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Splitting Up To Do More Damage

Station      As they made their way out of the offices, Emkir reminded them he had to meet with Admiral Uuela.  As he got ready to leave them, Mikah said, "Emkir, give us a call if you need any help."  Emkir stepped close enough to the Knights and said, you know, we're gonna have to get the two Dukes in the same room.  We have to get our stories straight.  There has to be something we can tell the press and to give answers at cocktail parties...and I'm on the way to this meeting."  Mikah interrupted him saying, "Well, don't mention the Viper.  If they ask you what you've been doing, that never occurred.  We're going to meet with Duke Norris' people this afternoon."  She pointed to herself and the other Knights as she spoke.  "And we're going to talk to them.  You", she continued, stressing the word, "try to get two Dukes who are in different systems together.  We'll see how that goes."  Emkir said that, as far as they knew, Duke Norris was on his way to the Mora System, which Mikah agreed with.  Zimzod made an inappropriate joke about suggesting a plot for assassination to get them together, and was the only one who laughed.

Emkir went off as the Knights discussed lunch.  Having spent the morning in the Knight's meeting with Minister Ahkuariyo, Emkir asked the android sent to lead them out for directions to get the Admiral's office?  Hearing this, Mikah reminded Emkir, "Give us a call if you need any help."  As Emkir split off to see the Admiral, Ms. Vik said she was going to meet up with some of her friends from the SPA.  Pulling her comms, she called the Executive Director, Shashduur Ukamugigis[Shah-sh-doer Uh-k-am-ugg-ig-is], the Rhylanor System SPA Director.  A friend and peer of Inger's, he was pleased when he heard she was free for lunch.  So, the Director told her he was sending a port-car for her and she waited as the others left.  At the SPA offices, she received top levels of service and respect as she was escorted to Ukamugigis' office.  Despite knowing the way well, from past visits to the office, Inger accepted the show of respect as easily as any other previous visits.  When she reached the office, Inger found there were a number of other executives she had worked with.  Ukamugigis had also ordered a large lunch spread placed out in welcome.

To her surprise, Inger found that Administrator Dimuma Urri[Dim-oo-mah Your-ree] was visiting from the Equus System!  She'd worked with Urri in the Heroni System.  As they settled in to chat, it became apparent they'd heard some interesting stories of Inger and the crew she traveled with.  The rumor mill had it that the Hotel California was a privateer, signed to some unknown nobleman's Letter of Marque!  More surprising, after the greetings and introductions, Inger found herself fielding questions about Zachariah Wood!  They asked her because their records said he was crew on her ship.  It appeared, as she fielded questions, flags exploded across their system with Zach's name as soon as it was learned he was in-system.  Almost the same happened with the Knights, when their ship first broadcast they were in-system, but that was expected with nobility, so it was understood.  Still, everyone had also heard rumors of the vessel and its activities.  For that reason, security patrols in their sector of the port berths had been stepped up.

But Zach's name had been flagged by half a dozen banks and some merchanter firm or other.  Some legal actions had been taken to freeze his assets and accounts by the mega-corporation Hortalez et Cie!  "What he did?" and "who did he do it to?" seemed common questions.  And if that was not enough, they'd heard rumors Major Kaihvos, accused of war atrocities, was also aboard the Hotel California!  As Inger tried to find a place to start, the group mostly seemed to be asking what was true and what was not?  They believed it was too much for all the rumors to be true, and wanted help separating fact from fiction.  When Ms. Vik started speaking, she got full quiet as she said, "I don't know about Wood.  I just know that I haven't seen him really do much.  We picked him up.  His cutter was adrift and honestly, I haven't seen him do much of anything.  So, whatever he did before he showed up, I don't know."

A tech named Manul, from ops, leaned forward asking, "His cutter was adrift?  What do you mean?"  Inger answered, "Apparently it was disabled.  I wasn't on the bridge.  But his ship was disabled and we brought him aboard.  And he's been with us ever since.  And, I actually don't know why he hasn't left us yet, except that he has nowhere else to go.  But, to be honest, if he is all over the system, I haven't seen anything to show he's done anything to cause that."  Manul replied, "Well, he is a rash on our systems because he claims his ship was destroyed and his claim doesn't make sense.  But you're saying his ship was actually destroyed.  And you were there.  Did you see it?"  Inger was forced to consider her answer, as she honestly replied that she did not see the ship, and only saw the cutter he said he escaped on.

As they considered that, Ms. Vik continued to be rewarded by outright stares on confirming the first of many rumors.  She continued, "And as far as Rol goes.  He's been nothing but honorable so far.  He's been our cook if nothing else."  The last part of the statement dropped jaws around the table.  Finally, someone asked, "You've got an accused war criminal as your cook?" in disbelief.  Short but stunned silence followed, which Inger wasn't sure how to respond to.  Finally, another of the ops admins asked, "You do realize that he is, accusations aside, and those I don't even believe.  He is like, he's one of the Imperium's most dangerous marine combat officers?"  This so surprised Inger that she couldn't help laughing out loud.  Recovering herself, Inger followed that up with a playful and very disbelieving, "No", as if the word alone made the assertion false.

But it was Inger's turn to be stunned as the man continued, in absolute earnest, that this was true.  Inger tried to stabilize her view of Rol, and her understanding of her crew, as she said in a disbelieving voice, "OK.  If you say so."  She managed not to throw him a satirical thumbs up sign with her statement.  But he pulled up a flimsy, from a personal packet, and handed it to the stunned Inger.  As she read it, Inger saw a run-down of the training that someone who did Major Kaihvos' job would have completed to achieve his position as a trooper.  Not to mention a command officer.  The list was as complete as the Imperium would admit to, when it came to extreme training.

Much of Inger's mind was still spinning around the new dimensions to Rol's background.  And a small part of her thoughts wondered if there was an operational reason for the administrator to have a flimsy, packed with information on Rol?  Or, if it marked the man as a fan-boy?  As she read, Ms. Vik realized that the top of the line suit of battledress Zimzod had drooled over in Instel-Arms would've been Rol's standard uniform!  Her eyes caught training referred to as "orbital free drop and airborne assault" training!  People who, in their armor, were dropped, as a formation of individuals, from ships in orbit to make planetside assaults as paratroopers did in atmospheres after re-entering from orbit in the kit and battle armor alone!

Nodding as she the new information in, Inger could say no more than, "OK.  So, he's a very impressive cook."  Finally catching her mind up, Ms. Vik continued, "I'll have to ask him about this.  Honestly, he's been so low key and low profile that I would have never known If it's all true."  Shashduur stepped in, reverently saying, "At the very least, I can tell you that it is true that he was awarded the Starburst for Extreme Heroism."  Inger remembered him saying that, when he'd responded to Sir Brian's email during the jump between the Inthe and Risek systems.  But she thought it had been just a claim when Sir Zimzod belittled him over the statement.  After a moment of silence, Director Shashduur told her to tell Rol he had the respect of the entire Administrative staff for all the SPA facilities in-system.

