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Making Progress And
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Meeting With Captain Diievard

Station      In the business offices maintained by Duke Norris, the Captain was taking a detailed read of the information, Mr. Ondallah had given him before he and his team left.  The Captain then handed the flimsy to the Lieutenant, who quickly buried it in an envelope he was carrying.  Scanning the group, the Captain introduced himself as Captain Diievard.  He then matter of factly asked, "What can I do for you?"  Again, uncertain where this officer stood in the Regina military, and with regard to security clearances, Zimzod asked, "Ummm, how much do you know about our involvement with the Duke?"  The Captain looked Zimzod directly in the eyes saying, "To this point, I have a friend who recently got promoted to the command of a battle-damaged cruiser you might be familiar with."  The reference was specific to the INS Tamesha Kargaa, aboard which they'd returned to the Regina system.

Zach caught what the Captain was talking about well before anyone else, and stepped in saying, "The problem I'm experiencing is that I cannot clear up this insurance issue due to the sensitive nature of that engagement."  Allowing silence to take hold again for a few beats, the Captain said, "OK.  At this time, I need to inform you that, while I have a friend who was recently promoted to command that cruiser, I am not fully familiar, or versed, with the entire incident."  Zach told the Captain he was likely going to remain in the dark regarding the incident, as they didn't have guidance on who in Duke Norris' offices in Rhylanor was of a clearance level to deal with the issue?  Captain Diievard said they'd have to take his word that he was cleared to assist them.  Of course, he produced no credentials.

First Zach, then the Knights, denied that assertion.  As this happened, Captain Diievard continued, saying "Then I am going to warn you that there is very little I can do to help you.  But I am willing to hear out your needs and see what I can do?"  Sir Brian began to ask, "Look.  This is highly sensitive information.  Is there someone up the chain of command..."  when Dame Mikah broke in asking Zach, "How many people are you going to go after and deny their clearance levels?"  Sirs Brian and Zimzod both interrupted her, saying they knew Captain Diievard didn't have the needed clearance.  When Mikah challenged this, as Captain Diievard hung back and waited, Zimzod said the Captain as much as said so while Brian reminded her the Captain said he was unaware of any of this.  Which meant he wasn't cleared for it already.  Both Zimzod and Brian were uncomfortable working with the Captain, as they weren't sure where he stood in the Regina structure.  Brian said he wanted to speak to the top man locally, while Zimzod wanted to speak only to Norris, until the Duke indicated who else was safe to talk to.

Trying another tack, Zach asked the Captain how long ago the Duke left Rhylanor?  He was told it had been three weeks.  Once he had this, Zach said, "I am sure that there are people in Rhylanor who know the Duke's planned route.  Is there any way to get a message to him by xboat?  The Captain said, "In the three weeks since leaving, the Duke's flotilla made their arrival in the Gerome system, which is interdicted.  Refueling there, using his rank in the Imperial Navy to commandeer fuel, they then jumped, after a few days, to the Fosey System.  If all went as planned, he arrived there four days ago and was just now preparing to jump to the Rorise system.  Again, with things as planned, he should arrive in Rorise a week from today, spend several days refueling before the final jump to the Mora system.  No xboats, from any system, jump to interdicted systems like the Gerome system.  Nor do xboats take a direct route from Rhylanor to Mora.  They passed through other stellar regions, to carry data as they spread information.

That meant the first xboat jump from Rhylanor would go to the Equus System, followed by a jump to Icetina System, then to the Fosey system.  And word would only arrive in Fosey system, where Duke Norris' ships are today, in three weeks' time.  Indeed, by the time the message arrived in the Fosey system, Duke Norris would just be arriving in the Mora system.  This was all explained in the rote style of a command officer who has had the process, efficiency and realities of interstellar communications burned into him.  That was because the fate of fleets and worlds depended on understanding it in times of war.  Trying to find a route through the issue, Mikah simply asked the Captain, "So what is your clearance level?  And where do your loyalties stand regarding Duke Norris?"  Faced with the challenge, Captain Diievard considered the question and it's ramifications before asking the other officers to leave the room.  Their faces showed shock and confusion, but they complied, and quickly Zach and the Knights were alone with the Captain.

Once the door was closed, Diievard bluntly and calmly said, "Captain Kugumde Kiis Gadagush of the INS Tamesha Kargaa is my sister, and I share her loyalties completely.  As for my clearance level, it is level Alpha."  His manner suggested that he expected this to end all debate on the question.  As far as anyone could recall, Alpha Clearance was one of the highest military levels of security, before ascending into the clouds of the Civilian rulership of the system.  But no one, other than the Captain, was an expert on that subject.  Mikah said, "Ok" before turning away from Diievard to the others to say, "I think we can trust him."  When the others, except Zimzod, didn't react, Zimzod asked her if she was sure?  Mikah bluntly said, "Yes" and turned on everyone asking, "Do you want the situation cleared up or do you want to leave for Mora?"  Zach said, "I want the situation cleared up, but I don't want fallout." and Mikah said "You can't guarantee no fallout." in a tone that ended the debate at last.

