At 6:30 alarms went off in Zimzod and Brian's staterooms, and they both rose to do their exercise and morning routines.  They left their staterooms about the same time Mikah, Rol and Ms. Vik's alarms went off.  While they rolled into their morning routines, Brian and Zimzod stepped into the crew lounge, and the motion sensitive lights came on.  They looked each other up and down, as no-one was cooking breakfast, which was unusual.  Almost to himself, Zimzod said, "Hey, where's the killer?"  Brian asked, "Where's the food?" in a tone that suggested he didn't care who cooked, and Zimzod shot back, "What are you looking at me for?"  Brian ignored that, rhetorically asking, "Where the fuck is Rol?"  Leaving his question hanging, Brian walked to Rol's stateroom and began knocking in a pattern, saying Rol's name once after each set of two knocks, "Rol?  Rol?  Rol?"
Having just woken in his stateroom Rol, pulled himself up and to the door.  Leaning on the comms, Rol asked "What's wrong?"  For his effort, he got Brian saying "Food." in a near-grunt.  When Rol asked, "What about it?" Brian asked, "Are you making it today?"  Responding in the spirit of the moment, Rol said, "I thought you were making it?"  Brian changed tack, saying "You're cooking is so much better.  It's probably better for all involved, on such an important day, for you to make a proper breakfast for all of us."  Willing to give an inch, grudgingly, and just that, but no more, Rol asked, "Is the galley clean?"  He remembered the others cooking when he went to sleep..  Brian answered "As far as I know it is," with a glance in that direction.  Brian looked at Zimzod asking, "Right?"  Zimzod shrugged and said, "Looks good to me." as he stepped over and started putting the still dirty dishes, left out overnight, into a storage cupboard and sweeping crumbs off the counter.
Still groaning from waking up, Rol said, "If it's not, you eat it the way you left it.  I'll be out in ten minutes."  Brian said he'd be working on the ship's engineering systems and Zimzod said he was going to make his own food, but just sat and waited.  Rol did a basic shave and shower before emerging to find the galley half-clean.  Zimzod saw Rol's expression and said, "I don't know who did all this."  Rol snapped, "Well, I guess we're just gonna have to deal with this now.  Aren't we?  Let me look and see how many clean plates we have left?"  Zimzod watched as the retired marine reached for the same locker he'd put the dirties into.  Zimzod said, "I'm gonna go back to my cabin", leaving Rol alone in the galley.  As Zimzod walked away, Rol said, "OK.  I'll see what I can cook.  If there is clean stuff, I'll use it and if not..."  He didn't bother to check if Zimzod was listening as the Knight left and didn't care.  He had a plan.
Rol cooked while the ladies emerged from their staterooms and they talked about cleaning issues.  Preparing breakfast, Rol also cooked up some of the crew's cut-rate coffee.  Zimzod came back to the lounge as Rol did this, and flipped on the vid to watch the news.  The biggest story appeared to be the buildup of Imperial forces responding to, and relieving the people of, the Risek system.
Risek (A325579-A  N  Ni  401  Im  M5 V  M3 D)                                     Date: 189-1112
As the situation stabilizes in the nation of Podesta, the Admiralty
have formalized the partitioning of the inner system, to facilitate
the continued recovery.  While the Podesta provisional government works
to re-establish services, a medical hierarchy has established itself.  This
extends from the command of the INS Emperor's Mercy.  That medical support
which had first responded to the emergency.  As the Mercy Chief Medical
Officer, Admiral hault-Nariku Gushgimur was placed in command of a
dedicated response command over all response detachments.
Medical operations and authorities have largely extended from the
staff of the Mercy's medical division, following creation of this
group, which was not done without incident.  Conflicts of Authority have
cropped up, as the new provisional government has moved to re-establish
civilian authority.  Responses from Fleet command, in official releases
by Commander Kurmimig, have stated that Admirals Mugazaaniir and Chauss
were working to intrude with the lightest of hands, as assistance is
provided to the Nation of Podesta.  Baron Sir Kurmimig was named to
lead an Inter-system administrative council, as Admiral Chauss worked
to prepare his fleet for rotation out of the Rhylanor subsector.  This
included authority over those parts of the system partitioned to
facilitate aid and recovery.
As local discussions have evolved, the near certainty this was the
result of a terrorist attack has been discredited in favor of multiple
other theories, reported to TAS and the other media.  Members of Duke
Leonard's Staff and the Imperial Navy have made themselves very available
to the media.  The people in Rhylanor system are reminded they are not
in any danger.  They are assured they should go about their lives and
recognize the Duke and the Navy have things in hand.