Still taking this in, Ms. Vik assumed her most chummy voice and said, "I'm sure he'll be happy to hear that." with a smile on her face.  "I mean, overall, he seems like a decent sort of guy.  I mean, honestly, I don't even know if he's the real Rol, for all that.  We had a guy when I was back on Natoko, he was like, a midget.  And he swore he was trained in special ops, and all this other crap.  And all the guys were making fun of him, and I was like, 'I don't give a shit as long as he does what he is supposed to do, he can say he is a god.'  As long as he gets the job done..."  Nodding her head through a pause, she simply added, "He's a very impressive cook if that is all true."  Shashduur answered, saying, "If you have doubts, you can bring him into station offices and we can determine if he is the real Major Kaihvos."  Inger shrugged saying, "I don't know if he'd be OK with that, but I'll definitely let him know.  I'll definitely convey your respects to him.  And I'll ask him about all this stuff, because I'll probably have to ask him what the hell he is doing here?"  After a pause, she nodded her head as she said, "Isn't there a small balkanized country he'd like to go save or something?  Why is he hanging around with us?"

Trying to change the subject, even if just to get her mind off the questions now surrounding Rol, Ms. Vik said, "I'll tell you though, I've gotten paid at every port we've been to.  Doing consultant work or whatever.  She hoped this would move the conversation to port-activities in the Sector.  But she was interrupted by Shashduur, who said, "Yeah, we got the weirdest reports.  Because everywhere you go, it seems you meet the port administrator and that gets around.  So, we've heard the weirdest things about places you've been and speculation about what you're up to?"  When Inger simply grunted an acknowledgement, Shashduur asked, "Is it true you were hanging out with the Duke of Regina?" with half a note of disbelief and some unhidden awe in his voice.  Caught in her thoughts, Inger asked, "With who?" and he repeated, "The Duke of Regina."  Considering the past few months, Inger answered, "I've never met the Duke.  But the Knights I'm with, they've met him.  And I have seen high ranking people on his staff. But..."

There, she was interrupted again as Shashduur asked, "About that.  Are they planning to throw any parties, or anything of that nature, while they're here?"  Inger said, "Probably.  If Duke Norris' people don't throw a party, then they probably will.  It seems to be the way they do things."  Nodding as she finished, Shashduur said, "OK.  We have certain sections of the port with facilities we can make available to them, so let them know", in his best 'we have a place to put them to minimize any damage they do' manner.  Ms. Vik asked for that data on a flimsy, and promised to let the Knights know this.  At first, missing the Directors intent, Inger asked in a surprised voice, "So, what?  Has it been boring lately?" wondering if they needed excitement or were just gluttons for punishment?

Shashduur said things had been settling down, now more than a year after the war.  Things were straightening out and traffic was starting to flow more regularly from the core systems.  He smiled as he said activity was picking up and the economics of the port had entered a growth period.  Inger knew that was especially valuable to the system and the SPA, and his bonuses.  Inger recognized as he turned contemplative, into his forecasting view.  Shashduur said, "With any luck, it's not going to be a bubble.  And there's a lot more money flowing into the system than there had been for the last few years."

While that let Inger turn the conversation to general trade topics, they did manage to keep popping up with questions about her adventures.  She answered what she could, and did manage to keep the conversation on trade and port business.  Inger also found it helpful to turn some of the more direct questions with anecdotes about the personalities of the Knights, specifically describing Sir Zimzod as certifiable.  Inger asked if they'd had any word of the 'Cult of Emkir'?  They said they hadn't, but asked what she could tell them of the group?  She answered with a thumbnail explanation, which led to more questions about her role in the activities and investigations with the Knights.  Inger was also quietly certain she could find some way to make a profit for herself as a consultant, based on what she heard from them about the port.

Of course, she knew there would be time for that, so Inger steered the talk to social and cultural events on-station, and asked what was good?  As her friends, they had a feel for her tastes, and could direct her to a number of excellent productions happening in any of the various station concourses.  They reminded her that ops always had tickets available for the use of their ranking members, which she could freely take.  Soon, they started making tentative plans to meet and attend a number of performances.  It was then Ms. Vik also offered to help, if anyone needed consulting done?  They agreed to put her in the directory and set her up with a station comms, so people were not constantly buzzing her ship.  The rest of the gathering fell into old patterns, as Inger managed to catch up on the doings of her friends as well as the port.

Munching and Mechanicals

     After Emkir and Ms. Vik left them, the Knights decided to head for some lunch before making additional plans.  They realized they'd need Zach to meet them at Duke Norris' offices at four, and called him.  Back at the ship, Zach was working on some research and said he'd meet them when needed.  Done with that, they broke comms and looked for a good restaurant.  They settled on what looked like a 'better than generic' restaurant, based on the display menu.  As they had looked at the local offerings, Mikah thought about returning to Instel-Arms for more shopping.  She also thought about the "costs of appearances" for the upcoming events they'd have to attend.  As they entered the restaurant, Mikah started that conversation with the others.  Eventually, the Knights spent Cr 40 each on lunch as they talked about the meetings on the flimsy they were given.

While eating, Brian noticed, out the window, that just down-concourse from their restaurant was a robotics shop called "The Bot Shop".  He suggested to the others that they should stop there to look for devices that might help with shipboard work.  They all knew they had a few hours to burn before their coming meeting, and agreed to check the shop out after eating.  Once they'd paid their tab, they made their way to the 'droid shop, finding an open 'Salon-like' facility.  There were sections representing products, support, customization and owner-education.  The staff were, as in any advanced electronics sales forums, broken down by job titles with the bulk being sales associates.  These were versed in the uses and options of the various robots and androids available.  Mostly, the devices were mechanical, with some fully or partially sophontoid units as well.

When the Knights entered the bot-shop, an associate approached to ask what they were interested in?  She was respectful, given their high-end clothing, and directed them easily to the 'ship's service' section of the shop.  As they walked, they saw a vast number of systems from 'palm-sized 'Home attendant' ball-shaped 'droids, operating on an anti-grav basis' to devices intended to be built into structures to handle tasks, or which were massive in size.  Some had uses that were or were not obvious business systems.  They saw a 'greeter system', with an upper torso that could match any sophont race and would extend from the top of desks or tables.  Some 'Intelligent system' and 'network management' 'droids looked like nothing more than a standard computer CPU box.  Eventually, they reached the 'ship's services' section and found there were all manner of devices from cleaner-bots to machinist/welder bots to security, steward and other sophont-services bots.  Some were mobile, and some were meant to integrate into a ship's structure or the structure of a specific system.