Slumping his shoulders, Zach turned to the Captain and said, "OK.  The situation is...  We were on an extremely secret ship during the engagement.  And that ship got destroyed, which...  We wanted it to get destroyed in the first place, because we could not let..."  Zimzod stepped in saying, "Ok, you don't need to elaborate on that.  Just go on." only to be trumped by Mikah, who looked at them both and said, "Don't talk.  Shut up."  Zack asked, "You want to tell him?" and, when she said "yes" he said "Fine.  You tell him."  Through all this back and forth, the Captain patiently waited.  Turning to face Diievard, Mikah said, "OK.  We were hired to recover a ship by the Stepozhevaci government.  When we found out what the ship was..."  Diievard held up his hand to interrupt her, asking "Who are the Stepozhevaci?"  Mikah backed up, explaining that they were one of the national governments in the Porozlo system and were anti-Imperial and anti-free trade.

Mikah then continued, "So we found the ship, realized what it was and the sensitivity of the find."  Diievard again interrupted her asking, "And what was this find?" showing that he was tiring of having her talk around the issue.  Considering her words carefully, Mikah continued, "This ship was carrying something very, very vital to the Third Frontier war.  We found the cargo that the ship was carrying and both the ship and cargo were brought back.  We were bringing both back to Regina, to deliver to Duke Norris.  But on the way, we met your sister and her ship.  And she commandeered both this vessel and the ship we were traveling in to engage the pirates that had attacked and damaged her cruiser.  In that action, both our ship and the sensitive vessel were destroyed, but the cargo was returned to the Duke.  Now the sensitivity of this is extreme, so you will understand why I do not wish to reveal more to you until we know more about you.  Or you produce someone of a higher rank and proven security clearance."

Mikah continued, "Duke Norris' Seneschal knows about this, and we spent time in secure discussion about the issue.  The Duke is aware of this, and gave us the ship we are currently traveling on.  And that's it.  So, we need a number of things and he", indicating Zach, "needs his name cleared without telling everybody what happened."  Captain Diievard allowed a silence to pass before asking, "And you are not willing to tell me the name of the ship?" with both Mikah and Zimzod answering "No" at the same time.  Captain Diievard extended his question, further asking the nature of the cargo, and was again answered by both Mikah and Zimzod.  Zach and the Knights could see him considering the situation, and visibly saw him come to a decision before calmly saying, "So you were the team delivering the Quasar Viper."  Grabbing a chair and sitting, Diievard said, "Well, that puts an entirely new complexion on it."  Following that, he stood and walked to a blank section of wall, to open a formerly invisible panel before punching a sequence of keystrokes into a keypad inside the enclosure.

The captain then turned back to the others saying, "The recording of this discussion has just been erased." as the tension finally drained out of the room.  He then continued, saying, "I fully understand your predicament at the moment."  Turning to Zach he said, "Mr. Wood, I will work with the ministry to see if we can help you, but I can't promise you that we can.  I don't know what agreement he made with you from his side, as to what he can do for you.  But there is, to my knowledge, precious little we can do at all.  Still, we will look to do what we can.  At the very least, I can work within my command structure to see if we can vouch for you."  Zach thanked him, hoping that would be enough to get Hortalez et Cie off his back.  The Captain doubted that, saying "We've dealt with megacorporations before, and the vouch safe of a Duke, unless it is an extremely powerful Duke without dispute, might have some effect.  Still, you might be aware that Duke Norris is not without his opponents.  And they are powerful themselves."

As Zach nodded and agreed, Diievard completed his thought saying, "So, if the Duke's vouch safe will carry the day I can't say.  Like the military, the nobility can't just order the megacorporations around.  But we will try, and do our best to help you."  Once Zach thanked him for the sentiment, and the efforts to come, Diievard turned to the Knights.  He said, "My Lords, My Lady.  What can we do for you other than that?"  They first asked about the ship's fuel purification plant, explaining that the business manager was sending a tech to see what could be done.  Zimzod also brought up his battledress.  In both situations Diievard said they didn't have spare equipment or parts in the Rhylanor system.  Their presence consisted of a cadre of officers and civilian service administrators who handled the Duke's interests.  Diplomatic, military and trade interests.  He admitted he would if he could, but had no parts to give.  When Mikah said the business officer had made some offers, Diievard said that this was the best they could do in Rhylanor, and apologized for his inability to help.

Unable to move forward on that front, Mikah decided that, since she could trust this man, she could bring up the unacted on concerns from the Risek system.  So, she told him of the evidence, and her suspicions, of Zhodani involvement.  As she began discussing details of the evidence, Diievard stopped her, only so long as he needed to get his people back into the room.  Then he asked her to start from the top.  Reforming her thoughts as she started, Mikah said that if they were unaware of the issues, it was likely that the Duke was also unaware.  Captain Diievard interrupted her to say, "That would not be a fair assumption."  They then asked her to proceed, and she explained that, in the process of saving the day in the Podesti arcology, they were attacked by a warbot with Zhodani parts in it.  They also located files written in the Zhodani language on personal computers and found significant amounts of unmarked credit chits in the homes of the involved during their investigation.

