Strange Messages In The Offers      Emkir worked at sorting the bids, looking for anything unusual.  As he worked, he found a flimsy with just one paragraph reading:        "We have to speak to you right away.          Rol Kaihvos' life is in danger.          You have to contact us right away.          Here is our contact information:                   Rhylanor Comms LKJS8786WSW3" Emkir looked for any identification of the sender, but found none.  Thinking first about the incident at the trade fair the day before, Emkir sparked up his comms and called the contact.  When it answered, Emkir got a recording saying:
"You have reached the estates of Sir Jeremy, he is not in.        Please leave him a message with your comms data and he will contact you."
Once the message played out, Emkir left the message, "Thank you.  Rather busy.  Please call us back.  Emkir"  He added his personal comms data.  Moving on, and somewhat overwhelmed with the sorting, the Admiral got back to work.
Ms. Vik noticed Emkir's call, but didn't know if he'd had a short conversation with some person he'd called or left a message?  Shortly after, as she worked, her comms buzzed and she saw she'd received a text message.  Ms. Vik found Chyr had sent her a list of 'port authorized' media outlets which could be used for press releases!  Pleased, she told Emkir about the list, and that she'd send it to him.  Emkir both wondered why he'd not thought of asking the port, and was very grateful Ms. Vik apparently had.  Ms. Vik sent the list to Emkir and sent a 'Thank you' to Chyr.  Done with that, they both returned to sorting.  Emkir felt the list would only help lend legitimacy to any bids related to those companies.  That still meant they needed to find some way of creating order in the ocean of hard copy he'd created.A Surprise Meeting
The festival unfolded, and Lord William showed no signs of tiring, as the sky box staff kept the place well stocked with creature comforts and cared for any issues that came up.  Brian and Mikah kept away from the alcohol while Zimzod did some sampling.  Not enough to affect him, but tasting and testing.  Nearing 11:30, Duke Leonard had left the stage and Lord William said the morning ceremonies were ending.  He added that he had a car set up, so they could retire to 'the suites' for lunch before returning for the afternoon.
Of course, security not only passed them through the facility, but cleared paths for them as the four followed William and Ursara to the gates.  There, they entered a very well appointed expanded-size vehicle in which they found a few staff and pre-lunch snacks.  They saw the wet bar was also quite expansive, as were the many other perks.  Despite the opulence of the vehicle, the ride was only a few minutes long and they soon stepped out into an enclosed private parking space.  Following Lord William, they found themselves entering what he referred to as 'the Suites'.  They turned out to be his rooms in those facilities that were owned by the Duke's family.  The rooms assigned to Lord William were only a small part of the family's entire station-side estate.
Eventually, Lord William led them into a common area where they saw a huge amount of foods were laid out.  Rol even found some varieties of grilled cheese, though he noted none of the offerings were topped with pickles or slices.  Despite scanning the food, Rol was no slower than the others in seeing that there were a woman and a younger woman in her late teens sitting in the space.  As they entered, Lord William introduced them as the Duchess Kirgashii and their Lady-daughter.  The two women paused from their lunch, ignoring the impact of the introduction on the spacers, to politely greet the four before William led them to another table.  Eventually they all either sat or visited the buffet before relaxing.  As they sat, Lord William turned to Rol asking about his military adventures?
When Rol cautiously asked what His Lordship had in mind, William pointed out that Sir Jeremy had obviously claimed his research supported his interpretation.  Lord William said he'd find it interesting to get Rol's point of view, as a primary source correcting the secondary sources Jeremy used.  The comment was made in an air of curiosity, and without any sign of judgment.  Rol agreed, so long as Lord William didn't hope to ask about classified information.  When William said that would be acceptable, Rol discussed the basics of the situation in the Jesedipere system, at that point in the war.  When William confessed to having read a lot of history with a smile, Rol began to very generally describe the situation.  He admitted it wasn't something he enjoyed or was glad to have been assigned to.
Rol then said much of the information on the events had to be defined in the eyes of the beholder.  He took ownership, stating he was tasked with a job and did it, in a situation where there were many actors doing damage in a time of war.  Rol gave his point of view as an Imperial military officer charged with upholding Imperial interests.  Especially under the orders he had and where Imperial resources were thin at the time.  He suggested that, unchecked, the various underground forces could have created much more damage than they had.  Given the need to both fight off the Zhodani, and to prevent a full-blown insurrection, the local military and civilian authorities needed help and they needed it fast.  Under their orders, Rol made it clear his unit didn't target Vargr as suggested.  Rol said they targeted those identifiable guerilla elements which could be uncovered.
Rol pointed out that these most often used, or tried to, the vargr as living shields or cover.  Rol explained that a possible spread to civilian facilities like hospitals and such was feared, and his unit was tasked with making sure that didn't happen.  He was honest that things got messy as those they were fighting weren't a standing force in uniform or easily identifiable.  All listening knew such forces often preferred the carnage from fire drawn into civilian areas, as it created anger and the seeds of revolt and confusion.  That gave them cover.  The more damage, destruction and confusion, the better for guerillas and insurgents.  Gathering his thoughts, Rol generally detailed some events he knew were well covered in the media, careful to not reveal anything he didn't explicitly recall having been published.  Thanks to the book, Rol could go deeper into some events, though still not covering them entirely.  Rol made an acceptable case, as they ate, while sadly admitting innocents were hurt, which was the nature of that kind of warfare.
As he finished, a new male voice said, "You do realize you're going to have to do better, as that can be taken two ways?"  The firm voice had a measured tone of easy authority without judgment.  They all turned and realized the speaker was Duke Leonard as Rol saw the comment for the advice it was.  Rol was glad that the tone was friendly too.  Those not members of the Duke's family rose formally, and Rol bowed at the waist.  The Duke's wife also rose, more relaxed, to greet her husband, and it was obvious this was a caring relationship.  After they greeted each other, Rol said "Your Grace.  I am, learning, how things can be taken out of context."  Leonard just smiled and waved for them to sit, answering "I can imagine."  Rol said things had been simpler on the battlefield, which got him an odd look as the Duke answered, "OK.  You've obviously been on different battlefields then I've been on."  Rol said the enemy there was usually easier to identify, pointing out that the media seemed more interested in creating angles than during the war.  The Duke measured that, saying, "Perhaps you're simply more aware of it now then you were at that time.  I doubt the media have changed in that regard." and Rol agreed that was possible.
Scanning the group, Duke Leonard changed the subject saying, "I see my brother has conspired against me." with a slight smile on his face.  He asked Rol to introduce the others Lord William had invited in.  Rol first introduced Mikah by full name and title, adding she was also the ship's captain.  He then said, by way of formal introduction, that they were seeking their confirmation.  Rol continued to Brian and Zimzod, introducing them also as the ship's chief engineer and chief weapons officer.  Zimzod smiled and said "Boom" with a laugh, and Rol could only be grateful he no longer had patches of dye color on his skin.  The Duke stepped closer to them, greeting each with a Solomani style hand shake as they were introduced.  Duke Leonard also greeted Countess Ursara, making it obvious they'd at least met.  He then turned, saying "I see my brother has conspired against me on a great many things, as he knows I have a social calendar which he works to alter.  I just wonder at his, motives, shall we say."  All the while, Lord William was innocently gazing out a window 'enjoying the sights in the distance.'
For her part in the play, Ursara oozed grace and charm as she curtseyed and suggested that she hoped to find a place on the Duke's calendar for herself.  Making no promises, Duke Leonard said he'd discuss that with his social secretary.  Ursara was content, because that was the most she could expect in the situation.  Lord William was now watching events with a faint smile too.  Then Duke Leonard asked William and Ursara to step away for a bit.  Rol and the knights were uncertain what was coming, as they suddenly had a private and informal audience with His Grace.  Duke Leonard took a seat, and received a drink from a staffer.  Sipping his drink as the servant left, Duke Leonard looked up saying, "I am aware that somewhere on my upcoming calendar, I am scheduled to meet with you three."
This was news to the knights as they had not been given a date to be prepared for.  The Duke also told them he had done research on the subjects of their titles and admitted he found them rather 'colorful'.  As they considered anything in response, Dame Mikah said "Duke Norris had the same description", while making sure not to sound proud about it.  Duke Leonard nodded, agreeing but explaining that very often those at the Ducal rank needed to find and verify information for themselves.  He then said that he'd learned they'd been reaching out to his staff quite a bit since in-system, and Mikah suggested this was mostly due to the situation Rol found himself in.  Thinking quickly through the last few days, Mikah remembered Zach's situation and added that too.
