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Last Updated     April 26 2018
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Shifting Data, Blood And Money

Heading In Separate Directions

Station      They discussed Zach's legal options and it became clear he couldn't afford good representation outright.  He realized he'd have to sign away a fair amount of the insurance value of his lost cargo to hire a firm on contingency.  After talking with Emkir and Ms. Vik, they decided it was best to wait until the next day to start the hunt for a firm.  With that decided, Inger called port ops, for any advice they could offer.  She got the alter-day staff, and knew a few folks on shift to ask for help.  The upshot was that there were a few firms they could point to that were good as far as the port was concerned.  Or at least, not too annoying when they'd shunted cases to them.  The top ones were "Neniaros, Lurav, Luip hault-Rhylanor" and the legal arm of InstellArms.  These firms topped the station's short list of where to shunt issues with indigents.  After that chat, Ms. Vik decided it was the perfect time to offer Rol the Port Administration's compliments, and her surprise at how much they knew about him.

Rol was pleased to be told the authorities were friendly, and thanked Inger for the information.  He asked if she met with anyone he might know and she rattled off names which were all unfamiliar to him.  Rol said, "If you meet them again, tell them I said thanks and hello."  Emkir recognized some of the names, and said they were fairly high up in the port admin.  Inger's response to Emkir, while not being rude, was, "Yeah.  So?"  Having been talking about making money, Aiden considered his place in the new corporation.  His chief skills were in flight operations and sensor management.  They could offer his services in sensor re-calibration, as those skills were fairly high level.  Even among ship crews, sensor skills were highly prized and he could certainly get a very well-paying job on any large merchanter, just on those skills alone.  But he decided to wait quietly, watching the job offers that came in.

As Aiden went back to his navigation studies on the bridge, Zimzod decided to go shopping for a reader that could handle the data chip he got from the Tellona diamond.  He announced that he was going out looking for a few things, asking who else wanted to go as he headed into his stateroom to get the chip.  Mikah said she'd go with Zimzod, as did Ms. Vik.  Inger had looked for still and video cameras in the Jae Tellona system, and realized she'd find better in this system.  Other than that, she was window shopping.  Zach also said he wanted to come along, to see if he could get an upgrade to his hand-comp?  When Rol asked Emkir what time the poker game was, the Admiral said it was set for 10pm in the O-Club.

Brian said he was going to relax and read that evening.  Everything was more or less prepared for the port engineering crew they'd hired for the following week.  As a result, he reached into his collection of antique books and enjoyed the luxury of actually turning paper pages as he read the observations, rumors and legends of bygone years and civilizations.  His choice of reading for the evening were lost investigations and speculation on the tale of "The Lost Lovers".  One of the surviving legends about them was called "Cold Dreams".

"Cold Dreams", By Cynthia McQuillin
       In cold dreams she lies, as eternity nears.
       Forever she dies sheathed in crystal and steel
       A pale dark-haired beauty, once strong and alive
       A star rover she, to conquer the sky

       Her lover went to sail on the galaxy rim
       She tossed and she turned, and she dreamed about him
       She saw, in a vision, his ship tumble free
       Adrift, in the cold dark of infinity

       She begged and she pleaded for rescue to send
       But most called it foolish to risk other men
       When her lover proved it deadly to sail the unknown
       So coldly she thought, she would find him alone.

       Under suspension, she'd wait out the time
       Her vessel's computers and sensors would chime
       A warning to wake her when they brought her to him
       On the far distant side of the galaxy rim

       In sleep, so like death, she was locked all alone
       No man shall awake her, nor brush back the snow
       For time has forgotten, and fate failed the drive
       Her ship keeps its course but will never arrive

       And the far stars cried
       And the planets yearned
       And no one will know
       For she'll never return

             NOTE: This is just the first verse.  For the full legend, see the page on legends

The tale was still popular in some circles.  Those who still remembered the tale followed the legends of emergent civilizations or lost and historic derelicts.  Most modern debate was based on 'just where the tale fit into history?'  Did her "vision" suggest the story came for Zhodani space?  It was known that psi-infiltration had existed in all the governments of Imperial space until the psionic suppression wars, so that wasn't obvious.  What technology was suggested when the lyrics said "sailing"?  Was there a lost era where they achieved success involving solar sailing?  For a tale out of antiquity, who's origins were lost in time, there was a fairly healthy modern interstellar debate.  And a number of exploratory and experimental societies still existed, to investigate the many theories from this tale.  But sometimes, Brian felt you just had to re-read the original.  And that was something few could do from a paper book.

The Shopping Trip

     Getting out on the store concourses, Zach broke off first heading in his own direction.  Zach said he'd catch up to them as they left.  Checking out an electronics store together, Zimzod started asking about the upgrade he wanted.  He quickly found the store didn't have what he wanted and left.  Mikah heard Zimzod's questions and realized what he was looking for, so she stuck with him.  Ms. Vik didn't find herself as passionate about cameras as she had been, and stuck with the Knights to see what else she found during the shop crawl?

They walked while Ms. Vik scanned the windows, looking for something at least better than what she had.  In the event she did get to take a vacation at all.  Inger did find an interesting LSP-made camera, able to operate either 'in-hand' or by remote, for Cr 100.  It also offered still, video and remote transmission.  She saw extras, and liked that the camera could broadcast data to a datachip in her purse or pocket.  The shop also offered programmable antigrav "shuttles" that connected to the camera and allowed it to be flown closer to a subject while broadcasting the data back to her hand comms unit or data chip.  Of course, these options all cost significantly more money.  As Ms. Vik turned to make her purchase, the two Knights walked on in search of the chip reader.

Zimzod and Mikah found a tech media services store providing translation, transfer, and other services.  They specialized in helping those from tech-challenged systems needing support.  Very quickly, they found a support person who helped them find a reader that they certified would read the chip without sparking it up and testing it.  The cost was Cr 50, and any purchase would be refunded if it didn't read the chip in question.  On the concourse with the reader after buying it, Zimzod checked the features and asked Mikah what she was shopping for?  Mikah said she was just out for a walk.  But as they wandered, Mikah had been checking out the clothing stores.  Most notably, Mikah saw a spray-on nanite solution that, when used, could assume any color or pattern it was held up to until washed out.  So, it was a custom glitter/dye combination that simply reflected a color or a metallic hue.

