When they returned to the port in Runips, the Countess and her people left the caravan and moved directly to her ship.  Mikah asked if she could speak to the Countess, and when she got permission to approach, asked, "What about our compensation?  I know it didn't go well for you but, you know..."  The Countess cut her off saying, "We'll talk in a little bit." and moved her golging away as Mikah said, "OK."  The port sent a team to ask if there was anything they'd brought back from the desert requiring inspection?
Mikah noticed they seemed a bit more courteous and careful in deference to the Countess.  Mikah told them there was nothing to inspect and the trip was a bust.  She got back a somewhat smug "We thought so."  But when they saw Zimzod, they became nervous again.  Having never seen him outside his armor, they weren't prepared for the red skin.  Zimzod noticed the reactions and began to taunt the troopers, if only to blow off steam.  With no reason to be there, and Zimzod taunting any he caught staring, the troopers backed off.  The rest of the caravan folk, left behind at the port as they'd only taken a smaller part of whole, came out to greet their returning family.
Separating the teams from the caravanners, they were mostly glad to see the off-worlders gone.  The ill feelings over the situation with the nomads was largely seen as the off worlder's fault.  Almost no one was interested in the difference between the Countess as "Boss" and the team as "workers".  The only person who was sad to see them go was Trryghera.  Her service to Dame Mikah was over and she would miss the access into the spacer's world.
As Mikah said goodbye, she was also sorry to see the caravan woman go back to her life and made a gift of the five silver brooches she'd bought in Runips.  Trryghera was very pleased with this, as it represented something of a small fortune to her.  But there was little time to spend, as the caravan had to get back to earning money.  They also had no idea how their part in the fiasco in the desert would affect their future dealings with the various local nomad groups?  What threats it created?Returning To The Ship
The early return to the Hotel California annoyed Brian, who'd counted on more time to work without them in the way.  Now, he'd have to put back together many systems he'd partly disassembled for maintenance, to keep the crew from accidentally breaking things.  It also meant he wouldn't have time to do other work he'd planned.  Brian re-did the math on his work schedule and added in a rush job to get all the needed systems back on line!  Unhappy the surprise came with no explanation, Brian started going about his work.  Zach went straight for the medical bay, to treat his sunburns.  Ms. Vik went directly to her stateroom, to start decompressing as she cleaned her gear or prepared them for the laundry.  Mikah also went to her own stateroom, to start unpacking.  But, she was quickly called to the lounge for a call from Dulcenea.
Rol went to his stateroom, to put his gear up before asking Zimzod for permission to examine the damaged battledress.  Much of his gear was either clean, due to having been packed the whole time.  What had been used needed laundering or some hours of cleaning.  Because of that, things either 'didn't take long to deal with' or were separated for "later attention".  Zach also intended to store or clean his gear after hitting the med-bay.  But he found everything there was locked or stowed.  Backed off, Zach went into the lounge looking for Mikah, for help.  He hoped there was something she could prescribe, and that she wouldn't just give him poison.  Aiden planned to dive right into cleaning his gear, and set his vacc suit for recharging before events overtook him.
Zimzod made a bee-line to his stateroom to hide the diamond.  He made a point not to hide it in the same place as his coffee stash.  Zimzod then started cleaning and putting up his gear.  Relaxing on the bridge, Emkir saw the ship's air-lock activate but figured it was just Brian working.  When he tracked an inbound call, and saw it was received in the lounge, he headed out to see who answered it?  Seeing Mikah, Emkir gave his trademark, "What's Up Doc?"  Answering the call, Mikah found it was a servant of the Countess.  Turning to Emkir as she did, Mikah said, "You don't want to know.  We'll talk later." and Emkir only nodded and said, "OK" before returning to the bridge.
Making the Countess' man wait a bit more, Mikah asked Brian, as he passed, how long it'd be before they could lift and leave?  Brian said it'd take a couple of days to "plug all the giblets back in and power everything back up."  He added in a hinting tone, "Of course, the more help I get, the faster things will get done."  Mikah said she'd get help to him as soon as possible.  Her tone suggested they had to get off that rock as soon as they could.  Brian, not party to the events of the caravan, shrugged as he calculated.  From past experience with this crew, he considered who could help with what and set up a virtual duty roster in his head.Blindsided!
One of the things rolling around in Mikah's head was concern over how powerful or dangerous this Countess was, or could be?  That brought up memories of the Baronette she effectively snubbed by ignoring when she teamed with the Countess.  When Mikah got back to him, the Countess' man presented her with an offer of Ursara's professional services in, "evaluating, grading and cutting the diamond."  Stopped cold in her tracks, Mikah asked, "What Diamond?!" knowing full well no one had gotten any diamonds.  After a confused pause the man said, "The diamond Sir Zimzod was given, My Lady." in a tone saying he regretted correcting the Knight.  Mikah asked what he was talking about and the man said that, while Sir Zimzod and the Countess were negotiating in private with the nomads, Zimzod was given a palm-sized Tellona Diamond!