Once in that section, Sir Brian asked about 'droids that could be programmed for engineering work, and was shown a variety of 'droids configurable for varying tasks in engineering.  When he asked, he was told robots were simple part replacers, services starter/stoppers, etc.  They had no real ability to judge maintenance needs, and would need to be supervised by a sophont in their work.  As they went through the various systems with a sales rep, Brian started to pare down the offerings.  He finally found a stalk-like 'droid which could support multiple snake-like meter long appendages.  Each ended in multiple tools or a 'snap on/snap off' terminus that had a tool box with a wider variety of tools.  The 'droid had a tread transmission, and could lock in place once it got where it needed to be.  The brains would be placed in a box, inside either the upper or lower transmission systems depending on computing power.  It could also fold in half to get to tighter spaces.  Communications with the unit ranged from computer console connections to direct verbal, based on the desired options, as were the tool varieties, intelligence level, skills and technical capabilities of brain.

When it came to cost, Brian worked the sliding scale of his desires and descriptions and was told that units like what he described, with the equivalent of Engineering 3, would cost around KCr 30 new.  Engineering 4 would require an increased brain size, more advanced upgrades and much more programming, resulting in a price in the area of KCr 55 new.  Zimzod asked about pilot 'droids and the sales rep looked at him with a skeptical expression.  She quickly explained a number of issues which made pilot 'droids unsuitable for tasks, other than managing a bridge during jump, observing the sensors and other systems, or as a co-pilot, when nothing unusual would be required of it.  She continued that, except for the best of androids, wildly changing situations and input could result in bad reactions.  And bad reactions were usually fatal when it came to critical starship operations.  She did make it clear, there was a unit that her firm felt comfortable selling, as a base model, for KCr 250.

While Brian shopped for engineering support, Zimzod took a wider tour of the place, looking at everything.  He especially eyed the erotic offerings, ranging from simple tactile surrogate-robots to more completely life-like and responsive units.  He saw those as he walked, as well as all manner of units that could serve the needs of the ship.  From simple cleaning and galley steward/cook units, that would free up Rol, to autodocs, that would free up Mikah.  Some provided low berth treatment systems they didn't have.  Everything from cargo loaders to co-pilot systems (intelligently watching sensors and raising alarms while in jump or even in port), to ships computer modules allowing the ship to be, in part, controlled verbally from anywhere aboard with voice commands.  Zimzod quickly found they could spend a lot of cash there, and frequently returned to the intimate services androids before ultimately heading back towards Brian and Mikah.

Before he got back to them, Zimzod spent the most time examining shipboard security androids.  He saw many solutions, from built in( in-wall or in-floor/ceiling panel ) to mobile units( tractor, legs, anti-grav ).  They came in many forms, from ball to lifelike, with solutions from restraint to subduing weapons(gas) to actual combat weapons.  Narrowing his attention to combat armed 'droids, Zimzod found taser, laser and slug throwing capabilities, and a set of 'droids that could carry the tranq-firing capabilities of a snub pistol and provide laser as well.  Those units varied from 'droids hard wired into the ships power system for unlimited laser fire, to units with battery-power built in and a more limited combat survivability.  Obviously, the more built in fire power, the larger the unit needed to be.  For a basic 'Eyes, laser and tranq package' with the needed sensors, a rep estimated the 'droid(s) would cost KCr 40 each, and need to plug into ship's power for significant battle support.  But they would be able to handle minor issues while moving independently.

Brian considered the prices of the 'droids he was interested in and asked if they had refurbished units, or lower rated brand names.  The salesperson said they only handled new Naasirka brand sales at that shop.  Once the numbers were in, they considered the costs and what they had available.  The ship's funds had Cr 34,496, so they could nearly completely drain that fund for one brand new unit with the parts Brian deemed needed.  Considering this, Mikah said she'd pay for it, because it was something she thought needed.  When Brian asked, "Don't we have Zach to negotiate for us", they decided to come back with Zach at a later time.  They knew they'd be on-station for a while.  Zimzod asked the rep for her business data and the rep bumped her business ident info to Zimzod's ident.

Admirals, Secrets And Favors

     Emkir had been taken completely by surprise when Minister Ahkuariyo said his meeting was with Admiral Uuela for a number of reasons.  The first being that he, himself, had not been told who he was meeting, or what the meeting was about?  The second was that he knew Khimuru Uuela[Kah-ee-moo-ru EE-oo-Lay-e-ya] well, having interacted with him quite a number of times during his last years in service.  So Emkir comm'ed a port taxi and made his way to the Admiral's office with a much firmer air of curiosity.  Once at naval offices, Emkir had only to return the salutes of guards, enter to reception and identify himself before he was given directions to Admiral Uuela's office.  As the Admiral's aide directed Emkir into the private office, Khimuru rose up.  Wearing an undress duty uniform, Khimuru called out, "You rat bastard!  Where's my bottle?"  through the joke, he was already extending a hand in greetings.

With a wounded look and his hand to his heart, Emkir allowed some of his confusion to tinge his reply as he asked, "Bottle of what?"  Khimuru said Emkir had promised him a good bottle of scotch, which Emkir knew he didn't.  Emkir entered into an impassioned apology saying, "Well, you know.  I had this bottle of scotch.  But these crazy Bedouins got ahold of us.  And we had this big Bedouin party", omitting that it had been brandy and Jae Tellona caravanners.  Emkir continued, "So then, they started painting some of our crew red and things got out of hand..."  Admiral Uuela simply nodded, knowing well that Emkir's life was full of the more bizarre occurrences being an Imperial Scout might lead to.  Once Emkir let the apology trail off, Khimuru said, "It's just like you to end up in bed with Bedouins." as Emkir groaned.  He did answer, "Well, it was not me who ended up in the dye tub, to put it that way.  Though I was caught red handed." as he held up his hands.

As Emkir was about to push the conversation to why he was there, Khimuru said, "Anyway, have a seat and let's talk a little bit." as he pointed to a chair.  Emkir sat comfortably while Khimuru took his seat and the former Scout asked what he could do for his friend?  Admiral Uuela led off saying, "Well, first off, what the hell are you doing back here?  Last I thought, you were retired?"  Emkir knew the 'small talk' was a tradition with his friend and said, "I was.  And I found an interesting group of people charging around the galaxy, answering distress calls, helping people and doing a lot of strange things like that.  And it was a lot more interesting than sitting around collecting a pension, so..."  As the sentence trailed off, Khimuru asked, "So who's paying all your bills?" and Emkir replied, "God only knows!  As long as it's not me, I don't care." with a laugh.  He continued, "I'm not going to worry about it."