Because there was a visible 'shadow' of the garment's real color, the best applications were in textured layers of color.  As she investigated, Mikah found it suggested ten to twenty applications at a cost of Cr 150 per bottle.  While she looked at the display from outside one of the shops, Zimzod smacked her on the ass saying, "Go get it.  You know you want it."  Reacting to the smack, Mikah spun and reminded him of her years of anti-border training, by executing a spin and then snapping a kick to his nutz.  She then waited, casually reading the display information, as Zimzod squirmed on the concourse deck, catching the attention of those passing by.  Eventually, she went in while Zimzod was still mastering his pain, and bought two bottles for Cr 300 total.

At another computer shop, Zach first checked out the difference between upgrading his current unit or buying a newer and higher tech unit.  As he looked at the TL 14 palm-computers that would replace the hand computer he had, Zach found the costs were KCr 5 to 6.  Realizing that was beyond his current means, Zach asked how much to upgrade his current unit?  He was told that the standard upgrade package would give him more memory and a faster execution rate, as well as a larger imbedded instruction-base to run some newer software.  The costs were Cr 500 to leave it for upgrade and Cr 750 to have the upgrade done "while he waited".  For an extra Cr 50, Zach was told they would move his data to the upgrade storage crystal and make the existing crystal secondary storage.  If not, he could move the data himself after they did the upgrade.  In the end, Zach chose to just leave it to be upgraded.

Cards, Conversations And Hints

     As time passed, Emkir let Rol know it was time to leave for the officer's club, and they told Aiden they were leaving.  They left the berth to grab a rail car in-station and meet the officers at the base's Officer's Club.  When they arrived at the base entry portal, and provided their Idents, the guard checking Rol's saw his ID and snapped to attention.  This was a reaction Rol was used to, having earned the SEH.  Seeing this, the other guards followed suit until Rol told them to relax, but thanked them.  Through to the base, and in the officer's club, they were greeted by Admiral Uuela.  The Admiral was very pleased that Emkir managed to talk Rol into joining them, and thanked the retired Marine for coming.

As he made introductions to the other two Admirals, Rol realized that Emkir already knew all these officers well.  Noting both organizational and other insignia, Rol realized these Admirals held significant amounts of the Rhylanor fleets in their commands.  Leaning towards Emkir, he whispered, "And these are the people you want us to try to rob tonight?"  Emkir casually responded, "Not rob, it's luck." with the hint of a smile on his face.  Feeling his nerves, Rol stiffly thanked the Admiral for the welcome and said he was, "glad to be there, and looked forward to an evening of relaxation."  As the senior officers took seats again, to set out the chips and cards, Rol again leaned close to Emkir saying ominously, "You have no idea what's in store for you tomorrow.  Enjoy yourself tonight."

Despite that, Rol sat with the other officers and proceeded with the game as the club staff served drinks and food.  During the conversation, Rol began learning bits and pieces of information.  A particular ebon skinned Admiral with the first name Peyñoch turned out to be a member of the Command staff of the Imperial 212th Fleet.  A second Admiral, Saigacrem, passed himself off as 'one of the many staff Admirals of the Rhylanor Colonial fleet' and Rol never got his actual duties or assignment.  This made Rol that much more uncomfortable as they played.  But the Admirals treated Rol with significant respect and they all relaxed.  The conversation pretty much centered around cards while they played, but Admiral Uuela mentioned the honors ceremony he wanted Rol for more than once.

After a few hours playing, the conversation drifted over many random topics, but found its way back to the ceremony once or twice.  Admiral Uuela made no pretense that he would very much be pleased to have Rol in his formation.  For his part, Rol tried to get a better understanding of the ceremony, and learned it was more or less a day of recognition.  Each unit selected an 'elite' Honor Guard, and those units marched in parade to display their unit's battle honors.  Once the procession was made, the Battle Honors ware recognized and special and high-level awards were given.  Rol also realized that they wanted him there as a walking Starburst winner and nothing more.  He would be a symbol of service and respect for these awards that were earned in battle.

Realizing it was just 'dress up and march', Rol felt a lot more comfortable with accepting the role.  He said, "Well, if you guys don't mind an outsider marching with you, I can only return the honor."  Admiral Uuela was very pleased, and thanked Rol graciously as each of the Admirals said they would be there, in case Rol needed any help.  When he said he didn't have a dress uniform, they waved that off and Admiral Uuela said, "Show up at my office tomorrow and we'll get you taken care of."  The tone was as if he supplied Marines with these things every day.  Rol thanked the Admiral graciously, and then leaned to Emkir whispering "You owe me, big time."  As the gaming and conversation continued, Emkir made his play, winding a story to the point, "...while adventuring, I was, injured in the line of duty." only to be cut off by Uuela, who said "No you weren't", with a wicked grin on his face.

Laughing at his friend, while knowing the Admiral would have far too many reports to stretch the facts, Emkir finished saying, "to skip a bit, it seems I am gonna have to sell a bit of swag in order to pay for a new vacc suit.  I was wondering if you guys had any ideas of who's more honest than others?"  When he said this, the others at the table looked at Emkir incredulously.  Then they started ribbing him about the fancy vacc suit he used to have, with fancy fittings and form-fitting tailoring and all.  Hoping to get some decent leads, Emkir could only grin and bear it as the taunting went on.  When they asked him what happened to that suit, Emkir waved it off saying, "I don't even remember."  Another of the officers said, "Figures.  He probably won it in a game somewhere..."  Emkir answered, "Yeah, a craps game, or I hauled it off a dead Stepozhevaci or something."

At that, Admiral Saigacrem off handedly said, "Yeah, they are a pain in the ass."  Eyeing Emkir, he said, "We still have a destroyer on station, monitoring that Stepozhevaci freighter you pulled survivors off of last time you were in that system."  Emkir nodded in empathy as he said, "You try to do somebody a favor and look what happens..."  Rol listened in, since he'd heard mention of the Stepozhevaci but had never gotten a real explanation.  Now, he was getting new information.  Admiral Saigacrem sat back in his seat comfortably and said, "At least they're no longer claiming we shot at them.  So that's a good thing."  And both Emkir and Uuela laughed.  But then Admiral Uuela said, "Every so often we think about returning it to them.  Just put a couple of thrusters on the hulk and nudge it into a re-entry over their country."  The evil glint in his eyes gave evidence that there was some emotional truth behind the joke.

