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As The Circus Really
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Planning To Visit The Trade Fair

Station      Zimzod found Zach doing personal work and watching the port engineers. The engineers didn't recognize the Knight, but knew he was part of a crew they were very leery of. So they gave him a wide berth as he headed for the upper deck access. The fact his sckin was still a shade of pink/red did not help their opinions. Zimzod arrived in the lounge to see Aiden relaxing and Ms. Vik blasting away bad guys in her video game. He passed them by without getting a reaction as he went to his stateroom to work on his gear. Heading to the ship, Mikah comm'd the press team's link getting voice mail. Not offering anything free, she cut the call and considered how much damage was done and how much Brian should pay. As Zach saw Zimzod below decks, he figured Mikah was free too, and comm'd her asking if he should order supplies for the berth galley?

Zach mentioned they'd be in-port for some time. Mikah considered this before giving him the go ahead. Zach jumpped on the network and searched for food suppliers after Mikah told him to order "better than average" food stuffs. He soon found what he thought was the best deal from port services. So he ordered the supplies to be delivered for a cost of Cr 6,120. They gave him a purchase order number and a promised to deliver the supplies the following day. Cutting the comms with Zach, Mikah started considering the next day. The Admiral had his "collecting bids" fiasco planned for the morning and she and the other Knights needed to meet with Countess Ursara and tour the Reilley - Dushemsa Tieells Interstellar Trade Fair. While the Countess was mostly expecting to see Dame Mikah, the other Knights had to be there to make connections and become known. Zimzod was also of importance to the Countess because he was the "business partner" and owned the Tellona Diamond.

In the berth offices, after the terminal crashed, Emkir looked at the near-by terminals and saw Brian had only been using that unit. Not wasting time on the unit, Emkir shrugged and moved to a still powered station to do more work on his media plans. Having gotten work on the door in motion, and with the drop accounts created, Emkir logged into the mailbox to check on what had come in so far. Seeing over a thousand replies so far, Emkir decided to program a filter to scrub the good from the bad. He devoted the next hours designing a filter and ate later, as Rol, in the ship's lounge, cooked chow. Below decks, the port engineers told Zach they were done for the day. He prepared to sign off the datapad on their work and hours as Brian returned, having finished the last of his "work" in the bay staterooms. Before letting the engineers go, Zach had Brian check out the work done. The engineers, who were just happy the media crush had gone away, trailed along as their performance was evaluated.

As Brian spent the next half hour back-checking the work of the day, Zach went above-decks and offered Rol a hand. The retired marine joked that the recipe didn't call for human meat, but Zach could help if needed. As they talked, Mikah wondered about the possible media circus Brian's interview would inspire. She also considered what might happen if Rol were to join them at the trade fair, and decided to ask him. Caught by surprise, Rol asked, "Where are we going?" As he asked this, Brian entered and decided going to the trade fair as a crew was a great idea, pitching it with passion. He explained how this would allow them to stand side by side in front of the media there, to prove his words were edited and broadcast out of context.

When Rol pointed out that they said "no Interviews", Brian said it wouldn't be an interview, but an appearance at a public event. A public statement at most. Rol felt this was just the first bad answer from Brian, as he asked if the engineer was restricted by Mikah's orders? And how formal the trade show was? He was told the trade show was just like any other, and could be fairly casual. As for Brian, this was one of those events the Knights were advised to attend, towards gaining Duke Leonard's approval of their confirmations. So Brian had to go, to the trade fair. Finally, Rol asked if the Knights really felt this would improve their chances? Brian jumpped in, and said it would set Rol's mind at ease if he were there to see what happened. So Rol finally agreed to go with the crew, saying, "Well I'll go if you want me there."

After it was decided that Brian and Rol would come to the fair, discussion turned to Zach. Mikah pointed out that, despite his legal issues, this would be something he would be very interested in and valuable to have. They talked about who'd be stuck watching the engineers, and Mikah, as Captain decided Aiden would handle that. Once he decided he was going, Rol thought about what he'd wear, deciding on his regular station-kit without weapons, duster or hat. Mikah spoke to Zach and Ms. Vik, who also agreed to come. As they talked, Rol commented on the video game Ms. Vik had been playing and Ms. Vik invited him to try it two-player. Rol accepted as she muttered that just killing things had gotten stale. They decided that, once Rol finished dinner, and after they ate and cleaned up, the two would lock controllers.

Evening Aboard The Hotel California

     After returning to the ship and dealing with the engineers, Brian ate and planned to return below decks to work on the engineering 'droid. While they ate, Mikah fixed him with a look saying, "Oh, Sir Brian..." When the engineer asked, "What's up?", Mikah said, "Tomorrow, we have an interview. Not with the media." Confused, he asked "Who does?" and Mikah answered "We do." indicating herself and Zimzod. She continued, "If you'd like to come..." with an evil smile on her face. As Brian murmured, "ok?" Mikah said, "We're interviewing an engineer." with a very satisfied look on her face. Dryly, Brian said, "Really?" and Mikah confirmed, "Yup", with a tight smile. She taunted him saying, “You need help." before clarifying that he couldn't run the entire engineering section by himself. This connected as Brian said, "Oh! I do need help." Realizing this was for someone to help him, Brian said he'd absolutely sit in on the interview.

As he later worked on the 'droid, Brian set the unit's name to "WALL-e" and began a set of built-in diagnostics to see what the 'droid's full capabilities were? What he found was that the unit was a lot less capable than the one he'd seen in the store. But at the price, he was still satisfied, as it would reduce his work load. The fix list included a lack of some tools, a reduced skill level(equal to Eng-3) and cognitive systems as well as a 'reach restriction' that would keep it from reaching some systems. The one thing Brian knew he'd have to upgrade very soon were the "grabbers", that anchored it in high-gee maneuvers. While good, the old units might fail, making the 'droid a projectile in their engineering spaces. After he certified the unit’s specs, it was time to push the systems hard with the 'droid 'out of service'. That took the rest of his evening, as he planned to look for add-ons and upgrades at the trade show the next day.