Mikah also did her best to not name Zach, or describe the situation fully, lest Leonard ask questions they could not answer.  It was very hard to tell a Duke "No" or "I can't answer that".  The Duke just smiled slightly saying, "Yes, that's going to become interesting.  We've been looking into your situation since we first heard of you in regards to events in the Risek system."  For an instant, Mikah was horrified, as visions of Zach's pillow case raids came to mind.  Sir Zimzod quickly recalled a disappeared Marine Captain and an amount of loot including cases of alcohol.  Brian reconsidered some of his actions with Captain Kristianson at the very least.  Cutting the tension he was unaware he'd created, the Duke continued by thanking them for their help in the affair.  Dame Mikah didn't miss a beat, telling the Duke he was welcomed in a voice that was surprisingly not self-satisfied.  Nodding at her comment, Duke Leonard said he'd see it did not go unrecognized.
Mikah took advantage of the natural pause to jump in and explain, in case he was unaware, about Duke Norris' mandate that they offer help in each system they entered.  Duke Leonard said he'd been told about that, and that they were coming to Rhylanor, when Duke Norris passed through Rhylanor system a few weeks before.  This was not only a surprise to the four, but also put a time marker on how far behind Norris they were.  Zimzod wondered how close, in his travels, he'd been keeping tabs on the team?  When Duke Leonard admitted he thought it entertaining, Mikah agreed that she felt Duke Norris found it entertaining too.  This time, she somehow managed to keep the bitterness out of her voice.  But the Duke said in a serious voice, "Well, he's less entertained than concerned."Duke Leonard Suggests A Plan
Without waiting for an answer, the Duke continued, "He has more to worry about regarding the Quasar Viper than I do."  At that, The Duke had everyone's complete and undivided attention.  Some hearts skipped a beat and some didn't know if they should've just sent a 'good bye' text to the ship, or jumped up screaming in joy and happiness?  The only person truly not sure what had happened was Rol, who had no awareness of the crew's involvement with the derelict.  Mikah quickly jumped in, as she caught any number of reactions on Rol's face, and explained that Rol had not been a member of their crew during those events.  As the knight began answering the Duke on that subject, Rol's mind began spinning even faster.
Pausing to consider this, and possibly to decide how to deal with Norris, Duke Leonard glanced at Rol.  He then said, "Well, as he is someone who's earned the Starburst for Extreme Heroism, I am completely confident that Major Kaihvos can be trusted, given who he's working with."  Still feeling incredibly uncomfortable, Rol said, "Your Grace, if I'm not supposed to hear this I can move aside." while not knowing how much of him was praying he'd be excused from the conversation.  But the Duke waved his concerns away comfortably saying, "It's time he was brought into the light regarding this issue.  I believe you can be trusted in this matter because I'm certain you know what the consequences would be if you failed."  Rol allowed that so long as it did not involve breaking his oaths to the Imperium it would not be a problem.
All the while, Rol's mind was racing.  He recalled, more from his military past than any school education he'd received on it, what he knew of the stories.  The ship had gone missing in the Third Frontier War, carrying an Imperial Warrant to the "then" Duke of Regina.  It was considered a fire-side story until found by Duke Norris.  The Duke then, historically, used the Warrant to take command of all Imperial forces during the Fifth Frontier War.  Rol's first impression of the Duke's comments was that this crew had been involved in, and worked with Duke Norris in the recovery action!  Then he remembered Zach had been involved.  And they'd made it clear he only joined their crew some four months before.  Rol quickly realized he had no idea what the implications of this were.  As he realized this, Rol looked up at the Duke regarding him.
Duke Leonard said in complete seriousness, "I hold my oath directly from the Emperor.  And you hold your oath directly from me now."  The statement was not just one of binding trust, as it was of binding and irrevocable ownership.  And as he said it, Leonard's eyes swept the table, including all.  The statement served to reduce the temperature at the table more than a few degrees as the game became deadly serious.  Looking Rol eye to eye, Leonard said, "On that note, I'd like to make that relationship between you and me formal."  Rol could sense no clue where that was leading?  Rol simply asked, "Your Grace?" in a calm and flat voice.  A bit formally, the Duke said "I would like to offer you the opportunity to swear fealty to me as a Knight of the March Guards, which are an Order of the Rhylanor subsector."  To say the least, those at the table were floored.
Trying to catch his breath, Rol first replied, "Well, I'm, ah, I'm surprised, to say the least."  Before he could continue, Duke Leonard said "I'm fairly certain it would help with a great many of your media problems."  Still catching his breath, Rol commented, "Well, I'm not certain how aware you are of the ship's situation."  Mikah stepped in, saying, "He's well aware of our situation." based on the conversation so far.  She ventured to explain that Duke Leonard knew more about their situation than Rol did.  Still pulling things together, Rol suggested Duke Leonard might not fully know about their relationship with Duke Norris.  The knights slammed that down on the deck as Sir Brian said, "The fact he knows, from Norris, about the Quasar Viper and you don't should tell you he knows more than you do, and that's enough."Rol Learns About The Quasar Viper, And More
Duke Leonard sat back, allowing the four to resolve this confusion among themselves.  Mikah asked what Rol knew of the Viper and Rol admitted he was aware of the published history.  Mikah then got more specific, asking if he knew 'what the ship was carrying' when it disappeared?  Again, Rol said he did as he wondered where this was going?  Mikah straightened up as she said, "We found that ship." in the ice-cold tone of certain fact.  A certain fact that did not fit with the published facts, how Duke Norris found the wreck and recovered the warrant almost five years before, as the war raged.  And with that, Rol's mind filled with the REAL consequences of that information becoming public.  Finally, Rol felt the real burden that was being placed on him, well in excess of any social title.
Resigned to letting her explain how this was possible, Rol simply responded "You did?" in a flat tone.  Mikah continued, "And we brought it back to Duke Norris, sort of."  After a pause, she corrected, "The cargo was brought back to Duke Norris." stressing the word 'cargo'.  Knowing what she meant but needing to hear it to believe it, Rol asked "The cargo?"  Mikah answered, "the cargo" in a somewhat raised and irate voice.  She continued, "What was on the ship?" with a look that said she wondered if he could be that dense?  Accepting her caution, Rol answered for her saying, "There were a lot of things on that ship, but I think I know what you're talking about."  And as she decided she really wasn't sure how stupid this man really was, Mikah made a promise to herself that she was going to beat him good and senseless when she next got the chance.
Breaking the pause, Rol asked, "And you brought that back?" to which Mikah said, "Yes".  Zimzod said "I brought it back, personally." as if claiming the victory for himself alone.  When Rol asked, "Was this before...", Mikah jumped in, assuming he meant to ask before he came on board and sarcastically snapped, "No, you were there the whole time.  You just missed it."  When Zimzod said, "No he wasn't." in a confused voice, she snapped, "I was being sarcastic you moron!"  Rol reclaimed the conversation saying, "I meant to ask if you did this before you had this ship?  So what happened?" and Mikah answered, "We brought the warrant back to Duke Norris." in a voice that suggested Rol had not been listening, or was too thick to have understood.
Nodding, Rol asked, "And the entire crew knows?" which Mikah happily confirmed saying, "Yep.  Except you." with a smile on her face for his having been too slow to have figured it out on his own.  As an afterthought, she added, "And Miss. Piirirshu.  But she has no need to know." and Rol agreed to that.  Responding, Rol simply said, "I'm just concerned that having handled classified missions gets thrown around a lot, and will attract unwanted attention."  Turning back to address the Duke, Rol said, "Your Grace.  My other concern is that the ship is under the aegis of Duke Norris.  I'm concerned that might be a conflict of interests."  Duke Leonard was not concerned at all as he responded, "No, Not at all.  As long as you are able to hold to the oath of fealty that I will require of you as a Knight."  Considering that for a heartbeat, Rol answered "Then I see no problem with accepting."  Despite the emotion, there were no smiles as the agreement was made.  Nodding, Duke Leonard said, "Fine.  We'll make the formal announcement tonight at dinner."
Still dealing with his change of station, Rol said "I have to say, I'm very honored Your Grace."  Duke Leonard nodded as he checked his wrist-com and repeated the decision to make the announcement that night.  He then said, as he poked through an application, "We can have the knighting ceremony in three days' time, just before Baron Matthew's birthday celebration." looking up at Rol.  To the side, Brian groused, "Great.  Another thing to get dressed up for." under his breath.  Not quite enough to escape notice, Duke Leonard looked at him saying, "We all have our crosses to bear." with a smile on his face as he fingered his robes.  Brian responded with a sheepish smile saying "You look very nice, by the way."  Widening his gaze to the three knights, Leonard said, "In preparation for the confirmation hearings, you've provided me quite a bit of interesting reading."  Mikah point-of-factly said, "It's all non-fiction."  The Duke nodded, saying, "That's what worries me.  However, again at the very least, you have the appreciation of the System and Subsector of Rhylanor for your aid in the Risek plague."