One of the commanders excused himself and asked about the circumstances of the warbot attack.  Mikah explained that they were investigating a cargo bay used by a black marketer named "Shaslu Kishman".  And while inside, they were attacked by the 'droid, and had to call in the marines on the station.  The marines eventually killed it, and they saw it had been a warbot!  When it was recovered and investigated, one of the parts they had identified in the unit had been certified as of Zhodani manufacture.  While following another lead, Mikah continued, they found Zhodani files on the personal computer of a local politician named 'Anarthon'.  And a large amount of unmarked credit chits, dropped as if they were lost while he was fleeing the home through a rear exit.  Each one had a one thousand credit balance, and no bank or financial organizations information on it to allow tracing.  And Anarthon was connected back to the black marketer.

While the Lieutenant was busy entering data into his hand computer, the Captain said, "While that is certainly interesting information, we are only guests of Duke Leonard.  We obviously can't do any more than escalate this report upward in our command structure.  But it is important information none the less.  Again, it would not be a fair assumption that the Dukes Leonard and Norris have not had these reports given to them, because not all members of a military need to know the information they do.  And we are only of the Navy of Regina.  Not a subsector organization or the Imperial Navy."  Zach chipped in saying, "The naval commanders in the Risek system are definitely aware of this, because we gave all the information to them."  Hearing this, Diievard said that guaranteed it had crossed Duke Leonard's desk, because they're Imperial Navy.  His people were certainly handling it, as it was within his fiefdom and command structure.  So, they could only promise to escalate the report in the Regina commands.

The Captain also said there were a number of issues that suggested this was not Zhodani involvement.  First, the warbot only had a Zhodani part.  That could have been scrounged by this Kishman, for his guard 'droid.  Second, the politician could have worked with Zhodani traders, who certainly entered the Imperium to trade before the war and were starting to again.  Diievard admitted he could have been a sleeper agent who was forced to bolt, or even died unidentified, in the viral attack.  The dropped CredChits alone suggested panic and flight, not the control that would come from planning and involvement.  So, while interesting, and important to investigate, this had many more possible answers than a Zhodani plot.  Especially with both the recent Imperial victory and the strengthening of Imperial forces while the Zhodani fleets and home defenses were still in disarray.  So, beyond what they had already discussed, they asked what else they could help the Knights with?

When Mikah said they needed the Stepozhevaci off their back, the Captain again pointed out that they didn't know who the Stepozhevaci were?  Nor did they have contact with them.  When Mikah suggested that any help would be appreciated, and that they could certainly find out who the Stepozhevaci were, the Captain admitted that they might have some contacts in the Rhylanori military that they could reach out to.  As Mikah insisted this was important, the Captain leaned back in his seat, and said, "One thing I've learned while serving the Duke in this system is that there is a very healthy underworld in this system.  And if you really need something done and can't get any help from the local authorities...  For enough money anything can happen."

Still smiling she said, "We'll, talk to the business manager for that if it becomes necessary."  Rising up as the conversation came to an end, the Captain said, "If that's all, then we'll call you a 'droid to lead you out and get about our respective responsibilities."  Before everyone broke up, Zimzod got in a final question, asking where he could get some really good coffee?  The Captain answered, "Never had it.  Like I said, I am just a navy man.  I'm not rich."  His tone was that of one completely disinterested who had never seen the sense in spending that much money on a food item.  Soon enough, the team was led out by the responding 'droid and they were on their way back to the ship for chow.


A Dinner Time Crew Meeting

     Aiden returned to the ship with an ear to ear grin, very pleased after firing the phosphorus rounds.  The only very minor concern was the price, at Cr 500, for a clip of ten rounds.  Plus the Cr 75 clip itself, a special "cooler" clip.  He considered asking Mikah to buy them "for the ship".  Of course, this would only be valid if he was present with the LAG when they got into a shooting situation.  When he got back, Aiden found Rol and Emkir had returned already, and were eating aboard the ship.  Soon, they were joined by Ms. Vik, Zach and the Knights.  When he was asked why he hadn't cooked for everyone, Rol said he thought the others planned to eat off-ship, saying there were a number of restaurants on-station.  As Aiden joined in, Emkir asked about everyone else's plans.  While Emkir planned to go to a poker game, no one else had plans.

As Mikah considered that announcement, Emkir put his plans in motion saying, "We have to decide what we are doing with all these Dukes and Duchesses."  Mikah said, "We only have Dukes.  We won't worry about the Duchess until we get there", meaning Mora.  Mikah continued, "Because she's a whole 'nother, ball of wax."  Emkir answered, "Well, I'm worry about her, because she hates us anyway.  She is predisposed to dislike us."  Mikah responded, "Yeah...but she's coming up."  Emkir continued, "And then we have that ship that, kinda, 'disappeared'.  That 'oh, we don't know', 'that mis-jump'.  That one?"  He then asked Mikah, "How are we gonna bankroll the ship.  Do you want to pay the whole thing?  Do you want our help with it?"  Zimzod answered the questions about ship's funds first, saying "See, if we allow you to help..." and Mikah finished off, "...then you have a say."  As Zimzod agreed that was where he was going, Emkir replied, "well, 'yeah'..." stressing the word "yeah" in an unhappy tone.