Having relaxed for a bit once the others returned, Aiden waited for Rol to finish cooking and had chow. He'd secured the bridge after Dame Mikah led Rol down the the berth offices, and watched the news. Aiden was glad to see no new disasters had risen up as Brian got his. During the meal, Mikah told him he had 'engineer duty' the next day. That pleased the pilot, as he could avoid being part of the group targets he thought the others were making themselves into. As Rol began cleaning up, Aiden returned to the bridge to work on some nav-training before hitting the rack early around 9:30pm port time.

Zach squared away his work and went above decks to have dinner. Once done, the merchant worked on gunnery training then relaxed a bit before hitting his bed. After dinner. Zimzod made sure his gear was set for the next day and relaxed. Mikah checked her access to the University's medical servers, finding she was able to scan and sign into the classes and seminars. She scanned the listing and saw the time estimates for each were in the hundreds or even thousands of hours, as they were meant to be full classes. As MIkah considered several classes she remembered that her armor could likely use a real armorer's inspection. Saying, "Hey Rol" as she looked up, Mikah realized he was involved in something as he grunted out, "I'm a bit busy." while working to eliminate Ms. Vik's avatar. She decided to worry about that later and started a refresher class on surgical techniques.

Emkir's Evening Working Offers

     Still in the berth offices, Emkir worked at the responses to his press announcements. While the others ate, he finished a filter to try sponging out the obviously disqualified emails. As he prepared to run the filter, the current mail count was over 7,000 items! When he activated the filter, the computer estimated it would take thirty to forty minutes to process the items in the in box. Seeing that, Emkir locked the screen and went to the galley to grab chow. He found dinner was over, and there were no leftovers. Checking, he grabbed a foil pack, fixing that and a caff-drink before returning to the office. Unlocking the screen, he found the filter still running. Checking each category, Emkir found them all still growing. While offers based on quid pro quo, service offers and "other offers" were nice, Emkir was interested in the money first.

The first offer Emkir opened was an offer for MCr 5.7!! As he was thinking they may have hit pay dirt, he saw the offer acknowledged the desire for a "one on one" exclusive interview with Major Kaihvos, and had a contact link but nothing else. Emkir decided to save that item before moving on. The next few offers ranged between KCr 50 and KCr 100, and came with lists of affiliates and substation networks. Emkir decided to save those too. The next item had glossy screen shots of various news anchor teams and sets, purportedly giving news broadcasts. They offered MCr 3.5, but there was no explanation or identification of their organization. Emkir considered this might be an amalgam of networks. As he saved this item, Emkir was beginning to realize the size of the task he'd set for himself, even before receiving the first hard copies planned for the next morning.

After deciding to work at the offers until midnight-local time, Emkir managed to plow into, but not conquer, the pile. Along the way he saw offers from "mom and pop" groups, promising to make up for size by doing things exactly as the team wanted, to those organizations that made offers with qualifications. And the one high bid of MCr 5.7, with no details. By midnight, Emkir saw the offers were still arriving rapidly, and there were over 30,000 items! Of them, he'd dealt with between 700 and 800. For laughs, Emkir saved some of the offers that seemed sincere, but which couldn't afford their prices and retired to hit the rack. He was glad they had Aiden set up a recording to dump the calls to the ship, as they'd obviously be going mad from the incoming traffic otherwise. Shaking his head, Emkir secured the work station and went for bed, finding he was the only one left awake when he did.

An Earlier Call From Ursara's Senechal

     Around 10pm, in the ship's lounge, Mikah's comms began to buzz as she was studying surgical updates. Answering, she found the caller was Countess Ursara's Seneschal. He said they'd been trying to call the ship but calls were being dumped by a rude recording. Mikah said they would check that and asked what she could do for the Countess? The Seneschal said the Countess would like to confirm their plans for the trade fair the next day? Mikah confirmed they'd be ready to meet the Countess at 11am. She also confirmed that anyone calling for the Countess should use her comms link for contact. The Seneschal said, "The Countess wonders if you're experiencing any difficulties?" and Mikah explained it wasn't not the ship but one crew member. Mikah also said it was complicated. Agreeing these things usually were, the Seneschal offered to work with Mikah's seneschal, to assist in resolving issues. This brightened Mikah up as she said, "Sure!" and had him hold while she got Inger's attention.

Trying to shoot Rol's avatar, Ms. Vik wasn't very responsive as Mikah said the Countess’ seneschal was offering to help them. Inger bought time with questions as she tried to figure out what Mikah was talking about? When Mikah explained that they might be able to help with the Rol situation, Inger got the idea and said to ask if they had a local lawyer on retainer? When Mikah asked, the man said "Yes", though confused why he was still talking to Mikah? He continued, saying they had several lawyers. Pleased, Mikah asked if they could contact one of them the next day? Not wanting to fail at his job, the man replied, "Absolutely. Give me your seneschal's contact information and I'll set it up and get her the data." Mikah agreed and thanked him as she transferred Ms. Vik's comms information.

Having been of service to this very confusing noblewoman, the seneschal asked, "Is there anything else I can do for you My Lady?" and Mikah said, "Not at this time. We'll speak to the Countess tomorrow and explain everything." She then continued to confuse the Seneschal saying, "And I apologize for everything. It's been a bad day." Handling this as he did most drunk nobility, he replied, "I'm sorry. What do you have to apologize to me for My Lady?" She said she was sorry for the difficulty the Countess had in reaching them and asked the man to let her know. As this was happening, a text message icon appeared on her comms. Mikah signed off with the Seneschal and opened the message to find it was quite large.

The message was an advertisement from Hunde & Edelstein, LLC, specializing in 'Court appearance enhancement'. They sold everything from garments to accessories, pets and gemstones. They specialized in 'Love Stones', carbonized remains pressed into crystal from the ashes of a loved one or someone else the Noblewoman had lost. Indeed, they also offered 'Hate Stone' services, though those could get pricey as they included the cost of collecting a noblewoman's opponent or enemy too. [ See The Flyer text Here ] As Mikah read the flyer, Zach checked his email accounts, finding none of the media outlets had responded to him as yet.