Duke Leonard continued, saying "And I want you to know that, even though the local authorities were not as forthcoming, the reactions to the information you provided, all of it, has been taken into consideration by various departments."  Duke Leonard stressed the words 'all of it', repeating that everything was being looked into by the proper groups.  After that sunk in, he told them they were certain the Zhodani were not involved.  The Duke also continued explaining that, while they were still hunting the smuggler, the information provided had made many changes in those systems he was found to be operating in.  There was a pause during which Duke Leonard allowed that to sink in before asking, "On an unrelated note, how do you find working with Admiral Meshrumiikiim?"  Mikah gave Duke Leonard his own words back, saying the Admiral was rather colorful from the knight's point of view.  Rol simply said, "He's a loon." before he realized he'd said it out loud.  As he got a look from the Duke, Rol hastily added, "In a good way."  And Mikah quickly stepped in saying, "He's an interesting character."
Having regained the Duke's attention she said, "He's displayed quite a number of skills, but his methods are sometimes archaic."  Admitting he'd seen that of late, the Duke said the Admiral contacted his seneschal, the night before, for information about a fund raiser involving Rol?  Rol asked if Emkir had called for Duke Leonard and the Duke corrected that Emkir had called his Seneschal's office.  Mikah filled in more, saying Emkir was trying to get an interview set up and Duke Leonard agreed.  Rol apologized if Emkir caused any trouble and Duke Leonard waved it off as no trouble at all.  Duke Leonard confidently said he was sure his people handled it properly.  Dame Mikah asked if it was in Rol's interest to make any public comments at all?  Without needing to think, the Duke said he couldn't see how Rol could avoid it.  He then pointed out to the knight that, especially once the elevation was announced, Rol would be even more of a media target.
Mikah admitted that was one of Emkir's questions, and they agreed that Rol would not likely be able to avoid being involved with the media somehow.  As they paused to think about what this meant, Duke Leonard said, "Rol's situation should be much easier now Sir Jeremy has left for a system in the Aramis subsector".  This was new information to the others.  When they asked, Duke Leonard said he'd guess the knight left as soon as Major Kaihvos arrived in-system.  The way he said it made it clear Duke Leonard was not disappointed.  When Rol said he'd have liked to talk to the man, the Duke assured Rol that he was sure that would happen someday, down the road.  Rol said the media were reporting the knight's whereabouts were unknown and the Duke admitted that, while his specific whereabouts were not known, his general location was.  Smiling, the Duke continued that his messages to Marquis Bolden-Tukera would eventually get him the information he'd asked for.  The others caught the reference to Leonard Bolden-Tukera, 19th Marquis of the Aramis System and ruler of the Aramis cluster.
Still, Duke Leonard pointed out that Sir Jeremy Lewis' patron was The Emperor himself, so they had to stay well inside Imperial law.  But there were legal steps that could be taken.  He further said his people had amassed quite a bit already, and until Rol arrived, there was no reason to rush.  The team considered how the situation had exploded once they arrived in-port.  When Rol said this served to bring some people out into the open, Duke Leonard smiled saying that, on a world such as Rhylanor, people are not as hidden as they'd think.
Changing the topic, Rol asked the Duke if there was anything he would like not to have discussed in comments to the media?  Duke Leonard considered this saying, "Aside from the obvious, and your classified experiences in general, I think it would behoove you to consider how you would answer questions to limit how they can be interpreted."  At this, Brian interjected, "Don't worry, I'll train you." which got a laugh around the table.  This caused the Duke to ask Brian about his experience in this area, and the knight woefully admitted to having given an interview that was sliced, diced and turned against him.  When the Duke said he'd seen the interview, Dame Mikah said Brian was still paying for it.
Brian just said that the interview was not portrayed as it really was.  The Duke answered him, "The universe rarely is, Sir Brian.  It rarely is.  So, it might behoove you to perhaps take some lessons, as our new Sir Rol is about to."  Brian answered, "Understood."  When Rol said he was uncomfortable with the sound, 'Sir Rol', and was told by the Duke to get used to it.  Duke Leonard pointed out that Rol wouldn't have to wear robes like he was dressed himself, and should be thankful.  As they considered the conversation in a pause, one of the Duke's staff entered.  Executing a slight bow in his direction, the staffer then nodded.  The Duke nodded back saying to those at the table that it was time he returned to his duties.  As they all rose, he said to Rol, "I'll see you at dinner tonight, where we'll make the announcement and, in three days' time, we will hold the ceremony and you will accompany my entourage to Baron Matthew's party.
Looking at the knights, Duke Leonard said, "Why don't you three join me for the Baron's birthday party and help celebrate Rol's elevation too?"  Mikah said, "It will be an honor."  Both Zimzod and Brian also thanked the Duke, who continued, "In fact, you should be present at the elevation ceremony.  And bring your whole ship's crew."  With that said, he left as staffers allowed Lord William and the Countess back into the room.  William had a satisfied look on his face as the two nobles returned to the table, as if he were well aware of what transpired.  Ursara's look was both very envious and also glad for the knights.  The quiet was broken as William dramatically said "At last, I get to eat something" stressing the words 'at last'.  This, despite the fact he was munching on a finger sandwich, having been served and pampered in the next room as they waited.
Smiling as he sat by his earlier abandoned plate, Lord William asked "So I trust everything went well with my brother?"  Mikah cheerfully replied, "It did!  Quite well."  In a 'fishing' tone, he asked "Anything to look forward to?" and Mikah admitted there was something coming up.  Brian more carefully said, "Maybe."  Nodding, William said "I look forward to hearing about it." as Ursara said, "Do tell" in a conspiratorial tone.  Sir Brian simply countered, "We wouldn't deny the Duke that pleasure." as Mikah nodded in agreement.  Rol simply and matter of factly said, "Excuse me.  I think I need a drink."  Zimzod snickered "wimp" as Rol rose and headed for the bar.  As he reached a drink cart, Rol looked for a small snifter of something to help him adjust his perspective.  And while some of the others made jokes, none joined him.  Either way, no one said anything that would explain the events to Countess Ursara or Lord William.  Soon enough, they had to get their meals done so they could return to the ceremony.Aiden's Explorations
Having done Instel-Arms as completely as he could want, for an hour with a spending limit of Cr 1,000, Aiden checked out their electronic books on handguns.  As he looked, he found three five to six-hundred page electronic manuals, together covering a survey of handguns across the history of the wars of the Spinward Marches.  The collection he chose covered the widest range he could find in just three manuals.  They included the First, Second and Third Frontier wars.  These had specialty chapters on the specialty weapons of certain worlds and stellar clusters, who's arms industries provided much of the supply.  After spending Cr 60 on manuals, he considered those methods available to him for making money.  He still needed to get to the Scout base to pick up the payment for his 'tin hemorrhoid'.  At that, Aiden wondered if there were pay office in the Scout presence on-station?  Aiden added finding that out soon to his 'to do list'.
At the checkout counter, a representative came forward, mentioning that Instel-Arms was always interested in working Scout equipment and had a posted offer of Cr5,000 for his belt buckle.  Aiden didn't even consider that, though he was polite in saying no.  After he left I-A, Aiden checked the distances, finding the nearest parts of the station that were military were about an hour away.  And not near the niche stores he'd planned to check out.  Adding things up, Aiden decided to hit two of the stores near the ship's berth before heading back there for a slightly late lunch.  Back there, he'd contact the Scout offices on-station to see if they had a pay office?  As he moved to his next stop, Aiden sent his 'friend' Hal a reply, saying "Hi.  What's up?" and asking if he wanted to meet and have a drink?A Change In Direction With The Bids
Back at the ship, Ms. Vik and Emkir were still struggling to make headway in a sea of offers.  Inger decided there had to be a better way of doing this and suggested Emkir just take a list of the organization names to call and ask them about their offers.  Rather than reading the offers themselves, he could call the network, saying 'let's discuss your offer' and let them go over what they bid.  When Emkir asked if she meant the list the port sent, Inger agreed they could use that too.  Emkir said she could go down the port list while he continued to sort, as he didn't want to miss anything from what they'd gathered.  Ms. Vik dryly responded, "You know, if you continue to sort you'll be here a week?", vastly underestimating the task they had.  The truth was they would spend two to three more days simply separating the bids into the basic piles.  And while the two lowest piles would then be able to be dumped, they'd then have to go back through each offer, one by one, to glean out the specifics of the offers so they could list them.  And only once listed, could they be compared and evaluated to find the best.  But doing that process by hand would take weeks.