With the ice broken, Khimuru pulled out a flimsy and said, "I got a report, when you folks pulled in-system, that tells me the Duke of Regina says my people have to pay for your fuel!" with a bit of an indignant air.  "What did you people do for the Duke of Regina?"  Now into the game, Emkir did what he did best, as he started speaking but thinking faster.  Emkir said, "We rescued a few people, saved maidens from being raped, the usual stuff."  Used to high level double talk, Khimuru seemed to let that pass saying, "So he's paying your bills, huh?" and Emkir quickly corrected him, saying "He's paying the ship's bills, not mine.  That's a separate check, and not helping much.  I haven't had a good night of drinking, carousing and gambling since I got here.  Other than that, it's been interesting."  Khimuru admitted that it didn't seem like Emkir, but pointed out he'd really only just arrived.  Emkir then complained that 'the number of meetings they had him attend in-system' was getting in the way, as Khimuru leaned forward.

Khimuru answered more positively, saying "So let me ask you a question.  We have this thing coming up, and we could use a little help from one of the people we hear you're traveling with."  As Emkir sat up, preparing for the coming blow, he said, "Have your people call my people, but what's this thing you are talking about?"  Leaning back, Khimuru answered, "Well, there is going to be a ceremony down-well, at the Duke's palace.  It's an annual thing and we're setting up a presentation of honor guards, to salute the Duke as the system celebrates their military history."  Eyeing Emkir a bit more, he continued, "I understand, and recognize that you may not want to talk about this much, but I understand you are traveling with Major Kaihvos?"  Taken more by surprise than he expected, Emkir simply said "Yes, actually." and Khimuru sat back more.  Khimuru asked, "Well, do you think you could possibly prevail on him to help head up our delegation?"

Having seen the list of events the Knights were asked to consider attending, and having been in-system for it in previous years, Emkir asked, "Would this have to do with the celebration of Defenders day?"  Khimuru said that was just "local shit" waving it off.  Contemplatively, Emkir mused out loud, "So you want to enhance your honors unit, and you want my friend Rol?  I'll tell him, and see what he says."  With a more confidant smile on his face, Khimuru said, "Well, if you're that good friends, I'm sure you can get him to march with us.  And we'd be very appreciative."  With a conspiratorial smile, Emkir said, "I think I'll do my best to convince him it's a good idea, and might make his situation look good.  Being in the eyes of the public in the Duke's company.  Yeah.  I'll ask him."  When Khimuru said, "Great!", Emkir asked for his comms data and got Khimuru's personal comm info.

After a brief pause, Khimuru said, in a more serious tone, "And since you're doing me a favor, I can let you know about a favor we've already done you."  That caught Emkir's attention as his friend continued, "We keep our eyes open for things going on in-system.  And you're familiar with the nature of the, underworld, here.  Apparently, someone's been looking to hire some guns, and they're looking to have them pay you a visit."  Khimuru said that as was looking meaningfully at Emkir.  Cautiously, Emkir asked, "Is there a name attached to that contract?  Who they're working for?" and Khimuru said his people were trying to run that down, but hadn't succeeded yet.  He did say it appeared to run from Embassy Row.  Sitting back with a frown on his face, Emkir said, "Ah, it might be those pesky Stepozhevaci."  Khimuru nodded, showing he was familiar with them, and perhaps with their situation too.  Ignoring that, Emkir continued, "They think the whole universe is against them.  And get bent out of shape when their council members don't come home, even though it is no fault of anybody's."

Now it was Khimuru's turn to sit calmly as Emkir went off on an unexpected tangent saying, "A jump error and they start screaming."  Once Emkir's outburst ended, Khimuru figured 'why not' and asked, "Now that you've brought that up, what did happen to you people?"  Fixing the Admiral with his gaze, Emkir bluntly said, "We're not sure."  After a pause, Emkir continued, "The best we can figure is that they have people trolling deep space looking for hulks.  And one of our people thinks the Natoko system is involved somehow.  But that's always the way it is.  I've heard a lot of rumors in my years in the Scouts."  Absorbing this, Khimuru asked, "So how did this end up with you disappearing?  And losing their council member?"  Despite his relaxed posture, Emkir could tell Khimuru was now paying very close attention.

Shrugging, Emkir said, "Jump error.  A misjump", obviously not willing to explain it deeper.  And not wanting to fence with Emkir, Khimuru simply threw a barb back saying, "Well, that's what you get for flying in those scout ships." with an evil look in his eyes.  Countering the barb, Emkir joked back, "And you want me to bring my friend Rol, and make you look good?" with a long glance and smirk at Khimuru.  After another pause, Khimuru said, "Well, our records show you are here for a month.  What are you up for?" and Emkir said, "I haven't done any serious drinking or gambling since I got here and I think it is about time I did."

Khimuru jumped in, agreeing with Emkir, and then invited him to a poker game at the officers club that night at ten.  Emkir said he'd see what he could do about the game, and once again went off on a tangent saying in an aggrieved tone, "The only things we've been involved in are that we found some locals had their noses in some Zhodani stuff."  Khimuru again sat up saying, "Really?  Where was this?"  Emkir thought back over the past few weeks events before saying, "That was back on the Podesti arcology, back in the Risek System."  Giving Emkir a close look, Khimuru said, "That's odd.  We never got reports of that." indicating he was not in the loop about the events in the Risek System.  "So what can you tell me about that?"

Emkir said that, in the process of looking for the causes of the Podesti plague, their team on the arcology came across a warbot with Zhodani parts.  He did have to admit that the black marketer could have come across it as war spoils and reprogrammed it to be his guard dog.  But the most important questions came when their investigations in the home of a minor politician.  We found a computer with hidden files labeled with Zhodani names and containing zho-language text!  He also told the Admiral about the unmarked credit chips they recovered there.  Again in an aggrieved tone, he said how they worked with their liaison, Captain Mirjam Kristianson and responding Marine units confiscated all the CredChips, data and electronics.

As an aside, Emkir confided in Khimuru that Mirjam Kristianson had one hell of a rod up her ass.  Smiling, Khimuru said, "That makes her a good captain.  Not liking you makes her even better.  I don't know what's wrong with me." and Emkir shared in the laugh.  Khimuru followed that up contemplatively saying, "That definitely adds a dimension to the issue that we didn't have.  Of course, it is not my area of responsibility."  Nodding, but unsure if he could gain an ally, Emkir said, "Those damn mind readers come up where you least expect them." and Khimuru said he was not surprised it was kept from the public nets.  But he was disturbed that it wasn't transmitted to major military commands.  As they discussed the issue, Khimuru admitted his command was considered 'Home Guard defense', and didn't need to be alerted.  But he felt major commands should all, at least, be made aware in threat briefings.