When Ms. Vik checked her messages later, she found Countess Ursara's Seneschal had mailed her. The very polite letter said that he'd been the Countess' seneschal for quite some time. While he did not know how long Ms. Vik had been Her Ladyship's seneschal, they'd be working together since Her Ladyship and his Countess were going to be doing business together. He offered, if there was anything he could assist with, she was to feel free to reach out to him. He was glad to give Ms. Vik the benefit of his experience. Appended to the letter, Ms. Vik found contact data for the law firms the Countess had on retainer in the Rhylanor system, by orbital zone. Ursara's seneschal explained that he’d set up a meeting and consultation with the firm 'Brigg, Tander and hault-Vineschenz” at 3pm the next day. Inger answered him, in her best professional manner, thanking him for his assistance. She allowed that she appreciated his offer, and assured him that she would be in contact at need. She did her best to make it both professional and gracious as well.


Escaping The Berth
     At 6am, Rol's alarm went off and he moved into his morning routine before heading into the lounge to cook. Due to the comments the day before, he considered a week of nothing but grilled cheese, but didn't want to burn through the ship's supply of cheese. He also didn't want to punish himself. So he cooked a standard breakfast as the alarms began ringing in Aiden, Inger, Mikah, Zimzod and Emkir's staterooms. By the time they finished morning routines, breakfast was done and Rol served himself. Soon, the others were emerging to eat as Brian's alarm started going off. Mikah noticed that Brian wasn't awake yet as she straggled out with the others. Knowing they needed to move, she went to his stateroom door to wake him. As she arrived, she could hear the sound of his alarm starting to go off. This added to her annoyance as she started banging on the door calling out, "You know we have to be somewhere at nine, right?"

Half awake, Brian called back, "I don't wanna go to school ma!", and it took Mikah a second to decide how she wanted to take that. As she began deciding, she heard Brian saying, "I'm up. I'm up." She also heard him stumbling about a bit, which satisfied her. Mikah then joined the others, eating the pancakes and breakfast toast Rol made. Eventually Brian made it out of his stateroom and considered having breakfast at the restaurant to save time, before eating some of Rol's food. As they ate, they planned and Mikah told Rol to make sure he, Ms. Vik and Zach met them at the Countess' ship berth. Aiden got done eating first, as he had to meet the port engineers at the berth entry and let them in. He headed below decks and passed through engineering to the cargo bay. Opening the crew access hatch, Aiden got his first look at the bay and saw it was packed! Beyond the plexiglas and steel barrier, Aiden could make out precious few station security officers maintaining the barest sliver of a cordon between the barrier and a literal army of media persons filling the space beyond.

Aiden scanned the mass of sentients and androids as he wondered just how he'd figure out where the engineers were. He only knew that they'd have a work order with them. Of course, as he watched, a ripple of activity and reaction began while he scaned the crowd. Recording equipment swung into line and correspondents prepared for action. This activity increased as Mikah led her team out of the airlock. Rol started cleaning up as the Knights left to interview Captain Piirirshu, hearing the alarm going off in Zach's stateroom as they passed. Surveying the crowd, Mikah decided they'd need a port car in order to get past the press. Seeing the security officers, Mikah moved to hit the stud on the door comms as one of them moved on the other side. When she explained her concerns, the officer said he was certain there wouldn't be a problem. They could come out and would be escorted through the crowd. Mikah stressed that Rol would be coming out later, and would also need to pass through.

The officer calmly and confidently assured Mikah it wouldn't be a problem, and appeared to have no doubts. She accepted, asking him to have the media move back before she'd trust the situation completely. The officer agreed and reached for his comms to give orders. Soon, he adjusted the device and spoke through it as a loudspeaker. Mikah heard him command, "Attention! You will stand back and clear a corridor. Now. Or you will be arrested." As they watched, the amoeba that was the media horde organized and separated. As if remotely controlled, it split into two halves as a path appeared. It was very obvious that the law had great power in this system, beyond what the crew had seen before. Mikah was impressed, and, as she opened the berth entrance, she let the officer know it.

Mikah did make sure they locked the door as the two crowds erupted with shouted questions and requests. Mikah shot Brian a hard glare, sharply saying, "Ignore them." while glancing over her shoulder at the front lines of reporters. She was actually surprised to see many of those who'd jockeyed to the front waving what looked like actual paper! As the team started moving, they were escorted through the crowd, and eventually reached the main exit from the berth into the docking rim corridor. There, they encountered yet another gauntlet of reporters and media reps. These were the ones who couldn't force their way into the berth. They also found they were being followed by a core of reporters from the berth, becoming an island of media interest. As they walked, Zimzod glowered threateningly, but relied on security given the display in the berth.

Sir Brian quietly made his own plans as they went. In his pockets, Brian had two bags of marbles, brought specifically due to the crowds he expected. He'd also worn a pair of pants he didn't mind trashing, as his needed to cut holes in the pocket pouches. Now he just had to pick the right moment. Lagging behind, Brian casually asked Mikah if the press were bothering her as he walked, calm and confidently. He made sure, from time to time, that the cameras got his 'good side'. Brian smiled serenely as he jaunted along, with his hands in his pockets where none could when tell he was pulling the tabs on the bags. As he strode, with the crowd of reporters nipping ever closer to his heels. No one saw the stream of spheres spilling out under his pant cuffs and covering the passage.

Then the calm scene changed quickly, as four of the lead media members suddenly dropped in a surprised and panicked heap, to have the wave of press behind them crash like waves on rocks! The officers escorting the Knights and their retinue immediately assumed the worst, calling for back up and hastening the group to safety. Brian had to work hard to keep his face a mask of concern and not give himself away as the sounds of confusion behind increased. Once out of the media frienzy, security moved them through several concourses to where they could move freely. They then asked Dame Mikah where her team were planning to go and directed them to the quickest route there.

Interviewing The Engineer

     Moving swiftly, they made their way to the restaurant, where they noticed a tall albinoid woman with an almost a 'lollypop' body shape. She was tall, not very slim but not heavy at all. Her large round head was coifed with white hair, hung in heart-shaped bangs around her face and running down just over the ears and along the neck to her shoulders in the back. Oddly, she looked out of this ocean of white with jet black eyes! She was dressed in her "Tuesday go-to interview" suit, and waited casually. The first thought that crossed most minds was, 'Wow! A date for Zach!'

Mikah was the first to speak, looking the woman in the eyes and asking, "Are you Captain Piirirshu?" As the woman said she was, Zimzod quietly sniggered, "Wow, we found a girlfriend for Zach" and Mikah frowned saying, "This is Zimzod. You can ignore him." pointing as she spoke. Zimzod corrected her, "Sir Zimzod." Frowning more, Mikah continued, "I'm Doctor Mikah Kirlim. I'm the Captain of the ship. And this is Brian Montgomery..." Sir Brian put in, "Ship's Engineer" confidently and with an authoritative smirk on his face. Sir Brian also reached out to shake the woman's hand in a very Solomani gesture.