Mikah again made the man wait as she ignored the ship's comms and simply yelled out "Zimzod!!" She then waited for Zimzod to reply.  Zimzod heard her, but decided he had no idea what she was screaming about?  He was also still grumpy about her dye job prank that he decided he wasn't a dog, to be summoned.  So, he took his time finishing up what he was doing while she waited.  Getting impatient, Mikah yelled, "Zimzod, get out here", as the others on the deck wondered what had gone wrong so soon after their return?  Preparing his gear for cleaning, Zimzod calmly called back, "No" and continued, saying he wouldn't come if called like that.  Zimzod added, "I'm red."  To the last comment, Mikah replied, "Your fault."
Eventually, Zimzod came out of his stateroom and they had a chance to talk in private in the empty lounge.  Looking at Zimzod, Mikah asked, "What was this about a diamond?" and Zimzod answered, "Yeah.  I was given a diamond."  With her eyes narrowing, Mikah asked, matter of factly, "Can I see it?" stressing the first two words of the sentence and nearly hissing the last two.  Deciding she needed to know a lot more before proceeding, Mikah told Ursara's man they would call the Countess later.  Then, Mikah turned her attention fully to Zimzod and started asking questions.
Zimzod said he'd get the stone from its hiding place so she could see it on the bridge, where they could lock the doors.  While he was getting the stone, Mikah hit her stateroom for her gem loop.  Entering the bridge, Mikah saw Emkir working the station, and told him she'd take bridge duty so he could help Brian with his work.  After Emkir left, Zimzod arrived with the stone.  He then closed and locked the bridge portal.  After that, he held the diamond up for Mikah to see it.  He even modelled it in the ceiling lights for her.  Mikah could see it would facet nicely even with her unaided eyes.
The more Mikah examined it, the more she saw the stone had an "odd look" to it.  Mikah didn't know if this was due to some fault in the gem or if it was some property of a Tellona Diamond she was unfamiliar with?  Breaking out her loop, Mikah tried to examine it more closely, to see what she could find?  Her first surprise was that she saw join lines!  That meant the gem had been assembled from multiple stones joined together!  Mikah couldn't tell the exact number of stones with just her loop, but could see there were at least four or five.  A second surprise was that there was something seated "in the heart" of the stone!
The only thing she could tell about the inclusion was that it was reflective, and gave off an iridescent coloring.  She thought the color might improve the stone's value with faceting.  Still, there was very little she could tell without a better look, and the ship's scope was in the med-bay.  As Zimzod pocketed the stone again, they tried to move to the sickbay without drawing attention.  Brian had been working in engineering, on restoring ship's systems when Emkir arrived.  The Admiral said Mikah and Zimzod had kicked him out of the bridge.  Wondering what was up, Brian worked on reversing the comms feed and controls on the access pad by the bridge iris valve, to listen in.Getting Behind Closed Doors
Leaving from his stateroom to find Zimzod, Rol saw the Knight enter the bridge with Mikah before locking themselves in!  Knowing this couldn't mean anything good, Rol decided to wait for them to coem out and drop the shoe.  As he waited, Aiden came to the valve planning to check the ship's status from the bridge.  Zach also arrived, looking for Mikah about his sun burns.  When Zach saw Aiden heading to the closed iris valve and Rol standing there casually, he saw Aiden reach for the access pad.  Before Rol said anything, Aiden found the valve was locked!  He asked Rol what was up and was interrupted before he could say anything as it opened, with Mikah preparing to step out.
Seeing Aiden, Zach and Rol, Mikah came up short and asked, "What's going on?  Are you trying to eavesdrop?"  Aiden answered, "No, I just got here."  Rol stood quietly, wondering what they'd been doing to create paranoia so quickly?  Zach asked if it was a good time to get Mikah to treat his burns?  Adding to the crowd, Ms. Vik came out of her stateroom to do her laundry.  Seeing this, Mikah called Inger, to tell her not leave her underwear unattended with a glance back over her shoulder at Zimzod.  Seeing the crowd, and accepting that "something" was going on, Ms. Vik decided she'd be updated and told when she had to make things all better.  She nodded an acknowledgement to the Knight in passing.  Inger then loaded her wash into the machine and sat down in the lounge to people watch and see what she could overhear.
Accepting Aiden's answer as given, Mikah told Aiden he had bridge watch as she began to move off with Zimzod in tow.  Over her shoulder, she joked, "Don't fall asleep...  Oh, that's not you.  Sorry!"  Realizing he wasn't going to be able to get to Zimzod right away, Rol decided to head below decks to help Brian.  Zach jumped on the silence, asking if Mikah had anything for sunburns.  But Mikah's attention was riveted to Zimzod.  Sparing a moment for the trader, she distractedly said, "In a bit", making it clear he wasn't going to get help right off.  As the two Knights started moving towards the med-bay, Zach followed, because what he needed was in that compartment.
Eventually, Mikah gave in to the inevitable and pulled out a tube of salve, throwing it at Zach.  She told him it was what he needed and ordered him out of the space.  After he left, she closed and locked the compartment door behind him.  Mikah reached for the scanners as she began organizing her thoughts.  At that point, she realized that Trryghera had been a very "low impact" guest.  The woman may not have been used to living on a ship, but she cleaned up and left no trace of her presence.  Nothing was out of place.  As Mikah started setting up gear, she asked Zimzod for the stone again.  Below decks, Brian and Emkir were unaware the two Knights had moved to the med-bay as they worked on tapping into the bridge comms.  At the same time, Aiden started setting up shop on the bridge and Zach went to his stateroom to rub salve into his burns.
