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A Real Cure And
          A False End

Ms. Vik Learns Of The Cure

Risek      On the SPA port, Ms. Vik made plans to work more with the Captain of the Skipping Stone as well as the Captains of the three new vessels.  But she realized she needed something that would tempt them to wake their greed.  If she could offer them something of obvious and significant value, she thought someone was bound to say, "I know a guy..."  Realizing the many issues traveling back and forth to get gear from the ship would cause.  Inger also realized she had little to spark the interest, or financial lust, of a potential dealer.  So, she went with plan B, and considered her team.  As far as she knew, the ship was out of reach for the time being, and Rol, to her knowledge, had even less than she had.  That left the team on the arcology, so a call over was in order.

Opening a comms to Mikah, Ms. Vik told her what she had in mind, asking if the Knight could suggest anything of value to offer?  Mikah, in the middle of testing samples from her subjects, jumped right in saying, "How about a cure to the plague?"  Stunned, Inger could just stutter out, "For real??" and Mikah matter of factly said, "We believe so."  After a pause to take in all the conversation now meant, Inger said, "I may need that, but not now, thank you."  Still stuttering a bit over the scale of the revelation, Inger continued, "I don't know how I would get it but, let me wait until I need it.  Ok?"  Mikah just answered, "OK, we're finishing testing."

At The Naasirka Computer Support Center

     Elsewhere on the Podesta arcology, Zimzod and Zach got to the Naasirka computer support center and found it closed and locked.  Even a casual examination showed the security system was very sophisticated and picking it would be well beyond Zimzod's abilities.  He tried to get a purchase on the doors to use his battledress enhanced strength and force them, and found he couldn't affect them at all.  Zach thought the blackwood box Zimzod was still carrying was perhaps part of the issue and said, "Give me the box so you can use both hands."  Zimzod paused from what he was doing to give Zach the blank glare of his faceplate before returning to the task at hand.  Considering some things were worth trying twice, Zimzod activated the kart they arrived on and oriented it towards the computer center's doors.

He then issued the commands to the kart as it raced up and smashed its nose against the doors, and didn'tcreate any additional chance to enter.  Seeing they couldn't get in any other way, Zimzod called the marines for a schematic of the office, and to see what other methods were available.  As they considered their options, the idea came up that, since the computer was supported by Naasirka techs, they should perhaps call one to assist them?  They agreed it was a great idea, and also that holding the ill-gotten gains of their visit to the residence while doing so was a bad idea.  They needed to return to the cutter to stow their finds first.  So, Zach and Zimzod set off looking for a kart to commandeer for the ride back to the docking bay.  Nearly an hour later, they started their return to the center.

On the way, they called for a Naasirka tech, and got routed through the Megacorp's voice contact system after entering the model and serial number data they'd collected earlier.  Soon, they were put on hold for a few minutes before an actual live voice answered the call, identifying himself as Naasirka technical support!  Zach explained they were part of a team investigating the outbreak of the plague on the station.  That they'd come up against an issue with data believed to be contained on the system in question.  The technician listened patiently and said he would meet them at the Naasirka offices and help any way he could.

Once they got to the now abandoned docking bay, Zimzod and Zach searched for a cargo container they could fit into the cutter that would contain their treasures.  At first, Zimzod wanted two containers, to keep his flame sculpture separate from Zach's finds.  But he was soon forced to admit they needed to put all the items into one container.  As they placed the items into the container, Zach got a glimpse as one of the cabinet doors slipped open!  Zimzod saw Zach had seen the sculpture and knew the game was now up.

Zach and Zimzod eyed each other over the flame sculpture and Zach said "We have to talk."  Zimzod casually replied, "What d'you mean?  You've got your stuff and I have mine."  Zach brought up the special nature and value of the sculpture.  Zimzod told Zach he wasn't responsible enough to protect his high-tech gauss pistol and lost it.  He asked why he should trust the sculpture to Zach in any way?  The discussion went in circles as Zach was unable to get past Zimzod's possession of the artifact and unwillingness to give even an inch.  Finally, they agreed to just move on and Zimzod lifted the container, moving it into the air-lock for EVA over to the cutter.

Once in the cutter's lock, Zimzod decontaminated himself and the outside of the container before setting it with the others inside the craft.  As he worked, Zimzod called around to the other team members to get a feel for what was happening with the rest of the group?  Knowing Mikah was still working at the hospital, Zimzod found Ms. Vik was aboard the Skipping Stone, working out a deal.  He also learned Brian and Aiden were back working aboard the Pilot Error.  Rol and Emkir were aboard the naval station handling the team's duties there.  As Zimzod did the delivery and decontamination, Zach had little to do but wait in the now abandoned docking bay.

Confirmation And Letting The Navy Know

     In the Lab, Mikah was scanning a fairly regular supply of samples from her observation specimens when another doctor came up with slides.  As he did, he happily told her he'd also been cleared of the disease.  When she turned on him for not coming forward before, he apologized but had evidence of his claims.  And he was forced to submit to an instant and complete examination.  After tissue was taken from a "large" number of test sites on his body, it was confirmed the man was, in fact, clean.  It was also confirmed he'd contracted the disease earlier in the crisis.  This was enough for Mikah and she decided she could confirm she had the cure.  The news was celebrated by her team, who now started moving to determine just exactly how to shift the search for a cure to production of doses?  Needing materials and production resources, Mikah called the Navy first.