Having said as much as he wanted to, Khimuru asked Emkir, "What else have you been up to?  We heard you had fun in the Inthe System."  The last was said with a bit of an evil grin.  Emkir told him, "We had a situation that was not top secret, but I felt we needed a diversion.  So, I put out the word that there was opportunity to be had with a new power in the city.  And I turned out to have recruited some people who decided to follow me around.  I kid you not, this actually happened.  So, they start showing up to get involved and confuse the issue, which helped out some.  And then, when things finished up, they followed us to the next system, which wound up being a bit inconvenient.  So, we had to promise some folks we wouldn't encourage these people anymore."  Throwing a crack in, Khimuru asked, "So, how did it feel to finally be an officer with a loyal following?"  Emkir responded, "At least I am not a Rear Admiral, let's put it that way".

Turning the direction of the conversation, Emkir asked, "Anyway, what have you been doing since I left the system?"  As they spent time talking, Khimuru's year turned out to be mostly administrative.  The conversation slowly evolved into generics about each other's lives.  Emkir learned that, in the next few months, Khimuru would be shipping out as a squadron commander in one of the subsector fleets.  Possibly as far out as the Five Sisters Subsector.  When Emkir asked about this, Khimuru said they were apparently planning to shuffle all the subsector fleets soon.  Emkir kept it under his hat that he already saw that beginning in the Risek system, when new squadrons started arriving.  The Admirals agreed they should spend some time together in-system, and that Emkir should keep an eye out for him once his team moved on.  Emkir eventually took off, just before dinner, saying he'd try to make the poker game.  And he promised to talk to Rol.

Relaxing On The Ship

     In his searches, Rol eventually found a light duty, technical-work certified external unit and waldo rig with computer and comms services that fit his interests.  It was priced around KCr 60, and required one ton of cargo or other storage space on the ship.  Done with that research, Rol returned to his programming project.  As it got close to 3 pm, Rol felt he had the program working properly and set things up to test run for a day before he thought about doing some physical training.  Hitting a terminal, Rol did a port-search for gyms near the ship's berth, and found a number of them nearby.  As he checked costs, Rol saw they all used electronic payment, which was not a surprise, but meant using his ident.  Rol changed his mind, deciding to find ways to exercise aboard the ship.

Also on the ship, Zach finished researching medical services and went to the ships galley for food.  He also asked Rol, who was coming out of his stateroom, if he was cooking?  Rol said he would, while taking a break from his programming.  Aiden finished his nav studies about the same time, having taken an earlier break when the courier arrived to pick up his weapons, and had lunch with the others while he prepared to go to the shooting range.  After eating, Aiden got ready to leave and Rol returned to his programming.  Zach decided to relax, and peruse a cross section of blogs and social media to see what was happening on the station, and in Rhylanor in general.  Zach figured he'd do that until he needed to dress and prepare to meet with the Knights and Duke Norris' people at 4.  Zach secured his terminal at around two thirty, and began preparing so that, by three, he was ready to get to the Duke's offices a bit early.  Dressed and ready, he took a port cab in-station to meet the Knights.

Emkir eventually returned to the ship to find Rol in PT clothes working out.  When Rol asked, "How'd it go?" the Admiral happy answered, "Oh, it went all right actually."  Emkir then continued, "We have a little bit of honor duty coming.  Would you like to go to an honors ceremony at Duke Leonard's, saluting the service of in-system military units, look spiffy and make a navy buddy of mine look good?"  Looking down at his current outfit to add to the irony, Rol looked up at Emkir and asked, "Look spiff?" in a doubtful voice.  Brushing that off, Emkir told Rol the ceremony was not for another week, and asked if the former marine could clean up spiffy in a week or so?  Needing more information about the request, Rol asked, "Wait...  I am not exactly understanding.  What is the event?"  Emkir answered, "It's a ceremony at the Ducal Palace, officiated by Duke Leonard, recognizing unit honors.  It's a dress occasion, and my friend said that, since I know you, they'd like you to come, stand around and look cool.  And that's all."

Fixing Emkir with a stare, Rol said, "So you want me as a figurehead?" and Emkir answered confidently, "Well I'm a figurehead.  You wanna come be a figurehead with me?"  Rol asked, "What's in it for me?" and Emkir answered, "Food and drink I am guessing.  I can make introductions for you with Admiral Uuela.  And you can ask him for a favor in return for coming, as he's the one who asked.  There's also a poker game tonight, if you'd like to play?"  Not making snap decisions on the ceremony, Rol bought time saying he was gonna lay off poker, as he had not been too successful in his last few tries.  Switching to the ceremony, Rol decided to see what details he could pull with an adversarial response.  So Rol said, "About this ceremony, I don't know.  I don't see too much point in going at this point.  You say you have this event you come to me with, and it's for the Navy."

Emkir interrupted, saying "Well, it's for a Navy buddy of mine.  Sort of a 'scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' thing."  Rol answered, "So you're auctioning me off is what you're saying?" which Emkir instantly denied, saying he was hoping to help make his buddy look good so his buddy would help them look good at some point.  Playing the reverse angle himself, Emkir backed off, casually saying, "It's no big deal Rol.  If you want to do some favors for some navy guys and, at some point down the road, see if they might be inclined to get us out of a jam.  That's all."  Rol considered the new information and said, "I'll tell you what.  I'll talk it over with our Captain", sarcastically stressing the word captain.  Rol continued, "and we'll see what she thinks."  Emkir accepted that, playing it off casual.  He said, "I'm going to play poker tonight.  Wanna come?" and Rol firmly repeated that he didn't.

As Emkir began to turn towards the galley, Rol asked, "When is this thing?" and Emkir said, "A week from now."  After a pause, Rol said, "Let me think about it for now" and Emkir answered, "Ok.  You know where I live."  Emkir settled down in front of the entertainment suite after that, to see what news was happening in the area?  Rol returned to his workout.  As the news feed played on, Emkir logged into his mail account and saw he had a number of responses to his greetings.  Most of his former associates were surprised he was back in-system, and some wondered why?  Especially as his name was floating about, in some cases in a less than positive light.  A few of the more trustworthy suggested that some rumors from the embassy sector didn't sound at all healthy, but there were no specifics.  Of course, there were any number of questions about the crew he was flying with.  There were also questions about the Knight's interviews in Jae Tellona about the Risek system.  After reading the messages through, Emkir got to work answering and updating his various friends and former co-workers.  He also considered the many invitations to stop by offices, or join get-togethers which might get him into almost any level of the local government he wanted access to.