When Emkir seemed more open to working from the port's list, Ms. Vik suggested he take that on.  She pointed out he fit the crew's public voice better, from their experiences on Inthe and after.  Ms. Vik suggested he call the top ten, to ask about their bid if they gave one, letting them restate the offers.  She was clear she didn't feel the juice was worth the squeeze in the flimsies.  As Emkir considered this, Inger said, "Or we can bundle all this up into a banded pile of sheets, take it to have it scanned into a computer database that would organize it for us in an hour rather than doing it by hand."  When he heard that, Emkir was stunned he didn't think of the idea himself!  He realized that would solve all the issues with hand sorting, getting the names and numbers.  They'd get a processed map of the high, low and middle offers, and an understanding of where offers were grouped.  As he saw the benefits, Emkir agreed to her idea, and he and Ms. Vik began organizing all the offers into one set of piles that could be secured and moved.  As they worked, Emkir realized he could do a search for a company near the ship's berth and contact them beforehand, so he could send them all his emails and have them blend those in when they scanned the flimsies.
While the day and work burned away, Aali checked what was in on the news on her breaks.  She also half paid attention as she worked.  But Aali's attention was caught by the announcement that, for the second time in as many days, the Duke's schedule was in flux!  She considered the amount of security, investigation, preparation and cost in preparing the appearances and meetings of a Head of State.  Aali also thought about the number of people and organizations that would have to completely recreate their itineraries if the Duke's change of schedule affected them.  Considering all that, Aali wondered if the knight's meetings would be effected?  She figured this might be the sort of thing Emkir should know as she reached for her comms to call him this time.Lunch In The Ship's Berth
Having not set his alarm, Zach woke up later than the rest of the crew and did his daily exercises and routine.  By the time he made it into the berth's galley, the others had eaten and gone about their business, leaving some leftovers from Rol's cooking.  The knights and Rol had left for the festival, and Emkir and Ms. Vik worked on the ocean of bids.  The new engineer, Eikusdi, was working with the port engineers.  As Zach ate, he thought about what he'd do to scare up some way of making money?  Zach also wondered how Emkir was coming along with the vast number of flimsies he had collected?  Once done, Zach went to the office where he found Ms. Vik and Emkir organizing the sheets into stacks which they were binding up.  Or rather, Ms. Vik did that while Emkir was working at a computer console.  When Zach asked, Emkir said Ms. Vik had a brain storm and suggested they have the documents scanned by a company and the data collated into data tables.
When she'd suggested that, Emkir had gone on-line to look for firms with reputations he knew in the Marches before choosing "TransGalactic Data Warehouse".  Then, Emkir set up an account and prepared to send all the emails to be added into the flood.  For a simple fee, they'd get a professional database with all the names, numbers and the rest organized and easy to explore.  Zach was impressed and, as Emkir had, he wondered why he didn't think of that first?  But he didn't say that to Emkir or Inger.  Zach suggested they add his list of the top twenty news outlets in-system to the list.  After a talking about that, they agreed it would help them find offers already made by the organizations if Zach's data were in a searchable table in the database.  Emkir also told Zach about Ms. Vik's list from the Starport Authority, which Zach was happy to hear about.  After that, Zach left the two to organize the offers to be moved to TransGalactic.
By lunch, Emkir and Ms. Vik were ready to move the stacks, and had them by the berth entrance while being watched and filmed by the handful of remaining media.  They then went back into the berth's galley to eat.  Having spent her morning working with the port engineers, Aali saw things starting to come along nicely.  She eventually led the engineers to the berth entrance, for them go out and grab lunch before she went into the galley herself.  In the galley, Emkir wondered where Rol was before remembering he'd gone with the knights that morning.  Without a cook, they made their own eats.  Emkir told Aali about Ms. Vik's idea and suggested he owed the former port administrator a dinner.  He asked Aali if she'd like to go out for chow that night, but made it clear it was Ms. Vik's choice for saving him work.  Aali said she'd like to, but had to stay with the ship and engineers when they went out to deliver the paperwork.
They finally agreed Aali would meet up with him and Ms. Vik after she was done with the engineers.  Almost finished eating, Emkir pulled the taxi driver's data out and called to see if he could drive them to the data people?  When the driver answered, Emkir said they'd need a ride, at his leisure, and the driver asked who he was?  When Emkir said he was Admiral Meshrumiikiim of the Hotel California, the driver said he could be there in half an hour.  When the engineers returned from lunch, Aali went to the berth entrance to let them in.  She spent her day working on ship's maintenance, as the day before, but kept her eyes on the local news and happenings in her spare time.  From time to time, Aali wondered how the data scanning was going?
She also thought how much time she'd seen Emkir working with the red-headed port executive.  The more she thought about that, the more she wondered if the two had a thing going before she'd arrived?  As her day passed, Aali got a call from Emkir saying he and Ms. Vik were headed back to the ship.  He told her he'd set up dinner plans as well as a show.  Once done with that call, Aali returned to work with more to think about.  With lunch done, and nothing left to do until the port-taxi got there, Ms. Vik played a game and Emkir watched a vid and talked with Aali until the engineers returned.  Once they were back, Aali left, after a parting fondle from Emkir, to let them in and return to work.
While they ate, Zach, who'd eaten breakfast not long before, sat at a computer console and started going over his contacts.  He hoped he could find someone, or anyone, who would deal with him under the current circumstances.  Over the coming afternoon, Zach would find there were a number of people who'd thought he might have gone off on a long speculative trade venture and never heard of his "issues".  Others had heard, and didn't care.  Or they were from his 'underside' contacts and considered the issue a bonus.  Some even saw it as cause to make offers.  But this would take him all afternoon to work out and organize.
As the taxi arrived, the driver helped Ms. Vik and Emkir load up the stacks into the car and headed off to TransGalactic.  On the way, the driver was as talkative as ever, and they asked what he thought of the Renewal Festival the knights were at?  After that, they talked about the Porozlo system, where Ms. Vik had been for much of the war.  When she was asked, Inger played her service down saying, "It was quiet when she was there".  Emkir said his experience was never quiet on Porozlo, working on diplomatic projects for Duke Leonard.  The driver chided him saying, "That's what you get when you work with Admirals."  That got a smile from Ms. Vik, who was able to remember an event or two from Emkir's stories, if not Emkir himself.
When chided, the Admiral regaled the driver, and to her disappointment Ms. Vik too, with tales of his exploits in the Fifth Frontier War.  He mentioned actions such as blockade running in the Frenzie System (Vilis).  Eventually, they got to the storefront and staff came out to help the driver and crew unload the stacks and move them in.  Once inside, the stacks were considered and the final estimate for the work was given at Cr 85 for the job.  This included the transmission of the final data to their ship.  When Emkir asked if it could be put on storage, they quoted him Cr 100 for it to be put on a crystal.  But they pointed out he'd need to have it picked up once that was done.  When Emkir asked if they could have it delivered, they said they could for a Cr 10 fee.  Eventually, Emkir paid Cr 110 for the data to be managed and put on a crystal to be delivered by close of business that day.The Rest Of The Festival
At the Renewal festival, Lord William and his party had finished lunch and made the quick ride from the Ducal Family's rooms on-station back to the arena for the afternoon's part of the festival.  As they rode, Lord William continued to chat about the festival that morning and lunch.  Not wanting to 'spill the beans' about Rol's pending elevation, the knights and Rol were happy to keep the conversation off what had happened during lunch.  This only increased Countess Ursara's interest in Rol, who she'd been told was just staff until recently.  Once back in the vehicle, and at the festival, Ursara split much of her time between her mutual interests with Dame Mikah and getting to know Major Kaihvos better.  As before, the crowd was parted for Lord William's party as they returned to the arena and they were soon back in William's accommodations there.
As things restarted, William slipped back into instructor mode as the others relaxed a bit more.  All except Rol, who was still dealing with his change in fate, and the added attention from Ursara.  On that, he tried to keep his answers generic, as he had with the Duke.  Rol was only a bit more comfortable when the Countess asked about his service?  Mikah also enjoyed the chance to improve her connections to Ursara with their common interest in gemstones.  As part of that, the knight said she had an oddly cut diamond she hoped she could sell with the Countess' help.  When Ursara asked, Mikah said it was cut in the shape of a Fer d'Lance Destroyer, which the Countess agreed was very odd.  Eventually they discussed a number of Mikah's gemstones as Ursara asked about anything else she had to sell?  When Mikah said she had other items but wanted to keep them, and would bring the diamond with her the next time they got together, Ursara agreed.
Not the only one with something to sell, Sir Brian started looking up in-system auction sites and used book sellers to see what kind of pricing he could get on the religious text from the Quasar Viper.  Being a Professor of Literature at Rhylanor University, Lord William noticed a site Brian was reading and asked about it?  Brian said he had the text in his collection, but wasn't very attached to it, so he was thinking of selling it.  As that conversation moved to cover his personal collection, and the book he wanted to sell, Brian found he was monopolizing Lord William's interest.  And the Duke's brother was happy about it.  While they talked, William said he'd like to see all the books, and asked if he could invite some friends along?