Explaining her discovery and confirmation, her conversation was at first intruded into by the doctors at the lab aboard SDB bay 210.  Their data feed, somewhat delayed, had been providing them technical data but had not been switched over from the search for effective counter-agents to cure verification until recently.  So they broke in, asking if a cure or counter agent had been found?  Mikah brought them quickly up to speed as she broached the subject of needing medical production and treatment facilities able to create and administer the tens of thousands of doses needed as well as provide treatment for the infected and vaccines for those uninfected.  Naval authorities said they'd get the wheels rolling if Mikah's team could send the data to the SDB bay 210 lab.

Once that was done, all the resources of the inbound hospital ship were ordered to support production of the cure with all shuttles and small craft in the fleet directed to the hospital ship.  They'd move the cure and medical teams much faster than the slow moving capital vessel.  Mikah was also held on the line as naval authorities patched in the provisional Podesta government to update them.  Finally, Mikah got a chance to call Ms. Vik and update her that the cure was, in fact, real if she needed to offer it?  But she also said that the Navy and Podesta government knew, so this was a limited time item.  Acting on the Knight's advice, Inger dropped off with Mikah and called the Stone's Captain saying she had a hot bit of data while they waited for the port to make its decisions.  Captain Arduini invited Ms. Vik to the ship as soon as Inger asked if they could meet, and the former port executive wasted no time.

Inger's Deal Becomes a Surprise

     Inger signed off and made her way directly to the ship.  Once there, and back in the Captain's office, Inger made no bones about announcing she'd come into possession of the formula for the cure to the Podesta plague!  Skeptical, Captain Arduini asked Inger to show any evidence she could.  Ms. Vik said she could call her associate, who would provide evidence, and considered asking for a live feed of treatment if possible?  Then Inger called Mikah back and asked what the Knight could give in the way of evidence?  Mikah said she could give a live feed of treatment if needed, and certifications of both infection and cure.

Ms. Vik thanked her and told the Captain she could watch as treatment was handled and have documentation of certified cured cases from the lab where the work was on-going.  When the Captain asked what Inger wanted for the data, Ms. Vik paused before answering.  She finally said, "I understand this is very valuable, and people will want to buy and control the formula.  But I don't have the contacts to do that for them.  In particular, I've heard of a guy named Kishman..."  As that conversation continued on the port, Mikah was issuing orders to set up the needed proof of cure and broadcast capabilities.

Whenever her demands were questioned, Mikah simply said they were trying to get a line on the people behind the plague.  Ten minutes later, Captain Arduini agreed to work with Ms. Vik on the port, though shehad no information on anyone named "Kishman", and Mikah started getting more confirmations that patients who were not "too far gone" were responding.  This confirmed the cure was both real and broad based.  Ms. Vik left the Skipping Stone to head for her next appointment.  She was well on her way twenty minutes later when she got a surprise call from the port.  For whatever reason, the Navy granted permission for the Skipping Stone to leave port as Ms. Vik's ride to Naval Station 371.  Along the way, they would make a mandatory stop at SDB Bay 210.  After that flight plan was completed, the Imperial Navy had been persuaded to grant the Stone permission to leave the system!

Realizing this was something she couldn't refuse, now that she'd enlisted Captain Arduini in finding the black market, Inger realized she'd have to go with the flow.  Inger first put out a call to the entire team on comms and told them she was about to come into ownership of half of the cargo bay contents of a far trader!  Zach was elated and started spewing questions until Inger explained she'd cut a deal to get the Skipping Stone free of the port with naval permission to leave the system.  That done, she had an agreement with the Captain to take possession of half of the contents of their cargo bay if she could do that, though she admitted not yet knowing what that was.  Her main question was what she could do to store, or how soon they could transfer the cargo?

When everyone in the know admitted they needed more info, Zach chimed in that half the cargo could be up to thirty five tons!  Ms. Vik said she'd contact the Stone's Captain and get back to them all.  Inger also told Mikah the whole 'trading the cure' thing would have to be set back for now.  Since the Stone and her captain were leaving, she couldn't make the deal work anymore.  Leaving the port was not something she could change her part in anymore.  Mikah agreed the cure was a very long shot that was never expected to work out.  It could have turned into a stone dropping right in the middle of that plan.  When Ms. Vik dropped off the comms and called the elated Captain Arduini, she pulled up her manifest.

Checking, she said Inger's "share" of the cargo included fifteen tons consisting of one four ton ATV and eleven tons of TL B Mechanical parts.  Arduini only wanted to know where Ms. Vik wanted the cargo dropped and how soon they could leave?  When Inger asked how soon the ship could be prepared, the Captain said they were ready and waiting for Inger to board.  Inger said she needed to collect her belongings and would be aboard in thirty minutes.  Forty minutes later, and still unsure where her share of the cargo was going to be held, Ms. Vik was strapped in within the ship's lounge.  Then the IMS Skipping Stone drifted free of her moorings and used SMS systems and thruster jets to maneuver away from the SPA facility.