After a few minutes of examination, Mikah felt she could safely say the composite was of no less than five stones.  She couldn't tell if they were cut from a common vein or separately, but they had been so expertly fit together that they appeared as one stone to the naked eye.  As for the item locked inside, she could tell it was a slim rectangular object.  It looked metallic, and gave off an iridescent reflection when light struck it through the gemstone.  The component stones seemed to have been glued in place to store the item, whatever it was?
When she told Zimzod what she saw, he asked if they could take it apart?  Mikah considered the possible glues the nomads, or whoever, could have used.  Figuring out how to get a sample of the glue out, Mikah pulled some probes from her kit to possibly scratch some of the material off.  Knowing this would scratch the surface of the facet corners a bit, they looked for less invasive methods to get the glue's composition.  But scratch testing was the next best thing to calling the Countess to use her specialty toools.  Mikah grabbed some acetone and lightly bathed one of the facets of the stone in the liquid.  That only flowed off or evaporated in place.  Back on square one, they went with the scratch test and Mikah got a sample of the dried glue to test.  After experimenting, she found she had a solvent in the med-bay that would debond the stones.  It took Mikah an hour to carefully debond the stones from each other without the solvent getting to the item in the core.
As Mikah and Zimzod worked, the pair in engineering tapped into the conversation on the bridge only to hear Aiden talking!  Killing the tap, Brian called the bridge and asked what happened to Mikah and Zimzod?  Aiden said they'd gone to the med bay.  Thanking the now confused pilot, Brian signed off and started working to duplicate the wiring from the bridge, to tap into the med bay comm panel.  Aiden went back to his work as he wondered what that was all about?  Half an hour into the debonding, Rol came below decks at the same time Brian hit paydirt.  He, Emkir and Rol heard Mikah and Zimzod talking about something with no clue what it meant?  Mikah and Zimzod talked about finding faults and crevasses, testing solvents and other chemicals, but nothing explaining what they were working on or why?  Still, 'not sure' only meant they needed more information, so they listened in, riveted to the conversation in the med-bay.
As Mikah worked, the stone capping the base of the gem finally came loose and she could see the 3mm thick rectangular object was a datachip!  As they examined it in place, they wondered if anything aboard the ship would be compatible with the chip?  Removing it, they saw it looked to be silicon, which was tech 7, 8 or 9.  Certainly before crystal storage.  As they talked about loading it into the ship's entertainment system, Mikah realized she might be able to plug it into the stolen Stepozhevaci hand-comp, taken from the injured Councilor aboard the damaged "Enlightened Measure".  Mikah also said she didn't want the chip on the entertainment suite without knowing what it held?  Listening in, Brian thought of the data he'd found on, and cloned off, that device.  He considered the wealth in their hands, if they could access the banks the nation of Stepozhevac did business with...Widening The Conspiracy
When Mikah explained her idea to use the stolen hand-comp, ears in the ship's engineering spaces perked up because some of this information was new to Emkir and Rol.  That realization came too late for Brian, who knew he'd be blamed for spilling beans if Mikah found out.  Zimzod agreed with Mikah as she was reaching for the comms to call Brian.  When she opened a link and said, "Hey Brian...", the med-bay and engineering were filled with massive reverb, suggesting there were two sets of comms active!  Again, and with some suspicion and a dose of 'I know what that meant', Mikah slowly said and repeated, "Brian?"
When he answered "Yes?" Mikah asked in a knowing tone, "What are you doing?"  Brian delayed, "Let's see", as he looked around at the work before him.  As he started answering, "Two...", she cut him off asking, "Is Emkir with you?"  Brian said, "Hmmm...Nah", and was again cut off as Mikah said, "Emkir.  Would you go up and relieve Aiden on the bridge?"  When Emkir thoughtlessly answered her, Mikah interrupted him saying, "See, I knew he was there with you!"
Restarting the conversation, Mikah said, "Well Brian.  I guess you know why we're calling?  Would you come up and deliver the article to us?"  After a pause, Brian agreed and Mikah said, "OK.  We're in med-bay."  Then, more tartly, "Oh, you already know that."  After that, Brian went to his stateroom to get the hand computer with Emkir following him.  As the Admiral saw the hand-comp, he recognized it and recalled the history of the device as far as the crew knew it.  He was surprised Brian still had it because the crew thought it had been lost or turned in to IRIS.
Once Brian got the computer, they went to the locked med-bay hatch.  Brian knocked and Mikah opened it saying, "I hope you disabled your little...thing."  Brian said, "Yeah.  There's no point in leaving it on.  We're not there" and Mikah said "OK."  What went unsaid was that Brian had only disconnected one wire before leaving, and left Rol sitting there as he and Emkir left.  So Rol simply reconnected the wire to listen in.  Zimzod had hidden the diamonds while they waited.  So, as they entered, Brian and Emkir could only see Zimzod and Mikah had a pre-crystal metallic data chip.  Seeing the chip, Brian checked the ports on the hand computer and said, "I am guessing that port right there might fit it with the right adaptor."