Eventually, it was agreed Lord William and his friends would set a time to visit the Hotel California to see Brian's collection.  While William spoke with Brian, and Ursara concentrated on Mikah and Rol, Zimzod happily wandered around.  He checked out the many vid-screens and looked into the various events covered.  Zimzod could see the cameras covering the launch of the INS Nakhikhariin Min-Dow was not only being covered from a civilian point of view but he could see military activities not covered by the press!  Zimzod talked to some of the small army of techs 'keeping tabs' for His Lordship, and found William surprisingly well educated for a Professor of Literature...beyond being a Duke's Brother.
As the afternoon moved on, Duke Leonard's representatives arrived for Rol as the festival closed, and the others prepared to leave.  Lord William firmed his plans with Brian to view his books and Mikah felt it was a good idea to make sure he knew about the media attention their ship's berth has gained.  Lord William only smiled and said he was aware, as Ursara also giggled at the obvious.  After that, Countess Ursara asked what Mikah was doing that evening for dinner?  Mikah asked the others, who said they had no plans, at which point Ursara invited herself to the ship to check out Mikah's gemstones.  Surprised by this, Mikah had little time to think as the Countess said she had a vehicle waiting, unless they had one of their own?  When Mikah said they didn't, Countess Ursara led the way to her waiting driver and well-appointed transport.  Once loaded up, they were on the way back to the ship.Couples And Threesomes
Done setting up and paying for the scanning and data management, Emkir followed Ms. Vik, who'd begun checking out the store's shelves.  As he joined her, Inger found herself in an aisle of consumer electronic PDA's, readers and other devices.  Many were much like the pile they'd been stuck with at the berth.  When Emkir saw this, he decided it was a perfect time to investigate what these units sold for when shiny and new?  They found the units sold for anywhere from Cr 50 to the thousands of credits, depending on their capabilities.  This bolstered Emkir's spirits as he reminded Ms. Vik that he had every intention of selling them after pulling any data off.  Once done there, the pair found themselves a good fifteen minutes' drive from the berth with no ready transport.  Emkir asked Ms. Vik if she'd prefer to call a taxi or perhaps walk back, checking menus and shopping along the way?
Inger considered things, and decided walking back was best, as she was technically on vacation and could stand some sightseeing.  Emkir also told her that he felt it might be good to buy Aali a little something along the way.  That didn't bother Ms. Vik until he told her what sort of something he planned on buying.  Lingerie.  As they walked, Ms. Vik asked Emkir how well he knew Aali, and he regaled her with more dramatically told stories of his adventures in the war and how that led to his, "relationship", with the engineer.  Of course, being in a public place, any classified or very intimate details were kept to a minimum or "private asides".  As they walked, they checked out menus where they could be found, and looked for specialty stores or any venue that might sell lingerie.  Soon the search turned up something neither of them expected.  Seeing a display including lingerie-clad figures, Ms. Vik looked closer and saw the crawler advertisement for 'The Rocky Horror Picture show'!
Having been in positions of significant authority, or with port security, Inger had heard tales of what happened before or after such shows played.  But she'd never actually seen the show.  She'd vaguely heard it had a cult-like following, and found herself curious.  Checking the sign closer, Inger could see there were no show times, so they had to go inside the theater to ask.  When she talked to Emkir about it, he was game, as he'd heard of it himself.  But he didn't know much, as it wasn't the sort of thing Vilani folk did.  After agreeing to go in and check out the show times, they found the theater's inside a standard venue showing vid's, holographic entertainment, etc.  From seated auditoriums to café-like settings for holographic musicals and other performances, it was standard fare for those not sitting in front of their in-home entertainment units.
When they checked, the 'movie', to use the ancient term, played three times daily at 4pm, 8pm and midnight station-time.  Ms. Vik vaguely recalled there being something special about midnight showings, and suggested they see the midnight showing after dinner.  Emkir thought this was a great idea.  Especially now that he could see the somewhat suggestive displays advertising the show inside the theater.  But he did say he'd have to check with Aali.  He said it wouldn't necessarily be the best thing to surprise his newly reunited girlfriend with...  When Ms. Vik agreed, they headed out of the theater as Emkir pulled his comms and asked Ms. Vik if she'd decided on a restaurant?  She considered the places they'd seen, and how far they were from the ship, before deciding that a pho place they'd passed not far back was good.
With that, Emkir sparked up his comms and called Aali.  When Aali connected with Emkir, he told her they were heading back to the ship and Ms. Vik had chosen a pho restaurant for dinner.  When Aali asked if they had reservations for a given time, Emkir said not.  Ms. Vik, hearing the conversation, called the place.  When she connected, the clerk suggested reservations wouldn't be needed.  But the restaurant folks took the party's name and, with them on the line, Ms. Vik and Emkir discussed when to reserve for?  Eventually they settled on 8pm, so they wouldn't eat too early and have a huge gap between dinner and the vid.  When Emkir suggestively said, "We've found something to do after dinner", Aali said, "Okayyyy" in a neutral voice.
He followed that up saying, "We're doing dinner and a show." in an enticing tone, and asked Aali if she wanted to meet them off ship after the engineers left?  Aali quickly said yes as she assembled her own thoughts and questions.  As she confirmed dinner was set for eight, Emkir happily suggested they goof off after she let the engineers go at five.  Once they broke the call, Emkir realized he'd set up for TransGalactic to deliver the data crystal that evening and called Zach.  After he explained the situation to Zach, the merchant said he wasn't planning to leave the berth and could sign for the crystal.  Emkir thanked Zach and they broke the call before Emkir and Ms. Vik continued walking and window shopping.
Eventually, Emkir and Ms. Vik found an intimate goods outlet serving ship's crews, and Ms. Vik played her part.  She asked Emkir things like if he even knew Aali's clothing sizes?  Emkir admitted this was very important, and decided he could at least err on the side of 'a bit small' and keep the receipt.  He settled on an inexpensive set of faux Silver Lamè 'man pleaser' undergarments for Aali in a boxed set.  After he'd paid, they continued the trek back to the ship's berth.  While walking, Emkir got a call from Aali and, once the discussion was done, Aali let Emkir know about the Duke's schedule announcement.  Emkir passed it on to Ms. Vik to get her take on the news.  Aali said that it was better to be prepared for this to be something major than to assume it was something minor.  Emkir agreed.
When they talked about how to respond to this, Ms. Vik suggested they take a 'wait and see attitude'.  They had no way to know what direction to prepare for 'something big' to come from.  When Emkir asked if she thought they should take a cab the rest of the way back to the ship, Inger said she didn't think so.  No matter what, she was sure they'd hear about it soon enough if something major happened.  Echoing this to Aali, Emkir said they didn't think it would be a station lock-down, and he and Ms. Vik would finish walking back by five.  This gave the engineer yet more to consider as she thought about Emkir and Ms. Vik wandering the station together.  After letting the engineers go, and knowing they'd planned for casual dining, Aali changed into something suggestive of her feelings about a dinner for a woman her lover might've been dating casually, or more, before she returned to his life.  Aali certainly planned to find out some answers about how things stood that night.
By 5:20, Aali was on her way to meet Emkir and Ms. Vik.  As she left the berth, Aali called Emkir to find out where he and Ms. Vik were?  Once she'd gotten the address where they were window shopping, the engineer started walking to meet them.  Soon enough, Ms. Vik, Emkir and Aali met up and Aali could see the lingerie bag Emkir was carrying.  Ignoring the bag for the moment, Aali asked, as she got close to Emkir and Ms. Vik, "When I arrived, did I interrupt anything?"  Next to Emkir, Inger's eyes got wide as she emphatically said, "No!"  Taking a moment as Ms. Vik reacted, Emkir said, "I took a girl 'girl shopping'.  I needed her help buying this", and held up the lingerie bag.
Aali backed off a bit, saying "OK" and taking the offered bag.  Looking at it, she looked at Emkir and asked "Should I open this in public?"  Emkir smiled as he said, "I'm not telling you not to..." and held his hands open in front of him.  Figuring 'What the hell', Aali ripped into the small package in the bag and admired the gift.  As Ms. Vik stood back to see if she at least liked what Emkir bought her, Emkir asked Aali if he at least bought the right size?  She said, "Well, I'm not gonna try it on here..."  Seeing Aali was still a bit upset, Emkir explained that he knew it was confusing, but Ms. Vik had saved them from weeks of work and it was only right that he treat her to a dinner for it.