Odds And Ends In Transition

     On a kart riding back to Naasirka center, Zach came up with an idea and called Mikah, asking for one hit of the cure.  Mikah said "no problem" when they told her why, and they said they'd stop by and the way from the cutter and cut the comms line.  After that, Zach called the Naasirka tech, asking if he could get some additional help from the man?  Explaining that the investigation was obviously in haste, Zach asked if the man would expedite the issue by collecting his tools and meeting them at the work site?  The technician simply answered that he couldn't do that.  Zach asked if the man was healthy or had been affected by the illness, and the tech said he was uninfected.

When Zach asked about his family, the man said he was single.  Zach then played 'All In' saying, "Well, we have access to the cure to this plague.  And I can give you a dose if you can help us expedite the process."  The technician, who'd been sounding a bit more skeptical as the conversation progressed, simply said "Yeah, Right!" and disconnected the call.  Zach decided to wait until they'd returned before dealing any further with the technician.

Once they returned to the hospital, Zach picked up the dose of cure he'd asked Mikah for.  He figured that even though the Naasirka tech had disconnected the comms on them, having the medicine in hand would change the man's perspective.  Zimzod's perspective was another matter altogether.  From his point of view, all the tech was needed for was to get them inside the shop.  It was fine and dandy if he was inclined to help after that but, if not, he was no match for the power armored Knight.  Zimzod planned to just take the needed tools and leave.  Zach could either sign on with that or stay behind and try to figure out reality with the tech.

Aboard the Stone, Ms. Vik was the odd person out in the cramped common space as the crew of the merchanter unclamped and began the run to SDB Station 210.  The ship was ordered to dock there and pick "something" up at the converted hanger base.  What that something was weighed heavy on the former port administrator's mind.  Reconsidering some of the many things the team had done, she could see there had been key mistakes made which could not be excused by the phrase, "We were just trying to complete our mission."  Not coming clean to Captain Kristianson from the get-go about the people on that ship had been her most mortal sin in her opinion.  And the bombshell reaction it would set off would send a shock wave directly towards her.  Any good will she'd tried to engender with the Captain would be gone, and now she could only sit and wait to see how the cards played out.

Back on the Pilot Error, Brian called to Ealal(Aye-ahl-AL) Seewa(See-Wah) to see about the progress of his prototype?  Seewa took the call as it came in, and was happy to report the device would be completed in five days.  That done, and at loose ends as to what to do next, Brian checked in with Mikah via comms to ask if she had anything that still needed to be taken care of?  With the cure being processed as quickly as possible, and the method to produce it spreading in an ever-widening wave across the system, Mikah could only think of the loose ends they still had to track.  The data Rol was digging up seemed like the best path to lead to those behind the attacks, or the Zhodani connection.  Tracking the black marketer might be possible that way too.  But working the port seemed more likely to produce some answers there.  Sadly, the cure to the plague wouldn't be a valuable trade item long enough to draw out the connections they wanted.  And Inger couldn't follow that up for a few days.  So Mikah told Brian to help Rol dig through their various searches.  When Brian said he was leaving, Aiden locked the ship up and went with him.

At his console, Rol investigated what was needed to get his weapons back, now that they were less than welcomed on the naval station.  Considering that heading to the armory, likely under marine escort this time, and trying to carry his weapons back to the ship would lead to bad things, he called the armory to ask.  Identifying himself to the sergeant, Rol asked how he'd go about recovering his weapons to the ship?  The armorer had him log into a form and complete it, telling Rol they'd handle the weapons transfer and deliver his gear to the vessel.  As he was completing the call, Brian and Aiden showed up.  Brian asked how he could help with the searches?  So Rol laid out the basic ideas behind each data search, giving Brian a grasp of the reason for each and what info was of value.  He then handed Brian control of the searches into Mr. Geamga's background and relationship to Anarthon.

Aiden's And Refueling

     Still stuck on his paranoid need to get the ship refueled, Aiden called Captain Kristianson's office, knowing anything he got that way would be an uphill climb at the least.  Instead of the Captain, Aiden got Lieutenant Shiikhugke (Sh-ee-k-who-guk-eh).  The Lieutenant asked, "How can we help?" with a very neutral voice and a look that read more like, "how can we have you vaporized?"  Having volunteered to enter the lion's den, the former scout ignored the set of tonsils visible behind the open jaws during the roar as best he could.  Aiden put his best "properly chastised" look on and said "I realize we just left your office, and not under the best of circumstances...  But we are wondering if we could get you to request advanced priority to get fueled at the logistics station so we can properly fuel up?"

After a brief pause during which his expression didn't change, Shiikhugke said, "We'll see" and cut the transmission.  Aiden decided that went better than expected, but decided he would research alternative fuel sources, including illegal ones.  That in mind, Aiden secured his station and turned to talk to Brian.  Brian was working with Rol on some computer terminals on the other side of the crew common area, and Aiden interrupted the conversation between the two.  He asked Brian how hard it might be to bounce a signal off another ship so someone could investigate how to do something illegal without the comm traffic leading back to them?  When Brian asked what Aiden was after, the former scout said, "We need a source of fuel, and I want to make sure the search can't come back to us if we have to do something illegal to get it."

