earliest convenience so he can discuss his 'cargo' issue.  Our
             numbers put them at 3.2 light seconds vox delay".

Kyle frowned a little at the comment. The 'cargo' probably meant the unwanted Knights.  But, if he'd learned anything in his service years, it was not to take anything for granted.  Keying the comm again, he said:

          "SC-Alpha-215 to High Control.  Roger that.  Any indication on what
             tthat 'Cargo' issue is about?"

Receiving Ryddoth's reply, the highport controller came back in a somewhat more professional manner,

          "Sorry 215, a bit of misplaced humor.  To be honest, given the report
             filed by Equus, there is a bet running on how you bring your passengers
             back, lounge, storage locker or cargo bay...with or without vacc suits.
             Sorry for the confusion though.  Good luck with your run pilot."

Ryddoth shook his head, wanting more than ever to learn what he'd been shoved into.  Keying the comm, he said,

          "SC-Alpha-215 to High Control.  Affirmative on that.  I'll get back to you on
             cargo stowage as soon as I figure that out myself.
          215 out."

Bringing the ship into its directed course and setting the autopilot, Ryddoth checked his scanners to make sure all looked clear.  After assuring himself nothing would need his attention for the immediate future, he opened a line back to the Lounge and said, "Ok gentlemen and lady, we've passed high orbit and are on our way.  I'd like to see everyone in the main lounge so we can discuss the mission."  Giving the systems another last check, Ryddoth set the 'telltale' signal to alert him if the ship detected something out of the ordinary (system out of operating range, sensor contact, incoming message, ect).  He then went back to the Lounge to see his crew.

IMV Dawnstar Horizon, passing High
   Porozlo Orbit (Rhylanor Subsector)

     As Ryddoth moved back to the lounge, he found the others still strapped in to their various seats.  Radetsky and the Admiral were more lightly secured than Ms. Vik, but all were looking expectantly at him as he entered.  Looking down the lounge, Ryddoth saw the Admiral to his right sitting near the two work stations and the other two at the table to his left.  Scout Radetsky on the closer side and Ms. Vik on the far side in the corner.  He had the floor once again.

"Well, we've started our run to meet Equus, and they're expecting us to contact them.  I'd like to do that soon, but I think it's time we got all the facts straight on the situation before that.  So let me begin.  I was contacted by the Port, and received orders to travel to the Equus with each of you as crew for the trip.  Once we get there, we are to investigate the situation, and take aboard three Knights of the Imperium who seem to be at the heart of the trouble.  I don't have all the facts, but it seems they may have caused an incident, and we've been instructed to transport them back to the port, as diplomatically as possible."  Ryddoth then folded his hands across his chest and continued, "The fact is that the Captain of the Equus wants the Knights off his ship, and an S-class like the Horizon isn't likely to be what nobility are used to.  That makes me very interested in finding out everything about this mission before we get in over our heads.  Admiral, would you please describe what you've been told about this mission?"

Ryddoth waited for the Admiral's answer and, for brief moment, the Admiral looked confused.  Then, he composed his face in thought.  He said, "I wasn't buzzed out of my rack when the call came in, but I have been officially reactivated by command for this.  And not just reactivated but specifically for the next seven days.  If it is any consolation, they consider this a 'little bump'.  Past that, I was told I would get my instructions aboard, which is odd considering my close relationship to the brass who I handed the reigns over to".  As he said this, there was a grimace which might have been a bit stage as well as a bit real.  He then continued saying, "Knights huh?  I know a lot of those.  Even have a number of them as friends.  What order are they part of?"

Ms. Vik and Scout Radetsky listened first to Ryddoth's introduction and then to the Admiral.  Kyle shook his head in response and said, "I'm afraid they didn't tell me what Order these particular Knights belonged to.  That's going to have to be one of the things we'll have to learn when we get there.  From the sound of things, just one of a dozen."  He then looked over at Radetsky and said, "Mr. Radetsky?" waiting for the other Scout to give his own side of things.  Scout Radetsky shook his head and shrugged his shoulders saying, "All I know is that I was rousted out of bed with notification that I was being reactivated under order 992.  Then told to report to this berth for a week's time by Scout Commander hault-Treeasliin, Senior Scout Officer in-system.  I was told I'd be given mission details at that point.  Other than that, nothing."  Ryddoth nodded as Radetsky ended his account, and then looked to Ms. Vik, indicating that she should be next to speak.

Ms. Vik answered, "I'm as much in the dark as you are." turning to glance at Scout Radetsky.  "In fact, I thought I'd be the only one doing this job.  Glad to hear I'm not the only member of the cavalry."  She smiled as she addressed the group, "Has everyone been asked to do the same job?"  Ryddoth crossed his arms and said, "Ms. Vik.  It might help if you describe exactly what 'job' you've been asked to do?"  Inger leaned back in her chair lacing her fingers in front of her with elbows on the table in a relaxed position.  She looked Ryddoth in the eye, shrugged, and replied, "I'm not sure.  All I was told that it was some SNAFU diplomatic mission, I'd be well compensated, and that I'd know what was going on when I got there.  She then turned to the rest of the group, "If I'm not ringing any bells, just call me the Lone Ranger and I'll move on into the sunset."

Unstrapping himself after Ms. Vik finished, the Admiral stood, saying "Hey, there's no reason to get your back up.  It looks as if we all have been selected for reasons we do not know.  And the ones who chose us might not know either.  So the first question is, now that we are selected, how do we fit in?"  At that Emkir looked around the lounge at each of them.  Ryddoth watched the exchange between Ms. Vik and the Admiral then said, "I assume we'll know more once we contact the Equus, but I wanted to get as much background here before we did that.  I can tell you that the orders relayed to me seemed to indicate this mission would only be a matter of a few hours.  Yet, the rest of you were notified that the mission would probably take at least a week.  That seems odd, and I think you can now understand why I might have seemed confused at your luggage.

That aside, we seem to be something of an ad-hoc crew.  The Admiral and Ms. Vik would seem to have the rank and diplomatic skills to deal with the Knights on a better basis than Radetsky and myself, while at least three of us have experience in space and ship operations.  However, I can't see Imperial Knights enjoying a trip on an S-class like Horizon.  Add to that, these particular Knights seem to have gotten themselves all but thrown out the Equus' airlock, and I think you can see we're going to have our work cut out for us."  Ryddoth then paused to see if anyone had anything to add.  After a brief pause, Admiral Meshrumiikiim cleared his throat getting everyone's attention.