Aali asked about the thing "they" had planned for after dinner, and what that was all about?  Emkir said that was to be a surprise, asking if she wanted to be surprised or wanted to know now?  Aali backed off, saying she'd rather be surprised and leaving Emkir privately hoping it would be a pleasant surprise when all was done?  Looking at the time, they decided to wander a bit, goofing off and such on the causeway while burning time before their dinner.Aiden Returns To The Ship
Aiden returned to the berth about 1pm, said hello to Zach, and logged into the port-net to check on possible low-end sales of combat armor.  The least expensive set he found was both very old and very beat up, but priced at Cr 12,000.  But even at near half cost, that was more than he had or could get from sources like his Silver Asteroid.  After spending an hour and a half at that, Aiden loaded up the crystal on handguns of the First Frontier War to enjoy some reading for another hour.  He eventually squared away from reading around 5pm, as he saw Aali cross through the lounge to the compartment she shared with Emkir.
In the lounge, Zach had made more progress seeking out contacts still friendly and/or open to doing business with him.  He worked by opening his calls socially, to catch up and see how they felt about him?  This led to a list of folks who either didn't know about his troubles or didn't care.  And more than a few of them would work with him as far as the system limits allowed.  Of course, he also had a smaller list of those who'd like to see him burned bad.  Handling the work casually, Zach hoped to see if he could set up a dinner or lunch and found that several of his contacts in the underworld were not only willing to work with him, but found his situation a plus.
One or two offers came his way to earn a few thousand credits negotiating for various deals, but those were just opening offers.  Nothing firm.  When Zach called a friend named Erum Dalunica, he found the financier was having a get together that night with some money-man types, a number of merchanters and some people from Open Skies.  Zach said he'd be at the party despite the folks from Open Skies, and Erum sent him the address.  Letting Aiden know what his plans were, Zach cleaned up and went out for the party.  Aiden was surprised Zach had former associates that even wanted to be seen with him.  Zach told Aiden these were some of his better friends, and gave him the address and contact information.  Zach also told Aiden he'd promised to be there for a data crystal delivery, asking Aiden to handle it.  By 5:30, Zach was on his way.  Reading, alone in the ship, Aiden was enjoying the pictures and schematics until the knights returned.
As he left the ship, Zach sparked up a comms and called the taxi driver who'd driven them to the Countess' ship the other day.  When the driver picked up, Zach asked if he was busy and the driver asked who was calling?  When Zach ID'd himself, the driver asked what he needed?  Zach gave the man the address he was going to, saying he needed a ride.  The driver said he'd just finished dinner and could be right at the berth in ten minutes.  Soon Zach was in the taxi, chatting with the driver about the party and some stories about older deals he'd been involved in.
About halfway to the party, the driver said, "I've got something for you", turning to his console to grab a card.  Handing Zach another data-card, he said, "You might wanna talk to this guy if you need some help?  He's in shipping and receiving with the port facilities.  He can be helpful."  Zach thanked the driver as he took the card.  When the driver suggested he could help with moving things in or out of the port, or with storage, Zach moaned that his own credentials were stuck in legal limbo.  The driver nodded, agreeing with him about his legal troubles and saying "Sometimes you have to wait and sometimes you find ways to get around it."Back From The Festival
On the ride back to the berth, Zimzod very much appreciated the style to which he felt he should become accustom.  The stretch had two stewards, and was well stocked with food and drink.  They rode for an hour in luxury, getting to the ship between 6:15 and 6:30.  During the ride, the others relaxed as Mikah and Ursara talked about Mikah's gemstone collection.  As she talked, Mikah considered the aquamarine and figured she'd sell that too if Ursara was interested?  Of course, Ursara was interested in anything that would increase sales and wanted to see her entire collection, encouraging Mikah to consider any sales.  When they eventually pulled up in the berth, the remaining media moved into swarm-mode at the sight of a stretch transport.  As the knights and Countess stepped out and headed into the berth facilities, they could see the media filming away.  Sir Brian took the time to pose and show off his 'good side', and even the Countess turned and waved.  As they moved, they could hear the press calling questions like 'Where is Major Kaihvos?', etc.  Other than posing for the cameras, they ignored the press and moved towards the berth or the ship.
Having to recover her gemstones, Mikah and Ursara headed into the California.  Brian went that way too, to pull and organize his book collection and decide how to display the tomes.  Zimzod went into the berth to grab a drink and relax.  As he passed through the berth's lounge, heading to the galley, he saw Aiden at one of the terminals.  Aiden waved a greeting and Zimzod asked, "Hey.  How was your day?"  Aiden said dryly, "Paperwork and reading.  How was yours?"  Zimzod inhaled with a relaxed smile and said his was ok.  When Aiden joked, "And nobody died?", Zimzod asked back "Why?  Did you shoot somebody?"  Shaking his head, Aiden said he didn't have an opportunity and Zimzod said, "The way you keep a gun around, I'm surprised you didn't have a chance."
Zimzod didn't say that he figured it would've been the port authorities as they came to talk the nut with a gun down from his paranoid delusions.  Showing no signs he caught the drift, but changing topics, Aiden asked how the festival was?  Zimzod said, "It sucked.  Rol's being made a knight." which caught Aiden completely unprepared.  All the former Scout could get out was, "Oh Dear."  And with that, Zimzod was back on his mission to grab a drink from the galley.  Aiden let him go before a buzz came through from the berth's comms system.  Responding to the call, Aiden found there was a courier at the berth entrance with a delivery for Admiral Meshrumiikiim.
Dragging himself from his reading, Aiden met the man at the berth entrance.  He checked the paperwork to verify the delivery was from TransGalactic Data Warehouse, and signed for the crystal.  Examining it as he returned to the lounge, Aiden found the packet was a small sealed plasticine bag holding the crystal.  Small and not very secure, the treatment was low key, as it was planned for direct delivery.  Not sure exactly what the Admiral wanted done with the data, Aiden made his way into the ship to secure the crystal in the bridge gun safe.  As Aiden passed through the ship's lounge, he was surprised to see Dame Mikah and Countess Ursara sitting in the ship's lounge with a spread of gemstones.
Aiden greeted them before continuing into the bridge.  He also excused himself for interrupting them, and said he'd be on the bridge.  Once there, Aiden figured he could do some nav-training before returning to the lounge in the berth.  Later, he'd find some vid-entertainment before hitting the rack.  Passing the ship's lounge himself, Brian was going to his stateroom.  Passing, he saw Mikah and Ursara go to Mikah's stateroom.  Once in his quarters, Brian started pulling out his collection, deciding how to display each of his books?  His collection had twenty 'real paper' books including:       * Two volumes of illustrations of the exploration of the Moltke system(in the Star            Lane Subsector of the Deneb Sector) by the artist and naturalist Lishderpa            Khirmu Direkakim. These books were approximately 600 years old.       * "A Star's Rising", an inspirational text from one of the many splinters of the            Church of Stellar Divinity. Brian kept the book because, along with its age, it had many discussions of reaching out into new settlements in the Spinward Marches and the discovery of many then unexplained phenomena.  This book was approximately 700 years old.       * "Tales of a Distant World", a forwarding of the old stories and fables of Humaniti            from an undetermined system or cluster by a number of authors. This book was no more than 500 years old.       * "The Star Road", the posthumously published diary of a Scout exploring the Deneb            Main. This set of writings, from an unnamed Scout, covered four years of service on the bleeding edge of explorations across the Rimward center of the Deneb Sector from riftward to spinward.  The 800-year-old book was once the most popular 'unintended adventure' book in the spinward Imperium, and covered a number of themes from recontact to then unresolved mysteries and strange discoveries.       * "Traces of a Passing", a mystery novel set in the local space of the Tobia system            (Trojan Reach Sector). The nearly 500-year-old hardbacked novel presented a snapshot of what was considered adventure when that now established part of the Imperium was a growing region of colonization, as well as a region of some dispute between the Imperium and the Aslan.       * "The Early Days", an unassuming name for a leather bound and well-sealed copy            of the account of settling the Kaasu system(Corridor Sector). This 800-year-old book is believed to be a one-for-one commercial reprinting of the journal kept by one of those colonists who rose to be an early leader of the colony on that world.  The printing was commercially valuable both as a memoir and for the apparent embedded "how to guide" for colonization.       * "Fringeman's Guide To Ziruushda", a tome estimated at 1,500 years age, written            by settlers in the Ziruushda system(Dagudashaag Sector). The ancient book was a guide, much like the farmer's almanac, containing both locally important data as well as those tales, legends and stories which helped the reader survive.  It's interest to many were the tales told of space, exploration and mysteries of that time. ]       * Two Volume "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry" by Charles G. Mackey and Albert            Hanhug. These volumes were estimated, in Brian's notes, to be nearly 2,000 years old.       * "Captain Samuel Gunsugn Lampleer's Log", a re-printing in 155 (SI)  This was            -2049 TI, so it was an incredibly rare and ancient document. Sadly. while it was rare, those who were seeking to buy it were also rare, as the tale followed the Captain's ship as it explored out from Terrain space into the empty systems the Vilani chose not to explore as the Rule Of Man expanded with the help of the newly proclaimed Imperial Navy.       * "Order of Battle of the Battle of Nulisud" ( Vland Subsector ) printed in the year            -1776 TI, also referred to by historians as "Twilight".  When the collapse into            the Long Dark Night was all but unstoppable. This book tracked all the events leading to the battle.  It then reported, with a significant level of accuracy, the fight almost ship by ship.  After the description of the battle, there were also very well thought out and documented appendices on most of the damaged and unrecovered ships.