The three discussed their thoughts on getting fuel legally or illegally, and it struck Brian that Ms. Vik would have the best ideas, with her connections to the port and the Merchanters.  Agreeing that was a good idea, Aiden reached out to her on the comms.  Still bored, and not looking forward to her destination, Ms. Vik was grateful for the diversion but she wondered what the big hurry was?  Aiden just grimly said, "I've seen this before.  Ships are arriving by the minute.  Things are happening and starting to spin out of control.  This is just not a place we are gonna want to be."

Inger considered the words and decided Aiden might well be right this time.  Pausing to consider her own resources, she said her best option was to ask the Captain of the Stone, given the debt of gratitude the ship owed her.  Considering the Captain was likely on the bridge, Ms. Vik got the attention of a nearby crewman asking how to get to the bridge?  The crewman suggested it would be better to send a message to the Captain.  When the rating said he'd help, and asked Inger what message she wanted sent, Inger had him send that she'd like to ask the Captain a question or two at her convenience.  With the message sent, the crewman waited a few before telling Inger the Captain would be available to help once she could secure from overseeing the transit.  With that, she told Aiden she'd get back to him after she talked to the Stone's Captain.

Moving On After The Cure

     Mikah got a report from the Navy that both the lab on station 210 and the Emperor's Mercy had turned their entire operations towards creating doses of plague cure.  Once there were enough doses on the various platforms, fast boats would start moving treatments and med-techs to the Podesti arcology.  The estimate was that they could have navy-made doses on station in under 12 hours.  While production was going on around her, Mikah hadn't chosen to take a dose herself and remained sealed in her combat armor.  But she did slip twelve doses into storage compartments on the exterior of her armor.

Turning her mind from finding a cure to the overall recovery of the arcology, Mikah started reaching out to the resurgent Podesti government to push for decontamination of the entire station.  Ready for a willing and perhaps thankful contact, she reached a harried technician at the government center who listened to her state the reason for her call and recorded it while replying, "Thank you doctor.  We are working on many things and will take care of this."  His statement was not at all friendly nor did he even seem interested, and very much spoke in the manner of a dismissal!  Admittedly, he likely knew very little of what was really going on as a lower echelon worker.  He was used to never being told anything more than what his job was and that he was not getting it done.  So Mikah broke the connection with a small but growing feeling of anger(which may be more because a nameless know-nothing did not fall to his knees in thanks - or at least obedience at her call for action.)

Taking another direction, Mikah called Brian to ask about the prototype decontamination station design.  He updated her on it, saying it would be done in five days.  She interrupted him, asking him to change his direction in terms of decontaminating the entire arcology!  The discussion lasted about ten minutes, during which they talked about various parts of the job.  Like the difficulty in cleaning out the entire station down to every nook and cranny.  Eventually, Brian tried to impress on Mikah how large a job that would be, and she asked him to think about it.  When he asked how important it was, she asked him to keep working the idea in the back of his brain so he said he would.

En-route to the hospital, Zimzod and Zach saw a much larger and more organized police and municipal presence as order was being re-established on the arcology.  Recognizing that playing fast and loose was going to be less likely as order was restored, Zimzod told Zach they may have to reconsider some of their "planned tactics".  Zach agreed, while inwardly smiling a bit more for the decrease in "Zimzod initiated violence" in their remaining time in Podesta.  Once they got to the lab, and discussed their further plans, Mikah asked why they were even going after Geamga's computer anymore?  She pointed out that every effort they'd made had been either unassisted by, or over-run by the government or military at each turn.

She also pointed out that, as the marines were more available for missions, and the local government came back on line, they had the people to handle things.  When both Zimzod and Zach agreed, they called to the Imperial Naval forces on-station and proposed the computer be investigated.  The commander on station was less than accommodating and much more immersed in his orders and own unit's activities.  Mikah broke the connection in frustration and Zach reached out for Captain Kristianson.  He got her aide, the Lieutenant, who was also significantly less than enthusiastic, took Geamga's address and information before pointedly questioning the former merchant on how this man and his computer fit into the situation?

The best Zach could come up with were vague connections the man may have to Representative Anarthon, whose home computer had Zhodani content on it.  But with very little concrete to give beyond saying, "He was associated with the other guy", there was little immediate evidence to act on.  The Lieutenant said they'd check on it soon, as resources were becoming much more available.  However, he pointed out they were coordinating with the local police and government on a number of issues at the moment and they didn't have the time to check on every person Anarthon knew just because of association.  After that, he thanked Zach for his report, with words containing no honest emotion, and broke the contact.

Once that conversation was done, Mikah felt it was "fairly done" that they wash their hands of the computer and further search for the Zhodani connection.  That let them consider what to do next?  Zach came up with the idea of visiting Bay 700 again, to see if perhaps they could work out another deal with Captain Leedor?  His hopes were to come out with yet another case of the chardonnay he hoped to sell for a vast profit in the future.  Mikah and Zimzod both agreed enthusiastically, and Mikah suggested they bring cure doses for the marines as an additional gift of friendship with Leedor and his men.  While Mikah decided to remain at the hospital, the two men hopped on a kart and headed out.  The more they drove, the more they saw signs of restored order, even passing by police groups taking looters into custody.  As they passed each such groups, Zach scanned their faces to see if the "friends" he'd encountered in the corridor were among them?  But he didn't see anyone he'd met in that encounter.