Given what he knew about the hand comp's technology and the chip's appearance, Brian suggested the chip and hand computer may have both been made in the Natoko System.  But, that was just a guess, and he said so.  When Mikah said they had to read the chip's data, Brian said it wasn't a standardized chip type, used in interstellar markets.  It seemed to have been made for the local market on a specific world.  That meant they couldn't immediately access it.  Mikah took the chip back and thanked Brian, saying he could go back below decks and "get work done."  The last part alluded to his eavesdropping.  After Brian and Emkir left, Mikah said they could get an adaptor in the Rhylanor System.  She then said, "We'll keep the chip safe and we'll see what we can do with the rest of the diamond.  And we'll call the Countess and see what her terms are?"  At the mention of a diamond, Rol's ears perked up.  Brian hadn't got back below and Emkir went to the bridge, to relieve Aiden as he'd been asked to do.Planning The Call
After deciding to hide the chip, Mikah and Zimzod figured there was no time like the present to see what it would cost to have Ursara work on the diamonds?  From the comms in the med-bay, they called Dulcenea and were put through to the Countess.  Admitting she hadn't been fully aware of the diamond but was now, Mikah asked what the Countess had to offer?  Countess Ursara assumed a very formal and professional voice as she said, in a nut shell, that 'for a cut of the value', she could offer standard rates to grade and value the diamond.  Then, they could make other decisions.  She could also offer them opportunities to have the stone faceted and, or set.  Mikah complained that, because of the work they had done for her so far, she didn't think the Countess should be charging them to look at it and grade it.
Being very blunt, the Countess replied in a chilled tone, "I can also expose you to markets where you could actually get the full value of the stone.  You know you won't get the full value selling it on your own."  There was obviously a lot more the Countess might have said but she kept the conversation professional.  Seeing this, Zimzod broke in and asked, "What's your percentage?" with Mikah echoing the question just a beat behind him.  Countess Ursara answered, "Standard broker's fee", and when Zimzod probed further, "Fifteen percent."  Looking at Mikah, Zimzod said, "I could deal with fifteen."  Having heard her offer, Mikah said, "Well, we'll take your offer, but we need to let you know that we discovered it was already cut.  And, for some reason, they glued it all together to make a big-looking diamond."  Surprised, Ursara took her time to reply and Mikah filled the gap saying, "There are actually five diamonds that are already faceted.  When the Countess didn't reply again, Mikah asked, "Do you want to see them?"  Not sure what else to say, and still more than a bit surprised, Countess Ursara said, "Uh, Yeah." in a much quieter and introspective tone.  Very quickly, an agreement was made for them to bring the stones to Dulcenea for examination.
Having joined Rol in listening, Brian and the former Marine felt a sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs as they worried how much deeper they were getting in?  Brian made sure they were using ear phones at the least, to avoid any future feedback issues.  Leaving the med-bay, Mikah saw Ms. Vik relaxing and told the former port administrator they had to visit Dulcenea, to handle some business.  Mikah then went to her stateroom to strap on her hip holster and gauss pistol!  Knowing the Countess was none too pleased after the desert fiasco, and seeing the Knight arm herself, Inger did her best to casually ask what hardware she should be carrying?  Just as casually, Mikah responded, "Bring your shock cane.  And your nine millimeter.  You wouldn't want to go anywhere without that."  In her best 'chipper voice', Inger replied, "I'm glad I cleaned it then!  Shall I wear a business suit or is this more casual?"  At first, Mikah was wont to tell her to dress casual, but then told Inger she should change into a suit for this.  Calling for the merchant, Mikah yelled, "Zach, are you awake?  Hellooo?  Zach?"
Half-dressed, and partly covered in burn lotion, Zach answered and Mikah said, "Get dressed, we're going out.  And bring a gun."  Nodding as she spoke, Mikah's last words stopped in his tracks.  Zach asked, "Where we going?" and hoped it was back to that one shop in town where he'd had so much fun.  Casually, Mikah said, "Across the street to our neighbors."  That got the attention of everyone with an open door to the ship's common spaces.  As she spoke, Mikah considered asking Rol to come too, but only four could fit in the air-raft.  And, considering the ten to fifteen minutes walk in desert conditions, Mikah decided walking was definitely out.
Zimzod came out of his stateroom with his auto-pistol in a shoulder holster over casual clothes and under a light jacket.  That, itself, would draw attention on this desert world, on top of his red-dyed skin.  He'd also added value by wearing the red-dyed shirt Emkir had made for him the night of the drinking party.  When she was ready, Mikah called Aiden on the bridge and told him to get his LAG out and "be ready".  Contemplating opening fire on high nobility, Aiden asked "Why?"  Mikah told him, "None of your business why.  Just do it."  Mikah then did her best to sooth his nerves saying, "We're not expecting trouble but we are preparing for it."