Sadly, for investment book collectors, huge stocks of this book were found, sealed and unsold in commercial vaults in the Vland system when historians went looking.  So the book's value was fairly low compared to other antiques, except to treasure hunters who, even in modern times, mounted expeditions to recover one or more lost hulks.  To date, only four such vessels had been recovered.       * "The Self Knowledge of Mashu Imuna", a 1,600 year-old philosophical and physical            work of self-exploration and health.  Rumors say this title was in the first            novelty cargos brought to Sylea from Vland as the Sylean Federation, which            became the Third Imperium.
Emkir was still working on the untranslated book, despite having backed off since the crew returned to the Rhylanor system.  While he had not returned to the work, Emkir felt he'd mading real progress toward naming the book, at least.  Regardless of his translation, Emkir was fairly certain, from his exposure with the piece, that it was dedicated to one world.  It didn't seem to extend its scope to space, either local or interstellar.  This was largely supported by the images in the book, and their organization within the pages and text.  Six other untranslatable books made up the rest of the collection.  They seemed to have been hand-executed in varying flowing and artistic scripts, from lost cultures and languages and thirteen other books.  Their ages also varied.
As he prepared to move those books, Brian found the well wrapped sex doll and porn vids he'd planned to put in Zimzod's stateroom back in the Jae Tellona system.  As he realized this was the best time to plant it, with everyone off-ship or in Mikah's stateroom, Brian also considered planting the doll in Emkir's stateroom for some fun.  Sadly, too much time had passed to play it on Zimzod if he wanted to go that way.  Opening up the doll, Brian hit the inflator activation and waited as he considered the likely fun that would result.  When he thought about how this might affect his new junior engineer if he pranked Emkir, Brian figured the uptight pilot, Aiden, was a much better target for the gag.  Deciding that, there was nowhere better than his 'bastion of safety'.  So, once things were set, Brian left his stateroom with the doll under his left arm and the vids in his right hand, going to the bridge.Checking Mikah's Gemstones
As Brian went to his stateroom, Mikah had led Ursara to her quarters.  The knight pulled out her collection before leading Countess Ursara back into the ship's lounge, for more space and light to work in.  In the lounge, Mikah turned on as many lights as she could to best show off the stones.  When they sat, Mikah started things off by separating the Fer d'Lance diamond and Angel aquamarine stones she planned to sell.  As she first saw the diamond, Ursara let out a little gasp saying, "Wow, that's intricate."  But she showed the restraint of a professional and, after a cursory check of those stones, asked to see the rest of the collection first?  At that point, Aiden arrived, carrying a small pouch and saying "I'll be on the bridge" after excusing himself for interrupting them.
Setting aside the stone she'd given Mikah, Ursara examined each of the various stones the knight wanted to keep.  She was appreciative of each in its turn.  Like poker players, Mikah watched Ursara's face for expressions or reactions that might be tells as the Countess examined the stones and jewelry from the Quasar Viper.  She noticed a particular expression of interest when Ursara investigated the Stellar Mist Topaz "light dome".  Ursara mentioned how very unusual that piece was.  She said she could handle it for Mikah, who eventually decided to sell that stone too.  Once done with the stones in Mikah's collection, Ursara pulled her monocle and started examining the diamond.
Mikah listened as Ursara commented on the very clean cuts.  The clarity was very nice...  And then, with a bit of surprise, she said, "Oh!  It's got an internal inscription!"  Reacting suddenly, Mikah literally snatched the stone from the Countess as she said, "Oh!  I, Um..."  Ursara sat back wide eyed in surprise as she reacted to Mikah's action.  She obviously expected some kind of explanation.  Trying to recover, Mikah said, "I am So sorry. Um..." stressing the word "so" and dragging out the "o".  Continuing to make it up as she went, Mikah said, "I'm Sorry.  But, ah, I didn't know that was there and, ah, it, ah..."  Ursara interrupted her pointedly asking, "Well, Don't you want to know what it is?"  Mikah answered, "Not really, because I think I know what it is and it's personal.  And I didn't know that was there so I think it may be best that I keep this after all."
Confused, Ursara asked, "So you didn't know it was there but you think you know what it is?"  Mikah decided not to address the question by building onto it saying, "And it's, a little embarrassing, so I better keep it.  Leaning back, Ursara said, "Ok...  So, there has to be a really interesting story behind this gemstone."  Mikah jumped on that saying, "Yes, there is.  But I really can't tell it because it involves people who should remain nameless."  Leaning forward conspiratorially, Ursara said, "Do tell" in a slightly lower voice, and Mikah answered, "I can't.  Sorry." in as apologetic a voice as she could.  Ursara said, "Oh, come on.  Just between friends."  Mikah held firm as Ursara put on a pouty face.
Eventually, Ursara said, "Well.  OK." and reached for the angel asking, "Can I examine this piece?"  Sheepishly, Mikah asked "Yeah.  Can I look at it first?"  That got her a very professional 'blank face' response from Ursara, before the Countess leaned back.  Relaxing, she asked, "OK.  What's the story?"  Knowing how ridiculous it sounded, Mikah apologetically answered, "I really can't discuss the...  Anything about...  It was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away."  Borrowing the Countess' monocle, Mikah first chose to examine the diamond, and check into the inscription Ursara noticed.  Once she found it, the inscription read, 'To Genicella.  May your kills always be solid.'  Realizing this was not the smoking gun link to the Viper she feared, and now wanting to be able to sell it again, Mikah tried to find some path forward.
Reforming her face, Mikah suddenly snarled, "Who the hell is Genicella?!"  That earned yet another surprised reaction from the Countess.  Continuing on the path, Mikah shoved the diamond back to Ursara spitting out, "He put someone else's name on it?  You can sell it now!"  With that she snatched up each of the other two stones to examine in turn.  Bemused, Ursara took in the continuing show as Mikah worked.  The knight found the Angel was etched with a set of numbers at an almost microscopic scale, but there were no other markings in either stone.  Mikah thought the numbers might be a serial number but might not.  She eventually pushed the three stones to the Countess and handed her back her monocle.  Ursara quickly took up the monocle, examining the diamond to see what she could make of the inscription Mikah reacted to.  She wondered if she might find anything more obvious than Mikah thought in what was there?Brian's Bad Timing
Eventually disappointed, Ursara moved on to the other two stones and spent a good amount of time examining and comparing each.  Finally, she set her monocle and the stones down saying, "I can definitely see what I can do with them." in a voice that said they were not without value.  As she said this, they heard the sound of a stateroom door opening and soon saw Brian walking from the access corridor with a small package in his right hand and an inflated sex doll under his left arm!  As both ladies watched in silence and complete surprise, Brian casually nodded a smile at them while passing them and walked to the ship's bridge valve.  While the two women continued to watch in surprise, Brian opened the bridge access to see Aiden sitting in the pilot's seat, working at something on the flight console!  As he stood there in surprise, Aiden turned to see the knight standing in the bridge entrance with something in his right hand and an inflated sex doll under his left arm.
Even more surprised than Sir Brian, Aiden was first at a loss for something to say, until the knight stood frozen, like an antelope in spotlights.  Aiden then got out, "No dating on the bridge.  Take your date to your berth!" in a firm and official tone.  Without missing a beat, Brian answered, "This isn't my date!  This is the new maintenance 'droid." in an insulted tone.  Fighting to keep a straight face, Aiden watched as Brian lifted his chin to stand at full height before saying, "I just came to see if you were doing a good job.  Carry on."  And with a nod, Brian turned on his heel and left the bridge, still carrying the doll.  As Aiden literally fell off his seat laughing, Brian angrily closed the bridge access, came over to where Mikah and the Countess were sitting and joined them, setting the doll on an empty seat at the table.
As both ladies continued to stare at Brian, the engineer grumbled, "Damn.  Aiden just ruined it."  Mikah demanded, "Would you just put that thing away?" in an annoyed and demanding tone.  Continuing, she asked, "We do have guests you know?"  The Countess finally found her voice as she asked Mikah, "How well do you know Duke Norris?" in a confused and querying voice.  Taking the doll with him to his stateroom to deflate and stow, Brian apologized to the Countess, and explained that they played jokes on each other all the time as he left.  Watching him leave, the Countess asked, "Does this happen often?" while reconsidering the bit with the red dye, back at the port in Runips.  With an exasperated look on her face as she watched Brian's back, Mikah answered, "Yes.  Every day."  Ursara simply nodded her head and said, "It must be a very entertaining way to live."