Ms. Vik's Cargo Problem

     On station 371, Emkir decided he wanted to go to a bar and hunt up a chance to gamble a bit, maybe win back some of his losses.  When he told the others, Rol looked at Brian and decided he should go with Emkir to keep him from creating too much trouble.  Brian said he could cover the searches so Rol and Emkir left in search of a fun bar.  While the marines at the air-lock asked their destination and didn't follow or restrain them, it was possible their action was reported.  Brian spent the rest of his day working the searches before grabbing chow.  Rol and Emkir talked about which bar to hit, and Emkir decided to let Rol lead him to the "grunts" bar he'd found while wandering.  They planned to spend a few hours seeing what came up?

As they were walking, Ms. Vik opened a comms link to the whole team and, once everyone joined, said "I have a problem."  This brought everyone up short in a moment of concern, which Zimzod handled in his usual fashion asking, "Who is he?"  Ms. Vik batted right back, not missing a beat asking, "How do you know it's a 'he'?"  Without waiting for him to respond, she spoke into the momentary gap saying, "I have 15 tons of cargo on this ship and need someone and somewhere to receive it."

Mikah said everyone still on Station 371 was going to have to drop what they were doing and help Inger receive the cargo.  Rol asked how soon Inger would be arriving on-station and she guessed it would be four or five hours, though she admitted to not looking forward to the arrival.  When asked about that, Inger made vague remarks about her situation with Captain Kristianson.  She admitted some things she'd said may not have been exactly true and had vague feelings that, "I'm goin' to jail".  Given the fact Emkir was not held in irons, she was asked why she felt that way?  Or what she'd done that was worse than what he did?  She just answered, "Oh.  Where to begin...." with a glazed look in her eyes.  As some began making lewd jokes about "getting some quality time with the Skipping Stone's Captain", even Mikah chimed in with, "Enjoy what's left of your freedom".

Aboard the Pilot Error, Aiden pulled out and checked his vacc suit.  He then suited up before preparing the gear he'd need.  Aiden also waited for Ms. Vik to give any update the Stone's Captain might give them about refueling.  He took small comfort from the fact that he'd finally convinced someone he wasn't just paranoia-crazed.  In any event, his main concerns were watching the scanners, keeping an ear on the comms and a hoping to get refueled so they could break and run if need be.  While he rarely spent time on the tightly wound ball of memories clutching his heart from those last days in the Caladbolg system, the thoughts slipped out.

         The initial Sword Worlds attack, two months desperately holding out before
         their acting commander, Scout Arrellano ordered everyone to flee...every
         ship for itself.  For a brief moment, the memories tried to flood back, of
         those hectic days as the wounded crew of the battle damaged Tracking Star
         fought their way out of Caladbolg, and the Sword Worlds subsector.  Weeks of
         skirting battles and attacks by the Pro-Sword Worlds Trexalon Navy to reach
         the Glisten subsector and a Scout base in the Egypt System.  Again, he
         clamped down on the memories as he dove into checking and preparing his gear.

Cleaning Out Podesta

     In the hospital, Mikah still considered and investigated ideas to globally decontaminate the arcology as Zach and Zimzod arrived at Bay 700.  What they saw as the kart pulled up didn't please them.  All the uniforms they saw were local police, and there wasn't an Imperial Marine in sight!  Zimzod asked some of the officers where the marines moved to?  Not knowing who the stranger in unmarked battledress without authorization or identification was, the officer said, "We don't know.  The Navy doesn't consult us on those matters."

Considering it not worth his time to start a fight with the officer, Zimzod pulled up Captain Leedor's comm frequency on his HUD and tried to call the Captain.  But he got no answer or even a contact with the man's comms!  At the same time, Zach reached out to Captain Kristianson's office to get Lt. Shiikhugke.  Zach asked for Marine Captain Leedor's contact data, saying they wanted to extend their thanks over the warbot incident.  The Lieutenant said he could go through channels and extend their thanks in a message.  Zach said yes to that, asking Shiikhugke to add a note for him to contact the team later if he could?  The Lieutenant agreed to add the note and they broke contact.

Having begun to have a very bad feeling about things, Zimzod called Mikah while Zach was talking to Lt. Shiikhugke.  The two discussed pulling back to the cutter and giving a "Final Report" on the plague and cure before asking permission to leave the arcology, and even the system.  Mikah and Zimzod agreed, and dropped their link as Zimzod told Zach they were headed to the hospital to pick up Mikah and return to the cutter.  Zach agreed and they boarded the kart, programming it and heading off.  On the way, Zach thought about full decontamination and hit on the idea of creating a chemical stream that could be sprayed.  He figured it would turn into a cleansing or scrubbing foam.  He explained the idea to Mikah as he and Zimzod arrived and Mikah thought that was a great idea.  Especially given that they might well still be stuck there, and might as well find something else to raise their priority if it was meaningful.