Rol did find more than enough clean dinnerware to make food, but made a point to serve it on the soiled plates left for him.  When he called Brian and Zimzod for food, he made an effort to serve Brian on a dirty plate, but the Knight grabbed a clean plate and served himself.  Rol made certain Mikah got a clean plate as Inger grabbed a dirty plate, cleaned it and served herself.  After eating breakfast, Brian returned below, to shut some systems down and shunt the load off key engineering systems.  He then called over to the IISS Public system to check on his request from the night before.  The attendant working the desk Brian had reached checked his name and told Sir Brian they'd found three messages, which would cost him Cr 30 to have shunted to his account.  After sending his payment, the tech shunted the messages to him on the Hotel California.  Brian thanked her as he broke the connection and started reading the messages.Messages From Risek
The first message, from Ealal Seewa, simply said the prototype was done and the design was certified and forwarded to the Imperial Navy as the only functioning power in-system at the moment.  The second message, also from Ealal Seewa, said he was still waiting for word back from the Navy, and wondered if Brian could use his title to lean on Naval offices in Rhylanor to speed things up?  The third was a somewhat annoyed message from the Navy, directing Brian to the proper civilian office for a patent.  It finished with the note, "Don't send such requests to this office again." and directed them to the provisional government of Podesti to get a patent.  Disgusted with that, and uncertain if they contacted Seewa, Brian decided to head above decks to see if Zach was awake yet?  He first printed the messages as flimsies, to carry with him.  At Zach's cabin, Brian knocked on the door until Zach, who planned to wake up shortly after that anyway, woke to the sound of someone knocking.  Dragging himself out of bed and into a shipsuit, Zach opened the door a crack to see who it was?
Seeing the obviously unkempt and rudely awakened former merchant in a shipsuit peering from the door, Brian asked, "Are you busy?"  Brian then added, "I need your help", as if he'd expected Zach was busy, but thought Zach could do anything to affect a situation a parsec away at that moment.  This despite knowing it would take a ship a week to jump after the proper paperwork was done and sent.  Brushing aside the stupidity of the question, Zach asked, "With what?" and Brian pushed on.  "Remember that contraption I invented over in Risek?"  When Zach replied, "The disinfectant thing?" Brian said, "Yeah.  I need a patent."  Sarcastically, Zach said, "Sure.  I'll write one up right now for ya.  Triple signed, How's that?" in an angry tone.  Equally sarcastically, Brian said, "Wow, they can do it that quickly?" and handed Zach the flimsies saying, "Take care of this."  Brian then turned his back on Zach and went back to engineering, to prepare for the evaluator from the port.
Left standing there blinking at Brian's retreating form, Zach scanned the flimsies and got the jist of the messages.  He then paused, trying to remember if they wrote into the contract who would get the patent?  Recalling it was Seewa's job to get the patent, Zach went over the messages again, and realized Seewa might well think he was getting the patent from the Navy.  But it was clear the Navy had bounced his request.  What wasn't clear was if Seewa knew that?  The Navy had clearly responded to him in the messages.  Understanding that, Zach tossed the flimsies onto his stateroom desk, closed the door and went into his morning routine, figuring he'd talk to Brian after breakfast.
At 9am, as Mikah and some of the others were eating, a buzz came from the ship's external comms and Mikah answered.  Mikah went to the hatch to see, on the comms panel, a man dressed in a port services uniform with a hand comp and tool kit.  Answering, she asked who it was, to verify, and the man said he was sent to give them an estimate on hiring engineers to help with work on the ship.  Mikah let him into the bay, so he could get to the ship's hatch.  After letting him board, Mikah brought him through the cargo deck to engineering, and introduced him to Brian.  After the niceties were over, the man inspected the ship's engineering systems as Brian observed.  Mikah went above decks to finish eating.  She also asked Ms. Vik to join the Knights for the meeting with Duke Leonard's people.  Eventually, Aiden and Emkir's alarms went off and they did their morning routines.  By the time the last of the crew woke and ate, Rol had finished cleaning the galley.Getting Ready For The Day
After he ate, Zimzod headed back to his cabin to dress, and paused before returning to ask Mikah how much time they had?  Since they had an hour, Zimzod turned on the news in his stateroom as he dressed, to keep up on what was happening.  As Emkir came out of his stateroom, Mikah also reminded him to be there when they met with Duke Leonard's people.  Emkir said he'd prepared his uniform already and just needed to have chow.  Below decks, the port engineer finished his inspection and turned to Brian asking, "So what is it you folks need?"  Brian said they just needed help bringing the maintenance up to spec while they were in port.  The engineer checked the engineering log and said, "It's gonna take me a couple of hours to go through the data on this.  Can I download it and get back to you or would you prefer I go through it here?"  Brian asked the guy to hold on, and called Rol, asking if the former marine was going to any of the scheduled meetings?
When Rol said he wasn't, as far as he was aware, Brian asked him to come below decks so they could talk.  After a pause, Rol asked, "Armed or not", as he was uncertain if things had turned sour with the stranger that boarded?  Brian said, "unarmed", which got the engineer's attention.  Saying "OK", Rol headed below decks and Brian excused himself from the engineer.  He pulled Rol aside saying, "I just want you to watch this guy.  I don't want him downloading stuff and taking it off the ship.  Do you mind?  I have to go to this other meeting, do you mind watching him and making sure he uses whatever he needs, but he doesn't take any stuff.  Can you handle that?  And don't use your name.  Your name is John.  Ok?"  Rol simply asked, "Is there something I should know?" without commenting on the fact that Sir Brian had used his real name when he called for the marine to come below.