Seeming to have the floor, he said, "Well, I know these boats well and they have more than one channel for comms.  We are not that far out from Porozlo, so I can reach back and see if I can dig up any data on the activities of any Knights in the region.  Or even see if I can find out if there have been Knights in the local or subsector news recently.  Unless you'd like Ms. Vik and/or myself to make contact with The Equus?  Do we know who owns The Equus?  We don't want to assume this is not just some marginal free trader who snagged high passage customers but can't provide the proper level of service."  Turning to Radetsky, he continued, "Scout Commander hault-Treeasliin, huh?  He is a good man and knows his job.  His selecting you says a lot.  It will be good serving with you, and makes me wonder what the rest of our week is going to look like."

With that, he looked back at Ryddoth.  Radetsky nodded to the Admiral, turned to Ryddoth and asked, "If I may, what class of ship is the Equus?  Anything we need to be concerned with?  Also, as the situation with the Knights being unknown, should we take steps to make sure the vital areas of the ship are secure before making contact with her?"  Kyle frowned a bit as he answered, "The Equus is a Tukera Long Liner.  I think we can take it as a given she has all the amenities a liner owned by a Megacorp could afford.  So I doubt that lack of facilities or staff was the cause of whatever happened.  As far as the specifics of the Equus herself, I don't have that data right now but I do know she doesn't have security escorts with her.  That makes me think she can take care of herself.  So, let's hope we don't have to find out, since Horizon isn't armed with anything bigger than what I locked up in the weapons' locker.

As far as securing the ship, that would be a good idea.  We shouldn't have them on-board for more than a few hours, so keeping them out of any place but the upper lounge and here shouldn't be much of a problem from a technical standpoint.  But, these people are Imperial Knights, so I'm not about to assume they can be easily shut out by locks.  We simply don't know enough about them to be sure.  So I'd like to make sure we keep an eye on them while they are aboard.  Also, I think digging up some information about these Knights before we reach the Equus would be a good idea.  I'd prefer we all listen in when we contact the Equus, however.  More chance one of us will pick up on a fact the others might not.  So, let's contact the Equus first, then the Admiral can check back with the port and find out what we can from there.  Any other ideas?"

Ryddoth looked around the lounge to see if any of the others wanted to say anything and considered his options.  He didn't, at that time, want to tell the others these Knights might somehow work for Duke Norris of Regina.  In fact, he wasn't sure he even believed the reporter's claim himself.  After he decided they didn't have anything more to say, Kyle straightened a bit and said, "Since this is our first outing as a crew, I want you all to know the rules I tell everyone who comes aboard this ship.  They aren't complicated, and there aren't many, but they are as binding as any law planetside while aboard the Horizon, and I expect everyone to abide by them.  First, I will not tolerate any action that endangers this ship, or puts it at risk without my direct order to do so.  Second, I will not tolerate any action that intends harm to anyone aboard this ship without my direct order to do so.  What you do dirtside is your business and I won't pry more than you let me, unless I have reason to.  But when you come onto my ship, these are the rules.  Break them, and I will have no conflict of the heart putting you out the iris lock wherever we might be."

Waiting a moment for his words to sink in, Ryddoth continued, "Now that we have that out of the way, let's get back to the mission.  I can tell you the three Knights involved in the problem on the Equus are Dame Mikah Kirlim, Sir Brian Montgomery, and Sir Zimzod Egosion.  Anyone heard of them?"  Ryddoth waited for answers.  There was a brief pause and then a low whistle from Admiral Meshrumiikiim, where he was sitting near the data terminals.  As attention shifted to him, the Admiral straightened up and looked at Ryddoth before speaking.  "I've heard of them of course.  Seems there was supposed to be a party in their favor thrown by Leonard, Duke Rhylanor on Rhylanor prime last week.  But the word was passed about a month past that something had changed and there was no new date for it.  I was invited, due to my position, as well as due to my many friends in those circles".

For some reason Ryddoth had the definite feeling that the last part of that was more affectation than fact, and seriously doubted the Admiral was personally invited.  Meshrumiikiim continued, "It seems they are favorites of our good friend Duke Norris.  They have their titles directly from him given, from what I've heard, in the Garda-Vilis system.  I haven't heard much reaction from Duchy Vilis on the affair but their titles are not yet confirmed.  I assume that's why they were bound for Rhylanor and then the Mora system."

Some jewels Ryddoth took from that were:

          Rhylanor (Rhylanor Subsector):
               One of the most powerful frontier Duchies in the Spinward
               region of The Imperium.  It's a high-tech market world
               on the frontier end of a long trading line that almost
               extends back to the capital system in Core Subsector itself.
               The System and world have been seemingly politically neutral
               for as long as he could remember.  Duke Leonard seems to have
               maintained that well despite the seeming war of words and
               headlines between Norris Duke of Regina and Sector Grand
               Duchess Delphine of the Spinward Marches(ruling from Mora)

          Mora (Mora Subsector):
               Capital of The Spinward Marches Sector and Feudal Liege to all
               Subsector Dukes, their lesser County, Marquisette and Baronial
               vassals and all non-landed or lesser nobility residing in The
               Marches and not at the pleasure of The Emperor more directly.
               Grand Duchess Delphine rules from Mora and is an aunt of
               The Emperor himself, a member of the Imperial Family

Duke Norris, Grand Duchess Delphine and "The Dismissal" were a mix of fact and legend.  The Fifth Frontier War was going badly when, according to history, Duke Norris (who everyone thought was trapped on Regina and ill) strode into the Marches Naval Command.  Using an Imperial Warrant giving him "The Authority of The Emperor Himself", Duke Norris removed Baron Lord Admiral Santanocheev from overall command of Imperial forces.  Additionally, he removed Admiral Santanocheev from all duties and had him arrested and physically forced from the Command center.