Catching on, Rol stepped in saying, "Well, let's put it in terms that the Admiral can understand."  Turning to Emkir, he said, "You would have a stake."  Adding his own two credits, Zach asserted that the crew needed to make money too.  He made it clear they weren't the Knight's paid servants, and needed to provide for their own gear and such.  When he finished, Mikah simply said, "Go ahead."  The statement came out as half permission and half challenge, to which Zach said, "OK.  I'm just pointing that out."  Not letting it drop, Mikah said, "Zach.  You seem to have a lot of legal problems that won't be solved any time soon.  So, you'd better find another way to make cash."  Zach glumly replied, "Well, I'm working on that."  Emkir quipped, "If anyone wanted to leave the company, this is a great place to do it..." to be interrupted by Mikah.

Mikah very enthusiastically said, "Absolutely.  Anybody wants off, get off now."  Her look, as she said this, was a roving dare to all, though all realized that leaving the team now would be, difficult.  It was obvious the only person free to leave the team would be Rol.  And given his situation, leaving would require some planning.  When he was asked why he was staying, Rol made it clear that being aboard was more fun than a boring desk job in the regular workforce.  Hearing this, Ms. Vik asked, "Who else would make breakfast?  Really?"  Rol also pointed out that, of all the crew, he was the one person who could not leave in the Rhylanor system, given the circumstances.  As the discussion wrapped up, Mikah made it clear she was the one paying the bills, so she made the decisions.  Anyone who didn't like it could leave.  And if they didn't, they needed to stop complaining.

Emkir did his best to move things off the awkward rocks it had drifted close to by bringing up his linguistic skills.  And offering them to make money with.  Ms. Vik asked, "OK.  So, we're having this meeting for, what", allowing her voice to tail off.  Rol answered, "I guess we're trying to figure out ways to increase our funding, for the ship."  Emkir agreed, "Yup." as Rol finished up, "That's what I'm getting from this."  Ms. Vik picked things up again, saying "Well, as soon as Zach gets his paperwork fixed we can unload that cargo."  Zach glumly replied, "Yeah, well, I'm working on that."  Mikah jabbed in, "I don't think that's gonna happen." as Brian asked, "What about the diamond though?  Isn't that..." before being cut off by Emkir.  The Admiral said, "That's what...  The elephant in the room I was gonna mention.  Yes."  Mikah answered that, saying, "We're waiting for the sale." and Zimzod agreed, saying "Yeah.  It has to be sold.  So, the only way we can..."

As the others started asking questions all at once, Mikah got control, saying "Countess Ursara is putting out the word and building interest."  That reminded them it had only been two days, and sales like that took time.  She pointed out that they'd agreed to a three-week period before the sale.  Rol also advised them not to start prospecting on that money until it was earned, specifically looking at Emkir.  Rol said, "No casino trips.  I like the ship, and would not want to see it hawked off."  Easing into another subject he was not sure how to discuss without a fight, Emkir said, "It occurs to me that I could sell off some of the more common items I've picked up."  Looking at Mikah, he continued, "Like, I could sell the cuff links, and maybe use some of that money to pick up a vacc suit?"  Emkir's mention of the jewelry from the Quasar Viper was not lost on those who connected the dots.  While Rol was unaware of the Viper, he felt these must be very special cuff links to be worth so much.

Rol spared an errant thought, wondering how the Admiral 'picked them up'?  Noting Rol's sudden attention, Emkir asked, "You wanna go to the poker game Rol?" to be flatly refused again by the former marine.  Hoping to scare up some interest, Emkir said, "It's a bunch of Navy guys." in a baiting tone, hoping his imagination might lead to thoughts of fleecing them.  Instead, it was Zach who asked, "What poker game", having not been part of the earlier conversation.  Emkir quickly included Zach in his offer, repeating, "It's a bunch of Navy guys." trying to leave out the ranks.  Pushed, Emkir explained it was his friend, Admiral Uuela, and some other officers.  Rol replied flatly, "I'm a Marine.  Besides, I think I already said no.  I am not doing too good with poker right now."  Glumly, Emkir said "ok", accepting Rol's reminder about his own recent luck in the games.

Emkir also said he was going to try his luck at finding a high-class fence that would be interested in an antique item.  Zach piped up, asking what items, because he still had contacts on the station, even if he couldn't be an official broker.  Not giving anything about their origins away, Emkir discussed his plans with the merchant, and learned that Zach could direct him to those who could help with self-sales, on-line auctions and even pawn brokers.  As he got a slice of the attention, Zach also said this could be done with each of their TAS high Passage vouchers too.  Of course, he pointed out that a lot of factors would affect the sale prices.  So, there were no promises on getting a high value for them.  Hoping to get things moving again, Emkir said, "At the risk of sounding like a kindergarten teacher, we should probably get together and keep each other apprised of what's going on and who's doing what.  It might be a good idea..."  With a hint of sarcasm.  Zimzod replied, "What, like, strategy meetings?"