Emkir laughed more as Rol quipped in, "Accidentally, of course" sharing the wicked grins.  Testing the waters, Rol mentioned that he'd been following the incident involving the INS Adamar in the Heya system.  I don't suppose you've heard anything about that?"  At first the Admirals looked up from their cards, as if to measure Rol up.  Then the looks turned somewhat confused.  Finally, Admiral Uuela said, "That's a lot of distance off, but there is nothing more that we've heard.  Every so often the corsairs get a bit crazy and you've got to put them down."  Rol nodded, saying "True", and let things drift back to shop talk.  After a bit more, Rol mentioned that he and the crew had been looking for things to do while in-system.  He said they were wondering what's been happening locally, with recent events, and if there had been anything out of the ordinary?

Rather than a direct answer, the officers gave Rol the basic thumbnail view of an officer's guide to Rhylanor.  While it did provide him some insights, it was also an exercise in being a polite and quiet junior officer while the senior officers spouted words which were sometimes relevant.  When he said he was trying to cut down some of the rumors, they joked about him being the basis for half the rumors making the rounds that week.  But they did say the rumors would likely die down in a week or so, so he shouldn't worry about it.  When Rol said his crew were looking for odd jobs to pick up, the Admirals said they could certainly throw some work to the crew.  Rol was asked if they had a major line of business?

Rol said they had a top class, but eccentric, engineer in Sir Brian.  As he was trying to make some headway, Emkir decided to buy him some time saying, "We handle whatever we find in the news.  Like Jae Tellona.  Let me tell you, Jae Tellona's a weird place."  Having gotten their interest, Admiral Saigacrem asked "What can you tell us about it?" with a glint in his eyes that said he was prepared to enjoy yet another of Emkir's many tales of adventure.  Emkir led off, pointing out the obvious lack of water, which the other Admirals were well aware of.  Emkir disappointed their hopes for a wild tale, as he admitted to having not left the ship.  When they asked about his curiosity, he pointed out that they knew he was from a water-world.  That meant he had no interest in seas of sand at all.

Admiral Uuela nodded to that, saying they had restrictions to personnel taking leave in that system for health and safety.  When installing security cameras throughout the ship didn't interest them, Emkir admitted he was simply holding things down in the port while the rest of the crew went out.  With more interest, the other Admirals asked what they did?  Emkir then told them about how the caravan went into the desert to meet up with some tribes and talked to some nomads.  At that point, Admiral Saigacrem interrupted asking, "Wait.  You talked to the nomads?" in an incredulous tone.  Emkir answered, "Apparently.  I didn't know much about it because I was on the ship with Sir Brian."  Saigacrem's face showed he was a bit disappointed, but Emkir had the attention of all three Admirals now.

Admiral Peyñoch asked, "Can you characterize any of the information your team learned from the nomads?" and Emkir said "I don't know, it was more of a medical nature from what I understand."  Letting his common sense fail him briefly, Rol began to say, "We just did..." but was cut off by Admiral Uuela's thoughtful probe "Medical information?"  Not realizing his luck, Rol tried to answer again and was again cut off as Admiral Uuela asked, "Who was in charge of the medical team?"  Emkir turned to Rol asking, "Who was in charge?" and Rol answered, "Our Captain, who is actually a Knight of the Imperium."  Admiral Uuela quipped "Really?" as an invitation for Rol to continue and the retired Marine said, "Dame Mikah."  After a quick search on his hand comp, Admiral Saigacrem asked, "Would that be Dame Mikah Kirlim?" and Rol said he believed that was her.  After this, the Naval officers exchange glances with each other.

Ms. Vik's Shopping Trip

     Once Inger had her new camera, she decided to window shop more, and try taking some pictures and videos to get used to the new toy instead of finding the others or going back to the ship.  As she wandered, Inger ended up not only in an area filled with food venders, but also of food suppliers.  On a whim she decided to see if she could get a price on real coffee, and started asking questions.  After being directed to one of the many venders, Ms. Vik asked about prices.  She was told that, on a "per pound" basis, she could get some coffee for Cr 6,000.  While this was not Terran coffee, it was billed as "real" coffee, and was actually very inexpensive despite the cost.  After a second's consideration, she explained there was a member of her crew who would likely want some, and recorded the seller's information.

Wandering away from the store front, Inger wondered what else she might want?  Casting around, she looked for anything of interest.  When she saw a confectioner, Inger decided that was what she wanted and went into the store for something sweet.  Inside, she decided to not only treat her own addiction, but to buy some "spreadin' around" supplies too.  In the end, Inger bought a "Stellar Sampler", giving samples of sweets from various systems nearby.  They were offered in "Solar System", Subsector" and "Sector" sizes, giving varying amounts of sweets from one or more solar systems.  In the end, Ms. Vik decided to spend Cr 250 on a "Subsector Stellar Sampler".  When she was asked which subsector box she would like, Ms. Vik found out that only the Rhylanor Subsector box was Cr 250.  Boxes from Subsectors further away cost more due to shipping ingrediants.

Inger asked the vender what he recommended she try, and he said he recommended the "Core box".  But he also admitted that was from the Capital of the Imperium and cost Cr 1,000.  Nodding at this, Inger asked, "of the local subsectors, which would you recommend?"  After he asked if she liked crunchy or gooey, and she said, 'gooey', he recommended the "Mora Box" which cost an extra Cr 50, but would suit her preference.  She asked if it had enough for sharing, and he told her it had 50 or so items inside.  Happy with that, Ms. Vik bought the box and asked if there was a nearby book store as she paid.  Again, the vender asked some questions about the type of books she was interested in and Ms. Vik said she was looking for antique books.  Real paper and cover books.  For that, he told her, she was going to have to take a port taxi into the central shops, where items of real antiquity were sold.  The markets were pricy, but they were authentic.