Captain Piirirshu let things flow, figuring an explanation would happen sooner or later, and Mikah finished, "Let's go inside, have a drink and talk." Heading inside, Brian explained they were crew for a 250 ton Stingray-class ship, normally used as a yacht. He described the engineering space and the need for more than one engineer to manage the systems. "So", he said, "Dame Mikah is looking to hire an assistant engineer." Brian explained she would not be working beneath him, but as an assistant, and Zimzod joked, "Beneath, on top...it's all a question of taste." Brian ignored the trash-talk as he described the used 'droid he'd bought, and that they were shopping for two more. He also told Captain Piirirshu these 'droids were not the level he'd hoped for, but would make life easier. Piirirshu admitted she'd worked with 'droids before, and was familiar with the class. Once that was done, Mikah said, "We have your resume but tell us about your experience?"

As Captain Piirirshu went over her experiences, Mikah listened politely but eventually asked, "So, What are your pay requirements?" Eikusdi knew the 'average' assistant engineer got room, board and Cr 700 a month. And she had a good bank roll as she was starting her new career out of the military. Eikusdi was about to speak when Mikah said, "Let me explain our situation. If you join our crew, we're troubleshooters for Duke Norris. While he dosn't necessarily pay us, we've been told we are going to be rewarded. If we are 'going to get our reward', or are going to get paid is, one of those things. But we will certainly never let you get bored. You'll see exciting things happening all the time. And when we do earn money on our own, from what ever venture we're doing at the time, we'll split the money out on a participation basis, and generally make sure everyone has enough money to live on.

As Mikah talked, Captain Piirirshu nodded to certain points and her eyes even flashed when Duke Norris was mentioned. As Mikah first started to discuss the split on any earned money, Brian leaned in and said, "And don't give any interviews to the press", which Captain Piirirshu said they could explain later, if they cut a deal. When Captain Piirirshu suggested they target Cr 600 a month as a speculative pay rate, Mikah was happy, as it meant the ship need not pay her until it made enough, and need only pay Cr 600 per month of service. So once they were past the cash-flow issues, Mikah said that if Piirirshu was willing to take a chance, things could get lucrative. But there were no promises. Having heard that Piirirshu had a Silver Asteroid, Mikah also said they had another Scout aboard with that decoration, and they were aware of the need to stop at Scout bases when possible.

When all eyes turned to her, Captain Piirirshu said she was up for it and Mikah asked when she could start? The now-former Scout said she only needed to get her gear from her rental, and close out her station accounts. Mikah said that was fine, and that she could head back to the ship, even though they were not headed that way. Mikah also said they were not sure where Captain Piirirshu would be bunking just yet so, for now, she'd be sleeping in the ship's med-bay. When Piirirshu happily agreed to this too, Mikah started to wonder why? Given how easy this was going, and how agreeable Captain Piirirshu was being, she worried something was wrong. Still, Mikah said she'd call the ship, reminding Eikusdi Piirirshu her group wasn't returning directly themselves. Eikusdi repeated she had to get her gear and check out anyway.

Mikah remembered the media circus, and briefed her on the presence of the press, but not the reason. She was surprised when the former scout good naturedly said, "Oh! You're, that ship" with a smile. The Knight again wondered why she was taking all this with such a good attitude as she said, "I did say you wouldn't be bored." Continuing, as she remembered important items, Mikah said the port had things well in hand, and she'd also notify the port that Eikusdi was coming. Mikah also explained the port engineers, and was pleased when Eikusdi volunteered to take over managing the group. Brian said she was not to work on the 'droid, as he hadn't pulled it apart yet to prep it for use on the ship. Eikusdi agreed to this amiably. As they broke up, and headed their separate ways at 9:30, Mikah started the chain of calls as she and her group headed to their next destination.

As Eikusdi walked away, Zimzod said he wanted to look for inexpensive armor, in some of the station's pawn shops, in the time before they had before meeting with the Countess. They pulled out their personal comps and begin searching for local shops as Mikah made her calls to the ship and port services. As the hits came up, there were more than a few at reasonable distances, though they weren't really close to the military section of the station, where armor and weapons might best be found. As she was talking to others, Mikah suggested they check how close they were to the Countess' berth, and how close the military sections of the station were, before going anywhere specific. A query showed they were about 45 minutes from the military part of the station, and away from the Countess' berth. And they were half an hour from the Countess. So they decided to hit a number of pawn shop and second hand locations on the way to the Countess' berth. With each stop, they'd burn off time as they moved to meet Countess Ursara and see if they found anything interesting.

The Engineers Arrive For Day Two

     As the Knights left the ship, Aiden was treated to the performance of the station security in wrangling the press. It was very organized and surprisingly controlled, as the former scout considered he just might not need to be continually armed. Of course, as he scanned the media, he wondered if he cared about 'need' so much as 'desire'. After the Knights were gone, the crowd resumed its formless state and Aiden checked his chrono, to see how much longer he should wait for the engineers. As was his habit, he was a few minutes early, and it was not long before he saw some activity from the far side of the bay. As he watched, a 'zipper-line' effect appeared from the far side of the media crowd. Aiden watched it turn into a corridor, eventually leading to the crew entry. And as he watched, a handful of uncertain and nearly overwhelmed men and a women in port services garb moved for the entry.

As Aiden waited at the door, there was a brief pause before one of the engineers realized they needed to act first. Hitting a stud on the door's comm panel, the engineer said they were reporting for the work order from port services. While they expected Aiden to open the door, the former scout asked for the work order to be provided. Pulling a datapad from his's belt hook, the man activated a control and held the pad's screen against the plexiglas wall. Aiden could only see one screen, but it was an official work order, and matched what he was expecting. Once he let them in, they began recovering somewhat from the gauntlet as Aiden was handed the tablet and asked to give a thumb impression and name indicating the engineers arrived for work.