Choosing Where To Party

     Eventually, the Knights left the 'droid store, and Mikah said they should stop to discuss the events list they were given.  To choose what they would and would not attend.  The current date was 197-1112, and they looked at the upcoming events.  They saw one event, The Reilley - Dushemsa Tieells Interstellar Trade Fair, hosted at the Montag Hillara Arcology Tech-Expo Center.  It was a month long event, and already underway(181 to 212 1112).  In two days' time, 199-1112, they saw the scheduled christening and launch of the INS Nakhikhariin Min-Dow[Nah-K-He-Car-Een Min-Dow], a 75,000 dTon Atlantic Class Strike Cruiser, to be captained by Captain Max Jarrard, IN.  The ceremony was one they realized they could attend in military uniform.  Mikah and Zimzod liked that it gave them a reason to have a ceremonial side arm.  So that was a no-brainier, as Mikah had a class A uniform and Zimzod a Dress uniform.  The next item, on the same day, was some sort of renewal festival, and none of the Knights found the idea very appetizing.  Because of that, they decided not to attend the renewal and looked to the next event.

In four days' time(201-1112) was the 'Captain Ferlindac Diirrsou Festival', celebrating the legacy and service of the late Captain.  He apparently died in the Battle of the Two Suns, and they decided that sounded right because they could attend that in uniform too.  The same afternoon and night, they saw there was a birthday gala for Baron Mathew Amidon of Selenidic.  The information on him said he was a high-ranking executive in food systems production, food stuffs, farming and had recent investments in military fighter manufacturing.  It looked like a party with good contacts, so they decided it was a "must attend".  The next item on the list was listed as a Progress report from the 'Council on the Advancement of Social Reform and Reinvestment Think Tank'.  It was headed by a Dame Ashlee Aaniika.  It sounded dry and technical, and lasted all of the day following Baron Mathew's party(202-1112) so they decided not to go.

They did choose to attend the 'Children of the Fifth Frontier War Charitable Society Director's Outreach' event on the same day(202-1112).  This touched on the horrors they saw while stuck in the Emerald System(Jewell Subsector) at the very end of their service and the Fifth Frontier War.  Again, Countess Sher Ipirkhiir's[Aye-Per-Kah-eer] Social Gala and Ball two days later(204-1112) was a no-brainer, and they would only need appropriate party clothes.  The same went for the birthday gala for Count Juiinlimo[Joo-Een-Limo] Badeaux of Peleiirkhul[Pel-EE-Ear-K-Hul] the next day(205-1112).  He was also an industrialist involved in consumer electronics, mass marketing and financial marketing.

The day after that, 206-1112, would be the Ikikhirkim Peil(Ik-Keer-Kim Pee-Ehl) Regional Civic Pride Celebration, and they felt that could be fun.  There also might be some good chances to make contacts.  And the military related "341st Strike Squadron Military Day" and "Defender's Day celebrations", which followed, were also a must in their opinions.  So, they set their schedules and decided to contact Duke Leonard's office later that day to set their itinerary with his people.  That way, all the security and other details would be taken care of.  They then agreed they'd need to pick up dress uniforms appropriate to their service levels, so they headed to the on-station military offices to hit a PX.  Once at military offices, their idents were checked and they were directed to the base exchange, with an eMap hand unit that guided them there.  At the PX, they found dress uniforms would cost between Cr 200 and 300 each.

Imperial naval dress uniforms were jet black, with piping depending on the service details of the military member.  A Marine uniform was maroon, with black piping.  Mikah ordered the "blazer and slacks version" of the female dress uniform.  When they made their orders, they were measured out, and charged Cr 250 each for the uniforms.  Sir Brian spent his time looking around and trying to decide if a tuxedo would be sufficient, or even over-dressed for some of the events.  He noted the prices were a bit on the high side, and decided to seek fashion advice from Ms. Vik later.  Brian did see what seemed to be "in fashion" at the moment.  The purchases taken care of, the uniforms were set to be delivered to the ship the next day.  After leaving the PX, they went back to civilian sections of the station and window shopped to burn time.  As they passed clothiers, Mikah checked out the dresses and gowns available.

Soon, pleased with what was on display, Mikah was seriously hunting for a classic and understated knee-length dress for parties.  She looked for an outfit with pockets, and enough give for her thigh holster, or a jacket that accommodated her shoulder holster.  The staff took her measurements and showed her a number of accessory sets.  Once she selected a dress, Mikah looked for a tea length(mid-shin) gown too.  Making her decisions, Mikah selected the party dress, in a fabric patterned with variations of red and lesser color mixes for Cr 200.  She ordered the tea length gown in a sheer royal blue fabric for Cr250.

While she was shopping, Zimzod also looked for another suit appropriate for his station, to compliment his tux.  Spending Cr 250, he made sure it was a quality garment that was both appealing and of an acceptably classic style.  An additional Cr 50 covered the accessories.  As the two Knights were shopping, Brian window shopped but didn't buy anything.  Eventually, they were done shopping and had to meet up with Zach.  As they wrapped up, Mikah called Zach to get him moving, and found he was already prepared and heading to meet them outside the address for Duke Norris' offices.

Aiden Gets To Shoot Something

     Having left the ship shortly after one in the afternoon, Aiden made his way to the shooting range he'd found on-line.  With his personal weapons ahead of him, by courier, Aiden reviewed the menu of services and costs that he first saw on the network.  Finding it matched what he expected, Aiden recovered his LAG and snubbie at the desk and paid Cr 100 entry for the afternoon.  He then scanned the list of advanced weapons they had available for enthusiasts to try.  One of the things he noted, right off the bat, was a shielded prop-stand firing position allowing the customer to fire an FGMP-15 without having to be in battledress!  This was a very unusual opportunity, offered only at the highest tech level ports.  While it was not a handgun, it was interesting, but a half hour's blasting cost Cr 100.  Another new item took him by surprise when he looked at the details.

That was a "very micro-miniaturized", five shots per battery, laser pistol that actually had its battery in its grip!  No bulky back or hip pack and connector cable for this puppy.  The weapon was a major tech advance.  Knowing it would be painful, Aiden checked the cost and found they were charging Cr 200 per charge to try it.  That was only five shots!  After the painful battle between costs and desire, Aiden backed off 'for the moment', resolving to only drool and wait to see if he could watch anyone else try it?  After half an hour's waiting, he did get to see it fired, as a very polished and well-dressed gentleman entered the range and paid for several charges!  Aiden moved into the gallery with a number of other observers as the man took his time burning through the charges, and got a feel for swapping the batteries in the grip.