When Mikah cut the comms, Aiden figured he could hang near the ship's open dorsal hatch with his LAG while Emkir manned the bridge.  Mikah had Emkir call the port to say they'd be sending a party by air-raft to visit Dulcenea.  Then they left, with Mikah and Zimzod in casual dress.  Zach and Inger were in business suits, and everyone was armed.  Gathering at the air-raft bay, Zimzod and Mikah quickly explained to the others about the diamonds and the agreement to work with the Countess.  They also went over what they hoped would happen and why they were preparing for something very different.  During the explanation, the diamonds were described as, 'Probably worth more than a small ship', though that was a guess by untrained and underinformed opinions.
As Zach assessed the diamonds in Zimzod's hands, it didn't take long for him to realize something seemed to be...missing.  When Zach asked, "Where's the rest of it?", Zimzod casually answered, "Well, this is all we have."  Mikah chimed in, "Yep", and Zach answered, "Uhhh, huh" in a tone mixing skepticism with acceptance.  When Zach didn't just agree, Zimzod bluntly said, "Hey!  We are telling you what's up.  We may not have told you right away, because we wanted to research it, but we're telling you now.  We always tell you everything eventually.  So, what's your problem?"  Zach said, "I have no problems, you're the one doing all the talking."
When Zimzod didn't answer that, Zach filled the silence saying, "I just now saw that.  And if I can figure out there is something missing, so can the Countess."  Mikah reinforced Zimzod's answer saying, "That's all that came with it.  We took it apart and that is all there is.  We really looked it over.  As soon as we noticed it was separate diamonds, we took it apart.  That's all."  Not wanting to get deeper into something already clear as mud, Zach said "Alright then", and they put on filter masks and boarded the air-raft for the short trip.  Still, Mikah knew the Countess had seen the diamonds before and the answer they'd given Zach wouldn't work on her.  Mikah took the controls and the ride was brief, as those left behind tensed up for the next thing to go wrong.  A staffer waited at Dulcenea's aft iris valve to greet them.Visiting The Countess
Aboard Dulcenea, they were escorted to the Countess' sitting room where Ursara had a number of her staff organized and waiting.  Breaking the ice, Zimzod said, "How are you doing Countess?"  Ursara cautiously answered, "I am doing ok."  She obviously noticed the weapons as well as Zimzod's crudely decorated shirt.  Zimzod followed that up comfortably, saying, "I think we're all gonna do ok." with a friendly smile on his face that could be unnerving when the one smiling was dyed bright red.  Getting on track, Countess Ursara said, "Actually.  The more I learn about this, the more interesting it gets.  Can I see the pieces?"  The last bit was said with a hint of real curiosity creeping into her voice.
Looking about, Zimzod counted the Countess, her business agent, two more functionaries they'd seen on the caravan and two workers who seemed to be ship's staff.  Noting the business agent's sunburns, Zimzod quipped, "I like the shade", with a glint in his eye.  "I went with a darker one."  The agent simply nodded in acknowledgement and the Countess actually grinned briefly.  As Zimzod looked around in the seconds his comment brought, he saw Ursara had a velvet mat on a reading table next to her seat.  Nodding at it, he asked, "Are we doing this here, or are we going into a different room?"  Ursara answered, "Yes" as she gestured to the velvet pad with a hand.  Ms. Vik asked, "May we sit down?" and the Countess made it clear everyone should make themselves comfortable.  As the others sat, Zimzod laid the stones down in their "assembled state" appearing, as it first did, as one stone.  Countess Ursara leaned forward, making no attempt to touch the stones and simply examined them.
Finally, Ursara said, "That's, interesting.  And what were you doing when you, found, it had multiple pieces?"  The lines of the fissures were easy to see now, but hadn't been at all visible when she last saw the stones.  Mikah said, "I was looking at it with my loop when I noticed there was already internal faceting.  So, we decided to remove the cement and take it apart.  And, low and behold, five diamonds.  Accepting this, Ursara nodded to one of her staff, who stepped forward to hand her gloves.  After putting them on, she carefully and slowly disassembled the stones before pointing to the slot and asking, "And what came out of this slot inside it?"  When Mikah asked, "What slot?" the Countess just pinned her with a 'don't be stupid' look.  Mikah missed the knowing look Zach was shooting in her direction too.  Zimzod jumped in saying, "There was nothing in it."  Mikah picked up saying, "There was nothing inside.  We removed the cement and then found we had five diamonds and that's all."
Ms. Vik raised her hand and asked, "So?  What would you like to do with it at this point Your Excellency?"  The Countess answered, "Actually, to be honest, they're the owners.  It's what they would like to do with it?  I'm just offering services here.  What I would recommend, as a first step, is that we weigh them, grade them and then we discuss.  Do you want them faceted?  Do you want to reshape them, which is definitely a recommendation in this case.  And then we discuss marketing."  Jumping back in, Zimzod said, "Well, let's get a value here.  The value of it together and as individual pieces."  The Countess looked at him saying, "As a single piece, it's going to be a very interesting collectable, and I'd be lying to you if I said there was not some value in keeping it intact, as it is.  But, it will draw questions about what it was made for?  Still, it is really odd, and I would recommend that even if you kept it together as a piece, you should facet the outside.  That would turn it into something that could be integrally built into some kind of jewelry, where it didn't only contain something.  It could also be moved into and out of the setting, to remove or replace what it contained."