Admiral Santanocheev was a Lord, Baron of the Fornice System and a personal vassal and it turned out that he was a Protègè of Grand Duchess Delphine.  According to the news networks, she took the act as a personal insult.  Rumor was that she had written her nephew the Emperor to remove Norris and strip his family of rank.  The "war of words and sleights" had been heating up ever since.  So had events as Duke Norris had moved to Mora himself, with unknown business on Grand Duchess Delphine's personal fief.  Some said he was intentionally drawing her into a real fight to settle the growing issues of authority once and for all.

That made Kyle wonder if the Admiral was lying about some of what he said or not?  If Duke Norris Knighted these folks, how did the Admiral get here first, if they were just arriving?  What changed their schedule a month plus ago?  Why was Duke Norris sending them to Rhylanor or Mora?  And what did the Admiral mean by the titles not yet being "confirmed"?  While nobility and their affairs were something Ryddoth would happily leave to those in Core, it was clear their mission would have a lot of strings attached.  And he didn't want his crew or ship being the ones tangled up in them.  Grimacing at the thought of even more complications to an already-vague assignment, Kyle looked to see if anyone else chimed in.

When they didn't, he said, "Hmmm. I don't like the idea of getting the attention of Duke Norris focused on us.  If these Knights are hand-picked by him, we have to assume the possibility of a sticky situation.  Nonetheless, our job is to transport them downside, and that's what I intend to do."  Looking over at the Admiral, Ryddoth said, "When you said their titles hadn't been confirmed yet, what did you mean?" and waited to hear what the Admiral said.  Clearing his throat, Admiral Meshrumiikiim let his gaze pass over the three others before answering, "When a title is created for a person, it is awarded when it is convenient.  But, by Imperial Law set down hundreds of years ago, it must be publicly confirmed.  That normally happens on high holidays like 'Holiday' at the changing of the years, or The Emperor doing it on his 'Birthday List' and so forth."

What The Admiral referred to was commonly known, but usually little paid attention to by the average "sophont on the street".  The "Emperor's Birthday List" was an occasion when Emperor Strephon elevated many he found to have earned high merit.  He confirmed lesser achievements at other celebrations, but reserved special confirmations for His "Birthday List".  The Admiral then continued, "Not being confirmed" means people may not have heard of the nobleman but does not limit their powers since they are granted.  Of course, if a newly minted nobleman does not make the effort to get confirmed, or be at the confirmation ceremony personally, the rights can be revoked by the confirming authority.  Especially if the confirming noble is not the same person that awarded the title.  I can look into these folks for you, but I am pretty sure Duke Norris was not the person who knighted them."

From where he was sitting, Scout Radetsky frowned and asked, "Has the transport uploaded passenger manifest information for the Knights in question yet?  If so, do we have a starting point to their journey, or at least where they boarded the Equus?  That might give us some information as for what to expect."  Ryddoth looked at Radetsky and shook his head, "I haven't received any other information other than their names.  I want to contact the Equus when we get done here, and that might be something they'd be willing to send us.  We may have to wait until we actually arrive and dock to get that information, though."

As Kyle looked from one person to the other, he said, "As a matter of fact, we can probably go do that right now, if no one has anything else?"  He paused then and looked for any other questions or discussion.  Scout Radetsky, said, "As ship Captain, will you want any weaponry arriving with the Knights secured away from our own?  And if so, how will you want the situation approached with the Knights?"  Again, Ryddoth shook his head and said, "I'd like to keep our weapons and the weapons of the Knights separate", though he realized that might not be possible on a ship as small as Horizon.  "One option would be to put them in the main hold and depressurize it, though that might be a bit extreme.  I'm open to other suggestions, though."

As far as the Knights, I think we offer them the best ride downside we can without compromising our own jobs.  And we extend whatever courtesies we can until such time as the circumstance dictates we stop doing so.  If they were the victims here, we won't do ourselves any favors by getting on the wrong side of a trio of Imperial Knights without good reason.  If, on the other hand, they prove to be the antagonists here, I won't feel a twinge of regret if I have to take them all the way back to dirtside strapped to their chairs."  Pausing, Ryddoth continued, "Again, we'll have to see what the situation is."  And he waited again to see if anyone else spoke up.

Ms. Vik suggested that, unless folks had any other questions, perhaps the group should "adjourn to the bridge and contact the Equus" to find out more about the Knights in question?  She also turned to Ryddoth and asked, "How large is your current crew, and where do you have holes in your crew roster that could be filled by the group assembled?"  Ms. Vik's question showed just how little experience with ship-board operations she had.  Kyle looked over at Radetsky and said, "With luck, we should reach the Equus in about two hours.  Since the Equus' Captain didn't want to wait even the hour or so it would take to reach orbit to get these Knights off his ship, I would expect we won't be docked long once we reach them."

Turning to Ms. Vik, Ryddoth said, "Ms. Vik, ships like the Horizon are designed to operate with very small crews due to their missions.  How small largely depends on the mission and circumstances.  Prior to this morning, this ship was doing shuttle runs for the port.  Not exactly extended period or hazardous work, so the ship was operating at minimum operational crew compliment, or one person.  Myself.  When this new mission came up, I was informed I would be shipping out with three more additions to my crew.  Again, mission requirements and circumstances.  While I can pilot the ship and probably take it anywhere in the system I need to, doing that and at the same time handling three Imperial Knights is another matter."

"So, to answer your question, my current crew size is now four, and the holes in my crew roster are whatever each of you can fill.  I can say that we can use someone on sensors, another on the engines, and someone on the comms, but we could also use someone trained as a medic.  And it probably wouldn't hurt to have a co-pilot.  None of that is actually required to fly the ship if everything is normal, but if things go downhill and we get into a situation, any and all of those things could be what makes the difference."  Glancing at his wrist chronometer, he said "But I also agree that it's probably time we talked to the Equus and found out why we're all up here in the first place?  Let's head up to the bridge and figure out who's going to do what afterwards."  Looking at each of them, Ryddoth watched to see if anyone had something else to say?  Silently, he'd decided to talk to the Equus first, then pick his crew, knowing he should have the time after the decel turnover.

Bridge, Dawnstar Horizon, Outbound from
     Porozlo(Rhylanor Subsector)

     Ryddoth also said he could add them the the ship's security once on the bridge, so they'd be ready when they docked with the Equus."  The Scout Admiral said, "I am certain we have time for that after we contact Equus, since the anti-hijack is not on-line yet.  In any event, we haven't flipped for decel yet, so we're not even halfway done with our outbound run and have time".  He then gestured with his arm, leading forward even though he was aft of Ryddoth, and said, "Scout Ryddoth" as if inviting him to lead the way to the bridge.  At the moment, they had a good twenty or more minutes to go before they had to make course corrections, so Scout Radetsky stood up, watching Ryddoth and waiting.