Mikah nodded, saying "Yeah, that's the word for it."  Her tone made it clear she wasn't agreeing.  Mikah then quipped, "Someday, they're going to entertain me into shooting them."  Getting back to business, Ursara said they already had active advertising for the Tellona diamond, so the other stones could benefit from the customers drawn in.  The additional collectors and money drawn in by the Tellona diamond would mean higher bids on more common lots.  She did say she would obviously need to take custody of the stones to do the research and prep-work.  Then, she could add them to the auction catalog and get things set up.  As for a contract covering the stones, they could negotiate a new contract or simply add them on to the existing contract for the Tellona diamond.
Because the stones were hers and Mikah wanted the cash from them, she decided they should have a separate contract drawn up.  Ursara produced a gem tester and receipt pad, telling Mikah she could do a basic analysis of the stones with her portable gear.  The Countess then started measuring and scanning the stones enough to properly identify them.  She said she could save the pictures and data, and send it as an electronic receipt before taking the stones with her to start work on them immediately.  Then they could set up an appointment with the lawyers to cut the contract later.  When it came to the money gained, Ursara said there was a percentage taken by the auction house.  There'd also be a lawyer's fee and they'd have to negotiate the fee Ursara would get for her work.  Ursara was about to continue on when Mikah asked for an estimate how much the stones were worth?
Considering the pieces, Ursara pointed out the Lanthanum necklace, saying that made it even more special.  She guessed it could easily reach Cr 20,000 to Cr 30,000.  Perhaps higher if it interested two or more collectors.  While the Angelic figure was cute, and nothing special, it could get Cr 1,000 or higher given the bidders the Tellona Diamond would bring.  The stellar mist topaz was also something that, because it was different, could raise Cr 4,000 to 6,000 at an estimate.  Ursara warned that she was estimating market values and many factors could move her estimates higher or much lower, given events and bidding.  She also said that she hadn't had the time to examine the stones in detail, and that could change the values too.  She said this consisted of taking them to a lab, having them, tested, measured and valued, having pictures taken to add them to the auction catalog for the Tellona diamond.
Mikah asked if the inscriptions could be removed or obscured and the Countess advised against it.  She said it was part of the stone's history and collectors enjoyed that sort of thing.  She also pointed out that the process was based on laser-heating the stone and destroying the crystalline structure.  This created clouds and inclusions, as found in low quality stones, and would seriously damage the value.  Both the new "large and visible" inclusion and the cloud created would seriously reduce the value of both marked stones.  Mikah also wondered to herself how common the name "Genicella" was, but was sure it was on some of the 40,000 worlds of the Imperium.  So Mikah agreed, and they chatted as Ursara started the needed scans and created the receipt.  Once done in his stateroom, Brian returned, casually sitting at the table with the women asking, "So.  What are we doing?" as if the past activity had never happened.Doom Is Pronounced
After the Renewal Festival had ended and the others left, the Duke's people led Rol to dinner.  Lord William left the intendant knight, making it apparent he wouldn't be accompanying Rol.  The escorts brought Rol to a very well appointed vehicle marked with the Duke's seal.  The trip was a familiar one, as Rol was brought back to the Ducal residence and led into the same large space where they'd had lunch.  When he arrived, Rol saw the Duke rise from where he and his family were sitting.  Duke Leonard warmly greeted Rol and thanked him for accepting the invitation.  Once they were seated, the Duke said, "I did mean it when I said I had not had the chance to sit down with one who's earned the Starburst for Extreme Heroism and talk.  And I'm very appreciative that whatever it was you did rose to that caliber of honor and commitment.
Rol thanked the Duke, saying it was really what anyone would do under the circumstances.  That he'd just happened to be the person in command at the time.  Nodding at Rol's response, Duke Leonard admitted that was generally the point of view of those he'd spoken with.  He also said he wanted Rol to know his service was deeply appreciated, and that he should know there were more than the "Sir Jeremy's" out there.  Rol admitted that he'd seen more than just the media and negative reactions.  He'd received respect from those in the military and in the Duke's service.  But he also thanked the Duke for his personal comments.  After that, Duke Leonard explained that this was just a brief pause before they left for the ceremonial hall at the palace facilities on-station for a formal dinner in his honor.  The Duke told him there would be about fifty people who were either ranking personnel in station management or important persons in the Rhylanor government, who'd shuttled up from the planet in addition to the Duke and his family.
Until they had to leave, they got to chat more about the events in-system since the arrival of the Hotel California, but nothing too serious.  They did talk a bit about Rol's military past and his views.  Eventually a servant entered to announce that their vehicle had arrived and the Duke and Rol led the way out, while the others followed.  In the coach, it was another very short ride to the ceremonial "palace" on-station, and the Duke and Rol led the way into a very well behaved gauntlet of media, snapping pictures?  They also leaned as far forward as they and their mic's could without getting arrested, hoping of catching any conversation.  There were no called out questions in hopes of getting a reaction.  The reason for this was the "enhancement" of station security force with the presence of the Duke's Own Hussars!  These troopers were in ceremonial battledress, which were no less deadly for the pretty paint job.
As they passed through the media, it occurred to Rol that some of these reporters had been given 'front row access' and must be the media groups Emkir wanted him to identify.  Sadly, none of the press markings they wore showed network affiliations, so Emkir was just going to have to suffer.  Once through the gauntlet, they arrived at a small platform before the entrance and the Duke rose, at first indicating that Rol should not follow.  As the crowd became even quieter, Duke Leonard first swept them with a gaze that left none questioning the official nature of what he was about to say.  When he spoke, the speech was obviously prepared for the occasion as the media broadcast it live.  Speaking formally, Duke Leonard said,
"My fellow Imperial Citizens.  It is often that we forget, in our daily lives, the sacrifices          our military make to allow us to live protected from anarchy.  It is often so easy that          there are those who forget, and would rather vilify those who protect us.  Here in the          Spinward Marches, we have five times been invaded through no fault of our own.  Five          times, those who would tear down our safety have cut a line of death and destruction right          to this very system.  And five times, our best and most courageous surrender their lives to          beat them back.  We are all familiar with the history and we know how rare it is to actually          defeat the enemy rather than just winning an armistice.          We all owe the veterans of the Fifth Frontier War so very much for achieving that high standard          in our service.  And above all, we owe our admiration and respect to those who have performed          beyond all their brothers and sisters in arms.  Those who's honor, commitment and actions          raise them above all, in life or in death.  It is my honor, as Duke of the Duchy of Rhylanor, and          as First Admiral of the Spinward Marches Fleets, to show this honor in the names of all of the          Emperor's subjects in the Marches and in his name." With that, Duke Leonard signaled to a suddenly less than comfortable Rol that he should rise onto the platform.  As the retired Marine climbed the platform, the Duke continued,
"It is my right and duty, as Duke of Rhylanor, to command an order of Knights who owe          their oath of fealty to the Emperor through the Duchy of Rhylanor.  These worthy officers          of the Imperium pledge to serve the Imperium and its people in their daily lives even after          their various commitments to their services have been completed.  It is my honor and          great pleasure to invite the honorable Rol Kaihvos, formerly a Major in the Imperial Marine          Corps, to join that order." Turning sideways to the crowd to face Rol, Duke Leonard's voice suddenly turned commanding as he intoned the words,          "Rol Kaihvos.  You are charged to consider if you will accept the accolade of Knighthood.          Will you accept membership into the Order of the March Protectors of Rhylanor?  Will you          pledge your fealty to the Duchy and the Emperor?  Consider these charges for the next          two days, to be called to answer for yourself." With that, a rather loud round of applauds went up as hands reached up from behind and below Rol to lead him off the platform.  After a few more comments concerning the planned knighting ceremony, the Duke wrapped up his comments and they all moved into the palace.
As they passed into the 'palace' they entered a large greeting hall where only the invited, servants and security were present.  From there, they moved into the ceremonial hall itself, where Rol spent the rest of the evening hobbing and nobbing with those invited to the party.  He spent much of his time being thanked or congratulated for his service and his earned awards.  At dinner, Rol sat at the Duke's right hand.  As the evening progressed, it was apparent that Rol was not honed for the fine-tuned caliber of the social elite.  But it was more than apparent that he was who they expected him to be.  Rol realized that if he'd tried to act up to their social level things would have really gone wrong for him.
_________________________________________________________________________ Next: Parts, Paychecks And Politics