Pausing to gather her thoughts, Ursara continued, "As for what that could be, there are a number of systems that are into 'luminescent fashion'."  The way she pronounced the name made it clear she wasn't a fan of what she appeared to consider a fad.  Ursara still made it clear this was a direction they could go in.  Fitting a luminescent item into the stone which would be cradled in a larger piece of jewelry.  Zimzod ventured that, perhaps, this was what the stone was originally made for.  He ignored the look of significant doubt on the Countess' face.  Then he asked the key question, "What's the value?"
Saying, "Well.  OK" and then "Hold on", Ursara then went through the process of weighing the stones and examining them in detail before making her calculations.  Done with that, she looked at everyone before looking directly at Zimzod and saying, "If you sell the diamonds as one piece, as it currently weighs, I can probably get you one point five million Imperial Credits."  Disappointed, Zimzod asked, "That's it?" and Mikah had to hold in a giggle at his dismay.  She ignored him and continued, "If you allow me to facet it, then we can probably multiply that by ten."  As the real numbers started to settle in, the crowd became more appreciative and less interested in interrupting the Countess' comments.  Still, Zach asked, "How much are we looking at if it was broken down into individual pieces and faceted?"
Obviously, having intended to go in that direction next, the Countess answered, "With a good marketing program, and after having to reshape all the pieces because of the current odd facets...  We could likely break it down into twenty five smaller stones, and market each individually.  It could bring significantly more, or less because you are suddenly releasing twenty odd stones on the market.  Quantity tends to push prices down.  Remember, a component of the value of Tellona Diamonds is their incredible rarity.  So, if you cut them down to twenty five or thirty stones to use all the facets, you'd have to drop one stone on the market each year.  But, you could even double the value of the stones again that way."  That pushed the "top" the Countess had suggested from the initial MCr 1.5 to MCr 15 and now possibly to MCr 30!
When Zach asked about just cutting the stones into ten gems, the Countess said doing that would be difficult because of the existing facets and cuts.  'More expensive cuts' also meant 'less profit'.  While not all of the stones were influenced by the slot, those that were would be difficult to cut into large sections.  Reaching a decision between them, Zimzod said, "We're not going to have them separated" and Mikah agreed.  They said they'd prefer to sell the stones as one piece.  The Countess accepted that and said, if they wanted, they could leave the stones overnight, to have the facets mapped.  The next day, they could meet again to decide on a faceting strategy.  After that was done, she guessed it would take a week to cut the stones into the facets selected.
Ursara also said this would work perfectly with their planned trip to Rhylanor.  For a deal that big, she said she could re-route back to Rhylanor too, letting her cut the stone during the jump.  Ms. Vik spoke up, saying, "Excuse me My Lady, My Lord" as she addressed Mikah and Zimzod.  She then asked the Countess if they could talk in private briefly.  There were no issues with that and Zach joined in as the four "huddled".  Inger said, "If you agree to this, may I recommend that one of us stay aboard?"  Mikah said, "That's what I was just thinking."  Zach chimed in, "No.  We need paperwork.  We need a solid, binding contract of what they're doing.  How much this is worth.  What happens if they lose it or something."  As he spoke, Zach told them that, in his experience, there were contracts which were written and binding agreements, backed by video documented and certified by the local courts.
Zach put this in "simple-eese" for the others as he explained the legal protections in play.  Ms. Vik added that she felt that, given the questionable origins of "the property", they should perhaps reconsider cutting the stones further.  Mikah disagreed, having learned in the past week with Countess Ursara that it was legally established that all Tellona Diamonds 'came without' paperwork from the nomads.  Zimzod could confirm with the caravan master, and the port, that a caravan had gone into the desert.  And the Countess herself could certify the transaction.  This satisfied that need.  When Ms. Vik clarified that she meant the slot inside the stone, she was told that didn't matter.
Since the slot could be 'covered by use', with a luminescent insert and proper marketing, all the possible issues would be covered completely.  After settling those issues, they considered the Countess' feelings in all this.  They recognized she felt she had reason to feel very slighted in the affair.  She had brought them in on her enterprise only to be shut out on the ultimate reward.  They also agreed that succeeding in a number of their plans might be helped or hurt by her possible help in the future.  Doing some quick math, they figured 'cutting her in', on top of their payments, wouldn't hurt, based on the cash they expected to get.Sweet Talking The Countess
When they broke their huddle, it was Sir Zimzod who spoke first, saying, "Countess Ursara.  We realize that your plans in the desert didn't work out as you'd planned.  But you were there for this process, and we would like to share our gains with you.  So, on top of what you would ask for your professional services, we'd like to add an additional three percent."  As he spoke, Ursara's demeanor rapidly changed and she started defrosting even more.  When the discussion continued, she more and more became the 'glowing and gracious' personality they'd first met.  They quickly planned to get the contracts signed and certified before leaving the stones to be mapped overnight.  The next day, they agreed to meet again to discuss faceting the stones as a whole.  During this, Ursara admitted to already having some ideas for the piece that might work well.  And, once they decided, the cutting would get done during the jump to Rhylanor, and the marketing would begin there.