Ms. Vik stood from behind the table, not immediately coming out into the open, and appeared ready to follow when everyone got moving.  And as people started moving, Ryddoth had to make some decisions.  He considered putting one person in the co-pilot's seat and having another stand between his console and the co-pilot's.  But one of them would have to stand just outside the door, leaning in because there wasn't enough room to get all four people on the bridge.  One item that could be "stacked" into this maneuver was designating a co-pilot, and asking that person to remain outside while the diplomatic steps were taken.  That or awarding that person the CP seat and relegating one of the others to the access passages.  Another tack would be to choose one of his "diplomats" and have the other two use the comms in the lounge, to reduce the number of "cooks in the kitchen".

Ryddoth said, "Alright, let's go see what the Equus can tell us."  Turning, he led the way up to the bridge, but stopped after opening the hatch.  Turning to the others, Ryddoth said, "The bridge is designed for a crew of two, so things are going to be crowded.  Since we're looking at a possible diplomatic situation, I'd like Admiral Meshrumiikiim and Ms. Vik to be in here for the conversation, in case they need to participate.  Radetsky, I'm going to ask you to stay in the passage here so that you can still hear what's going on."  Moving into the pilot's seat, Kyle indicated the co-pilot/navigator's seat and said, "Admiral, if you'd take the seat, Ms. Vik should be able to stand in the center."  Ryddoth waited for everyone to take their positions before continuing.  Radetsky stopped outside the bridge iris valve, but did try to position himself so he could see and hear what was said inside.

Calling Equus

     In the pilot's position, Ryddoth did a quick once-over, visually checking the status of both the ship and the space around it.  This was more habit than actual concern and, this deep in the system, he didn't expect anything out of the ordinary.  Satisfied, Kyle triggered the comms saying, "TMS Equus, this is Dawnstar Horizon Actual.  Request comms with Equus Actual for discussion of current situation and transfer procedures.  Over."  He then paused waiting for the six moments at light speed.  The speaker soon came to life as a voice broadcast out, "Copy, Horizon Actual, hold one for Captain Oforoa, Sir."  There was then a pause before the Captain of the Equus came on.  "Hello Captain.  We are receiving a tight beam from one of our sister ships in-system, so we are unable to modify our course.  Can you beam us your flight plan on a laser?"  From the sound of his voice, the Captain of the Equus was tired and perhaps just a note hopeful.

The Captain then continued, "Sorry to get right to business Captain, but there are some things you should know.  These Knights seem psychotically convinced that my crew holds data they do not.  It has gotten out of hand, so much that I have seen fit to store their possessions in a depressurized and guarded cargo compartment.  And understand, we will only return that gear to them via a zero-g hand off between my crew and yours at our rendezvous point.  Now, understand, there are questions I can't answer on my honor, but I will satisfy your questions as best I can."  As the Captain of the Equus finished, Ryddoth heard Scout Radetsky mutter "Swell" and glanced at the door he was outside of for a quick second before setting the comms laser to track Equus' position.  Once the lock and ID were confirmed, he keyed the radio and said, "Transmitting data.  Stand by to receive."

Ryddoth gave them at least four minutes to receive his words and ready their own receiving array, he sent the course data to the Equus.  Afterwards, he again keyed the channel to the Equus and said, "Understand that hand off of Knight's personal effects will be by zero-G transfer.  Could you please elaborate on the situation with the Knights?  Specifically, what happened that led you to request a mid-course transfer rather than simply off-loading them when you made port?  And what has happened since? Over."

Ryddoth then looked to see if any of the others had anything to add while he waited for the reply?  Now on tight beam secure comms, the Captain opened up a bit... He sounded a bit uncomfortable as he said..
     "To begin with, we were en route when the Knights were brought aboard.  They
     were not conscious, nor had they made the choice to join our passengers.
     Beyond that, I can and will not say more, for reasons I also can not discuss.  We
     were tasked with transporting these persons to Rhylanor as full paid passengers
     aboard my ship, catering to them as much as possible under the circumstances.
     The one thing we do not have is further data on the ship that delivered them.  It
     was flying 'black', and gave no indication of its home system or any connections.
     Those who delivered them were Humans in vacc-suits with visor covered face
     plates.  They were very emphatic that the Knights be treated properly, and
     conveyed to us the limitations I have mentioned earlier.

      As for the issues we are having, The Knights are understandably upset about
     having been...in their words...kidnapped and finding themselves aboard.  Despite
     our every effort, they remained convinced our crew and computer held enough
     data to determine the world they were on when they were last awake.  In fact,
     they were and may still remain convinced that my crew and I were involved in
     their kidnapping.

      So it has been an increasingly uneasy voyage as they have been trying to
     intoxicate, intimidate and ultimately assault members of my crew.  They finally
     crossed a line with an organized move to gain entry to our cargo bay, where
     they armed up before attempting to assault and take my bridge".  After a brief
     pause that may have signaled some exhaustion, the Captain continued, "Only
     our entire experience with and advanced monitoring of The Knights allowed us
     to be prepared to trap and contain them.

      After a brief standoff with the Knights locked in a voided compartment, we
     were able to disarm them and take control of the situation.  Since then, the
     Knights have dressed in garments we have provided and been escorted from
     locked individual accommodations by members of my purser's department.
     I've requested they be taken from my ship to the downport to prevent them
     from hiring mercenaries and attempting an all out assault against my ship,
     crew and passengers while we are in port.  I apologize that I can say no more
     about many of the circumstances but we live in uncertain times.  I am just
     glad we have the means to resolve this without further hazard of combat."