Thanking the man, she glanced at her chrono and realized it was getting late, so Ms. Vik headed back to the ship.  On her way back, Ms. Vik was approached by a pair of police officers who politely stopped her, asking to see her Ident.  Not sure why, Ms. Vik politely complied and they checked her documents.  Seeing the receipt for the purchases on her Ident, they asked if they could see the box she purchased?  Inger asked if she could see further identification than the uniforms they wore?  They showed their ID's and Inger showed them the camera she was in fact using already, and the sweets, camera box and wrappings in the bag.  After comparing the records and items, they apologized and let her go on her way.  Checking her ident, Ms. Vik noticed they had annotated the 'stop and check' in her records.  Shrugging at the incident, she wandered on back towards the ship.

Zach's Shadow And Blood

     Having completed the deal to have his computer upgraded, Zach considered what else to do on-station?  He considered where he was and realized the better markets for his interests, artifacts, were not near where he was in-system.  He knew there were always new books re-hashing old information and hoped to find something new.  But those could be ordered via computer, so, he decided to head back to the ship.  As he walked through the concourse, Zach couldn't help but notice a "familiar stranger".  Deciding to see if he was being paranoid or not, Zach shifted to the far side of the corridor and took a turn that would still bring him back to the ship.  He noted the stranger followed along, giving him a bit more space.  While the man, appearing homeless, wasn't being obvious, he was also not a professional. or Zach wouldn't have noticed him.  As this happened, he realized that Zack had spotted him and they both started a game of maneuvers.

Widening his attention, Zach noticed a second 'homeless' man following.  This became more obvious thanks to some actions by the first man.  In response to, or to force Zach's actions, the one man's efforts drove the reactions of the other.  It began to look like a clumsy attempt at a gang mugging.  Zach hoped this meant they wouldn't act if he kept to the lit and inhabited corridors on his way back to the ship.  But as he kept one eye behind him, he noticed a line of similarly ragged people ahead of him, spreading across the corridor like an ambush!  Realizing he was in a classic trap, Zack activated his comms and checked the corridor junctures for the coordinates of that concourse section.  Zach continued moving while talking, to keep the pair behind off his back.  As he reached the Knights, they asked about his situation.

Mikah and Zimzod were seven to ten minutes away, where she'd just finished buying the fabric nanites.  They suggested Zach needed to play for time.  Checking the nature of the corridor while burning time, Zach looked for cover, but he realized there were no actual "stores".  This shopping concourse passage had many kiosk stands, spaced with the flow of walking traffic.  The sides of the corridor were lined with alcove-like booths, having tables of merchandise.  That meant there were no 'open door and step in' stores nearby.  Not used to this much exercise, Zimzod started 'overcoming the pain' from Mikah's kick as the two Knights ran.  While this happened, Zimzod got a call from Emkir, asking if he had the time to tell some stories of the events on Jae Tellona?

Zimzod said he was a bit busy, but told Emkir to call him back in thirty minutes because he knew Emkir was too far away to help them.  While Zach tried to reach a small cluster of people in an alcove, one of his pursuers took the chance to close the gap and Zach felt a sharp edge pressed against his back!  Realizing the time had come for action, Zach tried to lean away from the sharp edge and bunched himself to jump over the merchandise table into the alcove.  Expecting some kind of reaction, the attacker spotted the move as Zach was about to launch himself and thrust forward.  Zach felt the sharp pain of a stab wound to the back.  But his knowledge of anatomy was scant enough he had no idea if it was bad.  At the same time, the pain was enough to add more to his leap, as the former merchant cried out in pain and launched himself over the alcove's table.

The other homeless came charging into the area around the booth.  The added thrust of adrenaline is not always a good thing, and Zach not only passed over the table, but flew into the wall at the back of the alcove.  As this happened, the shop keeper started shouting and the area around the table erupted as the homeless moved in on their prey.  This meant some turned to grabbing at other shoppers who'd been near the table and were dashing out of the way.  Soon, the whole area was filled with people yelling, crying out or making other noises.  After Zach crashed into the back wall, he slumped to the floor, having hit his head.  Looking up from the floor, Zach saw two of the homeless on top of the table over him.

One was threatening the shop keeper with something as he grabbed at the cash box, and the other had a knife and was preparing to jump down next to Zach.  Looking around, Zach desperately grabbed an item stowed under the table, hoping it would be solid enough to use as a weapon.  Ironically, Zach came up with the spherical miniature of a Tigress class dreadnaught!  Having to act quickly, Zach tried to push himself up, using that momentum to swing an attack with the ship figurine.  But even before he struck, Zach's attacker had been ready for some kind of counter attack.  With all his energy committed to launching himself up and at his attacker, the homeless man could read Zach's path and leaned to evade it.  So, as Zach missed with his strike, the attacker slashed at his left arm, cutting him again with the knife.

Crying out again, Zach continued screaming, to get the attention of any law enforcement while he faced off against his attacker.  The second homeless man, still on top of the table, was threatening the shop keeper with something as the keeper cowered and a third homeless man had moved in to rifle through the shop's cash box.  A fourth man climbed onto the table.  The other shoppers had fled the area while other shop keepers cowered behind their tables with small improvised melee weapons hoping the violence didn't spread to them.  Having fallen back after flinching from the slash, Zach tried to swing a kick to knock his attacker back.  The kick landed, but had no force.

As the attacker absorbed Zach's kick, he leveled the knife towards him growling, "Give me your Ident!"  Thinking the guy wasn't going to kill if he didn't have to, Zach desperately played for time.  Acting that small bit more panicked than he actually was, Zach cried out, "Ok.  Hold on!  Hold on!  hold on!"  Zach hoped the mugger saw this as victory and relaxed enough to buy him time.  He also held his hands up as if surrendering, despite still having the Tigress miniature in his left hand.  Zach played the terrorized shopper for as long as he thought he could, but realized he was going to have to act sooner than he hoped.  Again, out of desperation, Zach threw the miniature at the man's head, but the throw went very wide and the homeless man dove down on Zach, knife first.  Hoping to deflect the attack, Zach swung his extended left arm up and pushed the man's knife arm wide as he came down.