As they started to talk about setting the contracts up, Countess Ursara said that, at the local tech level, they had to go to the government offices rather than having a business officer come to them.  She made her distaste obvious, but said "when in back water systems..."  Hearing this, and wanting to expedite things, Mikah called Emkir to have the port made aware the team were coming over to speak to the merchant business liaison.  But, as she said that to Emkir, the Countess said, "Don't worry about it" and nodded towards her man.  He was already calling the port.  Seeing this, Mikah said "Never mind", leaving the Admiral sitting confused on the bridge wondering if that meant the shooting would be starting sooner or later than expected?
Ursara's man got done with the port, and nodded to the Countess.  She told them the port was sending a car for them.  When Mikah heard this she asked, "A car?" in a voice steeped in disdain, "With wheels?"  She didn't need to add in the unspoken, 'How quaint'.  As almost everyone smiled or laughed, someone quipped that anything had to be better than a golning.  That got more of a laugh from the room.  The mood lightened more as one of the servants brought in drinks for everyone.  Eyeing the glasses, Mikah jokingly said, "Your Excellency, this isn't the stuff that got him in trouble, is it?"  Mikah was happily told it was local water, which was actually quite good.  Ursara didn't have to add that local water was hard to get much of, so she was sharing something of real value.  After almost a quarter of an hour, the Countess' Herald announced the car had arrived and they all were led to a rack of masks.  The crew recommended the masks, and each person donned one before leaving the ship.  The Countess also put on an outer garment she said was designed to keep the sand and dust being blown from catching in her outfit.
This was new, because she'd worn 'travelling clothes' during the expedition and not needed the layer.  Watching from the Hotel California, the rest of the crew had no idea what was happening?  They were concerned after Mikah's aborted call to Emkir about the port offices.  But, there didn't appear to be obvious trouble, so no actions were taken except to keep watch as the car moved from the port buildings.  The Countess, Knights and others were all greeted and the trip to the port offices took very little time.  Those inside found the vehicle was very well appointed.  There was little doubt it was brought on-port simply due to the dealings with the Countess.  The ride ended quickly and they were back into the legalese again, with Zach acting as interpreter.  It was obvious the port's business manager had done this before, and the Countess' business manager knew all the local laws extremely well.  When they reflected back on the monstrous book of laws they were given, their respect for the man rose in consideration.Covering The Legalities
Now understanding what the Countess and Knights wanted, they were told the technology was not available on the port campus, and they had to go into the city to complete and certify the contract.  When Mikah asked if they could take the car, they were told the port had a bus on standby for them to ride in.  Not sure what was meant by "bus", they were all pleased to find this wasn't so much a bus as a luxuriously appointed transport, with all the amenities of the limo and more.  During the transfer to the bus, Mikah noticed no one from the port mentioned the weapons the team were carrying.  Or, even brought up the idea of an inspection.  Figuring this was due to the Countess' presence, Mikah had yet another reason to wonder what deal the Countess had with the port?  Not to mention the power she had, to be able to command or compel that deal?
Again, those aboard the Hotel California watched as a larger vehicle moved in to the port offices.  Then, the crew and Countess boarded it along with some officers in local uniform!  Seeing this, Rol felt a sinking feeling in his gut and called Emkir on the bridge.  He wanted Emkir to get port security to give them an explanation for the activity.  Emkir said he'd heard from Mikah and Rol growled, "Would you be so kind as to update us all?"  Emkir explained the short and confusing message he got from Mikah.  She suggested they were handling the business in the port buildings.  But, shortly after, and with no further update on what was going on, they saw the group boarded the bus and they watched it drive off in the direction of the city!  Hoping the Countess and Knights were not just arrested and taken off, they settled in to wait.
The ride into town was significantly longer than using an air-raft, but more relaxing as they rode past the outskirts and into the center of town.  Another item of note was that all traffic was clearing a path as the transport moved, given its official markings and apparent authority.  Once in the city's center, which was much more civilized while, somehow, just as rustic at the same time, the police there alerted on the crew as they emerged from the bus armed!  They just as quickly backed off to watch after seeing the Runips military officers escorting them.  Observing, they remained "obviously vigilant" in case they were needed.
In the office of a duly certified legal adjudicator, the work was fairly straight forward.  The Countess made it clear she expected payment for those services to be covered under her existing agreements with the port.  Contract copies were distributed to all parties, and sent to be filed with the local government archives.  That done, everyone filed back onto the bus for the ride home at the end of their four-hour detour.  As they neared the port, Mikah realized she should have updated the crew aboard the ship about what was going on much earlier and did so, telling them to stand down.
Back aboard Dulcenea, Mikah saw it was close to dinner and said it was, perhaps, a good idea to get both crews together for a sedate party.  To celebrate their good fortune.  She eyed Zimzod as she stressed the word "sedate".  The Countess agreed, asking if they wanted to have the party on one of the ships or in town?  When Mikah reacted badly to the idea of doing anything in town, the Countess suggested she have her people re-set some of the rooms aboard Dulcenea.  They could hold the party there, the next night, after deciding on the faceting strategy.  Mikah agreed and the Countess asked if there were any local delicacies Mikah would like to have delivered to sample?