                   "Flying Black" is a term for ships with their markings removed and
                   transponders turned off and transmissions masked.  Usually ships flying
                   ships flying black are pirates who are also painted black, hence the

As the Captain spoke, the Admiral said, "I wonder if the Captain can, or will, tell us what class vessel the Knights arrived on?"  Ms. Vik observed, "If whoever speaks to the Knights does it right, we shouldn't have to worry about being hijacked, but, you're right.  We should take precautions.  Who wants to speak to the Captain?"  Ryddoth looked at them and said, "Admiral, you seem to be the most experienced with Imperial Knights, while Ms. Vik might have some pull with the Captain, as a representative of the Port.  If we decided to split the talks that way, do you think you can find out what the Knights are doing?  And if they pose a threat?"  Ms. Vik considered and said, "That sounds like a good plan", with a look at Ryddoth, "Would you ask the Captain if he would be willing to speak to me in his office?"

Leaning closer to the comms to transmit again, Ryddoth asked, "I have a representative from the Port aboard, who would like to meet with you when we rendezvous.  Would it be possible to dock prior to the transfer of the Knights, so the port representative might meet you in your office?  I'd also like another member of my crew to check the status of the Knights prior to the transfer, to see what preparations we'll need to make aboard Horizon before the Knights come aboard.  From what you've told me, I think you understand that an S-class isn't the sort of ship that handles...'disruptions'...well."  An interesting, comment, as the class were among the most flexible craft in the Grand Imperial Fleet.  It made some wonder what Ryddoth was thinking?

There was a pause, as light cris-crossed space carrying words before the speaker came to life... Captain Oforoa answered, "Captain, I do understand your concerns, and I am willing to meet with your people and have them check on the Knights.  But you must understand.  I need to keep this ship secure, and not cause problems for my other passengers.  I have ordered my second officer to head up our deck hands so you need only open your cargo bay and have a vacc suited crew member to coordinate the delivery.

If you don't mind, I would like to commence with that operation as soon as we can after docking.  I can meet with the port official during that transfer, while you satisfy yourself about the condition of the Knights.  Once more, I can't stress that the intent of this is to get the Knights off my ship without incident, and prevent them from trying anything until we have moved on."

Ryddoth sat back a moment, to think and give the others on the bridge a chance to voice any thoughts they had before replying.  Clearly, Equus' Captain would have liked nothing more than shooting the Knights at his ship like missiles as soon as the Horizon opened her bay doors.  Ryddoth didn't like the idea of such a quick transfer, both for the risk of an accident while rushing to get the job done and the chance the Knights might have actually stumbled onto something going on aboard the ship.  Still, they'd been ordered up here to transfer the Knights dirtside.  That alone made it seem likely the Knights were in the wrong, and limited his own options.  Ryddoth fingered his beard in thought as he waited for the other's comments.  A silence stretched, a bit uncomfortably, until Scout Radetsky said from the door, "I agree with Equus' Captain.  We should transfer the cargo first and have it secured before transferring the Knights.  I'll volunteer to work with someone to secure it."

After Radetsky spoke, the Admiral said, "If we're going to transfer their gear in a zero-g transfer, we are going to need one or more persons to go EVA and manage the transfer with Equus' people while we have a pilot up here.  Given what each of us has asked and planned, it makes sense to do the transfer before we take on the Knights.  If we try to take them aboard during the transfer, we can only send two people aboard Equus to investigate the situation.  And if we do it after, we will only have a maximum of two people to contain the Knights during the operation."  As Emkir said his piece, Ryddoth considered his own vacc suit skills.  He was familiar with the basics of vacc suits, and zero gravity operations.  Once the Admiral finished, Ryddoth got another message from Equus' Captain, "Please respond my last, Dawnstar Horizon.  Should I take your silence as an acceptance?"

Bridge, Dawnstar Horizon, Outbound from
    Porozlo(Rhylanor Subsector)

     Not blocking the access to the bridge as she stood between the pilot and co-pilot's positions, Ms. Vik said, "Ask the Equus how much cargo we're talking about?  I'm comfortable going over by myself, unless someone else is itching to come along.  Besides, if one person is handling the cargo transfer, that might buy me more time to speak with the Captain.  I have a feeling my time will be up as soon as passengers and cargo are aboard the Horizon."

In the passageway Scout Radetsky was apparently whistling some song.  Despite Ryddoth's background, he was not familiar with the tune, though he thought it was either Solomani or Neo-Solomani in origin because of its meter and structure.  Ignoring Radetsky, Ryddoth toggled the transmit key and said, "Affirmative Equus.  We'll have our crew standing by when we dock up to transfer the container.  Also, the port representative has asked to speak to you during the transfer, to save time.  She would like to know the best way to transit to your office once we've matched." before releasing the key and waiting.  Some few minutes later the response came from Equus, "Copy Horizon.  Will you have your own crew to take the cargo container or do you want my people to place it inside your bay?  And, is the port officer willing to EVA over, or will she prefer to cross after we are docked?  We will, of course, dock before we begin the transfer, just to be safe."

Ms. Vik answered, "I'll wait until the ships are docked."  Ryddoth began changing settings on the console as he told the rest, "We're about to execute our deceleration spin, so you might want to go back and secure yourselves until we're stable again.  While I don't think there will be any problems, there's no sense in taking chances."  He knew that integral inertial dampeners should "eat" the maneuver gee's most likely, but there was no need to take chances."

Ryddoth didn't mention that, perhaps, the boat had some issues with some of her older systems...  But only riding the flip would tell.  Ryddoth then asked, "Radetsky, I'd like you to take the copilot position for this" before returning to configuring the ship for the maneuver.  Radetsky asked, "Do you want me to supervise the cargo transfer?  Also, we'd better get logged into the security net before we dock", while the Admiral started unbuckling himself.

Ryddoth started the pre-burn check on the ship while also waiting for a possible response.  The Admiral and Ms. Vik started to clear the bridge and Radetsky slipped past them to assume the co-pilot's seat.  He began checking the ship's general systems as the console was open (able to be used by anyone) at the moment, and began checking the ship's sensors.  The sensor readout showed what Aiden expected as normal traffic for an inbound corridor of space around a world with significant trade.  He noted, as expected, that they were outbound, but in a designated inbound flight corridor because they were intercepting an inbound craft.  The current sensor status was passive, so they were receiving significant signals from ships flying with transponders and other gear active in a busy system.  Despite this, they didn't have any active scan from the Equus.