Emkir enthusiastically responded, "Yah!!!" as Zimzod laughingly said, "God forbid!  No!", mocking the group in general for their disorganization.  Emkir continued, "Because I am thinking there might be a way to play Duchess Delphine, who hates us, off Duke Leonard.  Because Duke Norris is already associated with us and he's ok with us."  Both Ms. Vik and Rol made it clear they were not part of the political issues facing anyone.  If Emkir, or anyone else, wanted to start playing games with significantly powerful nobility they wanted no part of it.  Backing off a bit, Emkir planned to at least get the list from Zach, and cross reference it against anything he could learn that night at the poker game.  He also planned to shop around for a vacc suit, though he admitted he'd like to get a set of executive armor and some more ammo for his revolver too.

As Emkir said this, Rol held up his hands and asked, "Do you see these right here?"  When Emkir asked, "Hands?"  Rol asked, in all seriousness, "Yeah.  How much do they cost?"  As he was goaded for an answer, Emkir said, "Priceless."  Rol repeated the term, "Priceless", and said "OK.  Which one do you think is gonna cost you more?  A new vacc suit, or learning to use these, as well as your gun?"  Rol shook his hands, still held up in front of him, to emphasize his question.  Before Emkir could answer, Rol continued, "I've heard you like to wrestle with Vargr.  If I'm understanding this right..."  Mikah cut in saying, "Oh no he doesn't." in a tone mocking Emkir.  "He was under a seat.  The fighting was Aiden's job."  Turning to the Knight, Rol asked, "I heard he was the instigator?" as Mikah and Emkir agreed and others nodded.  Continuing, Rol said, "So if I am understanding your impulses correctly, you seem to be going for weapons and armor."

Rol continued, "I agree that maybe you should get a vacc suit first, so you don't suffocate in the depths of space.  Or if something goes wrong with the atmo.  And I can teach you a little more about using these," again indicating his hands, "which you already have.  And whatever weapons you might actually have, to be a little more effective at that.  And you actually might survive our line of work.  How does that sound?"  Emkir said Rol's offer, sounded like one he couldn't refuse, and offered to teach Rol some piloting in return.  When they agreed, Rol asked when Emkir wanted to start training, and they agreed to start the next day, in the cargo bay at 8am.  As he listened, Zach asked, "eight o'clock?  Who's gonna be cooking breakfast?" and Mikah and Zimzod agreed, as they joined in with questions about food.  Joking, Rol asked, "What?  You can't all get up at six?" before turning to Emkir and saying, "Fine, let's make it nine then.  We'll give the crew a break.  They're gonna need their full bellies for what's coming next."  Emkir agreed, and there was a brief pause between subjects.  During that, a call came in on the ship's comms.  Having configured the system on the bridge to forward the call to the ship's lounge, the comms lit up.

Engineers, Ammunition and Supplies

     When Mikah answered, she found it was a technician from port offices, calling about their request for engineers to help with maintenance.  He introduced himself and, in a slightly disapproving voice, said he was calling about their pricing inquiry.  Mikah agreed they wanted the quote, and the tech told her it would cost around Cr 7,000 for a week's support.  Mikah asked Brian if that was an appropriate cost and he said it was a bit high, but in the area he'd expect.  With that, Mikah told the tech to set it up, asking when they could start?  When the port worker said they could begin the next day, she said, "Awesome" and was told the techs would be on her deck at 9am.  After the call, Mikah said she'd pay for the support, because she wanted to save the ship's funds for other things.  She then asked Brian if he could manage the engineers while Rol made jokes about using the engineers as "targets" for Emkir's combat training.

Brian said he'd work with the engineers, and also said he was still very interested in an engineering 'droid.  That wasn't lost on Zimzod and Mikah, who saw the cost of this 'help' was nearly one quarter the cost of the 'droids they'd looked at.  As this tailed off, Rol said, "Speaking of expenses, there is something you might want to look into.  I did some research.  You might want to think about getting a waldo unit."  When Mikah asked, "A what?" Rol explained that was a remote controlled unit.  An exoskeleton that let you do things by telepresence, without being physically present.  When Mikah asked, "You mean, like outside the ship?" Rol said, "Yeah, like repairs to the ship when we're out in space?  If something goes wrong..."  Mikah cut him off asking, "So how much are they?"

Rol's voice changed to a cautionary tone as he said, "Well, that's the thing.  I did not want to say much about this because it's just something we may want to think about when we come into some money.  Because it may..."  He was cut off by Mikah again, as she said, that might be a while.  Rol continued, "Yeah, I understand.  But considering it's gonna cost around sixty thousand to get it..." and Mikah said they'd see what happened after the sale of the diamond.  She did agree to think about it.  Rol finished up, saying "I don't know if we're gonna need one, but considering the kind of work we're going to get into..."  As he let that fade off, Mikah said, "Well, if it can do work outside the ship while we're in space..." and Rol cut her off, pointing out that it might not be for work 'on their ship'.  With everyone's attention, he said, "If we, for instance, we might want to do some salvage work?  It might be easier sending a machine.  It's just a thought."