At the least, cleaning the arcology was likely to be a local job, getting them mixed in with the local government more than being a navy plant had.  And if they succeed, or even got noticeable results, it might well raise the local government's view of them.  Not to mention getting a rise in their level of cooperation.  Stopping for a moment to consider who to call for a chemical engineer, Mikah looked into the directories for comm numbers for any chemical engineers who might be listed there.  Sadly, the station's computers were still a complete mess, and very little real data could be gained.  And none of it helpful to her search.

Trying to think outside the box, Mikah quickly realized who she needed to call and reached out on one of the many general numbers for SuSAG corporation!  Unfortunately, all the numbers she called came up as answering systems if there was an answer at all.  Zach also tried to connect and failed to get anyone while Zimzod said they should just write their report and have done.  Switching gears, Mikah decided to work with Zimzod on a final report.  They sent Zach to the hospital's admin offices for anything suggesting a connection to some chemical engineers the hospital may have dealt with.  Zach spent two hours searching through any paperwork he found but, like any corporation, the bills and documents were not very explicit.  They told very little of what actual services were paid for.

Trying To Wrap Up The Fuel Issue

     On the Skipping Stone, the Captain called from the bridge and, with a wireless headset from the nearest crewman, Ms. Vik asked her about alternate methods of getting fuel?  Inger explained the military were tripping over themselves making the system a good place for civilian ships "not to be" and not providing the fuel they agreed to.  Willing to help in any way she could, Captain Arduini gave Inger the name of a man in the Tarallo Alliance who had access to purified fuel and might cut a deal if they gave her name.  But, she quickly pointed out the station man was on was out in the orbit of the gas giant.  A quick Nav-check suggested the Pilot Error would take 12 hours to make the transit while burning more fuel they'd have to replace.

Ms. Vik thanked the Captain and Arduini let it end there, not wanting to pry into the privacy of the Pilot Error by asking more questions.  As Inger called the team again and explained what she'd gotten from the Stone's Captain, Mikah could hardly suppress the thought all this would be much easier if they had a working fuel purification plant on board.  Setting aside her work with Zimzod on their report, She asked Aiden how much fuel they'd need so they could do some basic calculations with the known prices of civilian fuel in-system.  They figured it would cost Cr 38,500 to fill their tanks.  The ship's fund, newly set up as they prepared to leave the Inthe System, only had Cr 33,500.

So the ship would be broke and dependent again on loans from the crew members.  And that wouldn't even include a recharge of atmospherics and other consumables!  Deciding to act sooner than later, Mikah called Brian and told him she needed him to investigate what they needed to do to fix their purification plant?  When Mikah made it clear this was his new priority, Brian said OK, squared off his research and left the automatic searches running for Rol after saving his data in a file.  Then Brian grabbed his kit and headed below decks to the engineering section.

Loose Ends As Time Rolled On

     After preparing his gear, Aiden tried to relax a bit and wait for the cargo transfer.  On the Podesti arcology, Mikah and Zimzod finished their report, despite the interruptions, and called Zach back from his search to submit it to the naval authorities as the "team lawyer".  Zach added a request to the official submission for permission to leave the arcology.  Sadly, he couldn't get through the first layer of comms contacts and the report was accepted unread with the words, "We'll get to it as we can", in an unpromising tone.  Not inspired by his results, Mikah reached out to Captain Kristianson's office and got the Lieutenant.  He promised to bring the report to the Captain's attention right away, once told what it was.  Zach returned to looking for leads on a chemical engineer as Mikah and Zimzod simply put up their feet and relaxed for the first time in days.

Following Mikah's orders, Brian spent several hours removing the protective panels on the purification plant and clearing the ports to find nothing more than he'd expected.  The outer-most shell of hardware and equipment was there, and appeared old but in place.  Once he'd gotten to this level, Brian decided to grab chow before digging deeper into the system.  In a bar, Emkir was having a good time, having found a card game and managed, over the time spent, to win the same Cr 10 that he spent in drinks.  Keeping an eye out for the Admiral, Rol faded into the local crowd and spent a good amount of time listening.

Some talked about rumors about the command change, and the cycling of squadrons from subsector to subsector.  In another overheard snippet, Rol heard a naval file named 'Daysen Heldor' say he "knew a guy who knew a guy who could move stuff".  The insignia on the man's uniform showed he was from the station's technical department.  Concentrating more on separating his opponents from their cash, Emkir did hear a guy say to another as he pushed a pile of chips into the pot, "You lose that, how you gonna pay off Honahni?" in a warning tone.

By the end of their evening, each spent Cr 10 on drinks and Emkir covered his tab with his winnings.  In better spirits, the two men stopped for dinner before returning to the ship, each spending Cr 15 there.  The Stone had docked with and was leaving Naval Station 210.  Ms. Vik found herself joined by three naval officers who'd entered the Stone's common area and strapped into seats.  They seemed deep in thought and completely ignored her except as an "unavailable seat".  After the thirty minute stop over, the ship broke seals and moved on, relieving her fears that she'd be hauled off the merchanter under naval orders and thrown in irons at that station.

Permission To Leave - Granted!