Driving hard, the push sideways unbalanced the attacker, and he fell to hit the wall where it joined the floor, at an odd angle!  Lucky for Zach, the pressure of the man's landing and his firm unyielding grip on the knife drove the full load of the strike up his arm as he hit the floor at an odd angle.  Just before the man began to scream, Zach could hear the audible snap as his attacker's right ulna broke.  Not knowing the details, Zach only knew he'd been cut a break by fate, where his luck and skills had hung him out to dry.  The man's knife arm was now bent at an improbable angle and the knife had gone flying.  He landed on Zach, and started screaming and writhing in pain.  Having both of his arms mixed in with his attacker's broken arm as Zach realized the situation, the former merchant caught the injured arm and twisted it viciously.

The homeless man howled in new pain, as he writhed even more against the backdrop of sudden additional screaming which Zach didn't really notice.  As the cries around him got his attention, Zach saw one of the homeless seemingly locked in a pose and screaming in agony before he crumpled like a dropped puppet.  This was followed by a flood of uniformed police moving in to secure the area, each carrying some sort of hand weapon.  Realizing he was going to be saved, Zach twisted his attacker's arm further, to keep the man from making any more attacks before the officers pulled him off.  At the same time, Zach began crying for help, trying to make it obvious to the police he was a victim in the situation.  As he also looked around, Zach could see, from under the table, that all the other homeless attackers were down, being stunned or worse.

Uncertain exactly what was happening behind the booth, the police ordered both Zach and the other man to stop moving or they'd both be shot.  Zach needed no other warning and went completely limp, letting his hands fall where they were visible.  It didn't hurt his case that the slash on his left arm was visible too.  Zach's former attacker screamed out in pain as the police grabbed the back of his shirt to pull him up and the broken arm flopped around.  Zach went to grab the arm slash and see if he could put pressure on the bleeding and the police advised him not to move.  But they were using terms like "Sir", and didn't appear to be making negative assumptions.  So, Zach just lay there and moaned that he'd been stabbed.  Laying immobile, Zach saw the officer wave a device over something on the floor and realized the man was scanning the knife on the ground off his shoulder.

As the officer did this, he calmly told Zach they'd called for medical backup.  The man then turned the instrument to the attacker, who's arm they were securing, and scanned his hands.  When a light on the scanner went green, Zach heard the officer say, "OK.  We have his prints on the weapon so this is the stabber.  At the same time, another officer moved in to spray the slash on Zach's arm with a combination pain killer and spray-bandage.  As the one officer started transmitting his data, another officer came in with a retrieval device to recover the knife, while not tainting the evidence.  Other officers had arrived, and the scene was rapidly becoming more and more organized and secure.  Other officers had moved the stall's table and asked Zach just where and how he was hurt, and if he felt he could stand?

Zach said he could stand, but didn't do so immediately, while explaining his injuries.  When he did rise, they helped him up and checked the back stab while reinforcing the spray-bandaged arm slash.  The most serious wound was the puncture stab to Zach's back, and they broke out their first aid supplies for that.  At the same time, on the other side of the cluster, Mikah and Zimzod arrived to see the bad guys being processed and led off from a well-controlled police zone.  They didn't immediately see Zach.  Mikah comm'ed Zach and asked him to respond and if he was ok?  Zach confirmed he was slashed and stuck a bit, but was ok.  When she asked his location, Zach said he was in an alcove and she turned to see him rise to stand in a cluster of officers.  At that point, Mikah pulled out her Ident and started identifying herself as the victim's physician as she pushed forward.  Coming up, Mikah saw they were applying tension bandages to one wound and had used spray-skin on a visible slash wound on the arm as they took a report.

Seeing Zach was standing on his own, Mikah let them finish, and made sure they didn't need him further for the investigation as she carried out her own assessment.  The officers reported they caught four of the five apparent attackers, and asked Zach how long he planned to be in port?  When Zach said they'd be here 'a while' they asked him to come to a station to make a complete statement at his convenience, and handed him their comms data.  The officers were very courteous, and apologized to Zach and the Knights for the experience aboard their station.  Mikah asked about getting transportation for Zach, so they called a port-car to get them all back to the ship's berth.  As this happened, Zach scanned the four men the police had captured and gave a basic description of the man that got away.  He regretted never getting a good look at him, but had been more concerned with survival than crook-watching at the time.  As this wrapped up, an electric police cart pulled up and they were escorted into it for the ride back to the ship.

Regrouping After The Fun

     Arriving at the berth, Ms. Vik was disappointed but not surprised to see a police cart pulling up outside the ship's entrance.  She simply grit her teeth and continued to walk up to the entrance, intending to skirt the activity as best she could, if she could get past it.  As she came towards the berth, Dame Mikah and Sir Zimzod got out before carefully helping Zach rise up out of the cart.  The Knights noticed Ms. Vik passing by in a firm 'I'm not involved, it's not my fault' bubble, and that she'd done some shopping.  Inger noticed Blood stains apparent on Zach's clothes, and some spray-bandaging on his arm.  Arriving at the group, Inger mutedly said, "Hi Zach, Hi guys." as she continued, hoping to avoid the unpleasantness and dressing down she expected from the driving officer.

She did say she'd bought some sweets and passed by as Zimzod thanked the officers, so she missed what would be an unexpected level of politeness from the officer.  Checking in with Aiden by comms as he worked on nav-training, Inger went into the lounge where she found Sir Brian.  The engineer was reading what appeared to be a book made of very old paper!  Something that obviously should have been in a museum.  She did note that Brian was wearing special gloves for protection, to protect his book.  This was unusual for Brian, but she knew he could relax because there would be six techs from the port coming the next morning to help catch up on the ships maintenance.  Inger set out the confections, trying a couple to find her trust in the shop keeper was not misplaced.

The man turned out to be an excellent judge of her tastes from a very small set of questions.  So, Ms. Vik decided to just sit down and watch, enjoying one creamed and one jellied candy, as the coming drama washed over the ship.  Inger also invited Brian to share in the candies.  Brian watched as she took some items from the box and sat down to enjoy nibbling near a terminal, before trying a few himself and finding them tasty enough.  On the bridge, Aiden checked the location of the TAS hostelry in case he wanted any services, and looked up the network access page for TAS on the computer.  He spent some time looking up TAS services.