In the brief conversation, they asked, "Is this going to be like this every day?" and Aiden dryly answered, "Only if you're lucky." This was met with brief stares back as the engineers wondered at Aiden's attitude. Leading them to the engineering spaces, Aiden called the port, to confirm their arrival and ask why the technicians were not the same as the team from the day before? Getting an op’s tech, Aiden was told basic port services had a pool of tech’s assigned on an 'as needed’ basis for the daily work orders. The operations technician then smoothly offered an option to have a specific team of techs provided for an increased fee. Aiden said "No thanks" and cut the comms.

Trying To Accept Written Bids

     After finishing breakfast, and just before 9am, Emkir went below decks and out into the berth in his dress uniform. As he passed through engineering, he saw Aiden managing a crew of engineers and noticed they were a different set of techs before he made a jibe about being prepared for lunch today. Skipping any comments, Emkir went out into the secure-side of the berth and saw the day's media mass for the first time. The horde had re-filled the public side of the berth completely, except for a small bit of space directly between them and the berth dividing wall. That was patrolled by a handful of visible port security. Emkir looked down at his emptied duffel bag, brought for the purpose of collecting offers, and moved into the bay, sparking a reaction from all who saw him exit the ship. The closer he got, the more noise and activity welled up as the reaction spread.

The security folks actually abandoned the area of the private entrance to the berth, allowing the media to swell forward as this was what Emkir's invitation created. Despite all this, one lone security officer stood calmly and unmolested, directly at the door. He ignored the media, who made no move to disturb him as he calmly watched Emkir. As Emkir reached for the comm stud on the door's panel, the officer leaned forward in anticipation as the noise from the crowd rose even more. Seeing the man's interest, Emkir put his introductory statements on hold and asked, "Yes?" as he looked at the officer.

The man, apparently a sergeant, said "I will be stationed here, at this point, to make sure things don't get out of hand. If you need my people to do anything, please let me know and I'll communicate that with them." Emkir thanked the NCO, and let him know their efforts were very appreciated before he addressed the horde. As Emkir more publically said, "Thank you all very much for coming..." his comments were cut into by a sudden rise in the level and intensity of the screaming. Emkir continued, "I would like to receive these offers in writing, in an orderly fashion." He ignored the fact that almost none of those on the far side of the barrier could hear him, regardless of how he turned up the speakers. Shrugging his shoulders, he assured those few listening that they would accept all the written offers of those present.

As he finished, those who were held back rushed the door, igniting a brief struggle before a victorious representative became the first to reach the outer door of the secure transfer box installed the night before. He opened it, jammed his offer flimsy in, and closed the door once more, obviously fighting off any other attempts to get other offers into the box. As Emkir said, "We can fit many offers in at a time." the man showed no interest in moving, or being moved, until Emkir took his offer first. Fixing him with a glare, Emkir very deliberately unfolded the duffel bag and opened it. He then also very deliberately opened the transfer box, took the flimsy and make a show of pushing it to the very bottom of the duffel. This was so that the rep could watch and understand how deeply buried that offer would be. As Emkir did this, the man got more excited and hit the comms stud on the panel asking Emkir, "Could you please evaluate my offer?" in an urgent tone. Emkir said, in a friendly but firm voice, "I will evaluate all offers, thank you very much." before calling out "Next!"

Not taking this brush off, the man hit the comm stud again saying, "Please. I'd really like you to evaluate my offer!" and Emkir responded, "All offers will be evaluated. Thank you." in the tone of a professional bureaucrat. "Next!" But, while smiling invitingly, the man still showed no sign of being willing to move, despite being pulled on, pushed and otherwise effected by the other media there. Of course, the press of additional people from behind the immediate circle not only helped the man keep his place, but in fact prevented anyone at the door from leaving. The port Security Sergeant had a look on his face reflecting the thought that they'd hoped the crew of the Hotel California had planned for this event better. Looking at the Sergeant, Emkir signaled him and hit the comm stud. Once the officer was in place, Emkir said that he'd like the people to be moved along after placing their offers in the box several at a time.

The Sergeant nodded, and said, "Admiral. To be blunt, this is never going to work in an orderly fashion." with a look on his face that suggested the Admiral should have known that himself. He then continued, "But I will remove this gentleman, and anyone else who blocks the process." Having been taken to task, Emkir thanked the Sergeant before turning to the media rep saying, "We have your offer sir. Thank you. Next!" As Emkir was talking, the Sergeant fixed the representative with a look and leaned in slightly. This was all it took to convince the man to abandon his place and begin fighting his way out of the crowd. This resulted in yet another rush for the door where another rep jammed a flimsy into the box and went to close the door. But the officer quickly grabbed the door, holding it open, and sharply yelled "Next", while fixing the person at the box with a stern look. The Sergeant made it plain he expected the box to be filled before the door was closed for transfer.

The next rep who stepped up appeared to trip! He quickly grabbed the open shelf of the transfer box to keep himself from falling and used it to stabilize himself. He also appeared to accidentally sweep the flimsy in the box out as he drew his hand back, and his foot quite accidentally stompped down on the fallen flimsy as he finally stepped up, smiling, to place his flimsy into the transfer box. Clearing the way for the next person, the man turned on the ball of his foot, exerting all the pressure he could on the flimsy beneath it, as he left the door-front. Emkir decided to make a note of that, to deal with that flimsy specially. The officer kept the door open for more offers. But after some more offers were deposited, a young lady stepping up lost stability and a large number of the offers in the box went flying out, to Emkir's disgust.

He realized that, just as the Sergeant and Zach before him had said, there was no way these people would follow the rules at all. The golden pot at the end of this rainbow was so valuable that not one of them would miss any chance they had to game the system and advance their own interests. Eventually there were enough offers in the box for Emkir to pull them in and dump them into his duffel. But this was the way things proceeded for the next hour. Overwhelmed with this, Emkir didn’t notice the call from Dame Mikah, sending notification of the new assistant engineer. He was aware of the crowd and the time, knowing those still aboard and heading for the Countess would be leaving soon.

Things were also getting worse, as fights broke out over who was next and who had knocked offers from the box. All around the door, under the reporters, the torn and destroyed offers becoming a slippery carpet with its own dangers. As each fight flared up, security wasted no time moving very efficiently to secure the combatants and drag them off. Every other member of the crowd did their best to move, slip into or even co-occupy space held by another, to not get grabbed for obstructing justice or being involved. Emkir used these breaks to grab what flimsies were in the box, as nothing was deposited at those times. Despite the confusion and crowd, the Sergeant at the door never left his post, directing security actions. And he never once got so much as brushed against. Emkir was very impressed with the respect for the law and officers, and made note of the name on the Sergeant's name plate.