Setting the minor details, the Countess suddenly got a gleam in her eyes and said, "By the way.  On the ride to the nomad camp, you mentioned that letter from Baronette Daumsh Hault-Ulain in Tyruaron.  Do we want to send an announcement of the sale to her?"  The evil grin made it clear they were, in some way, competitors.  Mikah gently suggested they make the sale first, then let the Baronette know.  Zimzod jumped in saying, "How much more would it piss her off if she didn't know about it until after it happened?"  Ursara said, "I'm thinking it will eat away at her knowing this stone was on its way to Rhylanor and she couldn't touch it."  Zimzod quipped back, "Yeah.  But she might try something."  Ursara said, "She doesn't have that capability." in a tone that made it clear the Baronette was no threat.  Zimzod and Mikah both assured the Countess they hadn't gotten this far underestimating anyone.  Ms. Vik chimed in, "There's time enough for counting when the deal is done.After The Meeting And More
After things were decided, they went to the air-lock.  There, the Countess said the breather masks should be kept, on loan while on-world.  Then, they returned to the California to plan for the party and decide on locking up the ship or leaving someone behind?  Zach asked Mikah about oxyTabs, to prevent drunkenness, and she said, "If anyone gets that plastered, they deserve what they get."  Despite the joke, her tone of voice was arctic.  Aboard the ship, they had to explain what had happened?  Zimzod told the others about the diamond as Rol and Brian did their best to pretend to be surprised.  By the briefing's end, all knew about the deal, that they'd all be getting some cut of the diamonds sale, that Zach would get less, and that they were all going to a party the next night aboard Dulcenea.  When the meeting broke up, Zach and Rol collaborated on making dinner.
Zach considered what to do after dinner?  During the meal, he suggested possible deals he could cut for the cargo of machine parts, on Jae Tellona and at Rhylanor.  While no on-world customers could pay anything near the part's value, selling them locally saved them having to haul them to Rhylanor.  It would also reduce any distractions as they dealt with the diamond.  Zimzod was all for dumping the parts on Jae Tellona, which sparked questions about trader certifications?  Zach admitted he'd gotten the paperwork before they landed, but didn't have time to go through the submission process.  So, he couldn't sell the cargo at the port.  He figured he might be able to sell the load at one of the cities.  Mikah shot that down, saying "When we lift, we are heading straight for Rhylanor.  We're not going to another city.  We'll sell them on Rhylanor."  That decided, Zach realized he could just relax that much more as he used local data to research the Rhylanori markets.
Ms. Vik decided to relax after the discussion, and Zimzod thought that was a great idea too.  In fact, Zimzod felt it was time to bask in his red-ness.  Mikah planned to do laundry and get her gear back in order.  Brian wanted to get some work done, reassembling the ship some before trying to get a good night's sleep.  Then, returning to his work in the morning.  Emkir mixed studies and entertainment in a more relaxed mode, now that he could look forward to affording new gear.  Aiden decided to see if he could help Brian, but the engineer needed more skilled assistance.  Given that, Aiden went to the bridge to do more navigational training.
Rol waited until after dinner to talk to Zimzod about his battledress.  With permission to examine the backplate, Zimzod was brought it out and Rol checked the damage.  His initial estimate was that simply understanding the damage would take a few days.  On first inspection, it was clear the damage was done by the composite cutter.  The tool was very familiar to him, having used his own to repair the breastplate belly damage done by the warbot in the Risek system.  When Zimzod asked about cutting through the hull of a ship, Rol told him the two types of armor were completely different.  A composite cutter wouldn't be able to cut ship's hulls, iris valves or bulkheads.  Talking about the tool, it was ironic that Zimzod now had one of his own.
Zimzod admitted he had no idea how to use it and offered it to Rol.  Some of those in the lounge said that "Now", they knew how to use one, getting laughs with the grim humor.  Zach almost laughed out, "In the small of the back."  While he had a cutter already, Rol accepted the new tool graciously.  In the end, the short form was that the damage seemed to extend into, and through, most of the suit's control and system component boards.  That meant it would cost a lot to repair, if the parts could even be gotten?  But proper repairs needed a proper diagnosis.  So, Rol settled in for an evening of disassembly as he pulled open his tool kit and started working on the backplate.
The evening passed without incident for everyone except Rol, who learned more about the damage to Zimzod's armor.  As he worked, it seemed the nomad had known 'exactly' where to strike.  Every control board in the suit's systems was affected to some degree.  Beyond that, the most important thing he found was that there was some damage to the backplate's "backing".  That was the foundation for the component.  The boards might be able to be replaced.  And the composite could certainly be replaced from stock Rol already had.  But if the backing was damaged enough, the component could only be replaced.
Repairing it wasn't worth even trying.  As if the frame of a vehicle was compromised, a new "base" for the backplate would be needed.  The positive news was that all the alternative systems, such as the HUD, comms, etc were unaffected by the damage, because it was so contained.  This would save money in the repair job, if replacement wasn't required.  As the rest studied or recovered, Brian got some work done restoring systems as Rol worked on the damaged armor section.  Eventually people settled in for the night.
_________________________________________________________________________ Next: Parties, Parting and Preparing Leave