Brian repeated that he just wanted Rol to watch the man.  He asked if Rol was able to do that and Rol said, "I should hope so."  With that decided, Brian turned back to the engineer saying they'd prefer he'd remain aboard and not download anything.  Brian then apologized that he had to be at another meeting.  Rol stepped up, introducing himself as "Rol John".  The formalities done, the port engineer agreed and got to work.  Rol was willing to help with the work but found quickly that he would only get in the way if he tried.  After Zach finished up with Brian's message, he started researching medical facilities for neural stents.  Since much of the ship's systems were off line, Aiden took advantage of the downtime to read.
Brian went above decks to get changed, and was stopped by Zach, who explained what they could do about the patent?  He said they needed to send a message to Ealal Seewa, to confirm he was working with authorities in Podesti, or even knew he should.  In explaining, Zach said he needed to write a message and find out from the IISS how much it would cost to send?  Brian thanked Zach, and headed to change into more formal garb before leaving while Zach went to a terminal to call the IISS and ask how much a message to Risek would cost?  He found it cost Cr 50, and caught Brian before he left, to ask for the money.  But Brian said he was busy at the moment and Zach should "just man up and pay the fifty credits" as the crew laughed.  Zach stopped sputtering and said he'd set up the message and Brian could send it, as he was uncertain if Brian would pay the Cr 50 afterward.
Brian again suggested Zach should send it after writing it, and he'd pay Zach the Cr 50.  But, Brian added that he wanted a complaint added to the message.  That he signed a contract with Seewa and didn't see why he was paying money to handle this issue?  Zach again chided Brian, reminding the Knight he would make that back many times over, and should just deal with it as the cost of doing business.  When Brian asked if that was Zach's legal advice, Zach said it was, and Brian paid the Cr 50.  After getting the money and Brian's OK, Zach went to write the letter and the Knights, Ms. Vik and Emkir left for their meetings.  As they moved, Mikah ticked off a list of things Emkir should not say in any of the meetings.  She then called for a station taxi, to pick them up at the docking terminus near their berth, and they headed for their pick-up point.Getting To Mr. Ahkuariyo's Office
Picked up by the port taxi, Mikah told the driver the address and sat back.  The man was visibly surprised when he checked the destination, straightening himself up before proceeding.  As she reviewed her people, Mikah saw everyone was in formal-wear.  Especially Emkir, who was in dress uniform.  Mikah was also wearing her executive armor under her clothes, just in case.  As they started moving, the driver asked, "So what are you going to the Duke's office for?" and Zimzod told him firmly but softly, "Don't talk.  Don't talk."  The driver tried another direction, "So are you going to..." and was interrupted by Zimzod, more firmly saying, "Don't talk."  They spent the rest of the ride in comfortable silence as the driver studiously observed the path ahead of him.  Watching out the view ports, they saw a wide and diverse cross section of sentient and robotic traffic going about the tasks of life and commerce.  At their drop off, the ride cost Cr 20, and Mikah tipped him an extra five for being quiet.  Out of the cab, in the main atrium of the compartment matching the address, they faced a diverse selection of people and machines.  Most of those moving or working in the space were in formal or business wear and the machines varied from apparent robots to obvious androids.  The place was filled with a sense of purpose and no one seemed to be just milling or hanging about.
Looking for someone to ask which room they were supposed to go to, they found a bank of robotic receptionists.  Eventually approaching one of the robots, who's upper half extended from a reception desk, to ask about their appointment, the robot asked how it could assist?  Mikah said they had an appointment and needed direction.  The robot asked for the names of everyone in the team, and they each identified themselves.  There was a processing pause before it said, "Please stand by for your escort."  Within minutes, the team saw a stalk-based device on treads, with three limb stalks and a sensor/voder stalk, approaching.  As it arrived, it oriented its sensor/voder stalk to the team and broadcast, "Please follow me."  The voice was generic and slightly mechanical.  The android then executed a turn in place and went off in a direction which appeared to head to the buildings lift banks. The team followed.
The advantages of robot/android use became obvious as a lift was summoned by their guide in advance, and stood open, waiting for them.  Getting into the lift car, they saw the destination floor was already selected and the doors quickly closed as they started rising.  Soon, the car stopped at a floor and, when the doors opened, the android led them from the lift into a conference room.  Following the android, Sir Brian considered buying androids for shipboard work, to help with work like their engineering maintenance issues.  The conference room seemed to be a combination of office and conference room.  The lone occupant was in the midst of squaring away his work as they entered.  After they entered the room, the android left, drawing the door closed behind it.