Rol's Departure And The Taxi Ride

     During one of the breaks, Emkir did express his thanks to the man for his actions, and Sergeant Sametlann Heardin told the Admiral it was all in a day's work as he was a shift supervisor. He was used to coming out for the rough and unusual stuff. The man's manner was gruffly professional, and Emkir could barely detect a hint of judgment for the way in which the ship's crew had failed to properly plan the event out. A short time later, at around quarter past ten, Emkir was surprised when everything stopped. The screaming and shouting, the orderly and disorderly placing of offers, everything. And then the crowd exploded in a level of activity that so surpassed what had gone before that even Emkir was taken by surprise. Searching to see the focus of their reactions, Emkir saw Zach, Ms. Vik and Rol exiting the cargo bay hatch, and understood the reaction.

Rol was dressed in casual civilian cloths as he exited the ship and the crowd went wild. Word spread as anyone with any recording gear suddenly started fighting for a chance to record the action. As the news spread, those in the back of the crowd started pushing and jockeying to move forward and get a shot at Rol. Being hit by the sudden increase in sound, Rol calmly turned to Zach, extending his hand forward, and politely said, "You go first", leaving unspoken the fact that it was Zach who had first brought up the idea of interviews. Inger turned to Rol with a sardonic smile on her face and asked, "Don't you feel like a rock star?" in a tone that was half impressed and half sarcastic. Or maybe much less impressed and more sarcastic.

Rol matter of factly replied, "You know. It has it's moments", knowing he couldn't convey his actual feelings under the circumstances. He certainly didn't say this would not be one of those moments. Zach scanned the crowd for any sign the port car he'd called for as security forced the crowd to part so the three could head for the Countess' ship in some comfort. Not seeing any signs yet of the vehicle, Zach led the trio towards Emkir and the berth doorway. Outside the door, Sergeant Heardin realized the other’s were leaving with Major Kaihvos, and he ordered reserves in, to keep the crowd safe and controlled. As the crew watched, the officers at the back of the crowd soon started clearing a corridor for the car. Sergeant Heardin comm'd through, asking if the three would like the area cleared of press for the vehicle, or if they just wanted to make a dash for it?

Rol said they'd prefer the area cleared, and waited for the car to arrive properly and situate itself, with the driver opening the doors for them. In the process of ordering the press back twenty paces, much confusion followed and a few more media people were removed as incidental fights sparked up. As the three got in the car, Emkir could see back to a ready reserve of officers at the entrance of the berth. He realized they were serving as a pool with which those in the crowd swapped positions, keeping all the officers fresh and ready to react. This well-oiled machine kept legal reaction to any provocation sharp, and was likely to be expensive in overtime costs. Inger also saw this and said, "Wow, that's gonna come home to roost."

Zach considered asking the Admiral to have security to move the media to one side of the bay only, but realized that would take some hours to drain and re-organize the bay. The time for such planning was before this circus got started rather than after it was too late. This also let Emkir reassess his process. He’d been pulling in flimsies and some actual paper. But he'd also received numerous solid items and devices too, and had no time to do more than separate them off to a pile on the floor. Realizing he should’ve planned better, Emkir told Sergeant Heardin he'd be right back and went to grab a desk from the berth offices. Once the three had boarded the port taxi and left, Emkir emerged with the desk. He spent a few minutes situating it and organizing his space better while the Sergeant, after the vehicle left, had representatives deposit their offers again.

Once in the taxi, the driver closed all doors and climbed in, asking if that was everyone? Once that was confirmed, he started moving, careful not to hit anyone or move before a space was clear. As the car moved, the doors automatically locked, which Rol was thankful for as the media closed in screaming questions, taking video and asking for Rol to stop the vehicle and speak. Zach shot Rol a look and said, "You're Mr. Popularity today." As the crowd reacted, some were even trying to find cracks into which they could shove their interview offers, and more than one was knocked down by the vehicle. Once, the car was forced to stop to not run someone over and that reporter was quickly escorted out by security for impeding the flow of traffic.

When they were finally clear of the main crowds, the driver confirmed the berth number for the Countess' ship as L-279.25 and told them the trip would take roughly twenty minutes. As they relaxed in the back, it became apparent there was some automated control to the vehicle as the driver asked if there was anything he could get them? Rol made a point of asking Ms. Vik if she wanted anything, as she seemed to have allowed herself to sink away from the events surrounding them with her eyes closed. Once roused back to reality, Ms. Vik said she was good, without a glance at the driver. The driver smoothly followed up, asking "Once we reach the berth, is there a next stop?"

Rol considered this and said they were going to the trade fair. Inger agreed, and so did Zach, who said, "Yeah, but I think the Countess has transportation", while not suggesting how he came up with that. Not knowing what Zach was talking about, Rol said to the driver, "There may be another stop, We aren't certain yet. We have to... We're meeting up with certain parties and we'll go on from there." Not one to let a credit lay unclaimed, the driver asked if they'd need a larger vehicle or if he could have anything they might need delivered at the berth in advance of their arrival? Rol said he didn't think they had any advanced information at the moment, but invited the man to stay with them for a moment when they arrived. This would give them the chance to ask for something or confirm they didn't need anything.

Zach said, "Let me make a quick call." and sparked up his comms, calling Mikah. When she answered, he asked what the travel details were, once they got to the Countess' ship. When she admitted she didn’t know, Mikah told Zach to have Ms. Vik call Countess Ursara's seneschal and find out. A bit annoyed she couldn't just relax, and that this was all being last minute rushed, Ms. Vik called the Seneschal and asked what plans were in motion? He told her they had a vehicle all set up for the trip, as the Countess liked to travel in comfort. The vehicle her diver had hired was of an appropriate class saying, "We understand that you have seven people with you?" The last part was asked as a question.