They were receiving a starport-provided schematic of the system that provided a position for Equus ahead of them, just under half a million kilometers (approx. 445, 000 miles) and closing.  Given that, comms were delayed 1.5 light seconds and intercept should be fairly simple.  On an unrelated mental note, Aiden worked it in his head that the Horizon was some 7.5 times the range of normal civilian-available ship's lasers, but should already be able to directly acquire Equus with on-board sensors if he decided to go active.

As Aiden considered the sensors, Ryddoth considered Aiden's offer to handle the cagro and told him, "Yes.  I want you to handle the transfer when we reach the Equus.  That will leave the Admiral and Ms. Vik free to investigate what's going on aboard that ship.  We'll meet after the flip maneuver, to iron things out.  As for access to the ship, we'll look into that once we get done here.  We should have enough time for that and getting the rest of ship assignments set up."  His comments were overheard by Ms. Vik as she went aft.  She replied, "After the flip maneuver and before we meet, I'd like you or I to do a quick info search on the Equus and her Captain.  I'd like to know something about the man before going aboard."

On the heels of her comments, Radetsky asked, "Do you think we'll need to be armed on their arrival?  If so, are there any stunning weapons on board?  I didn't bring anything non-lethal."  In fact, Aiden had brought weapons that could be non-lethal, but the "tranq" ammunition for his snub pistol was stowed in his gear.  He also asked if he could use the comm gear to talk to the Equus' cargo master, to start setting up the transfer?  Ryddoth continued aligning the controls for the maneuver and answered both Radetsky and Ms. Vik.  "The plan is to decelerate and then catch the Equus.  So it will be a little over an hour and a half before we dock.  That should give us time to use the Porozlo data-net to do an information search on the Equus, and also get their cargo master on the comm.  It also gives us a little time to take care of some administrative matters before we have our 'guests' on-board.

As far as weapons go, we don't have any non-lethal weapons on board.  While we could probably improvise some, if we face a serious enough situation to actually need weaponry, I think we'll need all the firepower we can get.  That aside, I'm not certain if we really want to greet three Imperial Knights with drawn weapons.  Ignoring the legal problems, it could set off a confrontation, either right there or on our way back.  For now, I want to see what we can find out about the Equus before I decide about weapons."  Ryddoth then called up a display of the flight plan on one of the bridge video displays and shunted it to a copilot display so Radetsky could see the plan.  Ryddoth continued to work on ship's systems and flight requirements as Radetsky examined his screens.  While Aiden got a feel for his boards, Ryddoth began setting up video displays with timers set alongside a graphic of the flight plan to broadcast on all in-ship displays.

And while Ryddoth worked, Radetsky verbally confirmed all rendezvous maneuvering data with him.  An old spacer habit when swapping bridge crew.  After Ryddoth had it confirmed, he asked Radetsky to confirm it with the Equus.  Radetsky reached for the comms section of his console while Ryddoth got an intra-ship ping and heard the Admiral ask, "Scout Ryddoth, can you give us an ETA on when we can start using the computers to do any research?"  It wasn't surprising that Admiral Meshrumiikiim could use the comms as Intra-Ship was not currently locked down.  Ryddoth toggled the intra-ship saying, "As soon as we complete the flip, I will be updating the comm for each of you.  I'd do so now, but I want to complete the maneuver first, in case something comes up during the update.  With luck, you should be able to do research a few minutes after we stabilize."  Ryddoth then released the comms toggle.

Dealing With The Equus

     Before calling Equus, Radetsky pointed the earbud out to Ryddoth, in a silent question if he should go private on the line with the Equus.  Ryddoth shook his head, pointing to the speaker, and sat back, monitoring the drives and power boards.  As this happened, Radetsky also pulled up the schematics of the Long Liner ship class, to begin figuring out where to dock?  At still better than 500,000 Kilometers distance, Aiden had the Equus "on scope" magnetically, but couldn't do any detail scans.  The ship's software could only confirm the general details as matching the class of a Tukera Long Liner.  A more detailed scan would be available after the ship crossed 170 thousand clicks distance.  Calling up the stats from the ship's computer on a secondary screen, he and Ryddoth saw:

             The Tukera long liner was a proprietary design, operated on many of
             Tukera's routes as a standard passenger liner.  A sturdy design, intended to
             last in service for many decades, the long liner maintains a standard
             of quality that other lines try to match.

Tukera Long Liner              Tukera's long liners are named to
             recall the worlds they serve: Pride
             of Vland
, Deneb Express and
             Spirit of Rhylanor, for example.

             The details were:
                  1,000 ton TL 15 Maneuver 1,
                   Jump 4, Agility 1, One
                   Mod 4 Computer Installed Active
                   and Passive EMS backing up: 2
                   Beam laser turrets, 2
                   missile turrets and 3 sand turrets,
                   14 normal Crew, one Ship's
                   boat(Launch) and 18
                   standard passenger staterooms

             Access points:
                Lowest deck(Deck 1): Forward cargo deck doors
                   open under the entire nose of the craft, Iris
                   valve air/lock along forward starboard 4 meters
                Aft of the nose Deck 2(Passenger Deck): Iris valve
                   air/lock along forward starboard 4 meters back from the
                Deck 3(Crew Deck): Iris valve air/locks along forward Port
                   and starboard 4 meters back from the nose and an air
                   lock dead center aft out of engineering.
                Deck 4(Fuel / Launch deck): Iris Valve air lock Top center
                   of this ship, Access to the aft/top launch bay

Using the speaker, Radetsky comm'd the Equus and asked to speak to the cargo master.  After a few minutes of back and forth and lag, they connected him to the ship's Third Officer(the chief engineering officer).  Aiden quickly learned the cargo deck was a sub-responsibility of his department.  The officer offered, "We are running smooth, so what would you like to talk about?"  Radetsky asked, "We are en route to rendezvous with you and transfer the Knights and cargo.  Could you give me an estimate of the mass, as well as which air-lock you will want to connect to?  Finally, are there any security precautions you had to take that we need to know and/or implement?"

Radetsky worked with the other officer while Ryddoth continued fine-tuning preparations for the flip and decl-burn stage of their outbound flight.  While he worked, Ryddoth listened to the conversation while Equus' officer gave up little new information.  Still, he firmed up the transfer protocol with Radetsky.  As Equus understood the plan, they would dock with Horizon to transfer the Knight's.  The "cargo" would be floated from cargo bay to cargo bay while the port official boarded, via the air locks.  And, she wanted to speak with Captain Oforoa.  While that happened, the Admiral was also expected to board Equus and check on the status of the Knights as the EVA teams moved the cargo into Horizon's bay, under Radetsky's supervision.