As that discussion wound down, Rol also told them that the system would take up one of their fourteen tons cargo space, which was another consideration.  While they were mulling that over, Aiden sparked up saying, "While I was down at the range, I tried some white phosphorous rounds.  And I figured they'd be just the right thing if we came up against another battle-droid.  But while they are nice, they're a bit more expensive than I can afford."  Mikah asked what weapons the ammo would be good for, and Aiden said they were for his LAG.  Mikah said he'd have to be with them in combat for the rounds to be any good then.  They discussed what weapons could use such rounds, and it turned out that his was the only weapon aboard with the punch for anti-armor work.  The round still needed to get through armor for the phosphorous to do its work.  With that, Mikah clearly said, if they bought the rounds, Aiden had to come if a fight was possible.

Not agreeing with Mikah, Aiden said there would be situations down the road where they'd need the rounds.  But he claimed it wouldn't matter if he was with them or they brought the trouble back to the ship.  When she asked the cost, Aiden said it was Cr 500 for ten rounds and Cr 75 for the specialized protective clip they were stored in.  Surprised, she asked about the clip and found it was needed to stabilize the rounds so the phosphorous didn't cook off.  After that, Mikah needed to decide if they really had a need for this, or if Aiden was just being paranoid?  She also needed to decide if giving the rounds to Aiden would make them useful enough to serve when they were needed.  In the end, Mikah turned on Aiden and said, "OK.  If we buy these, you are responsible for managing them and when we call because we need you, you come running.  Is that ok?"

Not certain how Mikah defined 'need', and absolutely certain of the mayhem the Knights and crew could get him into, Aiden decided discretion was the better part of valor.  He said he'd buy the rounds himself.  Once they were done with the discussions, Aiden got on a computer, contacted the range and completed the deal to buy the rounds.  As he said this, Mikah said, "If you like to continue to eat, you'll come when you're called anyway."  Rol picked this thread up, saying "Speaking of eating, is anyone keeping track of ship's stores?"  Mikah asked, "Isn't that your job?" and Rol said he just cooked.  Mikah said, "Well, if we need to go shopping, let me know." as Zach threw in that they could just look in the cupboards and see what was needed.  Aiden asked, "Wouldn't the person in charge of the cooking be in charge of the supplies?"  Rol said, "Yes, as far as cooking supplies go."  But he pointed out they had not tracked oxygen tanks, EVA suit supplies, emergency supplies, etc.

Zimzod pointed out that he had brought this up before, and Mikah suggested they'd go shopping to supply the ship with standard and emergency gear.  Ms. Vik smiled, and satirically said, "We live on hopes and dreams Rol", hoping to get a laugh.  The retired marine simply said, "No.  I was just wondering if we want to appoint a quartermaster or not?"  Mikah put it back on Rol saying, "So give us a list of what you think we need and we'll go shopping."  When Rol said, "All right.  I'll tally up the cooking supplies and let you know." she corrected him saying she wanted a list of everything.  When he said, "Oh!  Everything else we need?" she said, "Within reason."  Reacting to that, Ms. Vik asked, "Is there going to be some sort of stipend for this?"  Amazed eight people on a small ship couldn't handle the supplies without a bureaucracy, Mikah was certain she was kidding, and off handedly said, "We'll give him a credit a day."

Mockingly, Rol answered, "Your trusting my accuracy on these reports, aren't you?" before firming his voice up.  More professionally, he said, "OK, well I will do what I can with the one credit a day allocation, and we'll see what I can do with the station."  Ms. Vik sheepishly looked at Rol and said "I tried." as Rol said "It's ok."  With a confused Mikah asked, "Do you want the stipend for the supplies or for yourself?"  Rol said, "Well, if you're gonna make me the quartermaster, then I have to deal with the station's quartermaster in getting our supplies.  Right?"  Realizing Rol was serious, Mikah firmly said they didn't need a quartermaster, and could shop for their own supplies.

Mikah did tell him to give her "a list" of what they needed.  Rol said he'd put together a suggestion, asking how that sounded?  As they talked about the issue, it became clear Rol wanted to know that someone was tracking ship's supplies and there was someone to go to if he saw a need.  Mikah made it a point that much of the gear they had was their own personal gear.  For things the ship needed, they could put together a list, discuss and agree on things and shop for themselves, without hiring someone to do it.  At that, Zach volunteered to manage the list for things, and they made it clear he was just keeping the list.  He was not a purchasing agent.

Cloning And Making Money

     As that discussion ground down, Zach decided to move things in a whole new direction.  He mentioned this system was one of the best for getting cloned, in the event bad things happened.  The others turned on him in confusion as Emkir laughingly asked, "Do you want to live forever?"  Undaunted, Zach continued, "I've been doing research into facilities doing the work, and getting the hardware installed to do the cloning.  Also, once we get the jacks connected to our neural systems, we can get program upgrades to our skills."  Not really thrilled with the idea, Mikah asked, "Anybody want to be cloned?"  When no one jumped, Rol asked, "How much" in a negative tone, and Zach admitted that the prices varied a lot.  The medical costs for the neural stent ranged anywhere from KCr 5 to 50.  Having training delivered electronically was an additional cost and did require some class time too.  Based on the skill being learned.