The man, who was 5'7, caucasian with balding grey hair and wearing something like ministerial robes, stood to face them as the 'droid left.  With the door closed, the man introduced himself as Shwarii Ahkuariyo [ Sh-Wah-Ree Ack-Hu-Are-ee-Yo ] and asked how he could help them?  Brian nudged Mikah and said, "Alright, speak for us."  Giving Brian an angry glance, Mikah turned her attention to Mr. Ahkuariyo and said, "We are the three Knights here to talk to you about meeting with the Duke during our visit to Rhylanor."  As she said this, Mikah indicated herself, Zimzod and Brian.  Then she pointed to Emkir and Inger saying, "These are Admiral Emkir Meshrumiikiim and our liaison, Ms. Inger Martinsdottor Vik."  Checking the Idents, he greeted each Knight before addressing Ms. Vik and saying that he was honored to have a high-ranking member of the Port Authority visit.
Trying to be funny, Zimzod made a comment about Emkir and 'not being honored' before realizing Mr. Ahkuariyo was addressing Ms. Vik and shut up.  Marshalling his face, Mr. Ahkuariyo asked, as he turned back to Inger, "Can I ask you what your role is in this matter?"  Inger said, "I am just here to assist at the request of the Knights."  Ahkuariyo thanked her and said he hoped she would enjoy her time on-station and in-system.  As he handed back Ms. Vik's Ident he said, "I worked here during part of your administration and I hope you are enjoying your retirement."  Inger thanked him and said, "So far, so good" as the others bit back small laughs.  Mr. Ahkuariyo continued, "It must be interesting." at which point Inger answered, "You got that right." while avoiding the man's eyes.
Either taking the hint, or having played the conversation out, Mr. Ahkuariyo turned to Emkir saying, "Admiral Meshrumiikiim, I understand you have a meeting scheduled with Admiral Uuela later this morning?"  Emkir nodded, while casually saying "That's correct."  Ahkuariyo asked, "Is that meeting in any regard related to this meeting?" and Emkir said, "That is obliquely possible."  When Ahkuariyo asked if the Admiral could explain that, Emkir replied, "No" with an air of authority that ended that line of questions.  In the face of that answer, Ahkuariyo said, "Well Admiral, I am sure you will tell me when any of our discussions here touch on the matters you will be discussing with the Admiral.  In any event, welcome to Rhylanor." and handed back Emkir's Ident.A Meeting Of Sharp Questions
Mr. Ahkuariyo then invited them all to sit at the conference table as he stepped to his desk and grabbed a stack of flimsies.  He organized them as he took a seat at the table.  He directed his attention to the top flimsy in his stack and said, "OK.  According to my research, the three Knights were elevated by His Grace Bondal a'Plena, Duke of the Vilis Subsector, and have begun the confirmation process by meeting with His Grace Norris Aella Aledon, Duke of the Regina Subsector.  So you are here for a confirmation hearing With Duke Leonard Stephanos Kirgashii?"  Mikah confirmed that was correct and Zimzod sarcastically said Mr. Ahkuariyo was very good at his job.  With a frown in Zimzod's direction, Mr. Ahkuariyo said, "In that event, we have a number of discussions that need to take place."
As Mikah again simply said, "OK", Ahkuariyo said, "First and foremost, here is a schedule of parties and functions that you will be expected to attend."  As he handed a flimsy to each of the three Knights, he stressed, "You only need to attend a few of these, not all of them, but you need to get your names in circulation with the thousands of nobility in the system itself.  Since you intend on securing your ranks, you need to let them know who you are.  The best way to do that is to hit the party circuit, which, thank the suns, I don't have to do."  Everyone in the party except Zimzod caught the comment and realized he practiced the "Galactic Suns" religion, believing that the stars were in-fact the Gods that created all life.
Ahkuariyo continued, saying "But beyond that, we have several issues to discuss."  As he said this, Ahkuariyo set some of the flimsies in his stack aside.  "First and foremost, when you begin to make your presence known in this system, you should expect representatives of some of the governments of the Porozlo system to demand your immediate arrest and extradition to their soil."  Grunting, Zimzod asked, "Why?  What did we do?" and Mr. Ahkuariyo answered, "Something to do with charges from one of the on-world nations...  "Stepozhev...  Stepozhevac...  something like that.  They seem to have lodged diplomatic charges.  And I fully expect, based on the language used, that their embassy representative will sue for your arrest and extradition as soon as they learn you are here.  So in light of this, my question to My Lord Knights is...  If this becomes an issue, can you prevent His Grace from becoming embroiled, or is this an issue where his staff will need to prepare in case they're required to react or respond?"
As Zimzod said, "I think we can handle it", Dame Mikah said she didn't think the Duke would need to get involved.  She continued, "We can hire a lawyer.  The man that we were hired to escort died in combat.  It wasn't our fault."  Mr. Ahkuariyo asked, "Can you explain what you mean by, in combat?"  Mikah said, "We were attacked by pirates.  And if not for an Imperial Cruiser which rescued us...  Our ship was destroyed in battle."  At that Mr. Ahkuariyo held his hand up as he flipped through some flimsies and then said, "According to this report that I have, you have placed on record that your ship, the Dawnstar Horizon, is that correct?"  He paused for the Knights to nod before continuing, "She was, in fact, commandeered to act in an anti-pirate capacity with regard to..."  He was interrupted by the various Knights, as they said they were used more as targets than a combat force.