Eventually, looking at the menu of ammunition for his weapons, Aiden saw an option listed that he'd always wanted to try.  HEAT Phosphorous rounds!  Checking the price to fire off a small supply of rounds, Aiden found it cost Cr 75 for a clip.  Deciding immediately to spend some money on that, Aiden asked an attendant about it and paid the fee.  He was then led to a special range with towed-in armored hulks, so he had pretty targets to light up.  After he was done, Aiden not only enjoyed squeezing off the clip, but burned through Cr 50 of his own ammo before hanging out to chat with other weapons enthusiasts.  Especially those who gathered in the gallery to watch him burn phosphorus.  In the end, Aiden handed over his weapons to be delivered back to the ship, and prepared to head back to the berth, very happy with his afternoon's practice.  Before he left, Aiden risked a look at the costs to actually buy a clip of phosphorus rounds for his LAG.  The cost was Cr 500, which caused him to pause.  Eventually Aiden backed off, considering he could return later in the month.

The Knights Meet Mr. Ondallah

     Just before four, the Knights met Zach and they agreed on what they needed to resolve.  When he was ready, they went to reception and gave their Idents, to find the minister was expecting them.  They were led into the office by a ball shaped 'droid hovering on anti-grav.  They arrived at an empty conference room where the lights came up as they entered.  The room was, at first, bare and multi-purpose.  But, after a warning, several panels folded out from the floor, as was common in most high-tech service buildings, and seats and a conference table folded up.  Soon after that, a gentleman came in, followed by two assistants, a male and female.  The assistants set up a workstation as the first man greeted them saying, "Hello.  I am Mister Ondallah, and I am Duke Norris' business manager in the Rhylanor system.  "I understand...", He then paused before asking, "Which one of you is...  I assume you are Dame Mikah?" as he pointed to the only female in their group.  When Mikah confirmed this, he asked, "Which one of you is Sir Zimzod and which is Sir Brian?"  With the two identified themselves, he pointed to Zach asking, "And you are?" Zach answered, "I am Zachariah Wood."

The introductions done, Mr. Ondallah opened saying, "As you are aware, I am the Duke's business officer in this system, and I handle his business interests.  I also handle the needs and preparations for his visits here.  How may I help you?"  Mikah started off, careful to see what this man knew before getting into the meat of the matter.  Working from the edge, she said, "Well, we are in the Duke's employ, to a certain extent, and we have a couple of issues.  The one that is pressing is an issue with representatives of the Stepozhevaci nation from the Porozlo System.  It seems they have an issue with us, and we need that issue to go away.  And we are hoping that, since the Duke has provided us with a number of favors for a very large favor we did him, that your offices could take care of that problem."  It was very clear, from the way Dame Mikah was choosing her terms and circling their relationship with Duke Norris, that discretion was required.  But Mr. Ondallah also saw that this was a significant request.

Taking a breath, Ondallah replied, "As I am sure you are aware, we have what records His Grace has had forwarded to this office with regard to the ship that he loaned you.  However, as I am also sure you are aware, we don't share His Graces confidence on matters not directly bearing on the responsibilities of this office.  So, we don't have a great deal of information on..."  Seeing where this was going, Mikah interrupted him asking, "OK.  Do you have someone that might work with this more sensitive information, whom we can talk to?  Because we are not certain where you stand in regard to how sensitive this information is.  Does the Duke have a local seneschal in-system?"  Ondallah was conciliatory as he admitted there was no local Seneschal for the Duke's affairs in-system.  He only had business offices outside the Regina and Mora Systems.  He did ask them to hold on a second as he stepped to the wall comms panel, pressed a button and identified himself.  He then asked for a representative to join them in the conference room.

Once that was done, he turned back to the group and said, "In the meantime, while we wait, is there anything else I can do for you?"  Not sure where she could go, Mikah tried another issue saying," The reason we brought Mr. Wood with us is that, due to the work we've done for the Duke, he has several gaps in the reports he's filed for insurance purposes.  He was a merchant.  He lost his ship and ended up on our ship, in the midst of the favors we did for the Duke.  As a result of the sensitivity of the work done, he now found he can't defend himself against the inquisitors, as it were, serving the insurance company and his former employers."  Glancing at his assistants, who were madly working at their consoles, the male looked up saying to Mr. Ondallah, "One moment, My Lord." and returned his attention to the workstation.

Soon after that exchange, they produced a flimsy and handed it to Ondallah, who skimmed through it and said, "OK.  Just to let you know.  There are fairly large holes in this report too.  This is obviously outside my realm of responsibility, and I do not know if the representative who will join us can help with that.  But in the meantime, I am aware of some facets of your relationship with the Duke.  And I am certain that, given some time, I can come up with something that can help.  Whether it will resolve the issue entirely or not, I do not know.  Hortalez et Cie is a fairly powerful megacorporation, with many friends in the Imperial Court, as I am sure you know.  And they don't just bow to frontier Dukes.  So, we can do our best to help, and provide information to Duke Leonard's office to see if we can assemble a united front.  We do favors for Duke Leonard's people often enough, and they do favors for us.  We can see what we can accomplish that way, but I can't promise you anything.

Into the silence that resulted as the Knights exchanged helpless glances, Mr. Ondallah asked, "Is there anything else I can help you with?"  Upset that this seemed to have been a waste of time, Mikah said, "Yes.  The Duke was very generous in lending us a ship, but the vessel doesn't have a working fuel purification plant aboard.  We were wondering if it is within the Duke's good graces to replace it with a working system?  If your office can help with that, it would help with our continuing service, by freeing us from relying on naval bases."  Looking over the group, Mr. Ondallah replied, "It was the Duke's understanding that you had resources other than those he made available to you to rely on.  However, what seems to be the issue with the existing plant?"  "Well", Mikah replied, "the ship he gave us must have been seized from smugglers or some other illicit trade."

When Ondallah asked why, she continued, "Because instead of the fuel purification plant, we discovered that there was a safe hidden in the heart of the system."  Shocked, Mr. Ondallah said, "Really?!" as Mikah continued, "We got it open, and there was nothing of value in it.  But, due to the safe being hidden where the core of the plant should have been, there was no purification system."  Pausing a few beats after Mikah finished her explanation, Mr. Ondallah asked, "You wouldn't mind if I had one of my people come down and inspect the safe?"  Mikah simply said "Sure", being completely cooperative.  Looking up from the flimsies he was holding after reading them again, Mr. Ondallah said, "This is very interesting.  Not even the Duke's paperwork indicated that."

Jumping on that, Mikah answered, "Your people may not have known about it, because the way it was hidden.  It looked like there was a fuel purification plant there.  We thought we just needed to have it fixed."  Nodding, Mr. Ondallah agreed, "That is quite possible.  In which case, you might have had a more valuable ship than we understood."  More thoughtfully, Ondallah said, "I'll have one of my people come down and inspect the system, and we'll have to make a decision with regard to that." and Mikah agreed.  There was another pause as each party considered the discussion before Mikah asked when the representative would be there?  Ondallah said he'd be along soon.  Mr. Ondallah asked if these were all the issues the team had, and Zimzod said they were all the issues Mr. Ondallah had the clearance to work on.  This drew brief looks from Mr. Ondallah's assistants, as the Knight obviously had not caught the 'My Lord' earlier.  But Mr. Ondallah simply ignored the slight, and was about to turn away when Mikah quietly said to Zimzod, 'Ask him about your battledress.'