Rol said his funds were a bit short on that, and he'd put his money into making sure he didn't need to be cloned first.  As the rest broke into comedic or derogatory answers, Mikah jokingly said, "If anyone wants to be cloned, see Zach."  As Zach tried to answer some of the others, explaining how they could learn electronically, Mikah revised her comment saying "Anyone who wants their brain rewired see Zach, or me.  I come much cheaper."  The last was said with an evil grin.  Actually, Mikah was familiar with the process and, as a neurosurgeon, could install neural stents with the support of a properly qualified medical team and operating theater.  But she kept quiet on this during the discussions.  She also didn't mention the process of RNA-memory implant(a chemically induced learning method).

Eventually Zimzod and Ms. Vik admitted they were interested, but no one wanted to move on it right now.  Neither did they have the money to do so.  Zach was committed to finding a way to get cloned.  He did consider that, if he could come up with a few thousand credits and enough of a regular income to pay for it, he could afford cloning insurance.  But he'd have to be able to afford having a neural stent installed too.  On a low end, it would cost him KCr 4 to KCr 5.  It was pointed out that Zach would be the person to most benefit from cloning, given his age.  On the subject of ages, it came up that it would be Rol's birthday in 13 days.  Ms. Vik asked "Are we gonna give a party?  Are there going to be presents?" in a cloyingly sweet voice.  This invited teasing, and comic threats to not only throw a party but invite the press.

That triggered an idea, and Mikah suddenly got very enthusiastic about actually throwing a party.  She excitedly said they should, and told Emkir to get the ball rolling and set things up.  Emkir asked, "Are you sure you want to open that can of worms?" pointing out what happened the last time they threw a party.  Hoping to nip things in the bud, Rol threateningly asked Emkir, "That ceremony you want me to go to.  That's in a week, right?  And it's an all day affair, right?  I don't think I'll be going to that now."  Emkir responded, "It's just a way to grease the gears with Duke Leonard, you know?"  Rol said, "But its all day and it gets me off the ship.  Right?"  Emkir answered, "Yes.  He just wants us to stand there, look pretty and hand out medals to his people."  Not sure what they were talking about, Ms. Vik said, "I wonder if he should go?"  In an encouraging voice, Mikah chimed in, "Why not?  He is a war hero." and jokingly threw in, "and a criminal." with another evil grin.

As she checked their schedule, to see how a party for Rol would impact things, Mikah found his birthday was clear of any of the items on Duke Leonard's list.  Of course, the Duke could always come up with more things for them to do.  Realizing this could possibly step on too many toes if the Duke wanted them to act, Rol was told he was off the hook.  Mikah said they couldn't throw a large party for him after all.  Aiden quipped that they didn't want to 'step on the Duke's plans.  When their schedule was brought up, Rol asked if anyone had found any work in the port in order to raise cash?

He was told that, outside the parties the Knights had to attend, no one had any commitments.  Mikah threw in a comment that, if they wanted to raise money, they could all find their own jobs.  They also discussed rumors they'd heard that someone might be hiring guns to come after them.  So, caution was suggested as they job hunted.  With a laugh, Mikah said they should see if they could take the contract on themselves, and got a laugh from the crew.  They did discuss what they could do, on a contract basis, for the month they expected to be in port.

The Hotel California, Inc.

     As they talked about what they could do to earn cash, Brian suggested working with others on the crew to improve their level of organization to earn cash for everyone.  This blossomed into considering opening a consultancy, using several of the crew at the same time, to leverage a fusion of their skills.  As the conversation died down, Emkir again pushed to see if anyone wanted to join him at the poker game?  Emkir answered some questions, saying it was at the local officer's club and almost everyone else turned him down.  But Rol changed his mind.  When Rol said, "On Second thought, I am going to the poker game", Emkir happily said "Excellent!  Glad to have you."  Not meaning to benefit Emkir, Rol eyed the Admiral and said, "Someone has to pull you out before you cause too much damage."  Emkir admitted "That's probably true." with a grin on his face.

As Brian pushed, asking how to organize a consultancy, Mikah said she could also call some med-research firms to see if they'll pay for the data she collected on the Jae Tellona nomads?  They agreed, and she sat at a console and reached out to some of the biggest facilities in-system that she was aware of.  But the certainty she could multi-task, and participate in Brian's discussion was shattered soon after contacting the first senior researcher.  That contact was very excited at her description of the data, and she brought in a co-researcher from another agency.  Soon Mikah had contact requests from all across the in-system spectrum.  It was all she could do to manage her conversations and the comms board!  She had multiple requests for competing conference calls, urgent requests for data sharing, etc.  Mikah quickly lost any hope of participating in the crew's discussion.