He called them back to order, saying "I was not there.  I am simply looking at the records.  With regard to the pirate threat, the indications we have in the records are that your ship was part of a battle group assembled against the pirates.  That you weren't attacked by the pirates and rescued by the cruiser.  That you went in with the full understanding that this was the tactic at hand.  Is that not correct?"  Mikah agreed it was and Zimzod answered, "Well, we really didn't have a choice at that point.  We were conscripted."  Mr. Ahkuariyo asked, "Then, are you going to join with the Stepozhevaci officials in pressing charges against the Military command of Regina?"
He was interrupted as almost everyone in the room urgently said, "No!" or "Absolutely not!" with a great deal of emphasis.  Dame Mikah cut the protests off saying, "The military did what they had to do.  However, we weren't pleased, and we're still not pleased.  But we lost our ship, a man died, a lot of people died, including the Councilor.  And we lost our ship."  Mr. Ahkuariyo nodded and said, "OK.  Then I just have one thing to clarify on this, given that we have the reports, yours and Naval, on the action and casualties.  This particular gentleman is not listed on it at all.  As surviving or dead."  Zimzod answered, "Well, half the ship was wiped out." and Mikah agreed.  Mr. Ahkuariyo challenged back, "But did you not explain to them that this person was aboard, and that he was killed?"  Mikah answered in an annoyed tone, "You know what?  In the heat of battle, we kind of forgot about it and remembered later.  He really was a useless passenger."
The minister nodded, saying "That could become a legal issue for you down the road."  When the Knights asked "Why", in an offended tone, Ahkuariyo said, "As far as this report, transporting him was your contracted mission..."  He was interrupted by Zimzod, who said, "No!  Our contracted mission was something illegal!"  Pausing for a moment, Zimzod resumed, "Under my understanding, the contract was broken, so therefore we didn't need to uphold it."  When Ahkuariyo asked him to explain what he meant by the word 'illegal', Zimzod realized this would require discussing the Quasar Viper and answered, "I mis-spoke."  Ahkuariyo asked, "Can you explain the contract to me?" and Zimzod said it had been too long ago and he didn't recall the details.  Ahkuariyo gave the Knights a look which showed he didn't believe that at all.The Gag Order, And Other Issues
Trying to prevent things from getting any worse, Sir Brian interrupted, asking Mr. Ahkuariyo if he could tell them the rest of the issues they were facing before they continued?  Brian suggested they could come back to the issues in turn, but asked if he could get a summation of the issues first?  Re-organizing his flimsies, Mr. Ahkuariyo consulted another sheet and said, "With regard to the events in the Risek system, His Grace absolutely extends his thanks for his understanding of the actions you took in resolving the situation.  However, The Imperium is, as I am sure you're aware, a collection of pearls strung along by a network of trade routes.  If one of the pearls gets sullied in the mud, we don't need that to endanger or darken the moods of the other worlds nearby.  It would have been appreciated if you had spoken with His Grace's office before you spoke about the actions you undertook, and the conditions and occurrences in the Risek system with a public news outlet.  Those releases have caused issues with the stability in neighboring systems and caused immense amounts of rumors.  It has caused social unrest which will cost mega-credits of public relations and communications to resolve."
Sitting quietly, Inger was extremely impressed with how diplomatically the minister was bitch slapping the Knights so eloquently.  Ahkuariyo paused to pass a glance over the group before continuing, "So with regard to speaking about that event in the future.  We are hoping you will exercise significant restraint.  And with regard to the Risek system again, thank you very much for your service.  It was quite inspired, but should be kept under wraps until you have talked with our offices."  Dame Mikah demanded, "You don't want us telling anybody, including the Duke, about the Zhodani part of this?"  She clearly forgot that the only other persons they'd told about Zhodani involvement were the naval command in the Risek System.  Resetting his face, Mr. Ahkuariyo answered, "The Zhodani part in it, not that I am aware of a Zhodani part in this until now, has nothing to do with the fact that the populations of the multiple systems neighboring the Risek system are reacting in fear of un-named organizations planting devices to carry out terror attacks and kill tens of thousands of people."
Again, passing a glance over all those at the table, Mr. Ahkuariyo said, "The fact of the matter was that people in the Risek system had very good reason to fear for what happened, because it happened there.  But other systems, people who were not threatened, didn't need to be told there were forces at large planting bombs when there were Imperial forces which could move in to protect them beforehand, and without their knowledge.  The unnecessary panic that spread was a result of your interview has traveled through the spacer and space borne communities.  So, we've been quite busy in responding to it, as well as the actual events in the Risek System."  As he spoke, the minister pulled several flimsies from his stack and placed them on a pad on the table before having them projected onto the wall.  In the statistics, the group could clearly see the data on a wave of unrest that swept out of the Jae Tellona system, presumably with their interviews.  They also saw a list of some costs, in government actions, to respond to the reactions, as the details of the Risek disaster reached neighboring systems and triggered responses.