Unless prompted by Radetsky, the third officer avoided all other mention of The knights, though it was obvious he had some feelings about them.  As he spoke to the officer, Ryddoth assumed Radetsky was also fine tuning the scanners.  He had noticed he could see finer details after 09:40, showing the Equus was in deceleration, as expected.  This was comforting because everything was going down as planned.  So far.  Ryddoth continued monitoring the ship's systems while checking his math, especially the required spin angles on all axis to get the proper heading.  He then pushed them to the computer and checked the reaction mass needed to change headings.

Settling In And Outward Bound

     Finally, at 09:48, the conversation was done.  Ryddoth said he'd better warn the others to buckle up "just in case".  He then keyed the intra-ship comms, pausing briefly, before saying, "Hello, we are ready to perform the flip maneuver to allow the Horizon to slow into an acceleration position and catch the Equus.  Please strap yourself in, in case of a gravity fluctuation."  That said, Ryddoth waited a few moments before playing his fingers across the boards and activating the course changes laid in.  As the seconds burned past, and the ship conducted its silent gymnastics, they all found themselves "waiting for nothing".  Then, a slight pull was felt with the first firing of the ship's engines to decelerate.  The 'tug' was a minor concern, even though the inertial dampeners should have handled the entire maneuver.  While not alarmed, Ryddoth used an aux keypad to check the status of the dampeners.

Seeing no problems, he set the system to log the performance monitors, so he could see if any needed work when Horizon got back to the port.  Showing her age, the inertial compensators quickly caught up to the ship's new flight path and all was secure.  With that done, Ryddoth again keyed the intra-ship, announcing, "Folks, we are exactly where we should be, with the correct heading, and following the preset velocity control.  I'd like Ms. Vik and Admiral Meshrumiikiim to remain where they are and we'll join you once we secure the bridge."  As Ryddoth spoke, Radetsky completed his work, shunting Ryddoth a new schematic of the system and local traffic.  It was improved because of his work with the sensors.  Ryddoth noticed Radetsky had verified Equus' sensor data and aimed a laser antenna in case there was a need for more comms.  Seeing that, Ryddoth muttered absently about needing to add everyone to the ship's crew roster before heading aft.  As Radetsky finished working, Ryddoth played his fingers over the aux keypad bringing up a GUI display on another aux screen.

He then stepped through adding the three crew in the computer's system.  For positions, he designated Radetsky as co-pilot, Admiral Meshrumiikiim as the engineer and Ms. Vik as ship's steward.  The last was unusual for a ship of this class, but the crew position type was available and Ryddoth didn't know where else she fit in.  He quickly checked permissions for each, and activated the ship's anti-hijack/security systems.  Radetsky quickly saw a display pop up on one of his screens with a "log in request", showing a user name drop down and a password box.  As he touched the drop down, Ryddoth told him his password was "enter", in small letters, which he should know could be entered from the keyboard embedded next to the auxiliary displays.

Radetsky entered in his password and automatically changed it to his birthday, in reverse order.  He then checked ship status, and the relative velocities, before asking the Captain if he wanted to recode the arms locker and add any weapons they might have left in the bay to the locker before docking?  Ryddoth looked at Radetsky with a little surprise saying, "Would there be any weapons left?  I thought we'd secured all of them prior to lift."  He then raised an eyebrow as he asked, "Unless there's something specific you might have in mind?"

In the lounge, Ms. Vik examined her surroundings more during the flight.  She was in the common compartment of the Dawnstar Horizon, sitting at the only apparent full size table.  It appeared to be used for eating, work and entertainment.  She had her back to the compartment's aft bulkhead.  To her left was the outer bulkhead of the compartment, holding the largest of a number of data screens.  All of them currently showing a graphic of the ship's flight plan as well as that of the Tukera long liner Equus.  Forward, she saw the passage leading to the bridge, with sliding pocket doors leading off left and right behind which were the ship's fresher( bathroom ),staterooms and computer room.  The common area continued to her right, where Admiral Meshrumiikiim was busy apparently trying to hack access to the ship's data systems.  Inger was waiting for the ship's apparent owner and Captain, Ryddoth, to grant her access so she could do research on a number of things.

Her first concern was to find out about the Knights of The Imperium that they'd been sent to deal with, Sir Zimzod Egosion, Dame Mikah Kirlim, Sir Brian Montgomery.  Then, the the recent history and crew of the Tukera long Liner Equus.  Ms. Vik had been aware the Horizon was heading out to a point, ten minutes off, when she would flip end for end and decelerate.  She would then accelerate again to "catch" up as that ship approached Porozlo-Prime orbital space.  While she sat waiting, Inger made small talk with the Admiral as he worked.  Besides the obvious, 'Don't you think Ryddoth will have issues with you hacking into his ship's computer', she asked what the Admiral knew about nobility in general, and these Knights in specific?  She also asked about some of the politics in the sector as he mentioned items.  Ms. Vik was also curious about his general history.

From the start, the Admiral insisted she use his first name, 'Emkir', as this job was "officially unofficial".  He explained that he was retired, and only aboard because of a need for someone seemingly important to hand hold.  He doubted this "assignment" would be anything serious.  During the conversation, she learned the Admiral had heard that the Knights had been involved with some issue or other along the border with the Sword Worlds Confederation and the Imperium a few years back.  He mentioned, at several points, places he might know personally, but shied from direct conversation of his past service.  Emkir appeared to know the area of space he thought they were involved in surprisingly well.  He also discussed the nobility of the area in fairly good detail.  Especially the Duke of Vilis, and his capital in Frenzie system.  Almost as if he perhaps was a close friend.  When asked, he denied having any title or claim to nobility.  He spent his time chatting while working at the ship's data security.