Inger corrected him, as there were only six people. Once she was done with the seneschal, Inger told the driver they just needed to be dropped off at the ship berth. After signing off their various comms, the driver said, "You'll pardon me for overhearing, but I think you'll have fun at the trade fair." Ms. Vik replied, "Great" and Zach said, "Thank you. It's something I've been looking forward to." Ms. Vik asked the driver, "Is this something you'd go to?" He said he'd brought more than a few passengers there, and seen interesting things in their bags when he picked folks up again. He continued, "It depends on your interests. What are you folks interested in?" Ms. Vik admitted she was just sight seeing and asked Rol what he was interested in? The retired Marine said he just figured he'd peruse the latest in suit technology. Maybe check out anything about armor.

The driver asked if that was related to the circus they left back at the berth, and Rol admitted that put thoughts in his mind about personal protection. The driver agreed that, in his time driving, he'd rarely seen a crowd like the one at the berth while nodding his head. He then asked, "What happened?" More cautious, Rol answered, "Oh, you know how it is when people think you're someone you're not. Mistaken identity and notoriety. Word got out that... I don't know, what can I say? It's just a media thing." With a friendly face, the driver said, "You'll pardon my saying so, sir. But I don't think it's a case of mistaken identity, or that many people wouldn't be there." As Rol replied, "Yeah well..." the driver continued, "They'd figure it out sooner or later in my opinion."

Again, Rol tried saying, “Yeah well, What can I say. They think I'm someone I'm not", as if repeating an ill-formed lie made it any more believable, or those listening any dumber. Figuring accepting and moving on was better than being treated like a fool, the driver just said, "Well, be glad you're not that person", and Rol said, "I am indeed." Changing directions back again, the driver asked what they were looking for in trade items, and Rol said he was most interested in environmental armor and shopping around for replacement parts for a suit he already had. The driver apologized for assuming but said, while he's seen a lot of personal items and utility items, he'd not seen anything combat related. Rol said, "That's ok, as it need not be combat-based, just an EVA suit." And he continued that he had other interests, and was looking for a new portable stove. But it never hurt to go through these fairs as you never knew what was new and on the market.

Reaching into a carousel mounted item on his dashboard, the driver passed an electronic card back through the protective shield. As he did so, he said to Rol, "You may want to check out this." When Rol looked, he found the card was a data-storage embedded, touch-sensitive display card. The advertising loaded on the card was all culinary in nature, and the file playing advertised "Ration foil packs" that self-prepared automatically, almost immediately once a pack was opened. Rol was impressed, and so was Zach who was looking at the card from beside him. As they looked at the advertisement, the driver made it clear that he didn't sell for the company, but they did give him consideration for handing out advertisement. When Rol asked after the quality of the rations, the driver said he'd tasted the stuff and it was ok. Rol thanked him, saying he'd look into the stuff while the driver admitted he wouldn't take the stuff over his favorite restaurants.

Rol replied, "Well, when you've been in space a couple of weeks, stuff starts looking good that isn't necessarily good. So something like this would probably be great to have." The driver asked, "A couple of weeks, huh? You folks just local traders?" and Rol answered, "We've been around. Different jobs." The driver grunted an agreement, saying he drove all around that section of the station but could relate to the 'different jobs' thing. Rol answered, "Yeah. Well, we have to." This appeared to peak the driver's curiosity as he asked what Rol's last job was? Rol said he'd been doing armor repair and working part time as a cook. He said it was an ok job, since he'd been stuck on one planet and going no where. So he got tapped for a berth on the ship he's on and been having fun ever since. The driver chuckled and fished, "If you have to repair your armor then it must be dangerous." and Rol said it depended where you did it.

The driver responded, "In my experience armor repair means armor damage, which means combat. And that goes back to your earlier comment about body armor. So it sounds like your life is a bit more dangerous than I'd be comfortable with." Rol admitted it had its ups and downs, but usually people came to him after their armor had been damaged, and he liked helping people fix their problems. When the driver said, "So you're a kind of troubleshooter?", Rol said, "Yeah, you can call me that." and Zach chimed in saying, "We all are, pretty much." Ms. Vik quietly regretted the conversation, but didn't intervene. The driver then looked at Zach, asking what he was looking for at the trade fair? Zach said he was browsing mostly. He admitted to looking for small and handy electronic devices.

Noting Zach's wrist-comp, the driver passed him an advertCard containing a Personal Digital Assistant app advertisement. Zach asked if the program was on the card and the driver said a dumb version was, for showing off. But they had to buy the real version at an app-store. He pointed out the card was keyed to a table at the fair, and Zach could go there for more info, or to have it installed on his comp. Zach memorized the basic information off the card, as it had a significant amount of advertising on it, and went to hand it back. The driver told him to keep the card so he tucked the card into a pocket. After a bit of a pause, the driver said, "Troubleshooters huh? Combat troubleshooters by the sound of it. And more than a bit dangerous."

As he spoke, Ms. Vik could feel herself becoming more concerned at the turn of the conversation. The driver continued, "You enjoying being in a safe part of space?" Rol said, "Well, it's nice being in civilization again, but we're not really combat troubleshooters as such..." The driver just laughed at the term and said, "Yeah. If you call Rhylanor civilization?" Feeling more uncomfortable by the word, Ms. Vik asked, "So how long until we get to the Countess' berth?" The driver pointed out they'd only been traveling for five minutes and it was a twenty minute trip. So they had about a quarter hour ahead of them. Zach picked up the conversation, despite Inger's questions, saying, "We try to avoid combat at all costs but, it's always better to be prepared than caught unprepared." The driver answered, "Well, I've had guys from the navy in my cab too, and they say that. But I remember when the Zhodani were here a couple of years back. It didn't look like they were avoiding anything. But I was glad they weren't."

Zach said, "When you're getting invaded you can't avoid it", and the driver grunted an agreement before asking Zach if he was former military? Zach instantly answered, "No Sir! I'm a merchant. I'm a corporate spacer." Nodding the driver said, "Ah, so you’re going to this fair for business?", and Zach answered "Sort of, but mostly to browse. You never know what might turn up." Inger stepped in asking, "So when you said that Rhylanor was not a civilized place, what'd you mean?" The driver gave her a smile as he said, "Well, Rhylanor's got a top side and a bottom side, Ma'am. You've got to make sure you don't get, under the skin if you will. Rhylanor's famous for its underworld." Looking for useful information, Ms. Vik instantly asked, "Got any stories?" as this might get information while also stopping Zach and Rol from giving stuff away to this unknown.