"And finally," Ahkuariyo said as he turned off the projector, "not that this is a significant issue, but there is the somewhat comedic issue of...a cult?"  He said the last bit in something of a questioning tone.  Turning to the Admiral, he said "Admiral, I would pay to be a bug on the wall during your meeting with Admiral Uuela later on, and I'm not really sure exactly if this is the subject matter he is going to cover.  But it sounds like it is going to be a very entertaining meeting."  Emkir responded, in a satisfied voice, "You must admit, it was a nearly perfect cover."  As Ms. Vik twitched in her seat, Mr. Ahkuariyo said, "Since I do not know what it was covering for, I will give you that.  And since I do not know what that was about, I expect your meeting with the Admiral will be fairly interesting."
Looking over the entire group, Mr. Ahkuariyo said, "Those are the issues His Grace's staff see as rising out of your activities, which we might need to deal with."  Mikah simply said, "OK" and Zimzod started to laugh as he asked, "What about Rol?"  Mr. Ahkuariyo answered him saying, "Oh.  That's not your responsibility, and you will notice that Major Kaihvos is not in the room."  Zimzod smiled and said, "I was joking", and Mikah added in, "Yes.  We are not taking him out in public."Meanwhile, Back On The Ship
On the ship, Rol finished cleaning up breakfast and looked over to Zach, who was finishing his meal.  He said, "So Zach, I have a business proposition for you.  I have a TAS High passage voucher I'd like to sell, but I can't get the best price by myself.  How would you like to be my broker?"  Zach listened and cautiously answered, "Um, there's a little problem with that right now." and Rol asked, "Oh?  What's up?  I thought that was your stock and trade?"  Zach answered, "It is, but I'm having an issue with Hortalez et Cie", letting the comment fade off.  Nodding, Rol said, "Oh, I see.  That thing you didn't want to talk to me about.  OK, well, when you get that done, come see me because I might have money for you."
Zach nodded, saying "hopefully I'll get this resolved quickly."  Rol answered, "Yeah, I hope so too." and Zach said, "You know red tape."  Rol ended the conversation saying, "As I said, if you ever need any help, and if you need to, clarify things, let me know and I'll see what I can do to help."  Done talking to Zach, Rol headed back to work on programming the security feeds in his stateroom.  Zach logged into a terminal in the lounge and connected to the Rhylanor-net to research the medical side of having a neural electronic shunt grafted into his nervous system.  He found this technology was common enough in Rhylanor that it had a very wide range of providers and service types.
In order to better track his findings, Zach created a basic chart of services, costs, etc.  His ultimate concern was that the costs ranged from 'five to six thousand credits' at the bottom to up to the area of fifty thousand credits!  The low-end services appeared more "direct", while the higher end services included counseling, psych-preparation and higher end post-procedure care.  All the providers were at least minimally certified by the government in care, providing and outcome tracking.  Getting the data he wanted, Zach saved it to talk with the rest of the crew when they gathered later.  As he worked on this, Aiden had his own plans.
After breakfast, Aiden watched as the Knights, Admiral and Ms. Vik "left in their pretties" to meet with Duke Leonard's people, sighing in relief that he didn't have to go too.  His first job was a check up on ship's systems, still mostly powered down for maintenance work.  Aiden wanted to make sure things were as good as could be determined.  Aiden then did a bit of his own research for a firing range near the berth, to get in some weapons practice.  The array of ranges supporting merchanter-folk, with some station side clientele, was wide and mostly near dock and transient concourses of the station.  Aiden was quickly able to find a range that seemed to be in his budget.  After setting up to have his weapons moved to the range, Aiden settled in for some hours of navigational self-training.Discussions Of A Classified Nature
In Duke Leonard's admin offices the Knights had just been given a listing of Minister Ahkuariyo's talking points, and he asked which of the issues the Knights would like to answer first?  But Dame Mikah just responded, "None".  The failure to cooperate annoyed the minister as she continued, "We'll get back to you, as we have to speak to Duke Norris' people first.  And we would also like the, courtesy, of not having your people inform the Stepozhevaci about our presence in-system if that had not yet happened."
Minister Ahkuariyo answered that, legally, the Duke's office is required to comply with the notification process, and that their office likely has already.  He did point out it was in the interest of the Duke, and his office, to put pressure on the Stepozhevaci to behave, and not violate the laws.  He didn't mention that her lack of cooperation didn't help him to help her.  Of course, he was up front that, while they could lean on the Stepozhevaci, he couldn't guarantee they'd be quiet and not start issues.  He was clear it was only his job to make sure the Duke and his people didn't have to deal with the team's issues.  They were already handling parts of the Risek issue and preferred not to have to deal with the Stepozhevaci.