Brian watched as Ms. Vik pulled out a box containing some kind of camera, and saw she was also watching the corridor leading to the air lock.  As the two sat in the lounge, and Aiden worked nav-training on the bridge, Zimzod moved ahead of Mikah into the ship as the doctor helped Zach.  When they entered the lounge, Ms. Vik made sure they were aware of the candies, while waiting expectantly for the story behind the police ride home.  Mikah was uncharacteristically gentile with Zach where she usually wanted to kick him in the teeth.  Walking him to the lock, Mikah went over in her mind the anesthetics, tissue growth enhancers and other medications she'd need, going over the procedures in her mind.

Ms. Vik told Zimzod she'd found a place selling real coffee for Cr 6,000.  Once it was clear Mikah didn't need his help with Zach, Zimzod said to Inger, "Thank you very much for looking out!  I don't get that often."  As Zimzod took in the scene, Brian and Inger saw Mikah helping Zach into the lounge, intending to cross to the med-bay.  Scanning the candies on the table, Zimzod didn't bother wondering what was in them and headed to his stateroom with the new chip reader.  With the action ending for the time being, Ms. Vik started digging into the instructions on her new camera.  Back aboard, Mikah quickly but gently got Zach into the med-bay where she cut away sections of his clothes to expose his wounds.

Most were simple surface cuts, though the stab wound to his back needed more attention.  She quickly spray-cleaned the surface cuts before covering them with antiseptic pads.  Mikah then prepared her tools and medications before carefully cleaning away the bandaging over the puncture.  Spraying a quick hit of topical antiseptic first, Mikah gently inserted a needle of more significant pain killers to deaden the area of the stab wound.  With that done, she prepared another hypo with growth-enhancer while the drugs took effect.  After she felt enough time had passed, Mikah gently and professionally inserted a swab-stick into the wound, to clean it out a bit and spread a disease inhibiting bio-salve.

Mikah then used the second hypo to inject growth enhancer into the wound.  Finally, Mikah pulled out a spray skin kit and applied a micro-lath before spraying on a bio-skin solution.  That partly adhered to, and partly ate, the lath as it worked with the body to produce a growth of new skin.  After half an hour, Mikah's work was done and she told Zach he could leave.  But she warned him to stay on light duty for the next two weeks.  The former merchant thanked Mikah as he left, and she joked that he should just wait until he gets the bill.  As Zach laughed, she added to the comment, asking if he had insurance?  Once he was gone, Mikah began cleaning up, stowing her meds and making a list of replacement supplies.

Chips And Treats

     Finally behind a closed and locked door, Zimzod sparked up the reader he'd bought and plugged in the chip from the Tellona Diamond.  He was quickly rewarded by a list of files.  Looking at the data, Zimzod realized they were all some kind of binary files.  While he had some skill in computer work, it was not enough for him to more than identify the classes of the files.  But that told him nothing.  Examining the listing for anything that would help, Zimzod finally realized this was a large library of binary files.  What they did was not indicated anywhere, and there were no text or human-readable files with explanation.  Zimzod considered his options as Brian and Mikah were the only others aware of the chip.

Since Mikah was likely busy, Zimzod went to the lounge, to ask Brian for a chat.  Making sure that Ms. Vik and Brian were still alone in the lounge, Zimzod said, "Brian, I have a little issue I'd like to discuss with you in private."  After he said this, Ms. Vik pointed out the candies again, before she buried herself in the controls of her camera.  Considering whatever had Zimzod going was related to Zach, Inger quietly thought, "Every fracking planet."  Zimzod made a show of being 'one of the team' as he crossed the lounge to try a candy and even thanked Ms. Vik with a smile!  Both Brian and Inger looked up with surprise.  Of course, that ended as Zimzod realized that, while he had no idea what he'd just bit into, he knew it was possibly the worst thing he'd ever eaten!  And after bizarre military food and rations, that was saying something.  The others watched as he gracelessly grabbed for the nearest thing to spit out the candy onto and gasped, "What is this?!" in an annoyed and disgusted voice.

With a saccharine-sweet expression, Ms. Vik looked up and, as if she was instructing a child, said, "It's a con-fecti-on", keeping the smile as a follow through.  She then returned her attention to her camera muttering, "No accounting for taste, man."  Not certain what the former Marine was up to, Brian looked up from his book to ask, "Can it wait a bit?" and was surprised when Zimzod amicably answered, "A bit" with actual apparent effort to hold back his impatience.  Realizing Zimzod was actually trying to be nice because he must want something, Brian took advantage responding, "OK.  Give me an hour or so, and I'll be ready."  Nodding, Zimzod headed back to his stateroom and decided to give the dye remover some more chances to work its magic.  Zimzod eventually gave up after only minor improvement on his face and worked at gear maintenance.  After Zimzod left, Ms. Vik decided to check out what opportunities existed for entertainment on the station?  She sparked up a terminal and looked for cultural events or performances of interest.

Done cleaning up, Mikah moved to the lounge to check her notes on the Jae Tellona nomads for the meeting at the University of Rhylanor.  Zach went to his stateroom to change before returning to the lounge to relax.  Before settling in, Zach checked the candy box listing before trying two that sounded good.  He quickly found he chose well.  As he nibbled, Zach noticed Brian was reading an incredibly old tome.  From what he could see, it seemed to cover legends of the Gushemege Sector and the great rift.  Curious if there was anything interesting, Zach moved closer, asking if he could read over the engineer's shoulder?  Brian replied, "Actually, Yeah.  Go away."  When Mikah looked up from her work to say, "Wow, you're being a hard ass, aren't you?"  Brian answered, "Well, I'm trying to understand this."

Mikah asked, "How many times have you read it?" and Brian said this was the first time he'd read that book.  When Mikah shrugged and said, "OK" in a doubtful tone, Brian told her, "Just because they are old does not mean they've all been read."  Dame Mikah answered, "They could be." with an evil grin on her face.  Brian just glared back at her before returning to his reading.  Rebuffed by Brian, Zach sparked up a terminal and started reading through the news and happenings in the port.  He planned to relax for the rest of the evening.  Eventually, Brian noted where he was in his reading and returned the book to his stateroom before buzzing the comms panel at Zimzod's stateroom door.  Seeing Brian, Zimzod asked him into the stateroom in a friendly tone.  Alone, he asked if Brian remembered the chip he and Mikah had shown the engineer?