The man chuckled as he said, "Them kind of stories are the ones where if I tell you, they come and kill me." After a pause he asked, "So you're merchants. Do you handle large amounts of packet freight at all? Because I have a friend who might like help in moving boxes of stuff." Inger jumpped on that saying, "Hey, You know... We have cargo." while looking at Zach. Zach said, "Yes" with a growing smile on his face. When Zach told the man they had eleven tons of machine parts, the driver asked if there was somewhere they needed it moved to? They clarified that they wanted to sell it on Rhylanor. The driver considered that, asking for their comms info in case he could hook them up." Zach used his Ident to flash his contact information to the taxi dash-comp and the man said he'd check with his connections and see if he could help them. Zach told the driver he appreciated the help.

Once they were done thanking each other for the contacts, help, etc, the driver asked, "So this is a ship berth you're headed to. I guess you're meeting up with a bigger party?" And Zach confirmed they were meeting with Countess Ursara. The driver was impressed with the title Countess, and asked if they were in her service? Ms. Vik said, "Oh goodness, no. We're just, associates, if you would." And the driver said, that's pretty rarified air you're dealing with ma'am." Inger batted that away verbally, saying "Nah" before asking, "If you were looking for a nice place to go, like restaurant or something like that, where would you go?" Then it was the driver's turn to be cautious as he said it depended on what you wanted to spend. He said his favorite place to go was home, where he could have his wife cook him something. But folks hanging out with a Countess, he said he'd like to sit at the Countess' table and let her pay for the food.

Inger admitted that was true, but asked where he went when he wanted to take his wife out? He considered that and named a few Solomani places which were, coincidentally, near the trade fair. Smiling, Inger said "I think I might stop by. Thank you." She considered possibilities as she scanned his posted Driver ID, but the man’s name was Vilani, not Solomani. Jumping in, Zach asked if there were any Darrian sections of the station, and was told there were clusters of Darrians through-out the important parts of the system. Being Rhylanor, there was the Darrian Embassy dirt-side, then there was the Embassy and Legate on the station, and of course there were clusters of Darrians in any of the wealthier parts of the system.

The answers were given evenly, without any trace of opinion suggested in regards to any of the variants of Humanitii. When Zach thanked him, the driver offered to get Zach any addresses he might need. Zach said, "No" and said he'd just like to wander through and see what was around. Her earlier cares dropped, Inger suggested they get the driver's information to use him for transport. Rol pointed out they'd need his info for any cargo contacts he had and Inger agreed. As they discussed this, the man handed out advertCards for each of them. He said, if they had jobs, he could help them get things done. He also dug a bit at who his customers might be, asking "So, you guys, the Countess and her people, huh?" Rol said, "We've done...a bit of work on the side. Nothing major, just routine stuff."

The man laughed and said, "It must be nice if she's driving you around. Let me tell you." Zach hopped in, saying "Well, Our Captain is there waiting for us now. So, we're just part of her entourage, shall we say." The driver reacted, "Oh, your Captain has an entourage too? Is she a Countess?" and Zach said, "No, we're just part of her entourage." The driver said, "She must be special. Is she anyone I might have heard of?" Zach said, "Doubtful" and Ms. Vik said, "Nah, we actually, uh, They just became Knights not too long ago." In an impressed voice, the driver said, "Oh! So you do hang with Nobility?" and Ms. Vik answered "Barely" in an almost bored voice. He cut her off saying, "Hey, Nobility is Nobility. You takes it when you can."

As Inger grudgingly agreed, Rol said, "If you count being hired on to work their ship, then yes. But it's like any other job where the boss tells you what to do and you could say you're hanging out but you do what you have to do." Inger agreed, saying "It's kinda like being a, I mean, we work the ship for them. I mean, we're nothing..." at which point the driver broke in saying, "Except for him", and pointing at Rol. "He works the armor for them." Ms. Vik agreed as he continued, "Nobility that gets their armor beat up. Sounds like more excitement than I want to live with." Rol said, "I can understand that, but I haven't repaired any armor for a long time. I mainly just cook." The driver measured that verbally saying, "An armor repairer that cooks" as if he had to think about that relationship, while Zach threw in, "Yeah, he makes good grilled cheese." with a smile.

Confused, the driver said, "I don't think I've had that dish." Rol said, "It's really a Solomani dish, but it's the sort of stuff you really feed to people you don't like." Responding to that, the Driver ased, "So Solomani. You got a good old fashioned Solomani name?" and Rol asked, "Me? I don't know. I come from the Keng system, actually. I don't know if you'd call it Solomani or not but..." And the driver interrupted with, "I’ve never heard of that place. Where's Keng?" And Rol dramatically answered, "Waaaaay out there. It's pretty much the back side of nowhere. But, you know..."

Zach threw in, "I thought that's where I come from?” and Rol countered, "That's the other side of nowhere." In a reminiscent voice, Rol said, "But I caught a break one time, got on a ship. And I been riding ever since." Nodding, the driver said, "back side of nowhere. So you see Rhylanor a bit different than I do, huh?" Rol agreed, saying there was a ton of difference from where he started out. The driver asked if they traveled a lot, obviously meaning interstellar. Rol said he'd been traveling, on and off, for most of his life at that point. But he said he appreciated how it opened the eyes to the possibilities. When the driver asked if Rol was a merchant like Zach, Zach said, "No, he's an armorer."

Rol said, "I'm not exactly a merchanter. I don't have a mind for cargo or values, anything like that. I just give services really." and the driver asked, "So, if you traveled, that means you're military, or ex-military." Rol said "I served" and the driver nodded saying, "Like half the people in this system." Then the driver asked, "So you must have some pretty exciting stores?" and Rol said, "Well, everybody who served has exciting stores at one point or another, but if they're exciting to other people is another matter."

The driver pushed, "I'm guessing, by the crowd, that either your Captain has some exciting stores or you have some exciting stores. 'Cause I gotta be honest, that was a huge crowd." Rol said, "Well, I will say our captain draws a large crowd where ever she goes. And she does have an exciting life." The conversation continued along the same lines as they rolled the rest of the way to the Countess' ship. Eventually they arrived at the Gypsy Girl's berth, where servants in livery were there to help the three to debark the car and head into the berth proper.

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Next: Adding Fuel To The Fire