As Mikah peeled off, Brian pushed to define the type of business and Zimzod took control.  He began by defining what each of the team members could bring to the table, and how their professions could fuse to provide specified services.  As this was developing, Brian asked Zach and Ms. Vik if they had the connections to be able to find what work was actually out there already.  Who was asking for what?  The two admitted they could get that data.  Rol also suggested he could mine the TAS communications system, to see what services their members might need.  Especially as those people tended to be wealthy.  Offering exclusive services to them via a TAS membership might be a valuable way to go.  They developed three ideas to incorporate and look for small jobs.

The first was to take mercenary tickets for security and other consultant operations near the port.  Another would be providing engineering advice and direction to ships in-port.  The final idea they developed was ship services, in the way Ms. Vik provided work in the Risek port, with Zach assisting on a legal angle.  As they considered severing connections with the ship, to keep the ship's affairs separate, Ms. Vik and Zach said there were all manner of short-term options.  They could set up businesses, including the rental of on-station facilities on a week by week, month by month or other basis.  Ultimately, Brian felt it would be best to see if they could establish a LIC to limit liability to the principals as they looked for work.

They looked to Zach to see if he could help in setting up the LIC, and realized he'd need to work with Port Legal services.  This was an issue for him at the present.  It was pointed out they could also contact port services and request to work with Ms. Vik as their consultant, to set up the LIC.  In that way, Ms. Vik would recover a part of what they'd need to pay the port through her fees.  This brought up the division of payment.  Brian asked how they would organize this and Zimzod suggested they all be involved, with each person and the ship getting an equal share.  Everyone agreed this was a good idea and a good way to grow ship's funds.  Zach suggested that the ship should have two shares, to break the division of profits into ten shares for ease of calculation.  This was also agreed to as a good idea.

As they discussed the consultancy's framework, Ms. Vik asked what happened if she found a job she could do, and wanted to take on her own?  When she was told she'd take the job under the LIC, she said she didn't think that was fair, if she did all the work, without involving the rest of the crew.  Zach pointed out that if they got an engineering contract, Brian would be doing all the work.  So Inger should accept that she would do the work in her specialty and share just as the others would do the same.  But Ms. Vik was concerned that she would end up handling all the work if port services were the only jobs they could find.  She kept her thoughts to herself that that was how things had been going in the ports they'd visited.  So they decided to wait and see what happened on her involvement.

The Jae Tellona Logs

     As the crew talked about teaming up, Mikah was desperately trying to winnow down the list of people she was dealing with directly to those with the highest level of credentials she could verify.  In many ways, this was like herding cats, as the list of those pinging her in every means imaginable grew almost exponentially.  She was amazed that someone had not yet arrived at the ship's berth entrance!  Slowly, Mikah was able to carve a wall of greater research agencies, through which she could push the others to work.  It was also becoming obvious that the many contacts did not just want to buy the raw data.  They also wanted to interview everyone with experience, as part of the package.  And there were constantly requests to broaden the contact, establish video conference calls to ask specific questions, and personal visits for examination.

This led Mikah to finally suggest they set up a meeting face to face, which everyone involved leapt at, with offers from flooding in from everyone all at once.  Among the offers, Mikah investigated the one from the University of Rhylanor.  They offered a meeting to discuss a paid consultancy researching everything the team learned about the nomads.  But they also needed to know, before any deal, exactly what was known and what they could expect to learn or advance research on?  Mikah agreed, and started cutting the others out of the conversation as she went over the amount of data, personal experiences and lists of team members involved.  She discussed what samples she had, and also what resources and data she captured.  Mikah didn't mention the data on Zimzod's battledress recording systems at first.  She planned to ask Zimzod about that after the meeting was set, to see if he wanted to join her at the meeting?

They finally set the meeting with University of Rhylanor officials for 10 am the next day, and the locations and information were sent.  Once this was set up, there was a flood of requests for "permission to join" from many facilities and organizations.  The Rhylanor University officials asked Mikah if she wanted the meeting to be "closed door", or if she wanted to include other facilities, or even have the meeting in an auditorium so many could attend?  Mikah said she wanted it closed door, to prevent it becoming a free for all.  She said that, since they knew who the top facilities and organizations were, University could invite the top ten to join in.  Satisfied with this, they broke the connection until the next morning.

Despite the agreement, the ship continued to get a steady flood of calls and requests for data or research cooperation which Mikah felt comfortable ignoring.  Eventually, she set up a "boiler plate" response that these issues would all be answered the next day.  Once off the call, Mikah re-joined the team, and asked Zimzod if he had a few hours the next day, as they might be able to sell the data on his battle computer.  Zimzod agreed, saying he was going to make some copies of the sensor data and video before the meeting.  As Mikah rejoined the conversation about the corporation, they firmed up the plans to start creating the corporation the next day, and sleep on the question of the name for the organization.  It was decided that Brian would be the LIC's 'front man', and he planned to have Emkir help with that.  Zach also admitted he'd likely need to hire a lawyer for his legal issues and both Emkir and Inger were enlisted to help him with that.

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Next: Shifting Data, Blood And Money