After thinking a bit, Brian said he did and Zimzod said he'd gotten a reader that could access the chip but he couldn't make sense of what was on it.  Asking to look at it, Brian saw the binary files.  Examining them for a bit, he suggested they looked like data files instead of executable files.  In order to open the files, Brian said Zimzod might need to find what program used them in order to read them.  Brian did suggest that, if Zimzod copied the files for him, he could try to figure them out with the binary readers he had.  Reluctant to even consider copying the files, Zimzod suggested they take the reader and try some of Brian's files then and there.

Bothered by Zimzod's attitude, Brian agreed and said, while he would have too much to do the next day to devote a lot of time to the research, they could spend a little time on it now.  When Zimzod agreed, Brian told him to step into the ship's lounge.  But Zimzod balked at working on the files in the lounge, and Brian said they needed to tie the chip-reader into the ship's computer.  Zimzod suggested they do it in the engineering section instead of the lounge.  Brian shrugged, agreed and they headed below decks.  There, Brian tied the systems together and started looking at the data.  After examining the files with various bit-readers, the best sense the ship's computers could make were that they were some sort of coordinates system.  The computer couldn't determine anything else about the files.

The total file size was several hundred kilobytes of memory, which told them nothing.  Zimzod considered that this could be a lot of coordinates until Brian reminded him it could also be a small number of very complex coordinates.  This confused Zimzod and Brian pointed out that, from a physics point of view, the use of functions could add in everything from conditional formulae for shifting values to trans-temporal figures for changing values over time.  At that point, Brian said they were at an end, unless they knew more about the data.  He said they could be anything from physical coordinates to computer, or even graphic data locations.  When it came down to it, Brian said he couldn't help more without knowing something about the origin of the data.  Then Brian asked where the chip came from?

After considering it a bit, Zimzod decided to let Brian in on the truth.  He began saying, "You know that slot in the Tellona diamond we're going to put a light in?  Well, this chip was in that slot."  As Zimzod watched Brian's reaction, he could almost see the data clicking into place in the engineer's mind before the contemplative look changed.  Brian asked, "So, when were you going to tell the rest of us about this?"  Countering Brian's offensive response, Zimzod replied, "All things in good time.  First, I wanted to know what it was."  Nodding, Brian asked to examine the chip, recalling the first time he'd barely been able to look at it.  Zimzod pulled the chip as Brian said it could have embedded projectors, designed to project the data through the lens of the stone.

As Zimzod considered this, Brian reminded Zimzod, this would be the stone they'd already had re-engineered.  Zimzod handed Brian the chip from the reader, and Brian carefully examined it with a few tools.  As he did, Brian found that the chip was capable of projecting patterns.  He acerbically said that, if this was the stone's purpose, having cut it may create some serious issues.  When Zimzod asked if this could be fixed using enough reflectors and other resources, Brian pointed a few things out.  "First, you would have to know the properties and geometry of the stone before it was cut.  Second, you'd have to be able to take that data and compute the proper paths, possible magnifications or diffusion, changes in color properties, etc.  In short, you'd likely need a super computer and many resources that would draw a lot of attention."

Brian left it unsaid that they would have known this before the stone was cut if Zimzod had come to him sooner.  This answer didn't please Zimzod, as he considered the situation.  Brian did point out that they could get the original geometric data from Countess Ursara, because she would have taken that mapping as part of the cutting process.  Zimzod said that they still didn't know if that was the stone's purpose, even if the chip could emit light patterns.  He then told Brian they should get Mikah involved.

Taking The Next Step

     Sitting at her terminal, working on her notes, there was a ping from engineering to the lounge, asking for Mikah to pick up.  When Mikah did, she heard Zimzod, sounding very much as if he had a problem.  Worried for what could happen in that part of the ship, Mikah asked, "Oh God, what are you doing down there?  What did you break?"  Zimzod answered, "Umm, a gemstone.  Well, some gemstones.  It might be better if you come down here and we can explain it."  Not sure what Zimzod might describe as 'a gemstone' in the ship's engineering, and how bad things were, Mikah simply moaned, "Oh God" and said, "All right, I'll be down."  Hearing Mikah's side of the conversation, Ms. Vik said she was going to a concert and asked if Mikah would like to come?  She figured the Knight could use some relaxation after whatever new disaster was afoot.  When Mikah asked what Inger was going to see, Ms. Vik told her it was a classic Rhylanori Concert.

Mikah said, "I'll get back to you in a couple of minutes." and Inger said, "OK.  I was figuring you might just want to go to the concert and ignore the guys.  I think you'd much rather enjoy a concert than hear what they have to say." with an evil look on her face.  Mikah said, "You might be right.  But I have a feeling I'm going to have to deal with this before going out."  Knowing she'd likely regret the answer, Inger asked, "Do you want me to come down with you?"  Surprising her, Mikah said "No", but got an evil look on her face as she asked if she could borrow Ms. Vik's shock cane?  Surprised at the request, and certain she didn't want to know any more, Inger asked, "Really?"  Mikah replied, "Yeah, if you don't mind.  It couldn't hurt."  Nodding, Inger said, "It's in my stateroom", as she got up to get the cane.

After Inger got the cane and taught Mikah how to use it, Mikah thanked her before going down to engineering.  Inger told Mikah she was likely to be calling a port taxi soon, to head out to the concert.  Mikah said she might still join the administrator, if she had time and, asked where the concert was?  At the same time, Inger told her to just leave the cane in her stateroom when she was done with it.  Inger bounced the concert info from her Ident to Mikah's, and told the Knight she was headed to station offices to grab a free ticket.  So Mikah should comm her to grab two if she decided to come.