     After time spent watching the doctors and med-techs work and wondering, Mikah answered a comms buzz from Captain Kristianson herself.  Not expecting much, Mikah greeted the Captain and asked if she got the report?  Kristianson said she had processed it and spoken to the Admiral.  Permission was granted for the Pilot Error to refuel.  The team on the arcology was also cleared to return to Naval Station 371.  With the news delivered, Kristianson signed off.  Mikah was not slow to react as she called for Zach to drop what he was doing and join them because they were leaving!  As they waited for Zach, Mikah got the attention of the doctor who'd become her lead researcher and de facto leader of the medical teams and got in his face.

She proceeded to rip into him and the other doctors, with work coming to a stop as the sudden spectacle drew them in.  She ripped into the need for mass casualty and catastrophic disaster drills because the behavior of the medical community in the face of this outbreak had been abysmal!  She angrily pointed out faces she recognized from those first hours.  She snarled that panic like that helped no one and only killed more of the innocent.  Zach was stopped dead when hit by the waves of angry words flowing from the Knight as he returned to the lab.  Seeing him out of the corner of her eye, Mikah finished ripping all of the medical personnel present new ass holes as she waved Zimzod with her and they left the facility.

A Nasty Surprise At The Docking Bay

     Once outside the hospital, Mikah took a breath of frustration as the team mounted their kart for the ride to the docking bay.  But the hospital wasn't the last of their frustrations on the arcology.  The three arrived at the docking bay to be confronted by some twenty uniformed and badged members of the Podesti Police.  They'd obviously been in the bay for some time and it was obvious an EVA team had pulled the cutter into place so a docking collar could be fitted on it with a boarding tube.  The team could now plainly see that the cutter's air-lock was opened and left exposed to the possibly infected air systems of the arcology.  In addition, they saw the various cargo containers arrayed and opened on the floor of the bay.  Many of the misappropriated wares the team had collected were displayed including the Chardonnay, the Darrian Flame Sculpture and other items.  As the police noticed the three arriving, they came to a more proper posture and level of preparedness.

Most had holstered side arms and were uniformed.  Leading the charge, Mikah moved in demanding what was happening?  A man stepped forward as either the ranking official or selected spokesman and said, "We were given a tip that someone was looting goods and storing them in this cutter.  So we investigated and found quite a bit of incriminating evidence."  With mounting anger, Mikah demanded to know how they'd opened the air-lock and warned them against having damaged the spacecraft.  At that charge, and as Zimzod whispered "Usually with a cutting torch" over private comms, the spokesman indicated a technician who raised an electronic device.  As that man stepped forward, the speaker described using the device to find and activate the control codes for the lock.

The speaking officer pointed out, one by one, each of the items.  As he did, Mikah, Zimzod and Zach offered an excuse explaining why the item was taken.  Mikah claimed the Chardonnay had decontamination properties, which the officers didn't challenge, as their faces showed they obviously didn't believe the lie.  The SuSAG computer was excused as holding data of value in possibly learning information about the plague and the people behind it.  Finally, the three could offer no excuse for the pillow case containing the jewelry Zach had dumped from the jewelry box.  Mikah sputtered as she realized she couldn't even think of an answer for the dead albatross Zach had placed on their necks.  And that was the crack in the dam, as the police simply put the case to the three spacers.

They were told the police would return the looted valuables to their proper owners, or their heirs, and the three could get on their cutter and fly away.  The thoughts and whispers that travelled through the minds of the three were many and varied.  How many police were there?  With what were they armed?  Was it worth it?  And then Zach used the jaw switch of his comms unit to open a secure line whispering, "I don't see the Darrian cybernetics.  Do you?"  The Knights could not, at first, believe that THIS was what Zach found important at the moment.  But they did look.  And they had to admit they didn't see the bin with the parts.  So, either it had been removed before hand or was still on the cutter.

Not that it meant anything to Zimzod, but he knew this was not the time to start yet another fight.  He was also pretty certain he'd lose this one somewhere down the line.  Not against these police, but there was a lot of space to cross just outside the bay.  So Zimzod's stance relaxed and so did Mikah's. And finally, the three moved single file through the line of police and into the boarding tube and to the cutter without a second glance at the loot.  Mikah turned right for the controls, to power up the cutter fast hoping to up thrust and rip the docking collar away, to get some satisfaction.  Zimzod secured the lock as soon as possible to let them break seal and get somewhere he could feel clean again.  Zach drove right into the back of the cutter rooting around in the overturned items until he found what he was hoping for.  The bin containing the Darrian cybernetic artifacts!  He also knew the coyns were still in the pocket of his vacc suit and, along with the cybernetics, he felt some measure of victory.

Finishing Business on Station 371

     Eventually, Ms. Vik's trip ended as a warning from the bridge said the Skipping Stone was about to dock with station 371.  Time dripped away as they waited through the bangs, pings, groans and other sounds of a ship being brought into berth.  On the Pilot Error, Aiden was ready in the cargo bay and in his vacc suit, waiting for the word to open the after bay doors for the cargo.  He had received a flash earlier that the dock techs were berthing the ships in adjacent docks tail to tail, so the Stone's cargo sleeve could be extended.  This would save the need to depressurize cargo bays during the transfer and the work could be done in zero-g, making it much easier.  Because of that, the cargo move finished much easier than Ms. Vik's debarkation into the waiting hands of Captain Kristianson and her four marine escort.