Admiral Emkir challenged that a point needed to be raised that the Knights were the "heroes" who found the cure to the Risek plague, and saved countless millions of lives.  And they had not been properly appreciated by the Podesti or Imperial authorities.  Emkir also said it was merely the jealousies of this balkanized backwater nation that were causing this particular problem in the first place.  Preventing the proper acknowledgment of the rescue that was properly performed in the Imperium's service.
"Also", the Admiral continued, "certain authorities in the Podesti nation had Zhodani connections and money, which had not been addressed.  So, I think this is a greater threat to Imperial interests in the region.  It was merely the destruction of a few items before they got into the wrong hands that caused the issues facing these volunteers."  The minister acknowledged Emkir's comments saying, "Your comments are very valid Admiral, and, as I said when we started this meeting, we do honor and respect the service that all of you have rendered in resolving the Risek crisis.  And we are well aware that, had it not been for the work of Dame Mikah's team, the situation would have been significantly worse.  But while our position is not about ignoring your contributions, it is moderating the results of your actions once you left the Risek system.
And the results of those actions may create issues that we, in the Dukes office, may have to respond to.  As for the Stepozhevaci situation?  That has nothing to do with the Risek incident.  It is unfortunate and, while we again admit a signal GQ and a direct decision by Imperial Authorities put your team in play there, the decisions you made as individuals put you into the service of the Stepozhevaci.  And into the situation you are in with them currently.  We just don't want this to become a problem here in Rhylanor.  We want this to be worked out.  So, on basics, as far as the Risek System, we just don't want your team broadcasting..."
Thinking she saw the direction the minister was taking, Dame Mikah interrupted saying, "OK.  We can do that.  However..."  But she was interrupted by Emkir, as he suggested that he could explain the issues regarding the Stepozhevaci from his work in the Porozlo system.  As others jumped in, the discussion rapidly lost control until the Minister pointed out this was 'the Knight's mess'.  And the Duke's people would very much appreciate it if they could keep it from becoming the Duke's mess.  It would be "Very" much appreciated if the crew could resolve this, especially without violence.
Mikah made it plain, they wouldn't use violence unless attacked, and the minister said they were fairly certain the Stepozhevaci wouldn't dare use weapons in-system.  He also suggested the ministry was already leaning on them about that.  As Dame Mikah made it clear they'd respond with deadly force if attacked, Emkir said, "There is just one more point", again in his most business-like manner.  Continuing with the room's attention, Emkir said, "It appears that a merchant lost his honest cargo, due to the catastrophic loss of his ship.  And he's being hounded by the insurer who is demanding proof of the event.  If we can provide some support, or expedite the investigation, that might help the over-all situation.  Having the honesty of one of our team members being brought into question officially may hurt our efforts and encourage the Stepozhevaci."
Ahkuariyo took a moment to search through his flimsies and check before answering.  He answered, "As I understand the situation, from the filed reports, Mr. Wood's claims, as forwarded from Regina, contained significant gaps in his statement of events.  We feel the Duke's office would be better served if Mr. Wood could find his way to clarifying the gaps in his claims in a way that rings more clear and correct.  And he should do it in a way that does not draw more questions than those caused, because he is revising his claim in the first place.  It would be our hope that he does this before looking to Duke Leonard's office to lend assistance."
Pausing to lend his next comments more weight, he looked at each person and said, "However, we do understand there may be events in which you were involved which might prevent Mr. Wood doing so.  If you would like to discuss those events so we can see if we can help with filling..."  Dame Mikah once more interrupted the minister saying, "It's classified...", which answer the minister clearly saw as not helpful, by the look on his face.  Cutting Mikah off, and finishing her sentence for her, to keep temperatures from rising, Emkir smoothly suggested, "Because the events might be of a sensitive nature."  Turning from Mikah's 'blunt, one stop non-answers' to the Admiral, the minister asked, "Can you provide a level of classification so that we might be able to..."
Again, Mikah interrupted, saying the issue was very highly classified, in a tone that brooked no discussion of the subject.  Again, the minister's face showed he didn't find that helpful.  Emkir again jumped in, to smooth things over, saying, "We'll get back to you on that."  Slammed back to the mat, Ahkuariyo paused, then said, "Can I ask, is this the nature of the meeting you have with His Excellency the Admiral Uuela at twelve?"  Because Emkir himself had no idea who he was meeting until Mr. Ahkuariyo had mentioned Uuela, much less why, he responded in the only way he could saying, "I'll get back to you at the next possible moment on that."  Minister Ahkuariyo smiled, if only barely, for the first time in a while as he accepted, saying, "That would be acceptable."
Turning to other matters, the minister looked back at Emkir and said, "By the way Admiral, about this cult," and was cut off by some brief chuckles as Emkir marshaled his face.  Not sure how this impacted the conversations about either Risek or Zach, Emkir said that he would again like to get back to the minister at a later time on that.  Clearing his throat, Ahkuariyo produced a number of flimsies and said they had some level of reports on the events in the Inthe system, from the Marquis of Inthe.  He also said they were aware the team was involved in overturning a large smuggling and weapons moving ring in that system.  One which may have links in the neighboring subsectors.  He also acknowledged that Emkir himself was noted as the person who engineered locating and making possible the recovery of a turncoat, who turned over the bulk of the data which resolved the issue.  All Ahkuariyo was curious about in this case was, how creating a cult was seen as helping?