Mikah made her way below decks with the cane and asked, "what's up?"  Brian explained that Zimzod asked him to take a look at a computer chip, as he held it up.  As Mikah recognized the chip, Brian said the shiny surface she and Zimzod had noticed before was, in fact, a micro-LED surface.  It should emit light into a lens of some sort, to project an image.  He continued to explain everything he and Zimzod covered.  Then, they talked about how to get a map of the stone before it was cut, to try replacing it somehow.  Mikah suggested they could call the Countess for the original specs.  Then they could possibly do the work that might let them recreate the intended 3D image.  Taking this in stride, Mikah simply moved to a comm panel while saying, "I'll call the Countess."

Countess Ursara was surprised at the request, asking why they needed the original image map of the stone?  Mikah said, "Well, you know men.  They are arguing over the size of things.  Anyway, I thought it would be good to remind them of the original size of things, as they are blowing things out of proportion, as usual."  Ursara giggled and asked, "Are you sure you don't want the current image?  That would give you the more correct information on value."  Mikah said, "You know, could you send both over, that would be awesome?"  Ursara agreed to have the files pulled up and emailed over.  Mikah thanked her and said, "We'll see you at the Rhylanor Renewal Festival.  And we'll get a chance to talk more about the diamond sale if not before."  As they talked, Mikah invited Ursara to join them as they toured the tech expo in two days' time.

The Countess said it would be interesting and, overhearing, Brian said it should be fun.  Ursara and Mikah talked, and decided that two afternoons from then, they should go to the expo together.  After asking for the gemstone image map, Brian explained that, even with this data, reconstructing any intended image would still be very difficult, and take some time.  Brian also quietly said he'd have more time for this if they picked up a few engineering 'droids.  Mikah answered to that saying, "Yeah, we'll see.  All we can do is try, and there could be a big payoff in the end."  That said, Mikah told Brian he'd be in charge of trying to find any answer to this particular problem.

Rank Hath Its Questions

     At the officer's club, the game had come to a bit of a stop as the Admiral's started asking what the team saw when they dealt with the Jae Tellona nomads?  Emkir was quick to point out that he was not with the away team, but Rol volunteered that he had been.  Having put his foot squarely into it, Rol realized he would have to say something about the events to satisfy the officers.  So Rol said, "It was just a trading expedition that did not work out.  We met with them and they didn't want to trade with us.  So we came back to the starport."  Since the nomads didn't 'meet' with outsiders, they asked who set up the meeting?  Rol said it was Countess Ursara of Katarulu.  Rol gave a very abbreviated description of the expedition, leaving out the team's discovery of the wooden plaque and the diamond.  He did say they gave the team a small amount of diamond fragments and refused any further attempt at trading with them.

The Admirals then asked what gear was brought into the deserts, and Rol gave a generic list of the gear one would take into the deserts.  Emkir mentioned the Golning, and riding lessons and Rol admitted how uncomfortable they were.  He said he'd have preferred a hovercar.  Rol mentioned the storm, and described how Zach lost his tent.  Emkir followed that up describing the young caravanner girl who had been tasked to work for Dame Mikah during the trip, though not why.  He did get a number of laughs expanding on her reactions to technology.  Changing the conversation, Rol said, "I can confirm the nomads do seem to have the ability to disappear from scanners and sensors."  That got an immediate reaction from the senior officers.

They leaned forward as the Admiral's asked what sensors were being used?  When Rol said that one team member had the full suite of his battledress sensors on them, the report impressed the officers very much.  They asked if the crewman with the battledress was still part of their crew and Rol said he was.  When they ask the crewman's name, Rol said "That would be one of our Knights, Sir Zimzod."  Admiral, Saigacrem asked if they could meet with Sir Zimzod?  Rol said they'd have to ask the Knight to set that up.  After Rol agreed to speak to him on their behalf, they asked if Rol or Emkir could get the Knight on comms?

But when they sparked up their comms and got Zimzod, he was obviously breathing hard.  Emkir began explaining the call to the Knight, who interrupted and shut him down.  Zimzod said he was in the middle of something and too busy to talk at the moment.  Zimzod left out the fact he and Mikah were running to rescue Zach.  Still on the comms, the Knight heard Emkir explaining to someone else, "Zimzod is a bit busy."  Zimzod told Emkir he should try back in half an hour, when he hoped to be free.  As they broke the call, Emkir said, "He's busy.  I am worried." and Rol dismissively replied, "He's probably found some coffee."  Inwardly, Rol was dreading what they'd find when they got back to the ship, if alarms didn't let them know sooner.

Eventually, the Admirals asked Rol many questions, and the retired marine tried his best to sort through what he could and couldn't tell them.  He mostly wanted to keep the wooden plaque secret.  He tried to not mention the diamond, even though it would soon come out, if they didn't know about it already.  But explaining having the diamond meant having to explain why they were given it?  And that meant the plaque.  And the Admirals all knew there were some parts of the story they were not getting, but this was a friendly game, so they didn't push too hard.  They got back to the game as they talked.  By the end of the evening, when they counted the chips, they found Rol was up Cr 30 and Emkir up Cr 220!

But it was getting late, or perhaps it was getting early, and they had people visiting the ship the next day.  So Rol and Emkir had to call it a night.  Rol and Emkir considered their luck as they went back to the berth, and speculated the Admirals had been pulling their punches in respect to what they really wanted.  For Admiral Uuela, that meant getting Rol to join his unit for Honor's day.  For the other Admirals, that was not known, but they all seemed to have a lot of interest in the nomads.  Especially Admiral Saigacrem.  When the thinking got to be too much, Emkir suggested they hit a bar so he could buy Rol a drink.  But Rol just shot that down, as he reminded Emkir of the training he'd scheduled for the next morning.  Or was it the current morning?

With that idea dead, Emkir brought up the security cameras they'd installed on Jae Tellona.  He suggested they re-wire the cameras to feed to their individual staterooms as well as the bridge.  Rol reacted badly to that, considering his programming project, to route the video to his own stateroom.  So, he pushed the belief that they didn't need that level of access.  When Emkir pushed the idea, for convenience of checking the system, Rol suggested Emkir was too passionate about the idea and asked if Emkir had an alternative use for the data?  Rol added a somewhat suspicious tone.  When Emkir simply said it was a safety measure, Rol said they'd have to talk to Mikah about the idea and see what she said.  Finally, they got back to the ship between one and one thirty in the morning.

Next: Selling Data As The Siege Begins