Expecting the encounter was one thing, but seeing it was entirely another.  And, as Inger saw the escort waiting, her shoulders slumped as she simply walked into custody.  As she did, Inger thought to herself "I'm goin' to jail", but was prepared to take what was coming.  Still, there really was little the Captain could do if she wasn't going to press charges.  And the situation was much too chaotic for anything like that for any of Mikah's crew.  As a result, Kristianson did the only thing she could, by bringing them each in for a ripping they would hopefully remember for some time.  And while she was finishing up ripping into Ms. Vik that Mikah, Zach and Zimzod made their approach to station 371.  On approach from the contaminated station, the naval personnel were very careful in ordering the craft into a prepared internal docking bay.  There, crews of vacc suited grunts and deck hands were present to scrub everything down from top to the bottom.

Nothing was left to chance as the crews immediately hit the plating.  As soon as Mikah, Zimzod and Zach emerged, they were hit by scrubbers and detailers to make sure they were scoured top to bottom.  It was the pure resistance of the three that backed off all but the most ardent crews from removing their weapons and gear to detail-cleanse.  And once Mikah revealed the cure hypos from her armored storage pouch they made sure to preform only what they absolutely needed to do before backing off.  Reaching for pockets and storage packs, they exposed Zach's Coyns.  That finally ignited the rising heat of Mikah's anger so that she burned the three past the cleaners as the cutter was swallowed up behind them.  Zach eventually stayed in the bay until he could move the cutter back to the ship.  Meanwhile, Mikah burned her way through the station's passages, with Zimzod in her wash and just one goal in mind.  And then the missile found its mark as 'Her Ladyship Dame Mikah' roared through the anteroom, slammed the inner door open and verbally exploded into Captain Kristianson's office ripping into the naval officer.  Kristianson schooled her surprised expression folding her hands to listen as serenely as if listening to a "whisper song" performance.

Somewhere in the depths of her thoughts, a small part of Mikah's logic warred with Kristianson's reaction, but the baffles were blown wide.  After-burners were firing full and the torrent wouldn't be stopped until running its course.  And once it had, the end was not nearly in sight.  The fumes of the passing storm lingered, waiting for one spark from the beginning of any retort Kristianson might think to offer to ignite it into a furious explosion that would expose the Captain's jugular vein.  It would feed on the blood fuel ripped from that vital passage in the renewed fury of the real assault.  And then the impossible happened as the Captain slowly rose and calmly locked eyes with Dame Mikah saying, "You're right".

Kristianson then said other things.  Pleasant and calm things as well as simple admissions...

But Mikah didn't hear those things.  Mikah had heard, "Your Right", and grappled with that before hearing "...now you can leave."  Somewhere in between, she also heard the team had fueling authorization and permission to leave the system as well.  But the pent energy and newly mounting frustration warred with everything she knew she could and could not do, wanted or had to prevent.  And in the end, all Mikah could do was turn on her heel and leave while swearing to herself that the first person she saw when she got back to her ship was gonna get shot!  Lucky for Zimzod, being present at that moment made him proof from this threat as he trailed behind her and they returned to the decontamination bay.

Zach never knew the danger he was in, nor the luck he had in Mikah's long walk back to the bay where he waited.  By the time she and Zimzod returned from the Captain's office, Mikah's anger was being replaced with pragmatic considerations.  Along her march, Mikah decided that her selected target need not be shot "right now".  Her calm was further cooled as she noted with approval the systematic cleaning of both the inside and outside of the cutter.  Everything had been taken down methodically, despite the workers lack of understanding when they opened, aired out and cleaned the Darrian artifacts.  Not that this would please Zach when he later discovered it, but that was not part of "the moment".  But, the three waited until the scrub down was completed and they were given clearance to move the cutter back to its bay in their ship.

Once the team was back together, Mikah decided she still had too much energy to just turn things off for the evening.  Because of that, she made a snap decision, announcing that she was taking the team out for drinks.  Rol and Emkir simply smiled at each other as Ms. Vik decided to try drinking enough mass to replace that missing from her now chewed off anatomy.  As a result, those not dressed for it cleaned and changed with Mikah enjoying a change of clothes very much after the long delay.  Then the party headed for the lock and docking collar where Mikah told the marines standing watch that the crew were going out to drink, almost daring the troopers to prevent them doing so.

Mikah suffered another mild frustration as the soldier simply stepped back and let them pass.  The night which followed was one of hard partying during which Mikah spent Cr 150 on the team and the Navy folk gave them all a lot of clearance.  They created their own temporary amber zone as they drank off recent days.  Making their way back to the ship, Ms. Vik was still 'with it' enough to ask Brian if he'd help her check the mechanical parts in the cargo?  Rol also suggested they make a run to the scout base, to see if they'd gotten any mail while in system.  Mikah agreed to visit the scout base in-system on the way to or from the fueling station, before burning out to a jump point.  Not happy about the delay, Aiden none the less made plans to visit the pay office and pick up the cash for his Silver Asteroid.  Drunk and mis-hearing the Scouts might be giving away cash, Emkir volunteered to go with him when they visited the base.

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Next: Not Quite Out Of The System Yet