While Emkir hadn't succeeded hacking in, he was also not locked out, showing he'd either not pushed the security hard or knew ways to circumvent a lockout.  If the Admiral was correct, Inger learned, the Knights had been of direct service to the Imperium, the Duke of the Vilis subsector( 1/16th of the Spinward Marches Sector) and Duke Norris.  That Duke controlled the Regina Subsector.  While not saying so, Emkir's comments suggested he might know the people, or have experienced some of the events involved with the Knights in the region.  While he didn't discuss his connections, if any, the Admiral had obviously reached this region much faster, or more directly, than the knights if he had been involved.  Obviously, he'd spent the last year working in the Porozlo system.  He did mention it would be interesting "meeting" these knights, so it was obvious he didn't know them personally.

At 09:48 local, the conversation ended when the two heard Ryddoth announce, over the ship's internal comms, that he was ready to perform the flip maneuver that would allow the Dawnstar Horizon to slow until she was in position to accelerate and catch the Equus.  Ryddoth made the announcement a few minutes early, to let them secure themselves in the event the ship's internal gravitics fluttered and "UP" was effected by the flip.  During the pause, the Admiral stopped his hacking briefly to secure himself and the terminal keyboard.

At 09:50, Ryddoth announced the flip, which went so smoothly they found themselves waiting for any effect before they realized it was done.  Then, the deceleration burns started.  Soon after that, everyone felt a short sensation, as if being pushed aft.  Quickly, the ship's grav plates normalized to the maneuver and Ryddoth announced the ship was exactly where it should be, on the correct heading and following the preset velocity control.  He asked them to please stand by before an 'all hands' meeting would be held in the common area.  Soon after that, the Admiral sat up with a comment of, "At Last".  Inger turned to look at his back and she could barely make out a new GUI on the screen he was working with.  Either he'd hacked into the system or Scout Ryddoth had added him.  She watched as "Emkir" began typing, but didn't immediately move off the GUI screen for any of a number of reasons.

The Ship's Lounge Soon, Ryddoth and Radetsky appeared out from the bridge heading for the lounge.  Inger waited in her seat while Emkir continued to work at the GUI.  As Ryddoth led Radetsky into the crew lounge, he could see the Admiral working at the log in screen.  The Admiral repeatedly typed incorrect passwords until Ryddoth said, "Your temporary passwords are the word 'enter', all in lower case".  With that, the Admiral finally managed to sign into the ship's data systems.  Ryddoth watched a few seconds more, to verify he'd gotten in and then got everyone's attention.  He then said, "That goes for both of you, when you decide to log in Ms. Vik."  Not sitting near a data terminal, she nodded but didn't immediately change seats.

Ryddoth then said to Radetsky, "Shall we sit?" and moved to grab a seat.  Both Ryddoth and Radetsky first moved towards an open seat at the table with the workstations ( Seat E on the graphic provided ). Radetsky asked, "If you are not going to do any searches, may I have the seat?"  Ryddoth canted his head and said, "Actually, I believe all of us should be actively searching.  But there are wireless sets available for any seat."  He then showed Radetsky where they were, and directed the copilot to one of the seats at the table.

After Ryddoth sat, Radetsky returned to the seat he'd been in before ( Seat B on the graphic above ).  Then, Ryddoth continued from before, saying "Well, we have completed our first flip maneuver and are right on schedule for the second leg of this trip."  Pointing to the large display on the starboard wall, he continued, "We will decelerate until we come to the point where we need to flip again, so we can increase velocity and catch Equus.  That should give us just over an hour.  Plenty of time to pool our knowledge and do some real research on our situation."  With that, he paused and scanned the group.  Once any comments were dealt with, Ryddoth readily admitted he had no knowledge of the Knights, other than a vague memory of maybe having read something about them.

He asked again, especially looking at the Admiral, what was known about them?  And what may have caused them to have been apparently kidnapped?  He supported that by saying they obviously were not on the ship by choice, or their own design.  And, based on what the Captain of the Equus reported, the issue seemed to be largely based on getting information on who knocked them out and shanghaied them there?  Everyone agreed that research on who they were, what they were known for doing and on the route of travel and recent history of the Equus would be good.  Ryddoth then said, "I want to be absolutely clear.  We can't have any weapons accessible to these Knights at any point.  If there are weapons on board that I don't know about, now is the time to clear that up.  Right now, everything should be locked up in the ship's locker.  So is there anything I need to know about?"

In the pause, Radetsky admitted to a small collection of TL 5-7 handguns in his duffel, because he was a collector.  Ryddoth gave him an appraising look before he said those would have to be moved and stored in the ship's locker.  He then continued, "Which reminds me, I think we'll have to decompress the cargo bay after all.  So, if there is any issue there, I need to know.  In the meantime, we should have just over an hour.  Plenty of time to pool our knowledge and do some real research on our situation."  When Ms. Vik asked if they should consider arming themselves with non-lethal weapons, Ryddoth was all for not being armed, and wasn't aware of any non-lethal weapons aboard.

He didn't know Radetsky and Ms. Vik each had a non-lethal weapon.  Radetsky's snub pistol could load tranq rounds, and Inger's shock cane.  Once he made that known, it was decided Aiden would dig out his ammunition and he and Ms. Vik could be armed to subdue.  After some scrounging, and the location of salt rounds in the ship's locker, Radetsky planned to load his shotgun with those while the Admiral holstered Radetsky's revolver.  But that would happen before they took their positions when Horizon and Equus finally docked.

Once the weapons were sorted, they talked about research ideas and Aiden volunteered to research the history of the Equus until needed on the bridge.  Ryddoth said, "I suggest Emkir research one line on one workstation, say The Knights, while Ms. Vik looked into Equus' recent flight path on another.  This would let her use her Port Authority credentials and access.  Radetsky and I will do some general research into local politics, and anything related to nobles (i.e. Norris, Delphine, Leonard, etc.) along that path or in the general region."  He didn't add that he'd glance at the latest edition of the "Orbital Citizen", and anything written by this Aleksander Ropeik.

Ryddoth continued for Ms. Vik's sake, "As for research, there are workstations in each stateroom and you can deploy two wireless systems in the ship anywhere.  There are also two stations on the bridge and the several in the upper gallery and sensor lab.  So, there are plenty of places to do research from.  You can each work alone, in groups or as a team."  With that, the crew broke up and got to it.  As they worked, and before they made final approach on Equus, they tried to dig up information on the Porozlo World-net but were unable to find very much of value.  They did find news items on the Knights elevation, as well as data they already had leads on, but only the event, not the reasons.

Next: The Transfer