Zimzod said, "A valuable piece of equipment of mine was destroyed in service, and I was wondering if it could be replaced or repaired?"  When Mr. Ondallah asked what type of equipment it was, Zimzod said it was a suit of battledress.  Ever efficient, the assistants handed the man another flimsy, which he scanned with a raised eyebrow.  After reading, Mr. Ondallah said, "Submit a voucher and we will see what we can do.  We do not maintain an ironmongery here, as the Duke's staff usually carry their own military equipment with them on his ships.  But I am certain that, if we get authorization, we can go over to Instel-Arms and can subsidize or whatever the Duke allows."  As Ondallah said this, Zimzod simply started to smile.  Misreading that, Mr. Ondallah said, "Don't get me wrong.  There is no guarantee the Duke is going to allow it."  Zimzod agreed, saying he totally understood Ondallah's position.

Having gotten at least something that was not impossible, or not handled by that office, Mikah said they were headed to the Mora System, working to get their titles confirmed.  She asked if Duke Norris might be there to help resolve some of these issues when they arrived?  Mr. Ondallah said Duke Norris intended to be in the Mora system for the next season.  That meant he should be there for the next three to four months.  As a final shot at finding something else they could connect with Mr. Ondallah on, Mikah said, "We also have some privileged information about the situation in the Risek system that, it is possible he and his associates would like to know."  Ondallah asked, "Would this be privileged mercantile information?"  When, Mikah said it was not, he admitted that was not in his area of responsibility and she should perhaps wait for the arriving representative.  Mr. Ondallah again asked if there was anything else the Knights needed to deal with him on?  They looked around, realizing the man was just a business officer and there was not anything they had that was at or below his pay grade.

In the silence, Ondallah turned to Zach and asked, "Mr. Wood. Other than the issues the Knights have raised, what can I do for you?"  Realizing there was nothing that was not colored by the Quasar Viper, Zach was forced to admit he also had to wait for, and hope that, the summoned representative could help him, just like the Knights.  When Mr. Ondallah asked if there was nothing that his office could try to accomplish for the Merchant, Zach decided to try anyway.  He explained that his ability to conduct trade of any kind had been frozen in the system by Hortalez et Cie, due to the classified issue.  He wondered if there was any way the freeze could be lifted, so he could conduct business in-system until this was resolved?  Mr. Ondallah admitted that he certainly understood and felt Zach's pain.

He also suggested his office could investigate having Duke Norris' office issue a limited guarantee of Zach's liabilities while in-system.  This would mitigate the freeze imposed by Hortalez et Cie, as firms would do business with Zach because Duke Norris insured the deals against malfeasance, or loss due to criminality or incompetence.  How much this would mitigate the situation with Hortalez et Cie, he couldn't promise, as it would be up to the market and financial authorities of Rhylanor.  Hortalez et Cie and individual firms might, or might not, work with Zach to decide.  "And, in perfect conditions of market balance, research and credit, we all know that the beast will often do as it damned well pleases rather than what it should.  But I can look into that and get back to you on it.  I don't see it being out of the way or inappropriate.  I doubt there would be a problem with it.  However, I can't guarantee, off my word only, that we would be able to do this."

Zach accepted that, and, as they waited, they made small talk and discussed the various dates and appointments they were recommended to attend.  He said the launch of the INS Nakhikhariin Min-Dow should be fairly cut and dry.  He also said that the birthday for Baron Mathew should be fun and admitted he was, himself, invited to that party.  This was the second hint that the title "Minister" was a business title only.  One the team again failed to notice.  When he saw they planned to attend the 'Children of the Fifth Frontier War' event, he said that Duke Leonard would be there, and would obviously be at the Count's birthday too.  Ondallah explained that the Count was fairly important to many of the decisions and machinery of the system's economy, and was a mainstay of the Duke's economic council.

Reading on, Mr. Ondallah said he remembered that the Duke's wife would be making a significant speech as part of the Military day for the 341st.  Continuing to read, he commented that Duke Leonard would be at a fair number of the events and he, himself, would also be at a number of them, by invitation or in the name of Duke Norris' interests.  He eventually stopped and re-read the list with a puzzled expression.  He then said he was surprised they were not told to attend the Laamer Kilanpun event.  His comment got everyone's attention.  When Zimzod asked which event that was, Mr. Ondallah said that was the Rhylanor Renewal Festival, on the 199th day.  Realizing what he was talking about, Zimzod said, "We were invited, but it is on the same day they are launching the INS Nakhikhariin Min-Dow."

Mr. Ondallah shrugged that off saying, "The launch is only going to last a few hours and the Duke will not even be there.  But the Renewal Festival will be held in one of the most important agricultural and hydroponics centers on Rhylanor.  And, as I'm sure you can see by the fact that we have no agriculturally-dedicated land at all, our agro and hydroponic facilities are key to our survival.  So, the Duke will not only be in attendance but holds a place as the key officiator of the event."  Realizing that only looking at the festival from their point of view had nearly led them into a major social mistake, Zimzod earnestly said, "Oh!  Then we'd better be there!", stressing the word 'better'.  Nodding at the Knight, Mr. Ondallah said, "As I understand your reasons for coming to Rhylanor, Yes.  I would recommend it highly."  As he spoke, the minister maintained a friendly smile.

As Zimzod repeated more firmly, "Yes, we will be there." Mr. Ondallah said, "I am glad I could be of service." while continuing his smile.  Zimzod continued, asking about the schedule for the event, and learned that it would be during the day in the afternoon, and last three to four hours.  Duke Leonard would be involved the whole time, and serving a key function for most of it.  At this point, the door opened and four men in uniforms of the Navy of the Regina System entered the room.  The lead figure was a Lieutenant, opening and holding the door for a full Captain and two Commanders.

Noting their arrival, Mr. Ondallah broke off the conversation and stepped towards the Captain as they extended hands.  With a handshake the only greeting, the Captain asked Ondallah, "What can I do for you?"  Mr. Ondallah indicated the team and said, as he handed the Captain a flimsy, "We have these folks here, who are nominally in the service of Duke Norris.  And this should be all the information you need from me before you address them."  The Captain paused to dig into the paperwork as the Minister told everyone he and his people would be taking their leave.  Again, as he was speaking, the assistants quickly and efficiently wrapped up the console and the three left.

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Next: Making Progress And Money