Pausing to consider his words, Emkir explained that the cult was an 'unfortunate side effect' of his work undercover.  While creating the persona, he needed to get into the underworld of New Port Dunslead.  He needed to act very aggressive and push hard on some very-social levels.  Unfortunately, this had an effect on the local Vargr population. And once a crowd started following, it picked up other random elements as it developed its own momentum.  He coupled that with his actions at the Knight's party, where he stepped back and forth between the Knight's "party master" and his new persona.  This gave the appearance of having duped and infiltrated the Knight's entourage, actively embezzling them for his own ends.  As the "cult" became more of a local social movement, it picked up a party and free booter edge.
So, while the followers may have been lured to follow him by their own momentum, Emkir pointed out he never encouraged them to do so.  Nor did he expect it to continue, on its own energy, after he stopped driving the undercover persona.  Emkir continued that the local and Imperial authorities shared some level of responsibility for this, given their move to hustle the team out of the system as quickly as they did.  While it was true, the team was at risk for significant reprisals from the vargr gangs and bosses, it also prevented a much more public 'deflating' of the persona he'd created.  So, he disappeared just as the 'balloon' was at its peak of hot air, and most in need of direction.
The minister said that both Dukes Norris and Leonard agreed that any contact they had with Emkir's "followers" should be met with a kind and calm message to return to their former lives.  Emkir guessed most of the followers would not actually be employed, or would be under-employed.  He repeated his guess they got swept up in the "on-going party" created by those few who could bring it to Emkir again, and re-join the party.  When Emkir speculated on turning them into a useful force at all, Ahkuariyo said they were almost completely there for the party or, in the case of some numbers of Vargr, to follow the strength of his charisma.  If any means of direction could be set up, and they were approached with any possible assignment, it would end the party and, likely, the interest, if not worse.
The fact was that they were an unintentional sophont wave created by the social splash Emkir created which, without permission or acknowledgment, attached themselves to the Admiral as their leader.  Having them follow him, especially as they depleted their funds and became dependent on theft, social services or other methods of survival, would not be a good answer.  So, having explained the "why" and "how" of the cult, the minister had his answer.  Organizing his flimsies again, Ahkuariyo said, "The last issue that I would like to address, as we who are charged with dealing with all the reports and making recommendations to His Grace on certifying your titles, is that those reports, like Mr. Wood's, which do not impinge on this meeting, have, gaps.  This makes it hard for us to determine what you were doing in these periods of time and..."
Again, he was interrupted by Dame Mikah demanding, "What periods of time?"  Patiently, he responded to her, "During the time after you left the Porozlo system and arrived back here in Rhylanor."  Nodding and realizing the activities involved, Mikah said, "We'll get back to you on that."  Nodding at a response he obviously saw coming, Ahkuariyo said, "I do understand that some of these issues may be classified.  And I hope that you will take the opportunity to contact my office with guidance on officers that may hold the appropriate clearance to help with these matters.  Ultimately, we do need to complete our investigations, in order to make our recommendations to Duke Leonard on this matter."
Sir Brian then asked, "What are the gaps?  Can you give us specific dates that you are looking at?"  When the minister did give them dates, they corresponded to those times when the crew very much knew they were dealing with the Quasar Viper.  Of course, Zimzod chose this time to chime in saying, "The air in that area is above your pay grade." which, while accurate, was not helpful.  Adding to that, Mikah said, "I don't think anyone in your government has clearance that high."  Smoothly ignoring the blockade, the minister assured them that the Duke had officers on his staff, as well as Imperial personnel in-system, cleared to deal with any issue.
Breaking into the stalemate, before the comments could rise to an offensive nature, Emkir said in his most soothing voice, "Perhaps Duke Leonard's office can reach out to Duke Norris' office for an explanation?"  Mikah brushed his comment off, telling the Admiral, "That's why we are going to see Duke Norris' people later today."  Emkir ignored this as he finished telling the minister, "If you are interested in something more straight forward than we are able to give at this time."  The minister told Emkir, "That would be acceptable", though he was obviously not happy with that answer either.
At that point, Ms. Vik stepped into the situation saying, in her most polite negotiating voice, "I honestly think this is a case where we do not know what we can disclose.  We'd like to cooperate, but let us talk to Duke Norris' people and find out what we can disclose to you.  Then we'll be happy to cooperate.  Does that cover everything?"  Appearing a bit more pleased, the minister said that would be acceptable.  He then said they'd covered all the issues he'd planned to cover.  With that, he summoned a 'droid to lead them out of the office complex as he began working on his notes.
_________________________________________________________________________ Next: The Day's Planned Meetings